Clare Morgana Gillis and James Foley depart Libya on May 19, 2011. / Jon Jensen, GlobalPost
On Tuesday August 19, at 11:50 p.m. local time, the Islamic State released a video in which James Wright Foley, 40-year-old American freelance journalist and nearly two-year captive of the radical group once known as ISIS, read a largely prepared speech and then was beheaded
I knew James Foley well, and we'd become very close both in the field and during the six weeks we were detained together in Libya. Many of the dispatches I sent to this newspaper were based upon fieldwork with him.
One late afternoon in March 2011, not long after we'd met, we walked along eastern Libya's front line, drifting between rebel checkpoints â?? more like, a few trucks pulled over in the shade, men drinking tea â?? in one of the rebel army's furthest westward pushes, around Ras Lanouf. We spoke about luck. Both of us thought of ourselves as lucky, having gotten close enough to real scrapes to, one hopes, learn from past mistakes. But we also agreed on a sobering point Jim made: "Maybe if you keep using up all your luck all the time, eventually it runs out."
Our philosophizing was interrupted by a barrage of Grad missiles from the Libyan army side, driving the rebels back. We jumped in a car and rode under fire from anti-aircraft artillery the rebels were aiming at the positions of dictator Moammar Ghadafi's forces â?? the tracers shot red across the sky over us. Knowing about their weapons and primitive skill level, it was not clear which side posed the greater danger, and it was a white-knuckled ride.
We got back to a place they'd deemed safe enough to gather and regroup. I sat still on the curb for a minute, catching my breath and (probably) lighting a cigarette. Men were lined up at the back of a van, and Jim went over to have a look. He bounded back with a huge grin and said, "Look, they've got rice and beans!"
At the meal truck â?? a rotating group of Benghazi restaurateurs took turns coming to the front lines every night â?? Jim met a kind gentleman, captain of a merry band of six and driving the truck they tooled around in. Its flatbed was mounted with a 106mm cannon, and was a foot deep with the substantial rounds it fired. We joined the crew, sitting with them on the back of the truck, hanging onto the cannon in the cold night until we pulled up at our lodging, an abandoned construction camp. They lit a fire, gave us tea and blankets, and passed us off to a bread truck the next day. "We are going to resupply, and it's dangerous for you to see our sites," the kindly gentleman driver explained.
From Jim I learned quickly that everybody has their comfort zone. His was just extraordinarily far-reaching. There are some journalists who crave war and the adrenaline it releases, who become more and more electrified the closer they are to the action. Jim got calmer, focused even more intensely, and did his job. Sometimes, after a few hours of filming, he would crawl into some corner where weapons were being stored or underneath the tires in an abandoned mechanic's shop and immediately fall asleep for an hour. When he woke up, he went right back to it.
Jim did not choose how he left this world. I am not sure how you force someone to describe not only what will happen to him, but why. But that is what happened. He was always the first to know the score, and I think he understood for a long time that this was the most likely outcome.
Jim's final dispatch: In the face of barbarity and madness, he was incredibly strong to the end. That's probably all we need to know.
Read the original story: Voices: Remembering James Foley, 'strong to the end'