Jacobson learned of her colleagues’ injuries on Wednesday, August 12, while she herself was documenting a Marine and Afghan National Army (ANA) patrol in the Taliban-controlled town of Dahaneh. Also accompanying that patrol were AP writer Alfred de Montesquiou and AP Television News cameraman Ken Teh. [1] The news made it difficult for Jacobson to concentrate. She and her colleagues in Dahaneh had so far managed to avoid injury themselves, but they, too, were under frequent attack. Jacobson recalls:

We came under fire daily, even if for just short 20-second hit and run attacks by the Taliban with RPG’s [rocket-propelled grenades] and AK-47’s or mortars from varying directions… Any time you go out on patrol or even ride in an armored vehicle, you are exposed to the threat of attack. You can come under fire any time or risk hitting or stepping on an improvised explosive device.

As the sun set on Friday, August 14, Jacobson was crouched behind a squat wall next to a Marine with his gun trained on a stand of pomegranate trees. The Marine had orders to shoot at anything that moved from that direction. In Jacobson’s recollection, he warned her, “If you see me drop to a knee, that’s a clue that I’m going to start shooting.” Jacobson later wrote in a journal she kept for herself and a few friends:

Not 30 seconds after he said that, the Taliban attacked with RPG and then with gunfire. The explosion which felt close by startled us both. [The Marine] looked at me, I said I was OK, and then we noticed the grass to my right begin to catch fire from the sparks from the explosion. I bolted to his left and then all hell broke loose with M16, 50-Cal [50-caliber machine gun], AK-47 fire all over. The Marine next to me started to run back in the direction the explosion was. I didn’t want to stay in that spot because there were Afghan soldiers there and they aren’t very good, so I followed the Marine. That’s when I realized there was a casualty and saw the injured Marine, about 10 yards from where I’d stood, with his legs just hanging on by skin. [2]

Jacobson dropped to the ground, where she lay as flat as she could in a hail of gunfire. Two Marines were tending to their wounded comrade, whom she could hear saying: “I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe.” [3] Jacobson briefly hesitated, unsure whether to try to help. She had faced the issue many times in her career and over time had forged personal guidelines for how to handle it:

If I come across a casualty and there are no medical or emergency personnel around to help or that need help, then I will do what I can to assist an injured person or person in trouble until the proper help comes. If there are emergency or medical personnel around to tend to the wounded or endangered, and my assistance is not or no longer needed, I will step back and do my job.

Ultimately, she thought that given the severity of the Marine’s wounds, she was likely to make matters worse by stepping in. Instead, she steadied her camera with difficulty amid the flying bullets. She doubted she would be able to use the photos due to the embed rules, but felt, she later wrote in her journal: “To ignore a moment like that simply because of a phrase in section 8, paragraph 1 of some 10-page form would have been wrong.” [4]

She took nine pictures over the course of about two minutes before another RPG fell nearby. Jacobson was momentarily stunned and briefly wondered as rubble fell around her whether she was still alive. Then, on instructions from a Marine, she ran for the cover of an armored vehicle. She continued to take photos of the firefight from behind it. She could no longer see the wounded Marine.

Lance Corporal Joshua Bernard.
© Associated Press

Lance Corporal Joshua Bernard. The injured Marine was successfully evacuated, but died of his wounds in the hospital later that evening. Jacobson, who had never formally met the young man, learned that his name was Joshua Bernard. He was a lance corporal from New Portland, Maine. He was 21.

Back on base that evening, Jacobson considered filing her photographs of the mortally wounded Bernard with instructions to hold for review, but worried that the images might accidentally be released before his family had learned of his death. Instead, she transmitted other images of that day’s firefight. In accordance with the Pentagon ground rules that prohibited naming casualties prior to family notification, she did not mention in her captions that a soldier had died in the battle depicted. Nor did she file an image she had taken earlier in the day of Bernard walking through a bazaar. She explains:

My reasoning was that images hit the Internet almost instantaneously these days. That image in the bazaar could also show up in his hometown paper on Saturday morning, the next day, or even on its website in a few minutes. What if Bernard’s family saw the bazaar photo on the Internet or in the paper before the military could notify them of his death? What a conflicting shock that might be for them to be happily staring at the image of their son, alive and well one second, and in the next, the doorbell is ringing with bad news.

AP reporter de Montesquiou began writing a detailed story about the August 14 battle, and over the weekend he learned and told Jacobson that the Department of Defense had notified Bernard’s parents of their son’s death. Releasing photos of him wounded would not violate embed rules. But rules aside, Jacobson worried for Bernard’s family and friends and wondered how his parents would feel if their son’s gruesome final moments were made public, or whether they could bear knowing exactly how their son died.

Meanwhile, names of dead American soldiers were listed in newspapers practically every day. Battle, injury, and death were the subject of frequent written accounts. A picture was a different way of telling a familiar story. Jacobson felt that in this instance, it was a better way. “A name on a piece of paper barely touches personalizing casualties,” she wrote. “An image brings it home so much closer. An image personalizes that death and makes people see what it really means to have young men die in combat.”

Of the nine photos Jacobson had taken of the scene, Jacobson selected the clearest. Her own conclusion was that the AP should distribute the photo. But she knew that the ultimate decision required high-level input from AP headquarters.

She waited until the evening of Monday, August 17, to send headquarters her photo. She wanted to be sure it would be personally reviewed by Headquarters Photo Desk Supervisor Jim Collins.

[1] Also embedded with Golf 2/3 were reporters from National Public Radio, Armed Forces Network, and Fox News, who left the morning of August 14.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.