Photo of U.S. soldier shows his bravery

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 17, 2003

To the parents of Pfc. Joseph DeWitt: Thank you. To his wife: Be proud. His wedding band stood out clearly in the photograph that stopped me in my tracks early Wednesday morning; so I know he’s married.

Joseph DeWitt is one of my new heroes, introduced to many of us who are consumers of the war news by Gannett News Service &045; in my case, by the keen news judgment of front page editors for Mississippi’s state newspaper, The Clarion Ledger.

If you missed the photograph, made by Warren Zinn of the Army Times, you may want to find it on a Web site somewhere. It will be worth the time and trouble.

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DeWitt, appearing big and strong and the picture of an all-American young man with straight teeth and wire-frame glasses, holds an Iraqi child in his arms.

The caption reads, &8220;Pfc. Joseph DeWitt, 26, of Suffolk County, N.Y., runs while carrying an Iraqi boy injured in a heavy battle between the U.S. Army’s 7th Cavalry Regiment and Iraqi forces near the village of Al Faysaliyah, Iraq, on Tuesday. The Cavalry spent all night fighting in and around Al Faysaliyah.&8221;

DeWitt wears the protective Army helmet, his bulky camouflage garb pulled snug around his neck. A rifle slung over his right shoulder is only one of the heavy tools of war he carries, as straps across his shoulders and around his waist indicate the usual gear soldiers must have with them on the battlefield.

From the photograph, we cannot know all the details of the moment and of moments before, when DeWitt obviously saw the injured child and whisked him into his arms.

From the photograph, we cannot know for certain what DeWitt was thinking at the time the picture was made. Does he have a son of his own back in New York state?

From the photograph, we can, however, look into the big heart of a brave man and see focus and determination. The child enveloped in his arms is what matters to him at that moment.

The child wears a jacket frayed at the cuffs and no garment from the waist down. His feet are bare.

What appears to be a cotton scarf stained by blood is wrapped around the lower part of his left leg.

The boy, his dark hair standing straight up from his head and growing long and fuzzy over the top of his ears, clenched his teeth and looked directly at the photographer as the picture was made. One small hand rests on his knee; the other, on his chest.

What is his expression? It’s difficult to tell. Confusion? Pain? Fear? Probably all of those rolled into one, as he leans into the arms of his rescuer, hugged against the soldier’s gun strap.

Only a tiny space separates the soldier’s big hand on the boy’s leg from the wounded child’s own small hand. Look. See for yourself.

Like me, you may long to know more of this story. Like me, you may want to know more about Joseph DeWitt. For now, the photograph is enough.

For us who are so far removed from the war despite the incessant television coverage, the image affirms the best we can hope from the soldiers wearing America’s uniforms.

Joan Gandy

is community editor of The Democrat. She can be reached at (601) 445-3549 or by e-mail at joan.gandy@