Heroes

10 photos of seriously wounded vets remind us about the real costs of war.

It's not rude: These photos were meant to be stared at.

10 photos of seriously wounded vets remind us about the real costs of war.

This article originally appeared on 05.31.15


Photographer David Jay specializes in fashion and beauty, stuff that's "beautiful and sexy — and completely untrue," as he puts it. But that's not all he photographs.

Three years ago, Jay began to take pictures of young, severely wounded soldiers returning home from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Trigger warning: These portraits don't shy away from wounded bodies.


Be prepared. I found them shocking at first. But keep looking. The more I looked, the more beauty and humanity I found reflected here. (The photo captions are from the Jay's Unknown Soldier Project Facebook page.)

This is 1st Lt. Nicholas John Vogt, U.S. Army. On Nov. 12, 2011, he was severely injured by an IED while on a foot-patrol in Panjwaii, Afghanistan. We took these pictures this past weekend in the swimming pool at Walter Reed Medical Center. I asked Nicholas for his permission to post these images and this was his response: "The only thing that I want to pass on is this: Losing limbs is like losing a good friend. We wish we could still be with them, but it wasn't 'in the cards.' Then we get up, remember the good times, and thank God for whatever we have left." Image by David Jay/ David Jay Photography. All images used with permission.

In a National Public Radio interview about his project, Jay said, "You can imagine how many times each of these men and women have heard a parent tell their child, 'Don't look. Don't stare at him. That's rude.'"

"I take these pictures so that we can look; we can see what we're not supposed to see. And we need to see them because we created them." — David Jay

Image by David Jay/ David Jay Photography.

Jay wants us to see, to become even a little familiar with the tragic loss of limbs and burned skin of wounded vets — his portraits are 4 feet wide — but he also wants us to see them as people and to think about their experiences and those of people in their lives.

This past week, I went to San Antonio, Texas. There I had the privilege of photographing both Daniel Burgess and Bobby Bernier. They are friends. Daniel stepped on a IED, losing one leg and destroying the other. Bobby was hit by incoming artillery, sustaining burns over 60% of his body. He is pictured here with his daughter Layla. Image by David Jay/ David Jay Photography.

This is Maj. Matt Smith. This past week, Matt allowed me to photograph him in his room at the Walter Reed Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. Less than three months ago, on June 8, 2013, in Paktika province, Afghanistan, Matt was shot along with five others by a member of the Afghan National Army. The bullet severed his femoral artery, resulting in the amputation of his leg. A private and soulful man, it was an honor to photograph him. Thank you, Maj. Smith. Image by David Jay/ David Jay Photography.

Image by David Jay/David Jay Photography.

This is Jerral Hancock. He was driving a tank in Iraq. A roadside bomb pierced the armor, breaching the interior. We shot these pics two weeks ago at his home in Lancaster, California, where Jarral lives with his two beautiful children. We ended up hanging out into the night, smokin' ciggys ... so I kept taking pictures. Image by David Jay/ David Jay Photography.

"To the men and women of The Unknown Soldier, I can't thank you enough for your courage and sacrifice ... both on and off the battlefield. It is an honor to photograph you." — David Jay


On July 25, 2012, SFC Cedric King, an Airborne Ranger, was severely injured by an IED while serving his country in Afghanistan. Due to the explosion, Cedric sustained a multitude of internal and external injuries, losing both his legs. Cedric was doing his laps while I was photographing 1st Lt. Nicholas Vogt in the pool at Walter Reed Medical Center last week. Cedric kept watching, so I had to ask. Cedric said, “That man (Nicholas) doesn't know it, but he changed my life. There was a point when I was so down that I thought I couldn't go on. And then one day I saw him swimming ... and I just thought, wow ... if he can go on like that, then I can go on too." Cedric will also change people's lives. Already has. Image by David Jay/David Jay Photography.

This is Michael Fox, a 27-year-old Marine and an amazing man. On Nov. 15, 2011, Michael was on foot-patrol in the Helmand province of Afghanistan. His is the first picture of "The Unknown Soldier." Image by David Jay/David Jay Photography.


This past weekend, I photographed Staff Sgt. Shilo Harris in Houston, Texas. He came up from San Antonio to see one of my other exhibitions, The SCAR Project (www.thescarproject.org). Shilo was severely burned on Feb. 19, 2007, by a roadside bomb estimated at 700 pounds. He lost three men out of a crew of five. Only Shilo and his driver survived the blast. Shilo has a book coming out soon. He is truly an amazing man, and I am honored to call him a friend. Image by David Jay/David Jay Photography.

"The Unknown Soldier is about neither war or politics ... but rather something infinitely simpler and more powerful." — David Jay

Image by David Jay/ David Jay Photography.

The Library of Congress has acquired images from Jay's The Unknown Soldier project as part of its documentation of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. This speaks to the power of these images in capturing war's aftermath. But they are so much more than documentation.

Pictures like these help those of us who remain at home to begin to comprehend the true human cost of war.

Photo courtesy of Justin Sather
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While most 10-year-olds are playing Minecraft, riding bikes, or watching YouTube videos, Justin Sather is intent on saving the planet. And it all started with a frog blanket when he was a baby.

"He carried it everywhere," Justin's mom tells us. "He had frog everything, even a frog-themed birthday party."

In kindergarten, Justin learned that frogs are an indicator species – animals, plants, or microorganisms used to monitor drastic changes in our environment. With nearly one-third of frog species on the verge of extinction due to pollution, pesticides, contaminated water, and habitat destruction, Justin realized that his little amphibian friends had something important to say.

"The frogs are telling us the planet needs our help," says Justin.

While it was his love of frogs that led him to understand how important the species are to our ecosystem, it wasn't until he read the children's book What Do You Do With An Idea by Kobi Yamada that Justin-the-activist was born.

Inspired by the book and with his mother's help, he set out on a mission to raise funds for frog habitats by selling toy frogs in his Los Angeles neighborhood. But it was his frog art which incorporated scientific facts that caught people's attention. Justin's message spread from neighbor to neighbor and through social media; so much so that he was able to raise $2,000 for the non-profit Save The Frogs.

And while many kids might have their 8th birthday party at a laser tag center or a waterslide park, Justin invited his friends to the Ballona wetlands ecological preserve to pick invasive weeds and discuss the harms of plastic pollution.

Justin's determination to save the frogs and help the planet got a massive boost when he met legendary conservationist Dr. Jane Goodall.

Photo courtesy of Justin Sather

At one of her Roots and Shoots youth initiative events, Dr. Goodall was so impressed with Justin's enthusiasm for helping frogs, she challenged the young activist to take it one step further and focus on plastic pollution as well. Justin accepted her challenge and soon after was featured in an issue of Bravery Magazine dedicated to Jane Goodall.

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