Relevant links:

Jeff Bundy
Jeff Bundy. photo courtesy Jeff Bundy and the Omaha World-Herald

Shot of a Lifetime

by Nick Schinker

It was just the first full day of a 45-day assignment when Jeff Bundy shot the photograph of a lifetime.

"Ramadi is the most dangerous city in the most dangerous country in the world, and we were embedded in a combat unit," recalls Bundy, an Omaha World-Herald photographer who was documenting stories about Nebraskans serving in Iraq.

It was Sept. 19, 2005. Photographer Bundy and World-Herald reporter C. David Kotok were with the 1st Platoon of the Nebraska National Guard's 167th Cavalry. Their assignment: document the war in Iraq from inside out, utilizing their observances and the words of the Nebraskans serving there.

To cover more territory, Bundy and Kotok split up. Bundy went with a patrol from the "Cav" tasked with providing security for a team of U.S. Marine Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) technicians. They headed to a site where a short time earlier an improvised explosive device (IED) placed roadside by a terrorist had blown up a Bradley fighting vehicle, killing a U.S. soldier.

"We were walking along the road, and we had encountered some gunfire," Bundy recalls. "Capt. (Jeff) Searcey was leading us as they worked to protect the area for the Marines."

One of the Marine EOD technicians, Gunnery Sgt. Michael Burghardt, had dropped into the 4-1/2-foot-deep crater left by the bomb to search for other IEDs, commonly placed in roadside attacks. He found a package wrapped in orange plastic and attached to a telephone base station. Terrorists often watched such contraptions from a safe distance. When their targets, U.S. soldiers, were near the station, a phone call could set off the bombs.

Burghardt stuck his knife into the dirt and found a detonating cord leading to two 122-millimeter artillery shells. He patted his head, a signal to fellow soldiers that he had found additional bombs. He reached for his scissors.

"That's when Capt. Searcey grabbed me by the body armor and pushed me down," Bundy says. "As he did, the bomb went off."

Burghardt had successfully cut the detonating cord that led to the two artillery shells but had failed to see a cord leading to a third shell. The explosion blew him from the crater in a cloud of shrapnel, debris, blood and dust – "pink mist," the Marines call it. He landed face-first on the roadway.

"They rolled him over and started attending his wounds, cutting off his pants to find the shrapnel in his legs," Bundy says. "I started shooting pictures. It was the most chaotic scene in my life."

A helicopter landed to medevac the injured Marine back to Camp Ramadi. But Burghardt, his bare legs bruised and bloodied, his face covered in dust and dirt, refused to be placed on a stretcher. He was angry, and he didn't want the insurgents he was confident were still watching from their hiding place to have the satisfaction of seeing him carried off.

Instead, he stood up, turned toward the hills, boldly raised his left hand and gave the anonymous terrorists the middle finger. Bundy captured it with his camera.

The photograph was published on the front page of the World-Herald – and electronically transmitted around the world by those who saw it and admired its raw imagery. It instantly became the subject of dozens of e-mails and letters, the majority positive and complimentary, for both Burghardt and Bundy.

"It's one hell of a picture," Col. John L. Gronski, commander of U.S. troops in and around Ramadi, said in the Jan. 15 Stars and Stripes. The military newspaper published the photo and an article about Burghardt on its front page.

The photograph is on dozens of Web sites. It adorns office walls, refrigerators and computer screens throughout the military and beyond. It has become a symbol of American military resolve in the face of Iraqi insurgency.

"It's the ultimate act of defiance, and I was fortunate to be there at that moment to capture it," he says.

Fortunate, he calls it. To be taking cover on a dusty road in Iraq as a bomb goes off a few yards away.

"I know it sounds crazy, but I truly was fortunate to have been there. It's such an opportunity to be able to go and tell the soldiers' stories like we did. It's an honor, not one that many of my colleagues get. An honor the newspaper thinks enough of my work to give me the assignment."

A Fortunate Life

Bundy, 37, has been fortunate many times in his life.

A native of Fremont, his father, Ray, and mother, Kathy, owned the Valley View Country Club. His father was an amateur photographer who in the winter would set up a darkroom in the golf course pro shop. Bundy recalls his father lining up trays of water and chemicals that would magically carry the images from negatives onto glossy prints.

"Even back then, there was just something special about watching the print come to life in the tray," he says.

His first published photo was a shot taken at the Fremont Bergan-David City Aquinas football game when he was an eighth-grader.

