Skip to comments.Famous face, humble heart (Recent interview w/Fallujah "Marlboro Man")
Posted on 01/25/2006 11:11:25 AM PST by Slump Tester
LONG FORK - The steep mountainsides in western Pike County are painted in the drabbest of winter browns and grays now, but already there is a feeling in the air that the land is ready to break out with spring color in a few weeks, bringing new life, new hope.
Maybe that's a good omen for a young man back home after surviving the meat grinder of Iraq but still struggling to cope with the psychological shocks of all he's seen and done, shocks that ultimately cut short his career in the U.S. Marine Corps.
Millions of Americans remember him only as the "Marlboro Man" -- the grubby, exhausted Marine lance corporal with a cigarette dangling from lips in a famous 2004 photograph from the battle for Fallujah. The picture has become one of the iconic images of the Iraq war.
Around Pike County, though, he's just plain Blake Miller, 21 and a civilian again. Today, he's intent on getting over the black-outs and the nightmares, and building a new life with his new wife, Jessica.
And the young man whose image became a symbol of the war now grapples with his own feelings on the conflict and questions the continued U.S. presence in Iraq.
Today, he doesn't look much like that 2004 photograph. He's clean-cut, with brown hair and a thin mustache, still close to his high school football playing weight of 155. He still smokes a little over a pack of Marlboros per day but has cut down from the five packs or more he was burning through every day at the height of the Fallujah battle.
He still carries some shrapnel scars, and some scars you can't see.
"I could tell you stories about Iraq that would make the hair stand up on the back of your neck," he said. "And I could tell you things that were great over there. But that still wouldn't tell you what it was actually like. You had to be there and go through it to really understand."
Trauma gets to him
Miller said he began having problems soon after returning from Iraq early last year -- sleeplessness, nightmares, times when he would "blank out," not knowing what he was doing or where he was. Then, just after Hurricane Katrina last fall, Miller was sent to New Orleans, where he and other Marines waded through flooded neighborhoods, recovering bodies. Somewhere along the way, all the stresses piled up, and they boiled over a few days later while Miller was on board the USS Iwo Jima, a Navy ship on hurricane duty off the Gulf Coast.
"I was coming out of the galley, when this sailor made a whistling noise that resembled the sound of a rocket-propelled grenade," Miller said. "You had to have heard that sound to duplicate it. I don't know why he did it. Maybe he was just poking fun at Marines. But something just triggered and I flipped out.
"They said that I grabbed him, threw him against the bulkhead and put him down on the deck, with me on top of him. But I have no recollection of it whatsoever."
There had been some other incidents as well. Eventually, three military psychiatrists diagnosed Miller as suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, a set of serious psychological symptoms that afflict many who have been in life-threatening situations. The Marines, concluding that Miller could be a threat to himself or to his teammates in any future combat situation, granted him an early but honorable discharge.
Miller became a civilian Nov. 10 -- on the 230th anniversary of the founding of the U.S. Marine Corps in 1775, and the one-year anniversary of the date when the photograph from Fallujah hit the newspapers.
"At first, I was irate because I wanted to stay in, and make a career out of it," he said. "I liked being a Marine; it was the only thing I had known for the better part of three years. But I decided that this is what I'm stuck with, so I've got to deal with it."
Now, Miller regularly sees a therapist (the government is picking up the bill) and he says he is doing well. He says he wants the public to better understand post-traumatic stress disorder and realize that those who have it don't deserve any public stigma.
"The biggest reason I did this interview is because I want people to know that PTSD is not something people come down with because they're crazy. It's an anxiety disorder, where you've experienced something so traumatic that you were close to death.
"A lot of Vietnam vets suffered from PTSD, but nobody took the time to understand or help them. Now, some of those guys are living on the street. You look at their situation, and you think about what they did for their country and where they are now ... that hurts."
How a Marine is made
He has gone through other changes as well, including doubts about the war.
