14 Images

Haunted by Memories of War

As a Marine Corps lance corporal, Blake Miller was with the 1st Marine Battalion, 8th Regiment, during the assault on the insurgent stronghold of Fallouja, Iraq, in November, 2004, when this picture was taken. Filthy and exhausted, he had just lighted a cigarette when an embedded photographer captured this image, which transformed Miller into an icon of the war in Iraq. He now suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. (Luis Sinco / LAT)
A faded yellow ribbon hangs on the front of Miller’s childhood home in Jonancy Hollow, Ky. Miller, 21, has come back from the war in Iraq a changed man, battling daily with memories of combat. His family has vowed to keep the ribbon up until all American troops have left Iraq. (Luis Sinco / LAT)
After another sleepless night, Miller starts his day with a cigarette at his apartment in Pikeville, Ky. “He’s not the same as before,” says his wife, Jessica. “I’d never seen the anger, the irritability, the anxiety.” Miller often broods, feeling restless and out of options while struggling with post-traumatic stress. (Luis Sinco / LAT)
Miller walks through debris at a strip mining site near his home in Pikeville, Ky. Growing up, Miller always believed there were only two paths for him to take: the coal mines or the Marine Corps. He enlisted in the Marines out of high school. (Luis Sinco / LAT)
Blake Miller rides the back roads around Pikeville, Ky., on his new Harley-Davidson. Disabled because of the stress of the Iraq war, Miller now whiles away the days in his native Appalachia, pondering what to do with the rest of his life. (Luis Sinco / LAT)
Blake at his boyhood home in Jonancy Hollow, Ky., on the southern edge of the Appalachian Mountains. The region’s main industry is coal mining. Far from Iraq, Miller has slowly turned against the war. “What good have we actually done, and what has America gained except a lot of deaths?” he says. (Luis Sinco / LAT)
Miller has a smoke while waiting for his motorcycle to be serviced at his cousin’s repair shop in Virgie, Ky. “In order to do your job in combat,” the former Marine said, “you have to lock up your emotions. Basically, you’re turning people into killers.” (Luis Sinco / LAT)
Jessica Miller pauses to look at the picture of her battle-weary husband, Blake, an image that became a symbol of the assault on Fallouja, Iraq, in November 2004. She said she cried for days after seeing the photo, which was published in newspapers across America. “The scared look on his face, his eyes -- it tore me up,” she said. (Luis Sinco / LAT)
In a nostalgic moment, Jessica Miller looks at her high school yearbook as her husband, Blake, tries on his Marine Corps fatigues. The pair have known each other all their lives in the Appalachian town of Pikeville, Ky. They married after his return from Iraq in early 2005. Jessica will soon graduate with a psychology degree from Pikeville College, and she has tried to help Blake confront the demons he brought home from the war in Iraq. (Luis Sinco / LAT)
Blake and Jessica Miller at a nightclub in Pikeville, Ky. They often stay up all night, finally going to bed at about 5 or 6 a.m. Post-traumatic stress means Miller has a lot of sleepless nights. (Luis Sinco / LAT)
Miller gets a military-style haircut (“high and tight”) from Bob Johnson, the only barber in Virgie, Ky., as he prepares to help out with a local Marine Corps recruiting effort. Though he has turned against the war, Miller, 21, often wishes he was back in the Corps with his buddies. (Luis Sinco / LAT)
Miller, right, counts pull-ups by a young man at a Marine Corps recruiting booth set up for the annual Hillbilly Days festival in Pikeville, Ky. While battling post-traumatic stress, Miller, 21, helps the Corps with local recruitment efforts because he thinks the military provides good job opportunities for the youth of Eastern Kentucky, a region where most people make a living mining coal. He recommends that new recruits seek noncombat positions. (Luis Sinco / LAT)
Blake and Jessica Miller walk through the midway of the annual Hillbilly Days festival in their hometown of Pikeville, Ky. Blake Miller often feels tormented and adrift because of his combat experience in Iraq. He now finds himself dependent on Jessica, his family and his military psychologist to help him make sense of his life after the war. (Luis Sinco / LAT)
In their apartment in Pikeville, Ky., Jessica Miller squeezes the hand of her husband, Blake, telling him: “You’ve gone through so much, baby, that you just broke.” (Luis Sinco / LAT)