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Wounded Marine inspired photographer killed in Afghanistan

Apr. 4, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  

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Anja Niedringhaus will be remembered as more than an accomplished war photographer; she was dedicated to her job of documenting the lives of U.S. troops and she was friend to a wounded Marine.

Niedringhaus was killed Friday when an Afghan police officer opened fire on her car. Associated Press reporter Kathy Gannon, who has also covered U.S. troops extensively, was wounded in the attack.

“Anja was one of the most talented, bravest and accomplished photojournalists of her generation, Associated Press Vice President and Director of Photography Santiago Lyon said in a statement on Friday. “Her storytelling skill with a camera was extraordinarily effective, a reflection of her own open gaze and genuine compassion for her subjects.

“Her enthusiasm and good cheer were infectious, even in the darkest of circumstances. She consistently volunteered for the hardest assignments and was remarkably resilient in carrying them out time after time. She truly believed in the need to bear witness.”

When she first met Marine Cpl. Burness Britt, she had been covering war for years, but the picture of she took of him moved her more than anything else she had ever seen.

On June 4, 2011, she was in a medevac helicopter with Britt, who was bleeding badly from his neck after shrapnel from a bomb had cut a major artery.

“With my free hand, I lift my camera and take some pictures. I squeeze Britt's hand and he returns the gesture, gripping my palm tighter and tighter until he slips into unconsciousness,” she wrote in a December 2011 news story. “His shirt is ripped, but I notice a piece of wheat stuck to it. I pluck it off and tuck it away in the pocket of my body armor.”

Niedringhaus could not get Britt out of her mind, so she tracked him down and six months later, she visited him in the hospital. After showing him the pictures she took in the helicopter, she gave him back the piece of wheat that was on his shirt when he was wounded.

“I left the piece of wheat with Britt,” she wrote. “He said it was his new lucky charm.”

Britt’s father Neal was shocked to learn that Niedringhaus had been killed.

“That just blows my mind,” Neal Britt told Military Times on Friday.

After his son was wounded, Niedringhaus went to great efforts to find him, Neal Britt said. She called his local newspaper, which did a story about him; she contacted military officials and then tried reaching out to the elder Britt.

“I thought it was just somebody else wanting to do something about the accident and I neglected and neglected [to call her] but finally she pushed through and got in touch with someone at Richmond hospital,” he said.

His son, who is currently being treated in Atlanta for Traumatic Brain Injury and Post Traumatic Stress, really liked Niedringhaus, Neal Britt said.

“She was amazing,” he said. “She was a very, very determined woman.”

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