Troubled "Marlboro Marine" Gets A Boost

Marine Lance Cpl. James Blake Miller, 20, from Kentucky, a member of Charlie Company of the U.S. Marines First Division, Eighth regiment, smokes a cigarette in Fallujah, Iraq, Tuesday, Nov. 9, 2004. U.S. forces punched into the center of the insurgent stronghold, overwhelming bands of guerrillas in the street with heavy barrages of fire and searching house to house in a powerful advance on the second day of a major offensive. (AP Photo/Los Angeles Times, Luis Sinco)
AP/LUIS SINCO/LOS ANGELES TIMES
James Blake Miller, the "Marlboro Marine" whose face was made famous in an iconic photograph from the Iraq War, is getting a helping hand from the photographer who snapped the famous picture.

Millions became intrigued with Miller, 21, after first seeing the down-home soldier in a 2004 Los Angeles Times photo, in which the grubby, exhausted Marine lance corporal takes a break from combat in Fallujah with a cigarette dangling from his lips. The picture earned Miller the nickname "Marlboro Marine."

The photo was taken during the battle for Fallujah, one of the Iraq war's biggest clashes between insurgents and U.S. forces.

Miller fell on hard times since returning to the U.S. and Luis Sinco, the photograher who took the picture, has reached out to help the star-crossed veteran.

"James Blake Miller was in a world of pain, and I figured I should be by his side," Sinco wrote in the Times this week.

Miller was discharged from the Marines in 2005 and has spoken in newspaper interviews about suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, which is often characterized by symptoms like flashbacks and nightmares. He also drank heavily.

His marriage collapsed in 2006. Miller filed for divorce, saying the marriage was "irretrievably broken with no prospect of reconciliation."

His story as a young Appalachian husband who couldn't afford a proper wedding for his wife caught the attention of a California couple, who helped foot the bill and drew more contributions to a $15,000 wedding June 3 at a golf course clubhouse near his hometown of Pikeville.

But by June 12, Miller and his bride, Jessica Holbrook, were living apart, according to court papers. Miller filed for divorce on June 20, saying the marriage was "irretrievably broken with no prospect of reconciliation."

"I'm just sad for them," said Eunice Davis of Pleasanton, Calif., who spearheaded the contributions for the couple's wedding. "It must be a very difficult time and a very difficult decision."

The couple was initially married at a county building in June 2005, but Miller had expressed in a Jan. 29 story by the San Francisco Chronicle that he wished he could give his wife the wedding she had always wanted.

"My heart went out to that wish," said Davis, who was moved by the article. "I thought I'd like to make that dream come true."

Davis contacted Pikeville wedding planner Missy McCoy of Signature Events to help with the arrangements. McCoy said contributions were made coast to coast and included a pair of wedding rings from a jeweler in Maryland.

McCoy said she was also saddened by the news of the divorce filing but added that she had no ill feelings toward the couple.

"They've been through a lot," McCoy said. "They're a sweet couple; I hope they can work it out. I don't believe for a minute that this couple had any plans to do anything underhanded. None of the money went to them, it all went into the wedding."

Added Davis: "I have nothing negative to say. I'd like to give them a hug."

Miller was discharged from the Marines in 2005 and has spoken in newspaper interviews about suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, which is often characterized by symptoms like flashbacks and nightmares.

Miller and his wife have unlisted telephone numbers and couldn't be reached for comment by The Associated Press on Monday. Miller's attorney, Michael de Bourbon, declined to comment on behalf of his client.

However, Miller said in a story Sunday in the Appalachian News-Express of Pikeville that he "would like to inform everyone that I have filed for divorce but I'm still trying to resolve my problems with my wife.

"I would like to start by saying I'm trying to take things one day at a time," he continued. "I can't stress enough what it's like to deal with PTSD."