On 19 September 2005, Marine Gunnery Sgt. Michael Burghardt, a 35-year-old native of Huntington Beach, California, who had served with the Marine Corps for 18 years (the last 15 of them in bomb disposal), was called upon to disarm some improvised explosive devices (IEDs) near Ramadi, Iraq.
As a member of an Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) unit, Sgt. Burghardt was tasked with locating, identifying, disarming and disposing of the IEDs that Iraqi insurgents have increasingly been using as offensive weapons against U.S. troops.
Unfortunately, that day Sgt. Burghardt was unsuccessful at disarming an IED before the device exploded, showering and burying him with dirt, shrapnel, and other debris. Colleagues rushed to his aid, initially fearing he was dead, but remarkably his injuries were mostly limited to wounds and burns on his back, legs, and backside, and he returned to duty less than a month later.
While Sgt. Burghardt spent over three weeks recuperating at his unit's headquarters — days he described as "among the most difficult of his career" — he proclaimed that despite his injuries, he was not looking for a ticket out of the country — the incident occurred during his third deployment to Iraq, and he stated that he planned to see plenty more action: "I don't want a ticket out. I want to stay here so we can take as many people home as possible. I'll do 30 years, as long as I'm having fun. Unless I die."
The Omaha World-Herald photograph of Sgt. Burghardt displayed above — taken in the aftermath of the bomb blast and showing him "standing on his own two feet, pants cut off, legs bandaged and directing a single-digit salute of defiance at his attackers" — appeared in that newspaper five days later and quickly became one of the most popular iconic images of the Iraq War. As the World-Herald noted of its origins and impact:
Thank you for your service, Gunny Sergeant Burghardt. We at Pedestrian Infidel salute you.
... with two new young Marines in his ordnance disposal unit — and the insurgent attackers undoubtedly looking on — "I didn't want them to see the team leader carried away on a stretcher," [Burghardt] said.
So after the Nebraskans tended to wounds that reached from his boot tops to the small of his back, Burghardt rose to his feet and reached back with a one-finger salute for his attackers. "I was angry," Burghardt said.
The photo appeared on numerous Marine-related Internet web logs. Burghardt received more than 100 e-mails within days of the picture's publication. It has become a screensaver on soldiers' and Marines' computers across Iraq. "I don't know how my anger turned into a motivational picture," Burghardt said.
And we wholeheartedly agree with your message to the Iraqi 'insurgents'.