"Dad helped me put together my first road case, which was nothing more than an old suitcase and a bunch of pre-mixed chemicals. My parents drove me to the game in a motor home they had. I shot the football game and then processed the film in the back of the motor home as they drove back to Fremont. I ran up to the door of the Fremont Tribune, gave the sports editor my film and went home.

"I remember waiting up all night for the paper to come Saturday morning."

The photo was in focus and showed action – good enough to get him more assignments at $10 a picture.

"Then the basketball coach figured out that if he threw me on the team bus for the away games, he'd get a picture in the paper the next day. I'd shoot the first half of the game, process the film in the locker room and the team bus would drive by the Trib on the way home."

Bundy was a sophomore in high school covering the girls state basketball tournament when he met John Gaps, a photographer from the Associated Press in Omaha. They met again at the boys tournament the following weekend when Gaps offered to give Bundy assignments for the AP.

"Here I was in high school, working as a stringer for the AP," Bundy says. "It was great. I got to shoot a picture of President Reagan in Omaha getting off the plane with [then-Governor] Kay Orr. The first picture I ever had in USA Today was of Kay Orr."

Bundy considered attending several colleges to study photography, but Gaps made him a proposition. "John said that if I went to UNO, I could still work for him and probably make enough money to pay for school."

In 1990, Bundy went to work for the World-Herald, taking the 2:30 p.m.-to-11:30 p.m. shift. He took classes from some of the communication department's teaching legends, including Warren Francke and Hugh Cowdin, and sometimes his assignments reflected his rigorous schedule.

"I remember I did really badly on an assignment, and I went to see Dr. Cowdin. I told him that I was already working in the industry and thought he should cut me some slack. He said, ‘Since you're already in the industry I expect twice as much from you.'"

That set the tone for Bundy's studies – and his career. He received his bachelor's degree from UNO in 1993, the same year he was named Photographer of the Year by the Nebraska News Photographers Association, the first of two such awards.

Two years ago, he married Pam Wiese, a former news anchor with KPTM. No surprise, they met while both were working, covering the 1998 flooding of the Nishnabotna River in Red Oak, Iowa.

Bundy's covered his share of newsworthy events. The war in Bosnia. The tornadoes in Oklahoma City. He flew on Air Force One as it brought President George W. Bush to Omaha to toss out the first pitch at the College World Series. And he has witnessed the revolution that has taken photography from rolls of film and darkrooms to digital cameras and photos transmitted via his cell phone.

"I've had an incredible career," he says, "so far."

His next stop could well be a return to Iraq.

He figures he shot more than 5,000 images on his first trip, and the World-Herald published about 100. He crawled alongside overturned tanks and beneath barbed wire to get photos. He was ready at a moment's notice night or day to join a patrol. He ate good meals and bad ones, depending on the day and the duty. He came to admire and respect the soldiers he met and still exchanges e-mails with many – including Gunnery Sgt. Burghardt. Especially when he learns in the news of an explosion or death near Camp Ramadi.

And, he says, he wouldn't hesitate to go back. "Gladly. If the opportunity presents itself."

Armed only with a 200-millimeter lens and a camera, assigned to travel around the world to a stifling, 130-degree Fahrenheit dust bowl where the next mound that you bring into focus might be hiding a bomb. Few people would consider that an opportunity. Jeff Bundy is one.

Nick Schinker is a contributor to The UNO Alum, the magazine of the UNO Alumni Association. He can be reached at


October 2012 > A Closer Look at IS&T's NUCIA

October 2012 > UNO Engages Students, Community for 2012 Elections

October 2012 > National Cyber Security Month Highlights UNO Programs, Research

May 2012 > Dan McDermott Named Employee of the Year at UNO

December 2011 > Conference Tags

September 2011 > Roskens Hall: An Educator's Dream

July 2011 > Arts and Sciences Hall: UNO's Cornerstone

June 2011 > The ABCs of the Alumni House: From Adolf Storz and Mary Shirley to William H. Thompson

