First: The late Chris Hondros, who died of wounds received in battle yesterday, was a contributor to the site Bag News Notes, which has a post this morning about him and Tim Hetherington, as well as links to his articles.
Michael Shaw writes, "Speaking of Chris, in particular (I didn’t know Tim), he would expect us to keep up the work, to keep shining the light, and we shall, using his great skill and dedication—an impressively high bar—as inspiration."
UPDATE: There is an appreciation of Tim Hetherington written by his friend and collaborator, writer Sebastian Junger (author of The Perfect Storm) at Vanity Fair, and Foreign Policy has a remembrance of Chris Hondros, written by Christina Larson.
Seeing a cropped version of the picture above yesterday in the Denver Post's pLOG Viet Nam page (it's picture no. 124), I was reminded that sometimes pictures can become perfect emblems of something they actually don't quite represent—although in this case, the reality is also symbolic, albeit in a different way than meets the eye. The photograph was the career high point for former Associated Press photographer Slava J. "Sal" Veder, who titled it "Burst of Joy." He won the Pulitzer Prize for it in 1974.
Taken on March 17th, 1973, it shows a newly freed prisoner of war, Air Force pilot Lt. Col. Robert L. Stirm, being greeted by his wife, Loretta, and his four children, Robert Jr., Lorrie, Cynthia, and Roger. The center of the picture, visually and emotionally, is 15-year-old Lorrie Stirm, obviously overjoyed at her father's safe return. That Lt. Col. Stirm has his back to the camera made it easy for viewers to see him as a symbol of all the returning troops and freed POWs at the end of the war.
On the surface a symbol of families joyfully reuniting in the aftermath of the conflict, the reality was not quite so rosy—although perhaps just as symbolic, in that the war that had torn the country apart had also torn this family apart. On his release three days earlier from more than five years in North Vietnamese prisoner of war camps, Lt. Col. Stirm had received a "Dear John letter" from Loretta informing him that she had moved on in his absence. They divorced a year later.
According to various articles about the picture, Sal Veder sent prints of the photograph to all the people in it. A 2005 article about the family in Smithsonian magazine, however, reports that "All four of Robert Stirm Sr.'s children [including Lorrie Stirm Kitching, now 53 and the mother of two sons] have a copy of Burst of Joy hanging in a place of honor on their walls. But he says he can't bring himself to display the picture."
Lt. Col. Stirm, now 78, and Sal Veder, 84, are both retired now, and live in different cities in California.
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Original contents copyright 2011 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved.
Featured Comment by Jerome: "The Dear John part is sad, and shows one of the consequences of war. And I agree, it can be seen in the photo that he returns to a familiy that has changed. But then, that's not the point. If anything, this photo shows the joy of father and children being reunited. And the children all showing with pride the photo of this event, proves that their joy and the bond between father and children are stronger than divorces and wars."
Featured Comment by Bill Mitchell: "A good example of how a tiny crop of the original image turns it from a great picture into a good one. H.C.-B. had it right."
Featured Comment by Ed Kirkpatrick: "Thank you! Mike for the link to the Viet Nam retrospective. There are so many heart wrenching images but every time I see Sal Veder's 'Burst of Joy' photograph I have a physical reaction and am nearly overcome. The joy evident is palpable and I love the way that every family member in the shot has at least one foot in the air except for the serviceman. Talk about the 'Decisive Moment.' Having experienced a reunion with my son returning from his first tour of duty in Iraq I know very well the utter joy that they are feeling.
"I can remember this day so clearly, watching the POWs returning after the war. For those who lived it, this is a great retrospective seen with 35 years distance. For those who are too young these photographs are must viewing. Never Forget those who did not come back."
[Ed is a regular reader of TOP. His email sig says, "Proud Father of Sgt. Scott Lange Kirkpatrick / KIA 8-11-2007 Arab Jabour, Iraq, #3685 / Bronze Star, Purple Heart, State of Maryland Patriot Medal, missed terribly." —MJ]