Michael's Dispatches


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Later that evening at Bethesda I stopped at a Marine Captain’s office. There on the wall hung a special photo. “Brad Kasal,” I said. “He’s the real deal.” The Captain agreed, allowing that’s why Brad Kasal’s photo hangs on his wall.

Brad Kasal has been a Marine since he was eighteen. The story behind the famous photo, taken by Lucian Read at the height of the battle for Falluja in November, 2004, has been told often and well in other forums. For now it suffices that, in addition to injuries from using his body to shield another Marine from a grenade blast, he was also shot seven times. Despite bleeding from dozens of holes in his body, Brad Kasal never stopped fighting. For many, Lucian Read’s photo of Brad Kasal—pistol at the ready even as he was being helped from the building, but still with presence of mind to keep his finger off the trigger despite that he had nearly bled to death—is emblematic of the heart and fighting spirit of every United States Marine.

And so when I heard that Brad Kasal’s photo was being used in the 12 June 2006 issue of TIME magazine, with a cover title HADITHA, where the article seemed to intimate that Brad Kasal had been involved in the fighting in Haditha, I stopped working and drove 1 ½ hours round-trip to get a copy of that magazine.

Sure enough, there it was on page 30: Lucian Read’s photo of Brad Kasal. The caption (shown here as it ran in TIME magazine) gives some wiggle room, because it is accurate. But it is not true in terms of the larger context of the article, which seems to suggest that Brad Kasal was in Haditha during the time of the controversial fighting there. He was not. This photograph of Brad Kasal was shot a full year before the incident in Haditha.

BATTLE SCARRED - In November 2004 Kilo Company fought in Falluja, where First Sergeant Brad Kasal, center, suffered injuries from a grenade blast. [Not to mention being shot seven times that day.]

So, I called Sergeant Major Kasal, still on active duty and recovering from wounds, and asked him about this. He was professional, but he was also disappointed with TIME. He didn’t say anything bad about the journalists, but his disappointment was apparent.

We, as writers, photographers and journalists, must endeavor to hold ourselves to those same standards Brad Kasal lives and fights by. We should not play fast and loose with facts, especially when reporting about the people who bleed in our defense. This is not to suggest that we should gild any depictions. Men like Brad Kasal don’t need or respect that kind of false sentiment.

Many service members believe Brad Kasal should be awarded the Medal of Honor. Any editor who would place the dazzle and drama of a layout above respect for the reputations of people of this caliber could use a few minutes of quiet circumspection. Brad Kasal is an incredible warrior and defender of our way of life who has demonstrated time and again that his life matters less to him than his duty to his country and to his fellow Marines.

If folks knew more about Brad Kasal, they might write to TIME magazine politely requesting some clarification on the use of the photo. I suspect that TIME’s editors had not considered how “off” their use of this iconic photograph in such a charged context would appear to readers familiar with Brad Kasal’s story. I will continue to read TIME magazine. It employs a number of first-rate journalists. In fact, I read two very well-written, unrelated stories in TIME magazine today by Phil Zabriskie. (Zabriskie was not involved with the story in question.)

Even the best occasionally stumble. This is not an angry call to berate TIME magazine editors or writers, but perhaps a polite and respectful nudge might result in a clarification about the use of the photograph in a future issue. When I called Sergeant Major Kasal, he was not keen on my writing about him but he does want someone to write about his Marines. I was not with them and so must defer to others who were, but any TIME reader would find Kasal’s story amazing and inspiring.

If more folks knew more about Brad Kasal, they might also politely ask their congressional representatives to consider how to honor this Marine. Kasal’s service in Iraq should make every American proud, and telling his story is one way to remind us all about what a true Marine is like.

I also called Lucian Read, the excellent and intrepid photographer who shot the photo, and gained his permission to publish it here. Only those who were present with Kilo Company, like Lucian Read, can bring home the truth about our people, as he did so effectively in an extended interview for NPR.

Nat Helms has written a book titled Warrior, about Brad Kasal and his Marines. Meredith Books will publish it later this year. But TIME magazine’s gaffe could turn out to be a great opportunity for them to seize the moment and the high ground while giving one serious Marine his due.


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