A Soldier’s Story

Photojournalist Chris Hondros, recently killed in Libya, discussed his work in war-torn Liberia with Smithsonian in 2006

Chris Hondros, photographer for Getty Images News Services, captured this image of Joseph Duo and became a defining image of Liberia's protracted strife. (Chris Hondros / Getty Images)
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Hondros, taken aback, made it clear that Duo had little chance of meeting the Marines’ education, language and residency standards. Seeing Duo’s disappointment, Hondros asked if he wanted to go to school. Duo said yes.

Within a few days, Hondros had enrolled Duo in night school, paying $86 for a year’s tuition—a prohibitive sum for almost all Liberians. When Hondros left the country, Duo assured him he would not let him down.

Hondros returned to Liberia for November’s runoff elections, when Liberians chose Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf as their president, the first woman to be elected head of state in modern African history. Duo’s school notebooks were full of sentences detailing the Trojan War and the colors in the spectrum. “I hope for him to finish school and become a productive part of Liberian society,” Hondros says.

After 14 years of civil war and two years of uncertainty, Liberian society has a long way to go. It has no shortage of people who, like Joseph Duo, are trying to find their way. “In American terms,” Hondros says, “Joseph’s mindset and situation are similar to that of an inner-city youth who spent ten years in a gang; he’s now trying to get out of that and rejoin society.”

The former commander—now a high-school junior—has perfect attendance. With his army training, he says, “it’s not difficult to take instructions from a teacher,” noting that “the military is a science dealing with instructions [that] must be followed.” And despite Duo’s painful memories of war, he still likes the idea of military life: someday, he’d like to be a general in the army.

“I am happy I am still alive,” Duo says. “I am happy I have a peaceful life.”


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