Saying goodbye to Cpl. Jorge Villarreal, in pictures


Lance Cpl. Bryant Whalen says goodbye on the battlefield to his friend, Cpl. Jorge Villarreal, after Villarreal stepped on an improvised explosive device Oct. 17 and died near the Kajaki Dam in Helmand province, Afghanistan. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Last week, Getty News Service published a series of photographs of a foot patrol near the Kajaki Dam, a landmark in northern Helmand province, Afghanistan, that provides hydroelectric power.  Third Battalion, 12th Marines, an artillery unit out of Camp Pendleton, Calif., has been assigned the area for several months, protecting a potential Taliban target.

This series of photographs was uncommon, though, because it includes scenes from the last foot patrol one Marine ever participated in. Cpl. Jorge Villarreal, a motor vehicle operator, died after stepping on an improvised explosive device, becoming one of the 19 casualties sustained by a Marine unit in Afghanistan this month.

The powerful photograph above depicts the immediate reaction on the battlefield by Villarreal’s buddies. It was published on the front page of the Los Angeles Times last week, and has been distributed on dozens of Web sites, including some based outside the U.S.  Its release also has been been met with anger by some readers, who question whether a lack of sensitivity was displayed by publishing the image, LA Times readers’ representative Deirdre Edgar said in a blog entry.

After some discussion with my editor, I’m republishing Olson’s photograph here, along with a few other images from the same series. In context, they’re just as powerful as the front-page image, and provide an even fuller picture of the gravity of the situation.

First, here’s an image of Villarreal still alive with his buddies. It was taken before the patrol began.

Cpls. Kevin Ivie, Sam Garcia, Jorge Villarreal and Jonathan Eckert, all of India Battery, 3rd Battalion, 12th Marines, prepare to head out for a patrol from Forward Operating Base Zeebrugge on Oct. 17. Villarreal died on the patrol after stepping on an IED. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

The next two photographs show the aftermath of Villarreal’s death.

Marines prepare to carry the body of Cpl. Jorge Villarreal to a medical evacuation helicopter near FOB Zeebrugge after he was killed by an IED on a foot patrol. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Cpl. Zachary Weber, left, comforts Lance Cpl. Matthew Lucas, both of India Battery 3/12, after the death of Cpl. Jorge Villarreal. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Edgar, who serves as a link between the Times newsroom and the community, said she received one e-mail from a reader who was “appalled” the newspaper published the photo. Others praised the newspaper for drawing attention to such a gripping image.

As a military publication, Marine Corps Times has struggled with similar issues in the past. In a world in which the cost of war should never be forgotten, where is the line between good taste and sticking one’s head in the sand about the sacrifice of U.S. troops in combat?

Here’s why I see it as important to share 3/12’s images here: They show not only the loss of a U.S. Marine, but in a limited away, the affect it had on those around him. That’s something that a majority of America will never see without news coverage, considering the limited amount of families who serve in the military or otherwise spend time in a combat zone.

Some observers have drawn comparison’s between these photographs and the far more graphic photograph of Lance Cpl. Joshua Bernard, who was fatally wounded by a rocket-propelled grenade last summer. Associated Press photographer Julie Jacobson was on the patrol with 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marines, out of Marine Corps Base Hawaii, when the attack occurred, and captured a blurry image of some of Bernard’s last living moments (I haven’t linked it here, but it’s readily accessible through an Internet search for those who feel the need to see it).

Certainly, there are similarities, but given the graphic nature of the Bernard photo, it barely appeared in print anywhere. The image of Villarreal dials it back, and still conveys every bit as much sadness.


About Author

I'm a senior writer with Marine Corps Times, covering ground warfare, manpower, weapons acquisition and other beats. I embedded in Afghanistan in spring 2010, and plan to return at least once in 2011.


  1. I applaud you and anyone else that puts pictures like these on the Front Page!! That is where they need to be to remind people of just is sacrificed for their freedoms!! Of which include sticking their damn heads in the sand when it comes to someone else’s child giving their life so they can continue to be so ignorant of such things!! Thank you again and May God be with all our Military Men & Women, their families, friends and fellow Military personnel, especially ones in the combat zones!!! Semper Fi from a Marine Mom!!

  2. it is a very sad thing to go through INDIA 3/12 has seen a lot of this different times different places…Any combat Marine only needs to close their eyes the memory of war never goes away our fallen Brothers are at peace now They are not dead unless they are Forgotten

  3. I think that people need to see what our servicemen and women are seeing everyday Our media doesn’t cover the war much anymore and our president doesn’t even talk about it. It’s as if they world has forgotten about our Hero’s!

  4. I too believe these images need to be seen. Our country has forgotten that these brave men and women risks their lives daily in pursuit of this nation’s safety. Our mainstream media is ignoring this war while young men like Cpl Villarreal pay the ultimate price. Something is wrong with a people that cry “appalling” and “insensitive” to the truth of war all the while clamoring for the latest tidbit on Lindsay Lohan’s drug probation violations. God help us all.

