My Full Length Interview with John Bernard:
This week, my Monmouth Review-Atlas column, published every Tuesday, addresses Lance Corporal Bernard’s Story…
“A Marine, His Family, and One Gruesome Photograph”
By Jim Bennett
On Aug. 14, as his patrol was readying for a rumored Taliban ambush in Dahaneh, Afghanistan, Lance Corporal Joshua Bernard, just 21, was on point. The ambush erupted and a rocket-propelled grenade blew one of Joshua’s legs off, leaving the other leg severely injured. His comrades struggled with tourniquets and battlefield first aid while still under heavy enemy fire, but sadly, for this young, mortally wounded Marine, this attack would mean the end of his life a short time later.
For his comrades, this attack was a moment of sheer desperation as they tried to drag Bernard to safety. And for his parents, John and Sharon Bernard, back home in New Portland, Maine, this attack would come to mean the loss of their only son.
But for embedded photojournalist Julie Jacobson and her bosses at the Associated Press, this attack was a Kodak Moment. Jacobson captured a vivid and dramatic photograph of the scene: Bernard’s gruesome wound is shown in all its bloody detail, and his young face, sickly pale and blank with shock, is haunting. The article that Jacobson and AP reporter Alfred de Montesquiou filed stated that, as that young man was exsanguinating, the photographer “wrestled” with a “question”: Should she try to help save Joshua, or should she keep taking pictures?
Is this really what we have become? Have our hearts really hardened to the point that circumstances like I just described actually cause one to “wrestle” with such a “question”?
Soon Jacobson’s bosses here in the states were “wrestling” with a “question” that should have been just as axiomatic. This Marine’s parents and sister have already been crushed by his death, just days ago. Do we take their profound grief to new depths by publishing the gory photo around the world, or do we summon that remnant of human decency that lies dormant in our icy souls and at least spare these tormented people that added trial? Just like Julie Jacobson’s “question,” the only thing more shocking than the way they answered the question was the fact that they even needed to ask it at all. And just like Julie Jacobson, they made a disgusting choice.
Joshua’s father, John Bernard, is a career Marine who retired at the rank of 1st Sergeant. He was mid-way through that career when I did my three-year stint in the Corps, and we both served in Desert Shield/Desert Storm, though we never met. I was so moved by his son’s story and so outraged by the actions of Julie Jacobson and the AP that I got in touch with John and his wife Sharon. He spoke glowingly of a son who loved Jesus, loved the Marine Corps and loved his family.
John and Sharon homeschooled Joshua and his sister Katie, and when he started talking to his Dad about enlisting, John wanted one assurance: “I needed to know that, when he did this, he was doing it for the right reasons … not just a ‘following in dad’s footsteps’ kind of thing. He was absolutely adamant that this is what he was called to do. And this was with an understanding that his testimony as a Christian would have a bearing in that environment.”
Joshua’s devotion to Jesus Christ was soon producing spiritual fruit among his brothers in arms. John told me that his son “actually was holding Bible studies…they were ongoing, he was encouraging guys, and they were wanting to learn, and they were listening.”
After his death, his unit held a memorial service for him in Afghanistan. Joshua’s remarkable impact was evident there. “The Battalion Commander called me,” John said, “and told me that during their field service, he was almost speechless. He had never witnessed anything like that, where so many Marines – and some of these guys are battle-hardened and have seen things nobody should see – they were all in tears and, to a man, they were all completely heartbroken over having lost this particular Marine. He said that they recognized in him something that was much closer to God than they had ever seen before. And so the suggestion is that God will use that.”
A few days after the funeral, an AP reporter approached John to discuss the photograph. John asked to see it and was shown what he described as fuzzy, black-and-white prints, which bore little resemblance to the bloody, clear color photo now splashed across newspapers worldwide.
“I handed them back to him and said, ‘Look: Neither my wife nor daughter needs to see this. Nobody needs to see this. So if you’re asking me for my permission, you don’t have it. You need to go back and tell them that absolutely no one needs to see this. It doesn’t honor him, it doesn’t honor the Corps, it doesn’t honor God, it doesn’t honor this country, and it doesn’t do them, as a news agency, any service whatsoever.”
Four days later, John Bernard followed up with a phone call to Associated Press leadership, emphatically reiterating his plea that they spare his family this additional, and wholly unnecessary, trauma. Not long after, the Secretary of Defense himself, Robert Gates, intervened, strongly encouraging the Associated Press not to subject the Bernard family to this torment.
They ran the picture anyway.
“I have very little use for the people who took the picture and even less for those who ran it. They had plenty of time to reflect on it, and they did it anyway,” John said.
And like many who read the story Julie Jacobson filed, John Bernard was stunned that she had to “wrestle” with a choice between helping save Joshua and continuing to ghoulishly snap away with her camera. “The fact that that would even be a dilemma for anybody … I don’t even know how to ascribe a thought to that. But the fact that she failed and went the wrong way says much, you know?
“All I can say is it comes back to Romans 1 where it says God will turn them over to a reprobate mind,” John offered. “This person [Julie Jacobson] reflects that.”
I asked John what he thought motivated the Associated Press in their compassionless assault on his grieving family, and he attributed it to greed. “There was exactly one purpose for this, and that was the bottom line, that was selling rags,” he told me. “It’s voyeurism at its worst.”
I share John Bernard’s assessment of all the principle players in this tragedy. And Jesus warned us of a day when, “because iniquity shall abound, the love of many will wax cold.”
That day, dear reader, seems quite near right now. And May God help us all.