Jesse and Kelly Cottle's vacation snapshot inspires affection and awe

By Stephen M. Silverman
August 27, 2013 04:00 PM
Sarah Ledford/ShutterHappy Photography

A photo taken on a family trip to Idaho and posted to Facebook has gone viral, but it is the story of Jesse and Kelly Cottle, of San Diego, Calif., that bears repeating.

It tells of service, sacrifice and love.

In 2009, Jesse, now 28, stepped on an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan and lost both his legs. After recovering in a hospital for several months he met Kelly, 24, at a swim meet that saw one of his first attempts to use his prosthetic legs.

Aug. 18 marked their first wedding anniversary.

“His personality and who he is just outweighs his injuries by so much that you forget about it after a while,” Kelly tells ABC News, while Jesse says, “If I hadn’t stepped on that IED I wouldn’t have met her. I wouldn’t take it back ever.”

While in Boise to visit her family recently, “Someone had suggested taking photos in the water,” said Kelly. “I was carrying Jesse back to his legs, and the photographer was like, ‘Oh we’ll get a couple of shots of you together.’ It wasn’t planned or anything.”

As of Tuesday afternoon, the photo had nearly 8,000 likes and 1,000 shares – and comments overflowing with admiration, awe and affection.

“It’s an amazingly inspiring story that has touched the lives of many Americans,” the photographer, Sarah Ledford, who posted the shot to her Facebook page, told ABC. “Jesse is not a hero for stepping on an IED, he’s a hero because of the way he has handled what was handed to him and how he chooses to continue to conduct his life with his positive attitude.”

And Jesse’s take? “The photo really says it all. I actually look at it very much as a symbol for our whole relationship in general. She’s physically carrying me, but there’s times where she’s carrying me emotionally. It’s a perfect representation of who Kelly is.”