  5. This article shows the emotion not the gore. I also cried for those we have lost. I have a husband and a son in the Marine Corps and everyday I pray for them and all our troops, all those brave young men and women. Please continue your excellant coverage. Thank You!

  6. You received alot of praise and understanding in the above comments for publishing this photo.

    Let me give you the flip side. Praise in public –chastise in private is the normal rule but you don’t deserve that…here’s why and think about it.

    How do you honor the sacrifice by showing these photos?

    Do you think his relatives enjoy seeing these pictures. How about his mother?

    Would you like your last moments on earth immortalized because some journalist happened to be there?

    This is nothing more than a modern day “faces of death” type thing and you’re WRONG for publishing it.

    Have a good day.

  7. Solomon,

    I appreciate that you expressed a contrary point of view respectfully. I’ll take your questions one by one.

    1) How do you honor the sacrifice by showing these photos?

    For one, we do it respectfully, and while bringing attention to the hardships Cpl. Villarreal and his fellow Marines face. Sanitizing the war doesn’t seem like a healthy idea to me. These photos even followed ISAF’s guidelines for release.

    2) Do you think his relatives enjoy seeing these pictures. How about his mother?

    No, of course his family does not enjoy seeing these photos. Again, though: If we published news and provided perspective based on what is comfortable for all, our coverage won’t reflect the realities on the ground. Readers deserve to know the truth, as best we can tell it — and Marines dealing with those realities every day deserve to have it shared.

    3) Would you like your last moments immortalized just because some journalist happened to be there?

    Not particularly — and it’s something that certainly has crossed my mind, considering my Marjah experience in May. With that said, the tragedy is the death itself, not the depiction of it. This unit has suffered, and sweeping it under the rug seems shallow. The photos are available, and show significant restraint, considering what the journalists on the ground could no doubt see.

  8. As my son prepares for his first combat deployment to Sangin, Afghanistan where he and his unit will take on the likes of those who constructed the IED that so tragically stole Cpl. Villareal’s life, I commend you, Mr. Lamothe. These photos show the ravages of war and the ultimate sacrifice made by those who fight bravely for our defense as well as the defense of those who cannot defend themselves. Cpl. Villareal was an amazing young man with a beautiful heart. I think that your photo of him perparing for his final foot patrol reveals a spark of his beautful spirit. Momof2Marines and Janice are right – we’d prefer not to think about how ugly this world can get – let’s just close our eyes and pretend it doesn’t exist. Need I remind anyone of the horror of 9/11 when the war was brought to our neat and tidy homeland? Or of the horrors of our own Civil War that gave us the free America that we currently enjoy? WAKE UP PEOPLE!! Our fearless servicemen and women must NEVER be forgotten. Keep up the amazing coverage!! Oorah & Semper Fi!

  9. I fail to see any disrespect in these photos. What I see:

    -A brave Marine with his friends and peers, ready to go and confident that they will accomplish the mission.

    -The care rendered by his friends and the Marine Corps, as they stand guard over him, say goodbye, and carry him to the helicopter, even as they must carry on with their mission.

    -The grief at the loss of their friend, and the comradeship they share.

    All of these demonstrate that Cpl Villareal was a good and brave man, surrounded by similar Marines who shared his purpose and cared deeply for him.

  10. the public needs to see these images,there are people that dont know how many men we have lost,or that we are still losing them. i see very little on the news about any of this. my son is a marine serving in afghanistan now. i need to stay informed.

  11. As a former Marine and combat veteran who has seen his brothers fall in battle, I believe this is a story that must be told. I think Deirdre Edgar would rather read about how Obama is saving the free world and the economy on the front pages of the L.A. Times, shame on her for not supporting the troops.

  12. Brian,

    Thanks for the comment. I think you misunderstood Deirdre Edgar’s role in this. She did not say that the Los Angeles Times shouldn’t have used this photo. She simply reported that some of the newspaper’s readers had. I’ve linked to her blog entry above.

  13. To Solomon,

    I can answer one of your questions.

    2) Do you think his relatives enjoy seeing these pictures. How about his mother?

    As a mother of two Marines, I WOULD like to see these pictures. Most of the Marine mothers I know WOULD like to see these pictures. You see, we love our sons and when they are deployed we are hungry for even the tiniest tidbit about where they are and what they are doing, scary or not. We scour the DOD website and sites like this and others for a glimpse of our heros. Even in death, when we could not be there to give them comfort, knowing someone else did would soothe our pain a little. While our hearts would break to see them, they would be breaking anyway. Seeing a brother in arms weeping over my son would be a comfort to me and I would know he was loved by others as well. There was no gore in those photos, just feeling and we would already have plenty of that. Even a small window into the hearts of his brothers who loved them as well, would be something we WOULD want to see.
    War is hard. That doesn’t mean we should all hide from it.

