Leroy found the black Marine in the Burrows picture with the help of Burrows's son, Russell. Jeremiah Purdie was living in Fayetteville, North Carolina, a framed print of the famous image hanging in his home. A tiny shell fragment was stuck in a corner of the frame -- a fragment that entered Purdie's skull that day in 1966, when, during the battle for Mutter Ridge, Burrows photographed him.
That battle was part of a six-month action called Operation Prairie whose aim was to cut off North Vietnamese infiltration through the Demilitarized Zone into the South. It turned into a costly affair, pushing U.S. casualties for the week to their highest of the war. When Burrows cabled New York with instructions on handling his damp film, he found himself apologizing: "Sorry if my captioning is not up to standard, but with all that sniper fire around I didn't dare wave a white notebook."
While covering the fighting for Hill 484, Burrows took a series of photos of a wounded black Marine being evacuated. In the most famous image from the series, the wounded Marine, Purdie, reaches out to a mud-covered comrade.
After he came back from Vietnam, Purdie tried to bury his memories of the war. But he, too, had nightmares. His wife, Angel, told Le Sommier that her husband often woke up screaming. It was only three years ago that Purdie, after counseling from a PTSD specialist, began to talk about his experiences during the war. He said the counselor had liberated his fears, finally convincing him that he hadn't abandoned his comrades when he was flown out of the battle.
Purdie had joined the Marines during the Korean War because, he said, it was the only service that would "take a black man." After Vietnam, he worked as a Marine Corps recruiter, talking to young men, most of them black, in parking lots and supermarkets. For his efforts in the battle for Hill 484 he received the Bronze Star. His wife told the Paris Match reporter that Burrows's photo had helped Purdie deal with his memories of Vietnam -- allowing him, in a sense, to remain connected to his fellow Marines who never came home.
"When I photographed him, I could tell he was tired, so I had him just sit on his bed," says Leroy. A month after the portrait was made, Purdie died. "I consider myself lucky to have met him, and photographed him," says Leroy.