"When I was in the service, my opinion was whatever the commander in chief's opinion was," he said. "But after I got out, I really started thinking about it. ... The biggest question I have is how you can make war on an entire country, when a certain group from that country is practicing terrorism against you. It's as if a gang from New York went to Iraq and blew up some stuff, and Iraq started a war against us because of that.
"I agree with taking care of terrorism. But after terrorism was dealt with, the way it was after Fallujah, maybe that was the time for us to pull out. That's just my opinion. It blows my mind that we've continued to drag this out."
James Blake Miller grew up in Pike County, the oldest of three active, athletic brothers. He decided very early that, like his grandfather, he would become a Marine.
Greg Napier, Miller's freshman homeroom teacher at Shelby Valley High School, recalls that when he asked new students to list their career goals, Miller wrote: U.S. Marine Corps. Napier also became Miller's football coach and for three years watched him use heart and hustle to make up for his lack of size. Miller worked so hard that, after his junior year, he severely injured his shoulder lifting weights and had to give up football.
"I think that was the saddest I ever saw him," Napier said. "He was afraid he wouldn't get into the Marines because of his shoulder, but they did take him."
David Bowling, who taught Miller in shop class, recalls him as a "go-to" guy, who could be relied on to take responsibility and finish projects, traits that the Marine Corps values.
Miller joined the Marines after graduating from high school in 2003 and was assigned to the infantry. He went to Iraq the next year with Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 8th Marines and became a part of the Marine force assembled to clear insurgents out of Fallujah. The monthlong operation still is remembered as perhaps the toughest of the war.
Even now, Miller struggles trying to describe it.
"It's not exactly something I like to talk about. You see movies where somebody gets shot. It's nothing to see somebody get shot, that's just a movie.
"But when you see it in real life, it's completely different ... the feeling you have afterward is completely different. Even when you're being shot at, and you're returning fire ... whether you've hit anybody or not ... it's knowing that you're actually shooting at somebody. At the time you don't think about it ... but afterward, it's mind-boggling, it really is."
On the second day of the battle, Miller and some buddies found themselves on the roof of a building, under heavy sniper fire. Into the action rushed Luis Sinco, a Los Angeles Times photographer who was embedded with Miller's outfit.
"We had no idea he was coming up the stairs; in fact, we almost shot him," Miller said. "But when he got up there, he decided to snap some pictures."
Sinco recalls that he took cover behind a wall, and that a Marine came over, sat down beside him and lit a cigarette. It was Miller. Sinco raised his camera and fired the shutter.
When Sinco got ready to electronically transmit his photos back to the Los Angeles Times later that night, he wasn't very impressed with the picture. It was just another shot of another Marine. Indeed, it was the last picture he selected to send to the paper that day. It turned out to be perhaps the most memorable picture of the war so far.
Sinco, who has stayed in touch with Miller ever since, said he thought his editors would be more interested in action pictures of Marines shooting, running and kicking down doors.
"But somehow that portrait just resonated with everyone who saw it," Sinco said. "It's as if all the emotions of the war converged on Blake's face at that moment: bravery, doubt, hope, fatigue, despair. It's all written on his face."
The Herald-Leader carried the photo on its front page the next day. It was carried in more than 100 U.S. newspapers, put on national television, and published all over the world. Miller's name didn't become public until a few days later, though family members and friends back in Pike County immediately recognized him. By then newspapers were calling him the Marlboro Man -- a title Miller was never totally comfortable with, believing that he was no more deserving of attention than any other Marine at Fallujah.
Shortly after the photograph appeared, he was told that Maj. Gen. Richard Natonski, commander of the 1st Marine Division, was on the way to see him.
"The general said, 'You're a pretty famous Marine today,'" Miller recalled. "I said, 'With all due respect, sir, I don't understand what's going on.' He said, your picture is all over the United States right now. They were saying the picture would go into history books, and I thought that they were joking."
Looking to the future
Luis Sinco says the Marine Corps offered to pull Miller out of the Fallujah battle then and there, not wanting the suddenly famous Marine to be injured or killed. But Miller refused to go.
