War's before-and-after effect, revealed by what's missing
By MATTHEW M. BURKE | STARS AND STRIPES Published: August 13, 2013
In a photograph from their November 2011 wedding in Pensacola, Fla., Marine Corps Sgt. Bradley Atwell smiles while gingerly wiping away the tears of his new wife, Danielle, as she looks deeply into his eyes.
Almost two years later, Danielle was back in Pensacola, but the resulting photographs are far different.
The 23-year-old is dressed in black, and the youthful innocence and joy have been replaced with loss and pain. Brad is absent, replaced by a picture in a frame, his wedding ring, dog tags and a folded American flag.
Both collections of photographs were taken by Florida-based photographer Melissa Thurber, a former Army combat medic and Iraq veteran, and shared with Stars and Stripes as a tribute to Brad. Atwell was killed in September as he heroically confronted 15 heavily armed Taliban fighters who breached the wire at Camp Bastion in southwestern Afghanistan and destroyed more than $200 million worth of aircraft.
The images are a moving reminder of the price paid by servicemembers and their families during more than a decade of war.
“I think they’re beautiful,” Danielle Atwell said of the new photographs. “I would prefer anniversary photos but I don’t really have that choice, so I’m glad to have had the pictures done to honor Brad there.”