Viral picture: The “salute seen around the world”

Posted at 11:59 AM, Oct 16, 2013
and last updated 2013-10-16 14:19:06-04

(CNN) — If one image can tell an entire story, this is a powerful example.

The photo is set in a hospital room. A patient with a neck brace, tubes attached everywhere, draped in a red, white and blue quilt, is lying in a bed. His bandaged right arm is raised in what we now know is a salute.

His face is mostly obscured, but the photo captures details like the color of the patient’s hair, the shadow of what appears to be a large bruise on his left cheek and a Purple Heart medal pinned to the quilt.

The patient is Cpl. Joshua Hargis. His wife, Taylor, calls him Josh. The photo has been shared thousands of times since Taylor posted it to her Facebook page nearly a week after he was injured during a military operation in Afghanistan that killed four troops and injured 14.

She posted the image with the following story:

“I received this picture today along with a letter from the commander of the team Josh was a part of on the night of his injuries. A letter to explain to me what kind of man I have the privilege of being married to. He explained to me what happened and what was going on in the picture.”

She then posted the contents of the letter she says she received:

“Josh was seriously wounded as you know and survived for almost two hours after his injury before arriving to the hospital. Josh was immediately pushed through a series of surgeries and emerged hours later into an intensive care unit here at our base in Afghanistan. Despite being in intense pain and mental duress, Josh remained alert and compassionate to the limited Rangers that were allowed to visit him bedside.

“Prior to Josh being moved to Germany for his eventual flight to America, we conducted a ceremony to award him with the Purple Heart for wounds received in action. A simple ceremony, you can picture a room full of Rangers, leaders, doctors, and nurses surrounding his bedside while the Ranger Regimental Commander pinned the Purple Heart to his blanket.

“During the presentation the Commander publishes the official orders verbally and leaned over Josh to thank him for his sacrifice. Josh, whom everybody in the room (over 50 people) assumed to be unconscious, began to move his right arm under the blanket in a diligent effort to salute the Commander as is customary during these ceremonies. Despite his wounds, wrappings, tubes, and pain, Josh fought the doctor who was trying to restrain his right arm and rendered the most beautiful salute any person in that room had ever seen.

“I cannot impart on you the level of emotion that poured through the intensive care unit that day. Grown men began to weep and we were speechless at a gesture that speak volumes about Josh’s courage and character. The picture, which we believe belongs on every news channel and every news paper is attached. I have it hanging above my desk now and will remember it as the single greatest event I have witnessed in my ten years in the Army.”

A military spokeswoman confirmed that Hargis was awarded the medal while hospitalized in Afghanistan. Tracy A. Bailey, a deputy public affairs officer, also confirmed the sentiment expressed by the commander in the letter. The Bravo Company commander, Bailey said, did not want to be identified.

Hargis is one of 14 troops injured during a night combat operation in the Zhari district of Kandahar province, Afghanistan, on October 6.

During the mission, a suspected suicide bomber detonated an explosive near the assault force. As the assault force reacted to the initial blast, they were struck by a series of explosions, killing four soldiers, including two Army Rangers.

While the photo continues to circulate around social media, Hargis is recovering at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas. Bailey said Hargis was “not in a position” to make a statement to the media, but he did post a thank-you to supporters on his Facebook page last week.

“A huge thank you to everyone who was a part of this and is now a part of it. Only through your love and support may we overcome this difficult road ahead,” Hargis wrote.

Neither the family nor the military will disclose details about his injuries.

A friend posted this response, which sums up most responses from people who’ve seen the photo:

“So wonderful to see your post Joshua. You are so loved and so many people have been touched by you and what has happened. May you have a speedy recovery and may you know how much you are loved and wished all the best.”