He did receive tons of mail: gifts of Marlboro cigarettes from all 50 states, even gifts sent by President Bush -- plus a lot of ribbing from fellow Marines.
Miller kept a low profile when he came home to Pike County on leave early last year, after his unit's return from Iraq. His mother said that he insisted he was no hero and wanted no hoopla. He has continued to decline interviews until an appearance on CBS earlier this month.
Miller began dating Jessica Holbrooks, a girl he had known since both were children, not long after getting home. A long-range romance developed, with Miller driving 700-mile round trips from Camp Lejeune, N.C., to see her each weekend. He said that after running up more than $2,600 worth of speeding tickets, enough was enough. He and Jessica married last June.
Problems with post-traumatic stress have cast a cloud over what has been an otherwise joyous time for the two. Nevertheless, they are looking to the future. Jessica has completed her bachelor's at Pikeville College and hopes for a career in psychology. Blake is waiting for his Marine benefits to fully kick in and is thinking of starting a business.
He and Jessica now live with her grandparents on Long Fork in western Pike County. They plan to build a home of their own nearby.
"Right now," Miller says, "I'm just glad to be here."
If you go to the link there are pictures.
Thank you for your service, Marine. And welcome home.
Some already did.
Because no one else can understand what they went through, except those who also went through it. It's like trying to explain how it feels to give birth...to a man!
What an ass - he deserved a "attitude adjustment"
God Bless him and ease any distress he may have.
Of course they had to mention Vietnam.
Of course they had to call it PTSD.
Of course of course of course. Yea, left slant for sure. PTSD equals 30 points in the VA system. Made up BS disease. I just can't see Attila the Hun, the Vikings or Paw-knee Indians suffering form this so called psychological disorder!
This disease was borne from the vents of time where war was branded as all bad, never justified and soldiers suffered from this horrible disease and if they didnt, then theyre mentally deranged evil war mongers. PTSD is a meaningless term. A pseudo-science BS concept.
Want to know why some woman got shot when a bunch of SF guys returned home from Afghanistan? Because their wives Cheated on them. But in the liberal media thats spun into PTSD lowered their threshold to violence and caused them to act out where they might otherwise not have. BS! I catch my wife in bed with another guy, theyre both done right there on the spot. Ill drill them both.
PTSD! I want to vomit when I hear that expression. Its about as trendy as some of those environmentalist issues that pop up, disappear and then get replaced by some other BS new trendy issue (What happened with acid rain?).
Death and dying is a part of life. You see it growing up on a farm even if you just ever had a pet. This so called mental disorder is a fashionable pseudo scientific disorder which some conveniently have when going in for their Compensation and Pension evaluation at the VA. Its a trend topic which the anti-war left likes to beat their drum to while not appearing at least openly anti-soldier. Its a racket for a bunch of shrinks who make their living off of talking to people. Its a check the block for the administration to CYA when soldiers come home so that when something does happen you can say I provided mental health services!
How many WWI Vets or even WWII Vets who fought in places like Guadalcanal or even on the beaches of Normandy suffer from this so called disease?
PTSD is a fictitious disease. Like some young kid who you indirectly led into believing they have been abused, you CAN talk people into believing that they have a problem, an issue or even a disorder. Just look at the hyper-sensitivity some African Americans have within our society. Every kid growing up WILL get picked on whether its for wearing glasses, being to fat, how you speak or yes, how you look. Get over it!
I think the liberals may use it for its own purposes, but it's real.
In WWI and II it was called "battle fatigue".
I know my Uncle did. My dad didn't, but he did harbor a severe dread of fire (having been on an avgas tanker in the South Pacific).
Of course, a manly man like you would never suffer from such a thing.
Young man sounds like he has his head on straight, and I'm glad he is home safe and sound. May God bless him and help him find the inner peace he is looking for, and may his family rejoice in his return. I think the Good Lord has already taken a likening to him.
