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Master Sgt. James E. Valrie at a desert airstrip in southern Iraq.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Marine Sgt. Tisha L. Carter-Valrie / U.S. Marine Corps

As the sun sets, Master Sgt. James E. Valrie salutes the U.S. flag before lowering it at a desert airfield in southern Iraq on April 3, 2003.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Marine Sgt. Tisha L. Carter-Valrie / U.S. Marine Corps

Staff Sgt. Steve Dykhouse, left, and Master Sgt. James E. Valrie case the colors.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Marine Sgt. Tisha L. Carter-Valrie / U.S. Marine Corps

Master Sgt. James E. Valrie, left, and Staff Sgt. Steve Dykhouse perform the evening colors ceremony.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Marine Sgt. Tisha L. Carter-Valrie / U.S. Marine Corps

Valrie and Dykhouse complete the ceremony.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Sgt. Tisha L. Carter-Valrie / U.S. Marine Corps

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The story behind the photo: A U.S. Marine salutes the flag in Iraq

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The story behind the photo: A U.S. Marine salutes the flag in Iraq

As U.S. and allied forces advanced toward Baghdad 10 years ago, a military public affairs sergeant snapped a photograph of a Marine saluting the flag at sunset at a desert airfield in southern Iraq.

Taken on April 3, 2003, it was one of many images released by the Marine Corps during the invasion that launched the Iraq war. Through the years, the image has been reproduced countless times.

The Marine in the photograph, Master Sgt. James E. Valrie of Loxley, Ala., passed away June 12, 2009, after a difficult fight with cancer. The photographer, his wife, Marine Sgt. Tisha L. Carter-Valrie of Forgan, Okla., shared the story behind the photograph and the impact it has had on her family.

jv27

By Tisha L. Carter-Valrie 

•••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••

I had two failed marriages before I met James. I thought I was destined to be single. We met through a mutual friend who knew I was getting stationed in San Diego and suggested I contact him. We became the best of friends, crying on each other’s shoulders over other relationships, and eventually became romantically involved.

In January 2003, my parents made a trip to San Diego to see me one last time before I deployed to Iraq. They met James for the first time, and without any prior discussion, James looked at my father and told him he would like to marry me. I remember him saying, we don’t know what will happen once we get over there and he did not want to miss the opportunity to have me for his wife.

I was totally on the spot, but I said yes. We were married Jan. 25, 2003. Two days later, he left for Kuwait and I deployed shortly thereafter. He always used to joke that he gave me six months of all the sun and sand a girl could want on a honeymoon.

We were from different units, so we weren’t sent to the same places. After the war began, I was escorting media, and we flew into a desert airfield in southern Iraq. My husband’s unit was the base air traffic control unit. Coincidentally, it was my husband’s turn to take down the flag and perform the evening colors ceremony. I grabbed my camera and happened to catch the photo you see.

In 2004, I opened my mailbox one day and received the yearly Memorial Day postcard from USAA. I could not believe it, but there was my photo of my husband on the postcard.

postcard

This was just the beginning. Since that time, the photograph has appeared on countless websites, blog posts and Facebook pages. One year, the band KISS used it on their website in tribute to veterans. My kids were so excited.

kiss

My husband and I attended a 2005 U.S. Marine Corps Ball together and there it was again: on commemorative cups and coins, even on the cake.

banquet

In 2010, Marines in Boston reproduced the photograph in a mural they painted in the Hyde Park neighborhood. 

Staff Sgt. Steve Dykhouse, who performed the colors ceremony with my husband that night, had the photograph tattooed on his arm.

tattoo

Unfortunately, with all the wonderful ways it has been used, the photograph has also been manipulated and in some cases used in ways I found disrespectful. On Memorial Day, the flag is sometimes moved to appear at half-staff.

People have flipped the photograph, I’m sure to make the flag fly in the other direction, but by doing that, it makes my husband look like he is saluting with the wrong hand. In one case, the flag was turned upside down and used on an antiwar site. It makes me so angry when I run across it being used in a manner that does anything less than pay tribute to our country’s service members.

mani pic1

After 21 years of service, my husband retired from the Marine Corps in early 2004. I got out in 2006 and we moved to Murfreesboro, Tenn. In 2008, we discovered James had a very rare, aggressive form of kidney cancer.  I took care of him until he passed away June 12, 2009.

His passing was very difficult for me and my kids. My children, who are from my first marriage, considered James their father. He taught my daughter to drive and took her to her first high school dance. He steered my son away from a life of juvenile delinquency and helped turn him into the successful young man he is today.

jv38

Tisha L. Carter-Valrie, her husband, James E. Valrie, and her children, Shantel and Robert Vargas.

This photograph has been a wonderful tribute — kind of me and my family’s own private little tribute, as very few people knew the story behind it, that it was taken of a Marine, by a Marine, and they were married. I am honored when anyone wants to use it. But this photograph has such deep meaning to me, my children and James’ family, that it is often difficult to swallow when we see it abused.

