PIKEVILLE, Ky. – A picture from Iraq has turned a young man into an instant celebrity.
Lance Cpl. James Blake Miller (search), a Marine from eastern Kentucky, has become known as the "Marlboro Man" after a photograph taken by a Los Angeles Times photographer and transmitted by The Associated Press was printed in more than 100 newspapers and shown on network television.
Miller, 20, is shown with smudged camouflage paint and a bloody scratch on his nose, a cigarette drooping from the side of his mouth. He was exhausted and grimy after more than 12 hours of nonstop fighting in the Iraqi city of Fallujah, scene of fierce battles over the past week..
Miller, a three-pack-a -ay smoker who is now being sought after by many women, says he doesn't understand what all the fuss is about. But his mother is thrilled.
Maxie Webber, of Robinson Creek in eastern Kentucky, said the close-up let her know that her son was OK.
"I just sat here and I thought, that's my son," Webber said. "I couldn't believe it."
Miller, a graduate of Shelby Valley High School, is serving with Charlie Company of the 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment in Fallujah.
He didn't know about the photo and his spreading fame until two Los Angeles Times staffers traveling with his unit told him about it.
"I was just smokin' a cigarette and someone takes my picture and it all blows up," Miller told them Friday.
The picture, which appeared in the Times on Wednesday, was taken on the afternoon after Charlie Company entered Fallujah under intense hostile fire.
Miller and his fellow platoon members had spent the day engaged in practically nonstop firefights, fending off snipers and attackers, and hadn't slept in more than 24 hours.
"It was kind of crazy out here at first," Miller says. "No one really knew what to expect. They told us about it all the time, but no one knows for sure until you get here."
Named after his great-great-great grandparents Joe and Nancy Miller, the first settlers in the area, he grew up in rural Jonancy. His father, James Miller, is a mechanic and farmer, and the young Miller grew up working crops of potatoes, corn and green beans. His mother is a nurse.
His mother said she stays home as much as possible in case he calls.
"I don't want to miss his call because you never know if that call will be the last one," Webber said.
She said she bought an answering machine in case Miller, the oldest of her three sons, calls while she's out. She has one message on the machine from Aug. 1.
"And when I get lonely, and it's been a few days, I play that tape," Webber said.
Webber said her son's decision to join the Marines (search) has changed the way she thinks about America.
"Until my son went into the Marines, I never really realized what that flag stood for — but now I do," she said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.