Burst Of Joy


A Picture Captures A Truth Bigger Than The People In It

by Eric Elkin

Let those who plant with tears
    reap the harvest with joyful shouts.
— Psalm 126:5

Burst of Joy was one of the most famous images taken of U.S. POWs returning home from Vietnam. Photographer, "Sal" Veder was standing in the photographers' pit at Travis Air Force Base in California as the POWs made their way off the plane. All eyes were glued to the soldiers, except for Veder who noticed a girl jumping out of a van. She started to run toward a soldier. ”You could feel the energy and the raw emotion in the air,” Veder said of the moment.

Turning his camera to the charging family, Veder quickly shot a series of photos. Afterward, he ran into the ladies bathroom on the base and developed the pictures. Within hours, Veder’s image was on the cover of most newspapers across the country and earned him a Pulitzer Prize. Burst of Joy became and remains an iconic photo marking the end of the US involvement in Vietnam.

A picture is worth a thousand words, but sometimes the words are not as accurate as the actual image captured. Such is the case with Burst of Joy. Three days before this picture was taken, Lt. Col. Robert Stirm, the soldier in the picture, received a “Dear John” letter from his wife, Loretta. She was in love with someone else and wanted a divorce. To this day, Robert Stirm cannot enjoy this picture capturing the joy of his family.

We have this very nice picture of a very happy moment, but every time I look at it, I remember the families that weren’t reunited, and the ones that aren’t being reunited today—many, many families—and I think, I’m one of the lucky ones.
— Lorrie Stirm Kitching

The hypocrisy of the photo does not matter. Burst of Joy is not an image of the Stirm family. It captures the heart of America in raw form. The war which could not be won was over. The war which tore a nation in two was coming to an end. The family story it was telling was of the United States. No one could see Lt. Col. Stirm’s face, he could be any soldier coming home. And even though some us stand at a distance, we are the children running to embrace a loved one returning home.

The picture captures the truth of life. In every home there is something broken; a dream unfulfilled, a relationship torn apart or a heart broken. The pain of these fractures were seeds buried with tears into the souls of the wounded. However, a time is coming and may even be here when our eyes move away from the pain to see joy. Joy is the sweet awareness of the gift of life and how precious it is to share.

Lorrie Stirm Kitching, the girl with open arms in the picture, does not see her parents’ failed marriage in the photo. She sees a father coming home, a man who will one day be a grandfather to her children. The picture also reminds Lorrie of the soldiers who did not come home. The families who did not get a reunion like hers. It makes her appreciate life.

This Thanksgiving, across the nation, people will gather around a table to eat. For 24-hours, the nation will slow down and be thankful. Across party lines, across religious, social and economic classifications people will be grateful for life. May we all reap this harvest with shouts of joy.


Click to read Psalm 126

Reflection Questions:

  • What is your Burst of Joy moment, a time you felt overwhelming joy?

  • When has your joy been interrupted with sadness or pain?

  • How do you learn to discover joy even in the midst of sadness?

  • What are your hopes for this coming holiday season?

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