Perhaps no combat photograph taken in Iraq has captured the tragedy and mayhem of the insurgent war against the U.S. as well as N&O photographer Chuck Liddy’s shot of the aftermath of an attack on a convoy outside Fallujah, in the Sunni Triangle. The photo ran on the front page of The News & Observer and as a two-page spread in Time magazine to illustrate a story critical of the Bush Administration’s war planning headlined: “Mission NOT Accomplished.”
“We heard this call come in that there had been an explosion,” says Liddy, 49, who’s beein with the N&O for 11 years. An American Humvee had been attacked. “Everyone was itching to go.” A few moments later a second call informed the 82nd Airborne troops that the Humvee was “one of their own.”
The announcement sparked an immediate reaction.
“Go, go, go–and everyone starts putting their stuff on.” Liddy says. He was the first in the Humvee.
The bombing took place about six miles outside the base, near Fallujah. The traffic leading up the wreckage was bumper-to-bumper.
“It was like an Interstate,” Liddy says, “Élike being on 40.”
“There were hundreds of soldiers lining the road” for protection, he says. Their guns were pointed in the direction of a nearby town. Following bombings, the U.S. military is aware that secondary bombs and enemy fire could await American support crews. The lines of traffic were waiting for a safety approval.
At the time, Liddy says, “I’m wondering how close we can get É we can see the Humvee burning.”
“All of a sudden” he says, “the captain goes ‘load up’” and “we drive up to the wreck.”
Liddy immediately asked how close he could get.
The response: “Just don’t get burned.”
“I could get closer to this than I can wrecks in the United States,” Liddy says. “Since we were embedded, we were with the troops.”
Liddy says he approached the still smoking wreckage and began to make photographs. He was the only photographer allowed on the scene.
“I see this boot sitting on the ground,” he says. “It’s burnt, it’s partly blown up, there is a piece of clothing from where the pants burnt.”
To avoid lying on the debris-ridden ground, Liddy pre-focused his digital camera and set it down. Fortunately, he says, “The light was good.”
He was able to shoot multiple pictures of the boot from various angles.
“I kept waiting for someone to grab me and tell me to stop,” he says. “They didn’t.”
One soldier was killed and three were seriously wounded in the blast, including Pfc. George Perez, whose boot was in the photo. The N&O profiled him last month.
When it was time to leave, Liddy jumped back into the 82nd Airborne’s Humvee, sitting next to one of the survivors from the blast.
When he arrived back at camp, he looked through his pictures.
“I didn’t really know what I had,” Liddy says.
But, when he saw the photograph of the boot in front of the smoking Humvee, he said he knew he had been “in the right place at the right time.”
“I came over here to shoot war pictures,” he says. “Now, this one said war.”
In fact, people from all over the camp came to Liddy to get an up-close look at the wreckage.
However, military authorities thought the image was a little too up close. As a result, the military passed new ground rules several days later. Photographers were now required to stand at least 100 yards from an explosion site. The reasoning they gave: “Someone got too close to a Humvee.”