June 2011 > The Strauss Performing Arts Center: Making Music for Decades

May 2011 > The Durham Science Center: Theory Put Into Practice

May 2011 > The Gene Eppley Administration Building: Philanthropy at Work

April 2011 > Milo Bail Student Center: From Snack Shack to Student Center

April 2011 > UNOCCC: Twenty-Five Years of Caring

March 2011 > UNO's Libraries: A History

March 2011 > The Henningson Memorial Campanile

February 2011 > Mammel Hall

February 2011 > The Sapp Fieldhouse

January 2011 > Heydays of the Hayden House

December 2010 > UNO Faculty/Staff Earn WELCOM Light of Wellness Team Award

October 2010 > New children's financial literacy book supported by UNO alumni

August 2010 > Anna S. Forman Commencement Remarks

May 2010 > John Treinen Commencement Remarks

March 2010 > My Ties and Cliff Hillegass

January 2010 > Megan Schuster Commencement Remarks

December 2009 > Man Killed by Pheasant

November 2009 > New Molecular Modeling Lab Key to Chemistry Research Work

September 2009 > Midlands Voices: Goals of liberal arts college remain vastly important

September 2009 > Technology and Term Papers – A Photo Essay

May 2009 > USSTRATCOM Commander Hears UNO Intern Ideas on Cyber Security, Global Stability

March 2009 > Early Usage of the Kerrey Bridge: Some Empirical Findings and Thoughts on the Future

March 2009 > The End of an Era - UNO's Public Intellectuals and the Omaha World-Herald, 1997-2006

January 2009 > Going Green on Campus: Kathy Hartle Evokes Her Recycling Charge at Work

October 2008 > Zero to 65 in 80 Semesters

October 2008 > Embracing tests UNO should be praised for bucking establishment, scoring well

September 2008 > H.RES.1372: Celebrating the 100th

September 2008 > UNO Researcher Spotlighted

March 2008 > Culture on Campus

February 2008 > In Her Own Words: Technology is crucial to spurring growth

December 2007 > Pacific Street Memories

November 2007 > WISE Women

October 2007 > Vincent Empowers Teachers, Students With Technology

September 2007 > A Model of Success: UNO-Western Hills Partnership Thrives at Six Years

August 2007 > Orientation Leader Represents UNO with Exuberance

August 2007 > In His Own Words: On Summer School

July 2007 > Changing Faces

June 2007 > MVHC @ 50

May 2007 > In His Own Words: My Fulbright Year in Leipzig

February 2007 > At Your Service

December 2006 > A Job Well Done

September 2006 > Australian Finches Aid UNO Professor's Research

July 2006 > Finding His Way

May 2006 > Calming the Anxious

April 2006 > The Kid's Doing All Right

March 2006 > Shot of a Lifetime

March 2006 > Going for Four

February 2006 > Standing Tall with Sierra

January 2006 > In-Your-Face Geology

January 2006 > Religion Meets Film

January 2006 > Finding a Home Port

December 2005 > Man of the Cloth

November 2005 > Volunteer Field Work

November 2005 > Charting the Unknown

October 2005 > Developing Business Overseas

October 2005 > After The Storm

September 2005 > Building Better Officers

September 2005 > Saving the Planet

August 2005 > Making the Abstract Tangible

August 2005 > Helping Neighborhoods Help Themselves

July 2005 > Improving Health through Technology

July 2005 > Reading the Signs

June 2005 > Small Steps to a Better Life

April 2005 > Women's Walk Brings the Benefits to UNO Student-Athletes

April 2005 > Honest Art

March 2005 > Sharing The Wealth

March 2005 > Engineering His Own Masterpiece

February 2005 > Native Daughter, Native Dreams

February 2005 > Puck Stops Here

January 2005 > Stressing the Familiar

January 2005 > Connecting the Community

January 2005 > Ticket to Cooperstown

December 2004 > Spirit of the Season

December 2004 > Nicholas Stergiou: Research in Motion

fall 2004 > Alzheimer's: Caring for the Caregiver's

fall 2004 > Part of the Heart & Soul of Our Community: A message from Chancellor Belck

fall 2004 > David Hawk: All In

fall 2004 > Anadelia Lamas: Planting Roots

fall 2004 > Dean Olson: Assessing the Threat

fall 2004 > Student's Wireless Application Earns Him $25,000 Price from Microsoft

fall 2004 > Tom Warren: From the Chiefs to the Chief

fall 2004 > UNO Theatre Graduates Start Companies in Their Community

fall 2004 > Host Families Provide Welcoming Environment for Afghan Guests

fall 2004 > CADRE Project Celebrates 10 Years of Preparing Effective Educators

fall 2004 > Business Owner Raises Awareness, Funding for Real Estate Program

fall 2004 > Media Executive Chooses Omaha as Place to Build a Career and a Life

fall 2004 > UNO Partners with Metro, Takes STEP to Grow Science-Related Degrees

fall 2004 > Art Meets Technology in PKI's Student Multimedia Lab