The picture in the wallet

I don’t think there will ever be a day when I unfold this picture and fail to stare at these faces for a long, long time. I’ve carried it in my wallet for a couple of decades now. If you’re a long-time NewsCut reader, you know the whole story.

(© John Francis Ficara)

“For all the talk of glory and purpose,” The Toledo Blade wrote in an editorial in 1991, “a war is still a war. A president may call the fight just, a protester may argue it is not. But when the talk has passed, the reality of that picture from Arlington remains: In war, soldiers and civilians die. And little boys… fight battles none of us should ever have to face.”

One of my first introductions when I moved to Minnesota Public Radio as an editor in 1992, was passing the photo around at a news staff meeting. People looked at me funny, more so than they normally do.

It took many, many years before I was able to find the story of this particular family, the family of Capt. Jonathan “Jack” Edwards, the first Marine killed in the Gulf War of 1991 in Kuwait.

He died 21 years ago today.

His son, Spencer (on the right at age 13), sent me an e-mail today to tell me his family is doing well. His sister, sitting on a lap in the photo, is expecting a baby boy. She’ll name him “Jack.” Brother Bennett just got engaged and apparently Spencer is about to get married, too, because his soon-to-be father in law stumbled on the NewsCut post (link above) and showed it to him.

“The loss of my father shattered our world and gave us a taste of how unforgiving war is to all,” Spencer said in his e-mail, which I hope he doesn’t mind me sharing with those of you who’ve shared this story. “Living in Virginia Beach we are surrounded by a huge military population, and I have seen again and again the effects of war. It never gets easier to swallow. I just wanted to thank you for keeping my father in your heart and mind for so many years. ”

When I talked to her a few years ago, Capt. Edwards’ mother told me that what the family saw in front of them at Arlington were dozens of photographers invading their grief.

Few photographers show up at Arlington anymore, even though the casualties of war keep arriving. The next will be Will Stacey of Seattle, who was killed in Afghanistan on Tuesday. He was the 1,890th to die.


Someone should put his picture in a wallet.

  • Jim Shapiro

    Bob – Thanks for sharing this. And thanks for having the integrity to do things that might get funny looks from time to time.

  • Justin

    Hear, hear. As a veteran of over 10 years of military service, I wish that more stories like this were told and re-told. Far too often, the conflict our brave soldiers, sailors, airmen (and women) and marines face is flash-in-the-pan news, here today, gone tomorrow.

    This is the kind of reporting I have come to expect, and I salute you, Mr. Collins, for taking the time to update everyone on this touching story.

  • Kevin Watterson

    Not really the same, but kind of, I carry a picture in my wallet of Tiger Woods and Mark Calccavechia snapped during a practice round on September 11 moments after they heard about the attacks. I think it ran in the USA Today. I look at it from time to time as a reminder of what truly matters and what doesn’t. On the other side are the previous day’s box scores, driving home the point that the world can change any. Day.

    (For the record, Doug Mientkiewicz was 7th in the league in hitting. Bob’s Indians were having a good year.)

  • Jeff

    Thank you, Bob, for writing things that matter. Not just things that inform us, but things that make us think and make us feel something.

  • Paula

    Thanks Bob

    The picture I carry is the one of my combat buddy Major Scott Hagerty who also had a wife and two boys.

    I think every parent must understand that with service to our nation comes huge suffering, not only for our troops but also for the thousands of displaced citizens in the countries where we fight.

    Thanks again for this story!