Tattoo tells his story
Local Purple Heart recipient’s war story being told in film
A photo that caught the national eye has finally drawn both the subject and journalist together again after six years.
On Friday, Kyle Hockenberry, 27, of Newport Township, spoke for the first time with the combat journalist who captured the iconic moment in a medevac helicopter when seven words tattooed on his ribcage became emblematic of a generation of soldiers.
“They began working on him immediately. They started cutting his clothing off and as they’re getting tourniquets on, they cut away his uniform and this tattoo emerged,” explained Former Stars and Stripes Journalist Laura Rauch. “I saw the tattoo and it just reached up and grabbed me.”
The ink reads “For those I love, I will sacrifice.”
It appeared on the cover of the Stars and Stripes military newspaper in August 2011, about two months after an improvised explosive device ripped away three of Hockenberry’s limbs while he was on a foot patrol outside of Haji Ramuddin, Afghanistan.
Rauch said the wait was so that the paper could gain the permission of a then-mending Hockenberry.
“My understanding is he signed an ‘X’ on the release,” she explained.
Hockenberry ultimately lost his left arm above the elbow and both legs above the knee.
He has since returned home, married his wife Ashley, 29, and the pair welcomed their son Reagan, now 2, into the world.
They have lived in a “smart home” constructed by the Building for America’s Bravest program, since 2014, which was funded by both the Gary Sinise Foundation and a variety of donors who attended an August 2012 benefit concert at Marietta College.
The home is equipped for full handicapped access as Hockenberry utilizes a wheelchair with his right hand to move about.
But what drew Rauch and Hockenberry together, albiet digitally, Friday was the mission of documentary filmmaker Steven Barber, who is working on his next film, “World’s Most Dangerous Paper Route,” about the Stars and Stripes military newspaper.
“They got to meet over Facetime today,” said Barber, who flew from L.A. to film Hockenberry in Washington County. “As soon as I saw Kyle’s photo I thought that this was something, his story is just incredible and I’m really pleased to be able to tell it.”
It’s a story of quick action by Hockenberry’s fellow soldiers, who protected him until the medevac arrived and tied one of his wounds with a belt when they ran out of medical supplies. It’s also a story of the medics, pilot and surgeons who stabilized and ultimately saved him.
“And the physical therapist and his family,” added Rauch. “And of course his fighting spirit. He is emblematic of this generation of fighters… Kyle wasn’t conscious, we were worried he wasn’t going to make it… I was overjoyed to find out he had survived.”
Ashley said she was surprised he had agreed to be a part of the film.
“I didn’t think he would do it,” she said. “He rarely says yes to interviews like this, but I think it pulled at his heartstrings.”
What convinced Kyle to agree to Barber’s feature was a preview of Rauch’s role in the film.
“I’m used to telling the story by now and try not to put too many emotions into it,” said Hockenberry, who met with Barber and Paul Freedman, writer and editor of the film, in his home Friday. “But (Barber) sent me an interview from when they were talking with Laura and seeing her side of what happened made me feel like I had to almost share the other side.”
Freedman filmed close shots of Kyle Friday as he shared his memories, filmed Ashley and Reagan playing and took B-roll of the location of their home.
“There’s almost a bromance now,” said Kyle, speaking of how quickly he and Barber seemed to be on the same page.
The film, of which Freedman called Rauch and Hockenberry the backbone, is scheduled to premiere on Memorial Day this year.
“I didn’t know much about the (Stars and Stripes) at first, but it goes back to 1865 down to the Civil War, then it was shut down until World War I when (President Dwight D.) Eisenhower greenlit the mission again in 1941 saying the troops needed the paper,” explained Barber. “So here we have the first female combat reporter and we have General Wesley Clark and General David Petraeus, all talking about how important the Stripes is to service men and women down range and civilians don’t realize that there is a publication out there that keeps those in uniform informed.”
He said the example of Kyle and Rauch, the connection between combat’s toll and the institution that documents that experience for history, is the story of the film.
Barber added that he hopes to showcase “World’s Most Dangerous Paper Route” in Marietta after its release.
At a glance
¯ Local Purple Heart Recipient Kyle Hockenberry is to be featured in an upcoming documentary called “World’s Most Dangerous Paper Route.”
¯ The film documents the stories of Stars and Stripes war correspondents and their mission to provide U.S. service members and their families with the news both from home and abroad.
¯ Hockenberry’s photo, which appeared on the front page of Stars and Stripes in 2011, is central to interviews both with Kyle and the journalist who captured the now-iconic image.
Source: Vanilla Fire Productions.