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“Never have empty bedrooms looked so full.”

gilbertson_bedrooms cover

The Fourth of July will be marked tomorrow, as usual, with barbecues and fireworks and displays of patriotic fervor.

This year, it will also be marked by the publication of a book that honors patriotism–and counts its costs–in a more somber way: Ashley Gilbertson’s Bedrooms of the Fallen. The book presents photographs of the bedrooms of forty soldiers–the number in a platoon–who died while serving in Iraq or Afghanistan. The bedrooms, preserved by the families as memorials in honor of their lost loved ones, are a stark, heartbreaking reminder of the real pain and loss that war brings. As NPR’s The Two-Way put it, “Never have empty bedrooms looked so full.”


Gilbertson_Bedrooms Scherer, page 62

{Marine Corporal Christopher G. Scherer, 21, was killed by a sniper on July 21, 2007, in Karmah, Iraq. He was from East Northport, New York. His bedroom was photographed in February 2009.}

A moving essay by Gilbertson tells the story of his work on the project, of how he came to it after photographing the Iraq War, and about the experience of working with grieving families, gaining their trust and working to honor it. As Philip Gourevitch writes in his foreword, “The need to see America’s twenty-first-century war dead, and to make them seen–to give their absence presence–has consumed Ashley Gilbertson for much of the past decade.” With Bedrooms of the Fallen, he has made their loss visible, undeniable.

More images from the book are available on Time‘s Lightbox blog, and you can read Gourevitch’s essay on the New Yorker‘s site. Independence Day finds the United States near the end of its decade-plus engagement in Afghanistan, but even as the men and women serving there come home, thousands of others continue to serve all over the world. To quote Abraham Lincoln, “it is altogether fitting and proper” that we take a moment to honor them, and respect their service, on this holiday.