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‘Marlboro Man' still struggles with PTSD

By Lindsay Lancaster
Appalachian News-Express, Pikeville, Ky.
June 24, 2006

Seventeen days after a “dream” wedding made possible by generous people around the nation, Pike County's “Marlboro Man of Fallujah” filed for divorce, but said yesterday they are trying to work things out.

James Blake Miller, 21, filed for divorce from Jessica Holbrooks Miller, 23, on Tuesday, just over a year after they were legally wed, court documents said.

However, yesterday Miller told the News-Express, “I would like to inform everyone that I have filed for divorce but I'm still trying to resolve my problems with my wife.”

Miller attributed some of the problems he is facing to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, which stems from observing or being involved in life-threatening situations like combat, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs National Center for PTSD Web site.

“At this time, I would like to start by saying I'm trying to take things one day at a time,” he said. “I can't stress enough what it's like to deal with PTSD and every other day problems.”

Miller initially became famous in 2004 when photographer Louis Sinco shot a picture of him while he took a break from combat and smoked a cigarette. The photo was first published in the Los Angeles Times and later in countless other newspapers and on nationally televised news.

Miller was once again in the news, a year after his photograph hit the newsstands, when he returned from Iraq and became an icon for Iraq vets with PTSD.

He spoke publicly and unusually honest about his medical discharge because of the syndrome in newspaper stories that again were published across the nation. The National Mental Health Association even honored Miller for his willingness to speak publicly about combat-related post traumatic stress disorder with an award presented June 8.

PTSD, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs, is characterized by bad experiences often relived in flashbacks and nightmares, and the disorder can compound other problems in life, like “in social or family life, including occupational instability, marital problems and divorces, family discord, and difficulties in parenting.”

After reading about Miller and his struggles with PTSD in the national news, folks from around the country decided they wanted to help him and his wife, and helped them to have the wedding of their dreams.

The couple had originally settled for a small wedding in a county building after his return from Iraq, not being able to afford a bigger wedding, the San Francisco Chronicle reported earlier this month.

The couple's fairy-tale-like wedding was held June 3 at StoneCrest Golf Course in Prestonsburg, with the photographer who took the famous picture in attendance.

“To everyone who allowed this wedding to become a reality, thank you from the bottom of my heart,” Miller said yesterday.

Eunice Davis, the California woman who arranged for and contributed funding toward the couple's Prestonsburg wedding earlier this month, was surprised and concerned to hear that Miller had filed for divorce.

“That's news to me, so I would feel, I guess, overwhelmingly sad about that, for them,” Davis said. “I just feel concerned, really, for them.”

Miller's mother, Maxine Webber, said she hasn't spoken with Miller recently due to disagreements regarding his marriage.

However, she said, “I love my son, unconditionally - I love all three of my sons,” Webber said. “If my son needs me, he knows where I'm at.”

She said her son is still facing a daily battle with PTSD.

Webber, as most moms in the same position might be, is concerned about her son.

“Blake is not better - he needs a lot of therapy. He needs prayer,” Webber said. “He needs all the prayer he can get.”

The divorce filing seems to be hard to digest for others who helped put the dream wedding together.

“That's very shocking,” said James Allen Schultz, a Maryland jeweler who donated wedding rings to the couple. “...they just got married like a month ago.”

“Under no circumstances will I want the rings back,” because they would have more value to them than they would to him, Schultz said.

Schultz said he'd hate to see the rings be pawned off for cash, but whatever they decide to do with the rings is for them to decide.

Schultz said it's unusual for a couple to file for divorce so soon after saying their vows, but “I'm sure they're doing what's best for them,” he said.

“I think sometimes people get married to fix a bad relationship,” Schultz said. “But a marriage certificate never fixes things.”

Miller, who was initially reluctant to comment on the issue, made it clear that he doesn't like this aspect of his personal life becoming public.

“I must say that I'm truly hurt to know that my personal problems could possibly make for a better story than that of men and women of the armed forces who are serving our nation.”

Miller also stressed the young couple's need for privacy at a difficult time in their lives.

“All I ask is that my privacy be respected and allow me the time to resolve these issues,” Miller said.

For more information about PTSD, visit www.ncptsd.va.gov

The Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues helps non-metropolitan media define the public agenda in their communities, through strong reporting and commentary on local issues and on broader issues that have local impact. Its initial focus area is Central Appalachia, but as an arm of the University of Kentucky it has a statewide mission, and it has national scope.

Institute for Rural Journalism & Community Issues
School of Journalism and Telecommunications, College of Communications & Information Studies
122 Grehan Building, University of Kentucky, Lexington KY 40506-0042
Phone 859-257-3744 - Fax 859-323-3168

Al Cross, director al.cross@uky.edu

Last Updated: 11/13/2007