Fact Check

Sign of the Times

Does a photograph show a U.S. Marine posing with Iraqi kids holding a provocative sign?

Published April 15, 2004


Urban Legends Reference Pages: (Sign of the Times)

Sign of the Times

Claim:   Photograph shows a U.S. Marine posing with Iraqi kids holding a provocative sign.

Status:   Undetermined.

Example:   [Collected on the Internet, 2004]

Lance Cpl. Ted J. Boudreaux Jr(Click to enlarge)

Caption: "Lcpl Boudreaux killed my dad th(en) he knocked up my sister!"

Origins:   That anti-American rumors have been consistently prevalent in Iraq since the U.S. invasion of that country in March 2003 is hardly a surprise — spreading denigrating rumors is a technique people have always used as a way of reclaiming some measure of control and striking back at a controlling force of outsiders. Anything that appears to corroborate what people say or believe to be true about a reviled group is bound to receive wide distribution, as has been the case with the photograph displayed above.

This picture, if taken at face value, seemingly confirms the worst of what is rumored about U.S. servicemen in Iraq — not only has the Marine pictured killed a man (presumably a civilian), but he has also impregnated the dead man's daughter, then proudly and grinningly advertised his deeds, humiliating the Iraqi family even more by enlisting two of their young sons as unwitting accomplices. But should the photograph be taken at face value, or was it the product of some kind of a staged set-up? Is the photograph genuine or the product of digital manipulation? If real, was it on the level, was it a joke pulled off by the Marine pictured, or was the Marine — like the two Iraqi boys in the picture — the victim of a callous prank?

All we know for sure so far is that the picture does depict Lance Cpl. Ted J. Boudreaux Jr., a
reservist with Headquarters and Service Company, 3rd Battalion, 23rd Marines, a New Orleans-based infantry unit deployed in Iraq from May to September of 2003 (Boudreaux himself is no longer on active duty), and that the circumstances of the photograph have been investigated by the Marines. (They have not yet announced the results of their investigation.)

Several different versions of this picture — each with the sign altered to reflect some other humorous message (e.g., "My country got invaded and all I got was this lousy sign") — were circulated on the Internet, and that phenomenon increased tremendously after the creation of site that allowed visitors to customize the Boudreaux photograph by putting their own words onto the sign. (That site, www.ryano.net/iraq/, is no longer operational, now imparting the message "gone forever. deal with it.") Other versions of the picture displayed more positive messages (e.g., "Lcpl Boudreaux saved my dad th(en) rescued my sister!"):

Lance Cpl. Ted J. Boudreaux Jr(Click to enlarge)

Some news accounts have implied that, although the message written on the pictured sign does not reflect anything Lance Cpl. Boudreaux actually did, the photograph is indeed real and was a poor attempt at humor on Boudreaux's part:

During his deployment in Iraq last year, Boudreaux was stationed in Al Kut, the capital of Wassit Province, which runs southeast of Baghdad to the border with Iran. His duties there with a headquarters unit kept him largely confined to the big concrete hangars at an air base on the outskirts of the city, and he had little contact with locals. The photo, which shows the trio in front of a ramshackle hut, could have been taken at one of tens of thousands of locations in Iraq, including a shed outside the back entrance of the airfield where the Marines would buy soda, tobacco and trinkets such as prayer beads and head scarves from locals.

Boudreaux could not be reached for comment. His commander during the 3/23rd's Iraq mission, Lt. Col. David Couvillon, called the photo a sophomoric attempt at humor.

"Look, he didn't actually do what that sign says," Couvillon said. "This is stupid, lance corporal stuff that he thought was cute. But it's not, and I was informed the commandant of the Marine Corps had it and the Marine Corps will deal with this."

As of 19 April the Marine Forces Reserve has said only that LCpl Boudreaux insists the photograph has been altered and that the (formerly "complete") investigation into its origins has been reopened:

Maj. Gen. John J. McCarthy, Commanding General, 4th Marine Division has reopened the investigation into the photo of LCpl Corporal Ted J. Boudreaux Jr., 24, 3rd Battalion 23rd Marine Regiment, taken in Iraq. The investigation will focus on the authenticity of the photograph. We are retaining the assistance of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS).

Marine Forces Reserve takes this matter very seriously and will conduct a thorough and complete investigation.

This photo is approximately 1 year old and was taken in Iraq when the unit deployed to that region during Operation Iraqi Freedom. LCpl. Boudreaux maintains that the photo in question has been altered from the original.

Marine Forces Reserve would ask that media respect this Marine and his family's privacy.

Because this matter is ongoing we cannot comment further on the investigation. When the investigation is complete we will provide additional information.

LCpl. Boudreaux has told reporters that the sign in the picture originally read "Welcome Marines!" but was altered by someone else. He has not, however, (publicly) produced a version of the original photograph or identified who might have altered it. (If the photo was indeed manipulated, someone involved in the process had to be sufficiently acquainted with Boudreaux to be able to match his name and rank with his picture.)

Last updated:   27 March 2005


  Sources Sources:

    Bailey, Laura.   "Marines Informing Soldier of Photo Probe."

      Marine Corps Times.   14 April 2004.

    Bailey, Laura.   "Corps Reopens Investigation into Controversial Photo."

      Marine Corps Times.   19 April 2004.

    Pisik, Betsy.   "Rumors Become Insidious in Iraq."

      The Washington Times.   10 June 2003.

    Simpson, Doug.   "Marines Reopen Probe into Photograph."

      Sarasota Herald-Tribune.   19 April 2004.

    Varney, James.   "Photo May Land La. Marine in Trouble."

      The [New Orleans] Times-Picayune.   15 April 2004.

    Associated Press.   "Islamic Group Demands Inquiry Into 'Gag' Photo."

      FOXNews.com.   9 April 2004.


David Mikkelson founded the site now known as snopes.com back in 1994.

Article Tags