Army Sgt. Nicholas Dickhut, 23, of Stewartville, Minn., was the subject of a photo taken in Afghanistan and seen around the world. Four days later, he became the first Minnesota casualty in Afghanistan in 2012.
Heading back from a mission, a small group of American soldiers in Afghanistan walked over to check out a nearby grape hut. It was April 26.
As they stepped inside, bullets hit the outside walls.
Army Sgt. Nicholas Dickhut knelt, leveling his rifle at the doorway. It was his second combat tour. Photographer Baz Ratner, finishing up his last days there on assignment for Reuters news agency, snapped a few pictures.
"I felt there was a great contrast between how calm the setting was and the shooting taking place," Ratner recalled. When the shooting stopped, the group headed to their command post. Ratner sent in his pictures.
The last image Ratner took is haunting. Rays of light pierce slots in the wall. Dickhut crouches in the shadowy corner, aiming at the entry. The dramatic image quickly made its way around the world.
Dickhut sent a Facebook message home to Stewartville telling of his new celebrity. A few days later, he called to wish his 9-year-old brother happy birthday. He couldn't talk long, he said. He was leaving on another mission.
It was April 30. A few hours later, enemy forces attacked his unit. Dickhut was shot and killed.
Ratner, now on assignment in Jerusalem, has thought about reaching out to Dickhut's family. But he didn't want to impose.
Jacqueline Carson, Nick's mother, has thought about contacting Ratner. But she wasn't sure how.
The photo has provoked one act of kindness after another by utter strangers. "The fact that they cared about my son has been amazing," Carson said.
Like Nick's unit, which had an artist make an oil painting of the photo and sent it to his parents.
Like the UPS driver who delivered it. The next day, Carson and her husband were at Nick's grave. The driver, making a delivery to the cemetery, told them that he and his wife wanted to pay to have the painting framed.
It hangs over the piano in Carson's home. A place of honor.
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