When my uncle got home from WWII my mom once whistled to get his attention -- all perfectly innocent. He immediately ducked and then, shaking and very pale, slowly turned around and told her never to do that again. I don't think she did, either....
Humble ~ Bump!
The only person I EVER knew who claimed to suffer from this was a female sitting behind me at the Dallas VA hospital talking about how much she could squeeze out of the VA while talking to her boyfriend.
My grandfather went all through France and in Germany (Actually one of the early ones accross the Rhein) in WWII. My dad is Vietnam era, and I served in Iraq (OIF1) as an infantryman/Airborne Ranger. Cant say I feel in any way that this affected me psychologically in some way. In fact Id say that some guy working in a slaughterhouse sees more carnage than I did! And I supposedly saw a lot. What about people who work in a morgue? Ever see how chickens are slaughtered in mass, or cows? How about the job of butcher? And no, the fact that its a human does not change things a bit. Its a bunch of flesh - bloody flesh.
Shell Shock, Battle Fatigue or whatever else you want to call it is a real phenomena associated with the long term over use and exposure to high stress some VETs experienced in previous wars. You burn out. You see the same thing with some people in high stress jobs who suddenly snap, dump their family, and end up living under a bridge down by the river. What we call PTSD is a made up disease that fits into some peoples political agenda, a few VETs pocket books and a pseudo-science shrink who thinks he figured something out.
Im not saying that some may really have an issue. But they are few and many who do have issues figured that out after they were asked 20 times and realized that they can cash in on it. I want those with issues to receive the best care possible. However, I dont think that its a big deal nor a wide spread problem. Just like the song from Paul Hardcastle 19 after which people wrongly quoted the average age of the US combat soldier in Vietnam to be 19, PTSD is a trendy BS disease in about 90% (Figure pulled from my rectum) of the cases. It serves the purpose of showing How horrible war is for the left media.
Those who were in and liked the military, go to combat and stay in afterwords seem to have fewer problems on average than those that bump straight out into the civilian world.
I think you are most likely right. We have a young man working for us back from his Iraq tour last summer, which also anded his stint in the Marines. He was gung ho when he went over and he came back without a scratch -- physically. But mentally and emotionally he is scarred. He lost 6 members of his platoon and he carries a sticker on his car with their names to remind him of them.
He couldn't go to the 4th of July celebrations last summer and no longer wants to hunt with his father. He used to be a Civil War re-enactor, and he no longer wants to go to those encampments. He can't seem to find a direction for his life, just moving from one thing to another.
He goes back to school this month and is working for us part time. We hope that as he gets into a routine, his life will straighten out. His dad (also a Navy vet) thinks it would have been better if he had stayed in the Marines and been debriefed by military doctors while still on duty and assimilated to civilian life with others who had been through some of the same experiences.
May God ease the transition to civilian life for both of these heros.
IN WW II, it was sometimes known as "shell shock."
Yes you are.
Or how it feel to abort the life within you because you have a career, to busy, makes you look fat, etc. to a man.
No different than any other vet from any war. Some can't "wall it off". This is not making light of his situation. It's pathetic that the left will use this eternal effect to try to undermine their own defense. It's as if they have a death wish...
To add an example, many years ago I read a book written by a Navy Seal about his exploits in Viet Nam. After he got out and back stateside, he was talking to his Grandfather about the memories. When do you froget? His Grandfather had served in the island hopping camapign in the WWII Pacific. He noticed that his grandfather was staring into space like he'd always done since the author was a kid. It was then that it dawned on him that his Grandfather was back in the island jungles of WWII when he did that, reliving the memories. Then and there the ex-Seal realized that you never forget it. It's with you for life and YOU have to deal with it.
Two links to the same article are your "proof" that a real condition is somehow a "myth?"
You can't compare then to now or those men to these.
You're absolutely right.
(Just my opinions follow)
I sound as if I'm taking the argument to absurdity, but I'm not when I say that most people today never killed an animal for food or even know how the electricity they consume is produced. They know the food is in the grocery market and power comes out of the outlet! Hence in California they're against more nuclear power plants and are having brown-outs.
