Here’s the Truth About That Iconic Photo of Marines Pulling Afghan Baby to Safety

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September 8, 2022
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The photograph became one of the most iconic images of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan — a wailing baby being held aloft over a crowd while a Marine atop a security fence reaches down to grab it.

The image encapsulated the military’s last days in the country at the end of August 2021. There was the Afghan people’s desperation to get out, spontaneous heroism from a group of service members, and the sense no one could fully deal with the enormity of the situation laid before them.

Yet in the weeks and months after the image — taken from a longer video shot by a human rights activist — went viral, it began to be overshadowed by questions, politics and speculation. A Marine who claimed to have pulled the baby over the wall appeared at a pro-Trump political rally, triggering an investigation, while the Marine Corps claimed another service member had actually made the save.

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Now, new details about the photo are available, potentially putting an end to its long trail of drama and answering questions about who was involved.

The 1st Battalion, 8th Marines, also known as the Beirut Battalion, posted a copy of the image to its Instagram account and identified the six Marines along the wall: Cpl. Stayce Whipple; Staff Sgt. Craig Riggle; Capt. Jonathan Yenny; Cpl. Gregory Whalen; Gunnery Sgt. Zachary Kapinus; and Lance Cpl. Hunter Clark.

“These were the Marines of Combined Anti-Armor Team (CAAT) Platoon, Weapons Company,” the post added. A Marine Corps official confirmed to Military.com that “those names are accurate and that’s who’s depicted in the photo.”

It is the first time all the names have been publicly released and confirmed by the service.

About a month after the video and image were captured, one of the Marines involved in that moment stepped out onto the public stage — literally.

On Sept. 25, Clark appeared on stage with former President Donald Trump at a political rally, where he proclaimed: “I am the guy that pulled the baby over the wall, and it’s definitely, probably, one of the greatest things I’ve ever done in my entire life.”

The Marine’s participation in a political rally — where Trump said President Joe Biden “humiliated our nation with the most appalling display of incompetence by an American president in history” — drew some criticism. Eventually, an investigation followed.

Marine Corps spokesman Maj. Jim Stenger issued a statement in November 2021 that announced that the service had determined Clark’s actions “were not in violation of prohibited political activities directives and therefore no disciplinary action shall be taken in this instance.”

That seemed like it would be the last note in the iconic picture’s story. But Clark’s appearance and statements raised questions about whether he actually was the guy who “pulled the baby over the wall.”

At the time, the Marine Corps said it wasn’t Clark. In fact, the man actually holding the baby is Kapinus, according to the new details released by the unit and a recent interview.

So, a young Marine had seemingly exaggerated his role in a heroic moment while on stage with a controversial former president. Case closed? Not quite.

The one-year anniversary of the chaotic withdrawal breathed new life into the moment.

Kapinus, seen holding the baby in the photo, recently spoke with ABC News about his experience in the rescue. In that interview, he said that he didn’t pull off the rescue alone and that, in fact, he “had a group of guys behind me, holding me.”

One of those people, the Marine to the furthest right in the frame, is Clark.

“They were right there to catch her, too,” Kapinus added.

In the video, Kapinus is shown handing the baby to Clark after he lifts it clear of the razor wire. “I was a Marine that had fatherly instincts in that moment,” Kapinus said in the interview. “I knew that was the right thing to do.”

In its post, the 1/8 said the memorable moment “encapsulates humanity’s greatest virtues: courage, compassion, fidelity, discipline, and selflessness to name a few.” The unit dedicated the post, which had more than 800 “likes” at the time of publication, to “all those that served at HKIA and contributed to the evacuation of 124,000 civilians.”

Kapinus is still in the Marine Corps on active duty, Stenger confirmed. The Marine Corps was not able to immediately give a status on Clark.

— Konstantin Toropin can be reached at konstantin.toropin@military.com. Follow him on Twitter @ktoropin.

Related: ‘They Will Never Be Forgotten’: Tributes Pour in for Troops Killed in Kabul Airport Bombing One Year Ago

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