Mary McHugh and James Regan


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.

(Click on the image if you wish to view it individually or larger.)

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.”

– – – –

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.

Saving Private Ryan on Wikipedia

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.

– – – –

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.

– – – – 

© All rights reserved by A F P/G e t t y: John Moore.

– – – –

Related posts:

Katherine Cathey and 2nd Lt. James J. Cathey: 


Ty and Renee Ziegel: 


Timothy Greenfield-Sanders:  Soldiers & Dignity:

(Click on the images, if you wish to read the posts.)

© All rights reserved by the respective artists. 

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48 thoughts on “Mary McHugh and James Regan

  1. Mary McHugh

    I viewed your photograph and I am so sorry for Mary McHugh’s loss. I understand her frustration and pray her wombs will heal in time. This war in Iraq makes no sense to me as the same when Russia went to war in Afghanistan. Russia lost more than 50,000 men. And in World War II, Russia lost 27 million soldiers when Stalin sent 35 million troops to defeat Germany, it is a terrible loss to lose troops, weather it is the US, Britain, Russia or any country, what are we fighting for?

    Anyway, my thoughts are with Mary McHugh.


    – – – –

    SIA: I appreciate your sympathy and expressed frustrations. Your factual recollections may be inaccurate. For other comparative sources of casualty figures for the wars you referenced, here are two related Wikipedia sites:

    World War II casualty estimates by country:

    Afghanistan War casualty estimates:


  2. This picture moved me to tears the first time I saw it. It still does. They say a picture is worth a 1,000 words; and this is a perfect example. You don’t need to know their story (although that makes it all the more poignant), the raw emotion comes through. I think this will become one of those iconic pictures that will define this time in our history.

    Thank you for posting it.


  3. No he visto nunca una imagen tan bonita, emocional y que pueda tener tanta fuerza.
    Lloro cada vez que la miro.Es sublime.

    – – – –

    OneMoreOption: Gracias Carlos. For anyone who doesn’t speak Spanish, here is wrote he wrote, loosely translated:

    I have never seen a picture so pretty, it may have emotional and so strong.
    I cry every time I look at that. It is sublime.


  4. I saw it and teared up immediately, regardless of your stance on the war, this picture IS love…GOD bless anyone and everyone affected by this war or any in the future…

    – – – –

    OneMoreOption: Thank you Sean.


  5. I first saw this photo when it appeared on the front page of The New York Times (I think it was). I was deeply moved by the eloquence about loss and longing and desire. As I recall, on the same page was a photo of a young celebrity and her race-car-driver husband celebrating one of his victories; I found the contrast between these photos startling.

    This image of Mary’s personal loss reflects the sorrow and longing many feel about this war–sorrow over the immorality of the actions of the Bush administration and longing to recover at least some of the values that have been discarded.


  6. To me, this beautiful, poignant, sad, dreadful, mournful, emotional, piece of the art that is the human soul, is too sublime for comments! I look at it and cry for all the young of bygone and future wars and hope that one day the human spirit will live on a higher sphere and people will not have the need to reach out in any emotion other than joy at the thought of being given this life we each have one chance at and helping our fellow wayfarers to all of our lives in peace!


  7. God bless America !!and go to hell terorrists!!
    in my opinion this war is necessary because we love life and they love death!!


  8. All you ladies- Renne , Mary & Kathrine are symbol of Love and Compassion. You ladies are real inspirations to all the lovers of today and days to come.

    God Bless You all.


  9. May God Bless the ones in these stories that sacrificed so much for us…and all the others that are still fighting !!! May the families and loved ones never forget that there are many of us who are praying for them to either… rest in peace, recover from their wounds, or get home safe!!! We also pray for the families and loved ones to find the strength to heal from their broken hearts.
    These men and women serving our country are our heros and we all need keep them in our prayers and most importantly support them. After all it is THE LEAST WE CAN DO!!!!

    Thank You and God Bless You All !!


  10. As an army vet – Father, Husband, friend and son. I don’t know what or even how, to say it – but, maybe its best I try not to – The photos of Ms. Cathey’s last night with her Husband and Ms. Regan on her Husband’s grave found me just staring – and the tears running down my face – In contrast to Ty & Renee Ziegel, it proves one thing. When you love someone deeply all you want is for them to come back alive – Our eyes are a blessing and deception for it can not see what the heart does. God Speed to you, the Ziegel’s and may the rest of your days bring you nothing but love and support in a world that cannot see what you have. For Mrs. Cathey and Regan; I pray the Lord lessens you pain with each day for you have made a sacrifice few of us will ever want to face – As an Army Vet myself during the 1st Gulf War – my heart goes out to you and your familes – Mike


  11. he, will be with you all the time, in your heart and in you lovely memories.
    el, estará contigo todo el tiempo, en tu corazón y en tus amorosos recuerdos.


  12. When I saw this picture it broke my heart to see her laying there trying to be close to her love. If I could take his place I would, God be with you Mary.


  13. An incredible photograph. Tragic, yet poignant. As with all art it inspires different reactions in different viewers. The meaning I gathered was that our war-dead affects everyone, especially their family and loved ones. I also was reminded that the price of freedom remains very high and it probably will be that way as long as our country exist. When the US finally surrenders or looks away, the price will be unimaginable to everyone in the world with a desire to be free.


