“I have had weak and strong days. We are so grateful when anyone is freed; but of course yearn for our own freedom,” the American journalist James Foley said in his last letter to his family and friends before being beheaded by the Islamic State.
During his two years held in captivity by the ISIS, Foley wrote letters to his family. None of them reached his loved ones; his kidnappers confiscated all.
His last letter was dictated by memory from Ottosen. Ottosen is a Danish photojournalist who had been Foley’s cellmate for more than a year before his release last June.
Foley’s last letter shows us who he really was: a selfless and courageous human being. Despite an uncertain future, Foley filled his letter with heartfelt messages to each family member.
Foley was a freelance photojournalist who concerned himself deeply with the barbarity war inflicts on humanity. In an interview shared by The Boston Globe in 2011, Foley said: “I believe that front-line journalism is important…Without these photos and videos and firsthand experience, we can’t really tell the world how bad it might be.” He also recalled the horrendous moments spent in a Libyan jail and said that he didn’t “want to be defined as that guy who got captured in 2011.” Matthew VanDyke, an American soldier who befriended Foley through time spent with him in Libya, shared on his website that Foley was “courageous, smart and had a way with people that instantly attracted them to him. The Libyans loved him.”
VanDyke was also a friend of Steven Sotloff, the second journalist beheaded in Syria. According to VanDyke, Sotloff “really cared about Libya and Syria and the plight of the people in these countries.” Wishing to do the best job reporting, Sotloff spent time on learning about the geography of the area, the culture as well as how to use Arabic. However, the reporting job was challenging. In an e-mail, Sotloff stated, “I’ve been sleeping at a front, hiding from the tanks the past few nights, drinking rain water.”
To pay tribute to victim James Foley, his family has turned pain into action: forming the James W. Foley Legacy Fund to support the three causes about which Foley is passionate and help other families of American hostages. The James Foley scholarship was also created at Marquette University. The website rememberingjim.org was flooded with photos and messages from people with the hash-tag #rememberingJim.
In a tribute to Foley, fellow journalist and friend Leah Stern quoted a part of a letter that was smuggled out to Sotloff’s aunt, “Everyone has two lives. The second one begins when you realize you only have one.”
Foley and Sotloff are forever remembered in the hearts of people as two intrepid journalists who sacrificed their lives to deliver the most necessary of stories. There will always be people who aren’t fully aware of the journalists’ sacrifices and take news for granted, but we must not let these journalists die in vain. Foley and Sotloff were brave Americans who chose to risk their lives for our sake. Let’s share their fine works of journalism, and donate to organizations that help protect journalists. Let it be our turn to raise our voices louder against barbarism.