I’ve been traveling this week — visiting sources, doing interviews, planning — all part of the advance work to set up trips back out overseas with Tyler Hicks. Today on the way back home I had the chance to sit for a few hours near Atlanta with Dustin E. Kirby, the former petty officer who was covered in several articles in The New York Times in 2006 and 2007, beginning with this one.
Many of you will remember the photograph that Joao Silva made of Dustin’s bloody hand in Karma, Iraq in 2006, holding the armor-piercing 7.62x54R bullet that had, moments before, passed through his roommate’s head. Dustin was later shot himself, on Christmas Day. The bullet passed through his mouth, tearing out teeth, parts of his jaw and tongue. He’s been recovering ever since, a journey now more than five years on. It is a journey that will last his entire life.
There is a lot more to say about Dusty, who was medically retired from the Navy not too long ago, and now is home with his parents in Powder Springs, Ga. And it will take a while to get all that down, and then to get it out.
Meanwhile, as we sat outside his home today on lawn chairs in the warm Georgia sun, it was impossible not to notice the license plates on the pickup truck and the van parked nearby on the grass.
The top plate, above, is Dusty’s. The bottom plate was on the van owned by his late grandfather, William E. Kirby, an Army infantryman in World War Two. The elder Kirby was wounded in the Battle of the Bulge.
Two service members in one home, from two different generations, both of them out there, and both of them struck. And that’s not all. Dusty’s cousin, Joe Dan Worley, was a Navy corpsman assigned to Second Battalion, First Marines (my own first infantry battalion) and was wounded near Falluja in 2004. He lost his left leg to an IED and suffered multiple gunshot wounds to his right. He lives not far down the road from Dusty.
Why does American military service cluster in certain families and homes? It’s a question I have pondered, and interviewed service members on, for a long time. Tyler Hicks has been photographing service members who have family members in uniform, too, and we hope to publish something soon about this clustering, and to give it a face, just as these license plates say something resonant and, too often, unappreciated and unexplored.
I’ll end this for now by thanking the Kirby family, one and all, for their generous and genuine streak of Southern hospitality, right down the big fine ham they insisted I eat as I headed this evening for the airport, where I am sitting at the gate now. (And thank you, Gail, for asking that I drop by to see Dusty, all this time later. He’s come a long, long way since the bullet struck. It was worth every second that we sat and caught up.)
ABOUT THE PHOTOGRAPHS
By the author. Powder Springs, Ga. Earlier today.