  14. Mary,

    My heart goes out to you and James.

    I’m a relatively short flight from southern Iraq, half a world away from my loved ones; I have a wonderful marriage and two precious children. I have lived to realize my purpose. The picture of you at James’ grave immediately brought me to tears, though I know nothing what it’s like to lose the better half. God bless you, dear soul.


  15. Mary

    hoy he recibido tu fotografia, la primera impresion que llego a mi pensamiento fue ver en ti una fuerza en contra de todo esa fuerza qque sigue moviendote ese fuerza que se llama amor.



  16. Sir, I recently created a montage of photos showing the human cost of the war on terror. (Youtube ‘The human cost of war – vide cor meum’) I have no political point to make and merely wanted to show that human beings on all sides suffer in war. I googled for suitable images to use and found the moving image of Miss McHugh at her fiance’s graveside. I noticed that Sgt Regan’s name was visible on his headstone and researched some of his story online. I was utterly moved by their story of love, loss and hope. I pass my condolences and prayers on to Ms McHugh and hope that life brings her some laughter and joy in the years ahead. Should my youtube montage cause offence (I hope it doesn’t) I will of course remove it instantly.

    God Bless Ms McHugh and all who suffer in war.
    I pray for the soul of Sgt Regan, may he find eternal rest in God’s arms.

    Respectfully yours, Patrick, Scotland.


  17. Cette image m’à innondé les yeux de larmes

    être si proche mais en même temps si loins de l’ être aimé c’est horrible …

    de tout coeur avec vous Mary McHug

    je prie pour vous et votre famille


    Stive Switzerland

    – – – –

    Loosely translated from French:

    This image flooded my eyes with tears

    To be so close but yet so far from the loved one is horrible …

    Wholeheartedly with you Mary McHugh

    I pray for you and your family,




  18. Soy un hombre de caracter fuerte . . . pero al ver esta imagen se me hizo un nudo en la garganta. Admiro la fortaleza de esta dama.

    – – – –

    OneMoreOption: Loosely translated: I am a man of strong character. . . but seeing this picture I felt a lump in my throat. I admire the fortitude of this lady.


  19. Toda qualquer perda é irreparavel, é uma dor que cada um sente do jeito diferente, mas dor é dor.

    – – – –

    Loosely Translated From Portuguese:

    Any loss is irreparable, it is a pain that everyone feels in a different way, but pain is pain.


  20. dear sir… thank u very much for sharing with us these thoughts and photos. may God bless those soldiers souls and their relatives. Thank u for that sir. We support your troops always.


  21. Love at its supreme! Oh how Ms. Mc Hugh’s grief penetrated my soul! My God grant you peace, my dear and ease the pain of your loss.



  22. Words cannot describe the feeling I had seeing the picture of Mary McHugh. I cried and so did my wife. It’s one of most poignant pictures I have ever seen and I am 81 years old. The sadness, despair, and total hopelessness of it all makes you wonder why war is not forever obolished by mankind. God hope somday Mary McHugh will find some degree of happiness in this world possible with another kind soul worthy of her love. I will remember her im my prayers all the remaining days of my life.


  23. Deze foto staat voor de rest van mijn leven in mijn geheugen gegrift. Ik voel me ontzettend ontroerd. Ik voel mee met de famile en vriendin, hopelijk komen zij dit drama te boven.

    – – – –

    Loosely translated from Dutch: This picture will be in my memory for the rest of my life. I feel very moved. I sympathize with the family and girlfriend, hopefully they come out of this tragedy.


  24. These pictures will stay with me forever. You wonder why we become so brutal to each other, when life can be eclipsed so easily. Love someone today, even the unlovable.


  25. This image is so arresting that when it briefly flashed by in a video, I rewound and paused the image so that I could read the name on the gravestone. Then I googled it.

    A beautiful, powerful portrait of heart-break.


  26. soy de peru, las perdidas en una guerra son inevitables pero tenemos como humanos las ssoluciones.

    – – –

    Loosely translated:
    I’m from Peru, losses are inevitable in a war but we as humans are the solutions.


  27. Pingback: It hits home | VFW NC District 6

  28. Soooooooooooooo sorry Mary for all that you lost, I was so moved by this photo I now have it as my background on my computer, I still get emotional every time I go on line and I sent it to everyone on my e-mail list. Thank you for sharing that tender moment.
    Thinking Of You
    T O y


  29. My husband has done three tours since 2003 and is facing a fourth. If people cannot agree with taking photo’s like this then shame on them. Because it is easy to not have to think about losing the one person you love the most in the world when they are not in direct harm’s way. But you don’t have that luxury when that loved one is in a war. It brings home how hard it is to lose someone in such a tragic way. Death is a part of life. These photos are a piece of history, thank you.


  30. No amount of eloquence can alter the fact that anyone in the above posts who failed to control an urge to use this photograph to make a political point exploited Mary McHugh’s grief.


  31. just recently i happened to find thid pic,can’t recall how.i got to it;it tells more than anything else about love,,simply love;


  32. @John Wright, you mean like how the original creator of this blog entry did with these two sentences?

    “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.”

    It appears to me that the original exploiter was original blog poster.


  33. Pingback: The True Human Cost of Shock And Awe: Soldiers And Dignity

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