Skip to navigationSkip to content
MEMORIAL DAY

Photos: The war veterans most Americans try to avoid seeing

David Jay Photography
Robert Bernier was hit by incoming artillery, sustaining burns over 60% of his body.
  • Annalisa Merelli
By Annalisa Merelli

Senior reporter

Published This article is more than 2 years old.

For most Americans, Memorial Day is about barbecues, big furniture sales, and trips out of town. But for the many who’ve been touched by war directly—those who are veterans, or family of veterans—there often isn’t much to celebrate.

As a veteran poignantly reminds his nation in The Chicago Tribune (paywall), there is something profoundly inconsiderate in the very wish of a “Happy Memorial Day.” There is nothing happy in the 1.3 million lives that have been lost, and countless more broken, since 1776.

This is what led David Jay, a former fashion photographer, to turn his lens on wounded soldiers.

“We hear about ‘this number of men were killed’ and ‘this many were injured,'” Jay told NPR, “and we think of them—maybe they got shot—or we don’t really picture what these injured men look like.”

His series, The Unknown Soldier, was recently acquired by the Library of Congress as part of its documentation of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. It puts the permanent consequences of war right in front of the viewer. Jay’s pictures show missing limbs, wounds, and burnt skin. Above all, they show men and women who commit the ultimate act of bravery by continuing with a life that war all but destroyed.

In his NPR interview, Jay explains why he believes people need to look at these images:

“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.”

Photo David Jay/David Jay Photography
Army SPC Jerral Hancock was driving a tank in Iraq. A roadside bomb pierced the armor, breaching the interior. It is believed that he was trapped under the wreckage for half an hour.
Photo David Jay/David Jay Photography
Army specialist Tomas Young. On April 4, 2004, he and other soldiers were wounded while in the back of an open-air truck in a rescue convoy outside Baghdad.
Photo David Jay/David Jay Photography
Staff sergeant Shilo Harris was severely burned on Feb. 19, 2007 by a road side bomb estimated at 700 lbs. He lost three men out of a crew of 5. Only Harris and his driver survived the blast.
Photo David Jay/David Jay Photography
First lieutenant Nicholas John Vogt, US Army. On November 12, 2011, he was severely injured by an IED while on a foot-patrol in Panjwaii, Afghanistan.
Specialist Marissa Strock. She was injured when her vehicle was struck by an IED buried in the road. She was 20 years old.
Photo David Jay/David Jay Photography
Master sergeant Cedric King lost both his legs and part of his right arm after stepping on a land mine in Afghanistan. He completed the 2014 New York half marathon even after his prosthetic leg broke at mile 15.

📬 Kick off each morning with coffee and the Daily Brief (BYO coffee).

By providing your email, you agree to the Quartz Privacy Policy.