The Digital Journalist
A Picture is Really Worth a Thousand Words
March 2007

by Ron Steinman

Wounded Marine Returns Home to Wed

Wounded Marine Sgt. Ty Ziegel and Renee Kline have their portrait taken before their wedding.
Look at this photograph by Nina Berman. Look carefully. Pause. Think. Realize you are seeing something unique, something rare. It is a photo of war. There is no combat in the picture. Look at the picture taken in a studio before the wedding of former Marine Sgt. Ty Ziegel and his fiancée Renee Kline that took place Oct. 7, 2006. In many ways it is a typical wedding day photo, except the image is less than what one might expect on a wedding day. The young bride is perfect in her beautiful wedding gown. She holds a lovely bouquet of flowers. The groom is, well, nearly perfect in his Marine dress blues, replete with war ribbons from his service in Iraq. But look closely at the photo. There is something wrong. Sgt. Ty Ziegel is horribly mutilated, a victim of a suicide car bomber in 2004 in Iraq. He was in recovery for 19 months at Brooke Army Medical Center in Texas. Despite his wounds, he and his childhood sweetheart married in the face of what could be major problems in the future. Does the bride know what she is getting into? Look at her face. I see fear and shock. We cannot tell what Sgt. Ziegel is thinking because his face is unrecognizable. It is impossible to know what anyone thinks, especially in a photo, but do the bride and groom really know what the future holds?

"Wounded Marine Returns Home From Iraq to Marry" is the title of the photo. We need read nothing more. Nina Berman says she believes her picture "shows how war has crept its way into the most common phase of daily life." Her assessment is right.

No one can learn about war unless he or she understands its results. By that I mean, the casualties of war, especially from Iraq, where almost 96 percent of the wounded survive -- the highest number of wounded survivors of any previous war. News organizations, principally TV, sanitize what we see from Iraq, and especially what we see at home, meaning the men and women going through rehabilitation and how their condition will affect the rest of their lives. The end of February saw the return of Bob Woodruff of ABC News to reporting as well as hosting a moving and thorough hour-long special broadcast about those with serious brain injuries, of course, including himself. Woodruff says he will continue to report this story for ABC News. NBC News to its credit is doing a series called the "Wounds of War," a title also used occasionally by World News Tonight with Charles Gibson. Despite this flurry, there still are not enough of those stories, though many more are in print. When this stretch ends, we probably will not see many similar stories for some time.

That is why, of the many photos about Iraq, this one, of a seemingly normal wedding, stands out. It says more about the war than anything from combat does. The result of war, its effect on soldiers, in this case a badly wounded Marine and his road to what might be a normal life, is something we as a people must understand. Otherwise we will continue to repeat our mistakes. Otherwise, we might never know the horror of war.

Nina Berman made only one shot to get this photo. Originally, the picture was part of an assignment for People magazine. For reasons Berman does not know, it never made it into the magazine. Berman later entered the photo in the Portraits-Singles section of the World Press Photo Awards where it won first place. It has been in Paris Match, Stern and other magazines.

Interestingly, it has had enormous word of mouth response on the Internet where blogs and Web sites are featuring the photo. So far, the rough estimate is that there have been more than 250,000 views of Nina Berman's photo. There are surely more to come. We may never know the final number of people who will see it on the Internet, but the photo will continue to resonate. This is because we are looking at a profoundly sad photo that tells a story that so far has no ending. It is only the beginning of a very long journey.

© Ron Steinman

Ron Steinman, Executive Editor of The Digital Journalist, is an award-winning producer of television news and documentaries. He was NBC's bureau chief in Saigon during the Vietnam War. He is also an author and freelance documentarian through his company, Douglas/Steinman Productions. Buy Ron Steinman's book: Inside Television's First War.