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One photo, many stories

Connie Schultz

Connie Schultz

Perhaps you have seen this photo. On Facebook maybe or on a military blog, in an email.

In the picture, to the right, Marine Lance Cpl. Andrew Paul Carpenter’s dog tags dangle from his dusty boots. A small Bible, bookmarked with his wedding announcement, rests on the floor beside them.

To the left, a camouflaged cap is propped on the edge of a framed picture of Andrew, or Andy, as most people knew him. He is dressed in his fatigues, smiling widely.

Lying in the center of the photograph, sound asleep on his father’s folded fatigues, is 2-week-old Landon Paul Carpenter. He was born March 18, a month after his father was killed in Afghanistan. It was his second deployment.

Descriptions attached to the photo, which recently has blazed across the Internet, typically invoke the sacrifices of our men and women in uniform and the families who love them.

Andrew’s 22-year-old widow, Crissie, doesn’t mind that this is how others interpret the photo. Not at all. It’s just not why she asked photographer Marcia Truitt to take this particular picture of her newborn son.

This photo taken by Marcia Truitt of Inara Studios is an Internet hit.

This photo taken by Marcia Truitt of Inara Studios is an Internet hit.

“I knew that Landon would never be able to get a photo with his father,” Crissie said in a telephone interview from her home in Dickson, Tenn. “Andy couldn’t hold his son for the photo, but he’s still in it. I wanted to capture this moment, for Landon to have this closeness with his father.”

Crissie met Truitt, who owns Inara Studios in Nashville, after another military widow with a young son gave her the photo session as a gift. Truitt was nearly eight months pregnant with her first child when Crissie showed up with baby Landon and a box of her husband’s belongings.

“It was the hardest photo session I’ve ever done,” Truitt said in a phone interview from her studio. “She brought that huge box of his things. One by one, we pulled out his Gideons Bible, his dog tags, his shirt and boots, his photo…” Truitt’s voice trailed off, and she took a couple of breaths.

“It was really hard to do. But that was the way to honor her husband, to honor Landon’s dad. And despite the sadness, it was also a celebration of a life.”

Crissie said she loved the photo and immediately wanted to share it with friends and family.

“ I love to post photos on Facebook, so of course, I posted this one of Landon. I had no idea so many people would want to share it.”

Within days, a military blog asked for permission to post it, and Crissie readily agreed.

“Before I knew it, the photo had 100,000 ‘likes’ on Facebook and thousands of comments,” she said.

Crissie never intended to publicize the photo to strangers, and she thought long and hard before agreeing to talk about it with me. In the end, she decided to share the back story of the photo in the hope that publicizing the picture of Landon more widely would help Americans better understand the sacrifices of everyone in the military, including the children who are left behind. Truitt generously has allowed us to share the photo with readers for free.

It’s the kind of picture that can change your day.

“I know people have looked at this photo with a different impression than what I intended,” Crissie said. “For many, it tells the story of the ultimate sacrifice Andy made. I’m OK with that, because that’s certainly true. I want them to see the sacrifi ce that a ton of families have made. I’m not the only spouse to lose a loved one. If I can help others to see this, then I hope that God will use me.”

Crissie paused and then apologized as she started to cry.

“I would do anything for my husband to still be alive. I’d live on the side of the road in a box if he could be there with me,” she said.

“I hope dads who can hold their children … realize how lucky they are. I hope everyone who sees it turns to someone they love and says, ‘I love you, and I’m so thankful I still have you in my life.’”

Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and an essayist for Parade magazine. She is the author of two books, including “… and His Lovely Wife,” which chronicled the successful race of her husband, Sherrod Brown, for the U. S. Senate. ©2011 Creators

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