People today especially in Western wealthy societies such as the US, Germany or Great Britain, grow up disconnected from the realities of life. We have created urban jungles that hide the dead, pave over muck and deodorize the stench. We live in nice warm houses in the winter and cool homes in the summer. We live so dis-attached from nature and our own hunter instincts that we come up with ideas like being a Vegan.
Let me shock the vegetarian among us You have stereoscopic vision and Canine/incisor teeth to not chew nuts. Your body can get every life essential amino-acid from meats, which is very very difficult on a Vegan diet, and impossible even just 100 years ago before we had fresh oranges in Ohio in December. We are designed as hunters. We like to fight and ironically even liberal Hollywood pumps out one war movie after another. We have UFC, boxing and wrestling. Football is a combative sport with tactics . Its engrained in us. It has been biologically programmed into us. Look at what a male does as soon as he sees another male. Even if not conscious, he assesses the threat. I know I sound crazy to most.
Back to PTSD- Years ago there were several cases where children were indirectly talked into confessing that they were abused. If you ask long enough and ask the right way, youll eventually get the answer you want. PTSD is no different. Imagine coming home from Vietnam and being spat on and alienated. Imagine that shrinks discover that there is a new disease called PTSD. Imagine Hollywood pumps out movies like Apocalypse Now. You pick up a book and there is a story on PTSD ad how people are having issues coping . Some people surly do have issues. But a lot of what we call PTSD is made up BS. Its over exaggerated crap that in a feedback loop makes a mountain out of an ant hill.
In my opinion, and I admit this is a limited field of view as I only feel what I experienced and their were 330,000 in theater when I went in. War cracks people for the exact same reason as a stock broker breaks. Its high stress for a long time and that eventually WILL affect you both physically and psychologically. Its not the carnage, the blood or even loss of people that you know, but the endless hours you work. Example I went 15 MONTHs on 14 hour shifts. There were no weekends, holidays, vacation and even when sick, I did my job. There was a real possibility that I would not get my two week mid tour break! I did get to go after all, but a few people I know didnt get to go! Imagine you are in a job and carry enormous responsibility (Life and death), work long long hours, have no break and often situations are tense, people you dont like you cant get away from, environmental stress is huge (dust heat lack of showers ), fear is present at times, You lack the entertainment you take for granted (Radio, TV, Play station .) and and and. I mentioned this before and I meant it even if some might think I was kidding. The reason why I think some guys lose it, is for the same reason why the successful stock broker quits his job, leaves his wife and lives under a bridge down by the river. You burn out!
PT(STRESS)D is a problem that some VETs will have (Far fewer than what will be thrown around in the MSM). Those who do suffer in my opinion are best treated for stress/burnout and not some trauma because of gore and the horrors of war. As with a machine, prevention is better hence mid tour leave, R&R capabilities in the theater of deployment (Gyms, Games, internet, phones, good food .), private space, A/C .etc, is where you make a lot of money. Facilities such a Camp Victory in Baghdad is a prime example of a facility where they got it right.
Actually scholars put it at about 25. However, that's complete nonsense since the infant death mortality rate was so high it skewed it.
One is the FR link the other a typical liberal MSM "spin" doing exactly what we said would happen when they pick up on it!
Well, since you asked, I'd say several hundred thousand.
have survived infantcy to get through Legionaire training.
It's a game of statistics. The average Roman lived about 25 years statistically.
However, the infant death mortality rate pulled this average way down. Example: If we have 10 people but 5 die within the first year (Infant is 0-1 year) and the other 5 live to 50 our average is still just 25. In Roman times MOST children born would not make it to the first birthday, this affects the statistic substantially.
Uh, the lifespan of the average Roman and the average Roman soldier are not the same things. I believe the earlier poster's point was regarding the latter.
I wonder how much the unwanted attention over this photo, contributed to his PTSD.
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