“War is hell,” William T. Sherman wrote. Every now and then, the hellish reality of war makes its way into the homes of civilians who have no way to know better — until they see it for themselves.
In a moment, soldiers can go from alive and well to seriously injured or killed. Those who are tasked with capturing such moments often carry the heavy burden of having to witness these tragedies; sometimes they too lose their lives, like war photographer Spc. Hilda I. Clayton.
Clayton, a visual information specialist who was attached to the 4th Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Calvary Division, based at Forward Operating Base Gamberi in Eastern Afghanistan, was killed while doing her job. The image she left behind makes war all the more real to us.
She had been photographing Afghan soldiers taking part in a training in July 2013 when a mortar accidentally went off, killing her, an Afghan war photographer, and three Afghan soldiers.
The photo she took at the very moment the bomb exploded has just now been published. After three years, her family gave the U.S. military permission for the image to be released.
For the first time, the haunting image of the blast's flames engulfing the Afghan soldier standing right before her was published, making its way into the May-June edition of the Army's Military Review journal.
According to Stars and Stripes, this marks the first time a visual information specialist died while documenting Army combat.
According to the Army's Military Review journal, “Clayton's death symbolizes how female soldiers are increasingly exposed to hazardous situations in training and in combat on par with their male counterparts.”
After her death, Clayton was added to the Defense Information School (DINFOS) Hall of Heroes.
It's difficult not to look at the image snapped just moments before Clayton's death and see so much more. Like Clayton, others suffer and have suffered greatly during combat in foreign lands, frequently involved in wars that aren't always morally justified. Many lose their lives in such conflicts, and still, few of us are able to take such an intimate look at what they experience. It is a privilege — a heartbreaking one — to be able to have access to this picture.
Thumbnail and banner image credit: Hilda Clayton/U.S. Army — Images are reprinted with the permission of Military Review, the Professional Journal of the US Army, Combined Arms Center, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, They were originally published in the May-June 2017 issue of Military Review.