  14. Thank you for sharing these photos, I think people forget what is going on over there and the sacrifices that are being made. My husband is currently in Afghanistan and I miss him dearly every day but I can honestly say it truly is an honor to be married to a marine. The images did bring tears to my eyes but regardless I think it is important to share. Thank you for those who are serving and have served. My prayers are with you everyday!

  15. As a mother, I agree with Momof2Marines. The photo shows the reality, but it is not at all gruesome. I believe that it would be comforting to any parent/wife of a fallen hero, because it shows the love, respect, and brotherly comradery that our Marines have for each other. I wish it was on the front page of all the newspapers!!! My son is a Marine serving in Afghanistan.

  16. my husband is a marine and so is my brother (both fighting there). the images are important to remind us of their sacrifices and what they are doing and i think they should show these more often. too often i hear people make nasty comments about our troops or the war and they need a reality check of who is keeping them safe and who is fighting for them. people that do not support our troops need to take a long, hard look at these images and thank god for people like Cpl. Villareal that sacrificed for his country. also, you cant begin to imagine what our men and women see over there that will always be in their minds and hearts, and they have to live with those images forever. i dont think that image we got to see was disrespectful, wrong or bad. i think it showed a personal glimpse into what our troops are seeing and their tragic sacrifices they make for something they love. i pray for each and every one of them and their families. and to those who dont stand behind our troops…shame on you.

  17. Pingback: Battle Rattle - A Marine Corps Times Blog – 1/10 Marine artillerymen patrolling Kajaki, Afghanistan

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  19. this is my cousin.. we all honor him.. the pictures arent the issue.. nothing is, but the sad truth is that hes gone from our sight, and touch. People need to see pictures like this so that that they know that these men and women ( whether marines, army, coast guards, or air force) they all risk their lives so that we can live ours daily. RIP JV man we love you.

  20. I served with all of these guys at Camp Pendleton. I left the service shortly before they deployed to Afghanistan. As much as it kills me to see my friends in this situation, I think every American should have to see images like this to remind them of what it is we’re sacrificing over there. RIP to all my fallen friends and god bless the United States Marine Corps!!

  21. Hello all,
    Cpl Jorge Villarreal Jr. Is my younger brother and also my only sibling. As a response to all those that oppose these images all I have to say is Shame on you. Shame for not wanting to see the reality of war. These images make me proud to know that up to his last moments my brother was a dedicated marine. For those that do not know he requested to take on the responsiblity of looking for IEDs so that no one else in his squad would risk losing their life for his. Please never take down these images as they give my family peace that my brother was loved until the end. Without these pictures we would only be able to wonder what his last day was like. I thank you for the courage you have to show these images.

  22. I had served with Corporal Jorge Villareal for over three years. I had also done a previous deployment with him. The entire time I had known him, I never once had seen a negative word or action derive from him that was unwarranted. V was a peace maker, I saw it in the very essence of his actions. He volunteered, and knew the risk of his position, as point-man. His actions, as well as the actions of other point-men that served with him and after him were responsible for the lives of a squad of roughly ten to fifteen Marines behind them.

    That fateful day I will never forget. It had taken at least five minutes for me to even comprehend what had happened. Our boy was gone! I thought my fellow Marines had played a cruel joke on me. The boys of India Battery came there to Kajaki District as brothers; and a piece of all of us had been taken and left in the valleys, wadis, and foothills of the Zimdawar and Sufla areas of that ancient unforgiving land of the Helmand. Even today as I walk this earth, I walk as an empty man. The other half lies there as a testament not to honor, or patriotism, or even duty. Every part of us lies there as a testament to love. One that Corporal Villereal did not pay lip service to with words, yet his actions. He saved his squad that day. There are Marines that can go home and kiss their wives and hug their kids because V, knowing the consequences, did not once hesitate to answer the call. Seriously, there is not one day that I do not think about my Brothers and what they had done. Not one single day. Joey, Rod, V, and Frankie, rest in peace brothers, thank you, I love you all and pray for your families regularly.

  23. Cpl. Zachary Weber on

    My squad was operating along side V’s when he was mortally wounded, we provided covering fire so his squad could withdrawl. Although watching my brother lose his life from my fire support position 1/2 km away will never leave me I’m glad the general public has a chance to see an unbiased unedited glimpse of the war being fought on their behalf, we don’t ask for thanks, praise, or special treatment. Whether or not you agree with the reasons for war I only ask that you remember and respect what our fallen brothers families go through every day, remember and respect the sacrifices we veterans and active duty personnel have made, and never forget that since 1775 to right now as you read this there has always been an American standing guard somewhere far away keep the enemy away from our doorstep

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