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Part Two: Rescue Mission

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In the years since the Fallouja battle, James Blake Miller has slowly turned against the war. “What have we gained as a country?” he asked. “What have we actually accomplished other than the loss of some damn fine people?” (Luis Sinco / LAT)
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As the photographer who had taken the famous image of Miller, I felt responsible for him. I flew to Kentucky to drive him to a PTSD clinic in Connecticut. On the road, I caught Miller’s eyes reflected in the rearview mirror, droopy and lifeless. He hadn’t slept well, and we had a long road ahead. (Luis Sinco / LAT)
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After crossing six state lines, we arrived in West Haven, Conn. We checked into a cheap motel. I worried and couldn’t sleep. Had I committed a breach of ethics by bringing Miller to treatment? Had I crossed a line to extend a helping hand? (Luis Sinco / LAT)
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Miller, center, was anxious after we arrived in Connecticut, insisting that he had to go back to Kentucky to get his motorcycle. I hoped it wasn’t an attempt to get out of the PTSD program. (Luis Sinco / LAT)
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When he met with Laurie Harkness at the Errera Community Care Center, Miller began to talk about the things that weighed heavily on his mind. He related trying to commit suicide on the outskirts of Fallouja one day. “What made me so special that I deserved to stay here and my buddies didn’t?” he asked. (Luis Sinco / LAT)
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After dropping out of the veterans program, Miller took Jessica and me to a mountaintop in Kentucky, where he had asked her to be his girl just days before shipping out to Iraq. She promised to be there when he came home. They laughed, embarrassed by the story. Insects hummed in the dark. One could almost imagine that Fallouja never happened. (Luis Sinco / LAT)
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Miller and Jessica had talked while he was away in Connecticut, and they believed their relationship could work. The couple hoped to get a fresh start in Princeton, W.Va. Jessica was overjoyed when they reunited. “I’m just in a tizzy,” she said. “I missed him so.” (Luis Sinco / LAT)
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Marriage counseling proved difficult; sessions often ended in stony silence. Miller later called me, sounding depressed. I offered to come see him. By the time I arrived, Jessica had moved out. (Luis Sinco / LAT)
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Miller and Jessica met at a law office in Pikeville, Ky. The smoke from Miller’s cigarette hung thick in the air. They agreed to proceed with a divorce. So much for happy endings, I thought. (Luis Sinco / LAT)
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Miller took his wedding picture from the wall and replaced it with a Meritorious Mast, a certificate detailing his valor in combat. He drank beer for comrades living and lost. It was the second anniversary of the Fallouja battle. (Luis Sinco / LAT)
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He remembered getting the news that one of his close buddies was killed in combat. The battle raged, and there was no time to reflect on the tragedy. “I didn’t cry then, and I won’t now,” Miller said. “I just can’t.” (Luis Sinco / LAT)
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Miller moved back to Kentucky and went to work at a motorcycle repair shop. “This makes me feel like I still have some purpose in life,” he said. “Fixing things. Making them right.” He joined the local chapter of the Highwaymen, a motorcycle club under constant scrutiny by law enforcement. (Luis Sinco / LAT)
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After joining the Highwaymen, Miller was almost always armed. He said he was in the club for the camaraderie. The uniforms and codes of conduct reminded him of the Marines. To me, his new friends seemed overly interested in his combat “kills.” (Luis Sinco / LAT)
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At a recent gathering, Miller partied with his new friends. They drank beer and moonshine, then sang and danced into the night. (Luis Sinco / LAT)
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Miller was one of the club’s youngest members, but the bikers quickly warmed to him. One biker, a Vietnam veteran also plagued by PTSD, promised me he’d get Miller to join the local chapter of the Veterans of Foreign Wars. “We’ll connect veteran to veteran,” the biker said. (Luis Sinco / LAT)
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I care about Miller. I’ve come to know him as an intelligent, generous and dignified person. Still, he has issues clouding his mind. Three years out of the Iraqi desert, he appears to be a man lost in the woods. (Luis Sinco / LAT)
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