Memorial Day Must Reads: Greg Mitchell: “The Soldier in Pink Boxer Shorts”

Greg Mitchell’s column on the front today of Josh’s Talking Points Memo:

Since I have written so often, and for so long, about soldier suicides, and trauma among veterans in Iraq and Afghanistan and back at home, it was a relief to find a fun read yesterday in the new New York Times image-oriented “Lens” blog: The story behind the front page photo on May 12 that showed a few U.S. soldiers fighting the Taliban — one of them dressed mainly in pink boxer shorts and wearing shower sandals. Prize-winning Associated Press photog David Guttenfelder snapped it.

The image had gained some attention earlier, with the soldier’s name emerging, and the small detail that the shorts were of the “I Love NY” variety. His mother talked to a reporter for her hometown paper in Fort Worth and explained that he had purchased the item during a recent visit to New York. She said when she saw the photo she laughed for five minutes, and explained that her boy was a little guy but feisty and the image didn’t surprise her at all.

Last night there arrived this update: Secretary of Defense Gates, speaking at a dinner at the Intrepid Museum in New York City, observed: “Sometimes the public recognition isn’t always expected — or necessarily welcomed. Specialist Zachary Boyd recently was enjoying a well-deserved sleep when his post in eastern Afghanistan came under enemy attack. He immediately grabbed his rifle and rushed into a defensive position clad in his helmet, body armor, and pink boxer shorts that said ‘I Love New York.’

“Unfortunately — or fortunately, depending on your perspective — an AP photographer was there for a candid shot, a photo which ran shortly thereafter on the front page of the New York Times. Boyd later told his parents that: ‘I may not have a job anymore after the President has seen me out of uniform.’

“Well, let me tell you, the next time I visit Afghanistan I want to meet Specialist Boyd and shake his hand. Any soldier who goes into battle against the Taliban in pink boxers and flip-flops has a special kind of courage. And I can only wonder about the impact on the Taliban. Just imagine seeing that — a guy in pink boxers and flip-flops has you in his crosshairs — what an incredible innovation in psychological warfare. I can assure you that Specialist Boyd’s job is very safe indeed.”

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