It took me all of this time to finally open the footlocker and backpack I brought home from Iraq. I found, for the first time, a CD with photos I had taken. I had totally forgotten that I not only took the photo that was published, but I actually caught, moment by moment, with the Iraq sunset in the background, James taking down the flag and folding it up. No one but me has ever seen them. I am sharing them now in his memory.

flag.main

12 Comments

  1. March 20, 2013, 7:33 am

    Great story! Semper Fi!

    By: Warriorwriter
  2. March 20, 2013, 8:12 am

    Beautiful story. Master Sgt. Valrie is from the next town over where I grew up in Alabama. We were both born at the same hospital. As an Army Journalist, I can appreciate these photos his wife shared. As a wife, my heart goes out to Tisha. The time you had together was short but you’ve captured your husband in a way that will live on for generations to come. I’m sorry your images were used in a negative way. I think many times our imagery as journalists can be used inappropriately by those who are ignorant of the military and not out of malice. Thank you for sharing such intimate images with us all. Proud to have had you both as my brother and sister in arms!

    By: Dakota Goldsmith
  3. March 20, 2013, 9:21 am

    BEAUTIFUL, WONDERFUL TRIBUTE to ALL of our heroes – throughout ALL of the generations of those who have chosen to serve our country by protecting those of us at home.
    Thank you, Tisha and James for sharing your wonderful love for each other and dedication to our country — I am honored you have allowed us to walk your amazing journey with you both .
    Magnificent pictures – treasured Forever . . . Bless you – Bless him…

    By: LCK
  4. March 20, 2013, 3:06 pm

    Semper Fi, Marine.

    By: lakay7@juno.com
  5. March 21, 2013, 9:36 am

    As a Marine Air Traffic Controller it was a privilege and honor to know and serve with James, and now know the full story behind this photo…

    Semper Fi!
    Joe Morales
    MSgt/USMC (ret)

    By: Jacamo@hotmail.com
  6. March 21, 2013, 11:39 am

    I was lucky enough to serve under this man during my time in Iraq. We had an awesome unit at MCAS Miramar and it continued while we were serving in Iraq during OEF and OIF. I believe everything ran smoothly as possible because of the leadership of Top Val. He is a great Marine and and even better person. We all miss him very much and think about him often. Beautiful write up and a beautiful picture. I get goose bumps everytime I see it. Semper Fidelis Top Val.

    By: Clay Matheny
  7. March 21, 2013, 5:43 pm

    It's an honor to be the "mutual friend" who introduced James "JV" and Tisha! Tisha was a friend I made while in Japan & I had known JV since 1990. JV was one of a kind & true gentleman, full of wisdom, care & respect. We were Marines together at MCAS Quantico. He always filled my head with USMC knowledge, pressed me to further my career & provided personal advice. He always smilled & was full of jokes. Everyone loved JV & his sense of humor, he never had an enemy. When Tisha was transferring to San Diego as a single mother, I contacted JV & said, "I have a friend who is transferring to SD, I need you to help her our with finding a place to live" First thing JV said was, "What does she look like?" He always made a joke with everything. Before I knew it, I was also transferring to SD & contacted JV to let him know. He told me that he & Tish were going to pick me up from my hotel & take me to breakfast. Turns out, it was at "their" house, they were together & wanted to surprise me. Anyone who knows military lifestyle know we become each others families. When they deployed, they entrusted me with the care of their daughter & their finances & I was touched by this. And it was paid forward, because when I needed a place to stay, I lived with them for a little while. We have always been family & I truly miss seeing JV"s smiling face & hearing his jokes. God Bless JV & Tisha for the sacrifices both have made in support of this wonderful country we call home.

    By: kimsoares35
  8. March 22, 2013, 7:18 am

    RIP my Brother, I feel I'm a better Marine and man for having known/worked with you! Semper Fi, I trust that heaven's streets are guarded properly…

    Dutch

    By: dutchcardwell
  9. March 22, 2013, 8:42 am

    Tisha, as always, seeing this picture sent chills down my spine. When this picture has been used in tribute and ina respectful manner, i cant help but think what a fitting tribute it is, if people only knew the whole story it would increase the meaning 10 fold. JV was the epitome of a United States Marine, a leader, mentor and friend. I am soo happy this story conitues to circulate, it makes me feel like JV is still with us.

    By: Ryan
  10. March 22, 2013, 8:48 am

    Semper Fi, My Friend. I miss you JV.

    By: MSgt USMC (Ret)
  11. July 13, 2013, 6:46 pm

    Thank you for sharing these outstanding photos and the very touching story behind them. The fact that you took them of your husband,while you were both serving in the Marine Corps overseas, multiplies the emotional quality of the sequence. It lets us see your love of family, Corps and country, all at once, and through your own eyes. That's an amazing privilege. Thank you for allowing us to be part of it. Sincerely, Cindy ReaLynch (Veteran, USAF '87-'96)

    By: Cindy ReaLynch
  12. November 1, 2013, 1:45 am

    My brother is Steve, who got this tattoo, such a beautiful reminder this picture is, of dedication to our country…semper fi

    By: Jennifer

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