He grew to view talking about Kennedy’s assassination as a responsibility, a stand-in for the sadness of the entire country.
When Chris Fields is called for an interview, he doesn’t need to ask what it’s about. He already knows: It’s what people always call him for.
Fields was the Oklahoma City firefighter. The one who held Baylee Almon, who would have turned 19 last week if she had survived the bombing that killed 168 people. Still working for the fire department, Fields is a stoic-sounding man, not overly emotional or prone to sentimentality.
He didn’t used to understand why people made pilgrimages to the site of the bombing, or why they would feel such a connection to him based on a photograph. Then in the late 1990s, he went to Hawaii for an international firefighting conference and visited Pearl Harbor. He toured the site, he looked at the displayed images and he remembered the photograph of the men raising the flag at Iwo Jima.
He was moved to tears.
“That’s neat, isn’t it? What a picture.”
Bill Iffrig has been reached by telephone, shortly after his flight from Boston landed in Seattle on Friday. He hadn’t seen the famous photo until just a few hours ago. He’d seen on the news the widely circulated Vine video of him falling, and he knew that a lot of people wanted to interview him. But he hadn’t seen the iconic photograph until a gate agent at the airport pulled him aside and said, “I have something for you.”
He doesn’t quite know what to make of it, or of his new place in history. “I’ve recovered, a little bit,” he says. “I’ve lived with it for a week now.”
When the photograph was taken, what he was most preoccupied with — not understanding the breadth of the situation — was finishing the race. “After you finish the 26 miles, you really want to finish the last section,” he says, explaining why he dusted himself off and kept jogging, through the finish line and then the six blocks back to his hotel.
Which might end up being the iconic image after all. Not the idea of being felled to the pavement, but the idea of what came next. Finishing the race.
Ellen Rudolph is an international photojournalist in Tennessee. She is also a family therapist with a doctorate in counseling psychology. So when she thinks about images of tragedy, she’s thinking about both what makes a good photograph and about what makes a healing one.
What we want, she says, is something “that shows humanity and tragedy all at once.” Something that makes us remember the event, “but that also reminds us that there is good in life, and that evil is transient.”
The Fallen Runner, running on.