As U.S. and allied forces advanced toward Baghdad 10 years ago, a military public affairs sergeant snapped a photograph of a Marine saluting the flag at sunset at a desert airfield in southern Iraq.
Taken on April 3, 2003, it was one of many images released by the Marine Corps during the invasion that launched the Iraq war.
The Marine in the photograph was Master Sgt. James E. Valrie of Loxley, Ala. The photographer was his wife, Marine Sgt. Tisha L. Carter-Valrie of Forgan, Okla.
The couple had celebrated their wedding shortly before deploying with different units. They met by chance that day.
The following year, Carter-Valrie opened her mailbox and was startled to see the photograph on a Memorial Day postcard sent by her bank, USAA. It was just the beginning, she said.
Through the years, the image has been reproduced on countless websites, on Marine memorabilia and in a Boston mural. One year, the band KISS used it on their site to pay tribute to veterans. Carter-Valrie’s children were thrilled.
But the photograph has also been manipulated. On some sites, the flag appears to be flying at half-staff. At least one antiwar site used the image with the flag turned upside down, Carter-Valrie said.
Valrie passed away June 12, 2009, after a fight with cancer. He was 47. On the anniversary of the invasion that began March 20, 2003, his widow shared the story behind the photograph and the impact it has had on her family.
“I am honored when anyone wants to use it,” Carter-Valrie said. “But this photograph has such deep meaning to me, my children and James’ family, that it is often difficult to swallow when we see it abused.”