John Moore recorded an image of Mary McHugh at the grave of her fiance Sgt. James John Regan (who was killed by an IED explosion in Iraq in February 2007) at Arlington National Cemetery, May 27, 2007.
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Mary McHugh, the fiancé of a James Regan, moved a thousand mourners to tears with her touching tribute at his funeral. “Jimmy was a hero to many, but he was always very humble,” she said of her beloved. “He always sought team success and not personal glory.”
Regan was to marry McHugh, a medical student at Emory University, when his Army service ended. He was killed in February 2007 by a roadside bomb in Iraq.
“Jimmy and I were so excited to stand up in front of God, our family and friends and declare our love for each other,” McHugh said. “Only God knows why we were deprived of that opportunity, but it doesn’t change the sentiments I have.”
Regan, an All-American lacrosse player and All-State football scholar at Chaminade High School in Mineola, graduated from Duke University five years ago. He was deeply affected by the 9/11 terror attacks, which claimed many lives in Manhasset, and turned down a position at financial services firm UBS and deferred a scholarship to Southern Methodist University Law School to join the Army in 2004. He had earned a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star.
After reading a love letter Regan wrote to her, McHugh said in a passionate whisper, “Jimmy, we never got to wake up next to each other every morning. Jimmy, I will wake up every morning and thank God for the opportunity to love and be loved by you.”
McHugh remembered Regan as someone who always wore a smile and “simply wanted to be happy and make others around him happy.”
Regan’s father, also named James, said his son did just that.
“Last week in Iraq the bell tolled for Jimbo and he gave the ultimate sacrifice,” the grieving father said. “You have done your duty, son, as you saw it. You are a wonderful son.”
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The above photo has been the source of some controversy. There are some forces that would like to suppress its publication. Some feel that publicizing honest images, such as this one, conveying the gravity of our losses, serves to undermine the war efforts in Iraq.
Forgive me, because I do not have an articulate stance on the war in Iraq. The conflicts there are beyond my reasoning and aptitudes to solve. I do believe in more aggressively pursuing non-violent solutions to violent problems.
I believe censorship of honest information about the war will not help Americans make more informed decisions about the reality of the violence and the severity of our losses. This blog focuses on mature, complex and real issues deserving more candor, attention, discussion, and merit. My deepest and sincerest condolences to the family, friends, and fiancé of James Regan.
The above photo can be found in many places on the internet by doing a simple Google image search for “Mary McHugh” or “James Regan.” It can also be obtained through the Getty service for use in media outlets.
The above photo is an important human document. In a moment, it clearly communicates undeniable and compelling love. It will be important 100 years from now. If a similar Civil War photo existed of a woman at the grave of her fiancé, it would be immeasurably valuable to our cultural experience. If a similar WW II photo existed of a German widow at her deceased husband’s grave, the artwork would be a timeless and important image about the realities of war and universality of grief.
The most memorable scene for me in viewing “Saving Private Ryan,” Steven Spielberg’s 1998 Academy Award winning film, was the quiet scene of Private Ryan’s mother falling to her knees on the porch, unable to stand, unable to function, in the moment she realized there would be losses for her that would never end in this lifetime.
Should Spielberg have shown the depths of her grief? Yes, I believe his efforts were honorable and good. Was he being patriotic? Yes. Should he have shown the reality of the violence and inhumanity on both sides of the war? Yes. Should Spielberg’s Free Speech and artistic visual portrayals of the realities of war have been censored? No.
Art has the rare and sometimes irreplaceable ability to communicate truths and emotional weights that are difficult, if not impossible, to convey without using multi-sensory mediums.
The above photo is not going to disappear from the consciousness of considerate human beings around the world. Like the photos also posted today of Katherine and James Cathey, and like Nina Berman’s humane and caring photos of Ty and Renee Ziegel, the photo of Mary McHugh at James Regan’s grave will not be forgotten if it is suppressed.
I cry sometimes seeing the perverse and stupid ways the George W. Bush Executive Branch has been inconsiderate and unprepared to keep our military men and women safer. I cry seeing them disregard the honorable and important principles in our Constitution’s Bill of Rights.
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The Bill of Rights
Amendment I. Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
Amendment II. A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.
Amendment IV. The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
Amendment V. No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.
Amendment VI. In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.
Amendment VII. In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise reexamined in any court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.
Amendment VIII. Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.
Amendment IX. The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.
It is important for all sides of these debates to speak honestly, candidly, and openly.
In Saving Private Ryan, in the last moment of Captain Miller’s life (the character played by Tom Hanks), after he realizes he has received mortal wounds, he pulls Private Ryan close and says, “Earn this.”
Live each day fighting for whatever you think is right. Remember the honorable efforts others sacrificed so that you could have the option to speak the best ideas you can articulate and to actively work each day to improve the lives of others.
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© All rights reserved by A F P/G e t t y: John Moore.
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Timothy Greenfield-Sanders: Soldiers & Dignity:
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