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Michael Lichter wrote to those who assisted in his search:

Thank you for your help with the search for the subject of my photo and I appreciate all suggestions, forwarded e-mails, web postings, blog postings…, but now I can tell you the search is over - we found Gunnery Sergeant James Schmarje. I personally spoke to him when he called me from Camp Fallujah in Iraq to say he was honored that we will use his photo. As I write, Harley-Davidson is going to press with that photo as the cover of their annual report.

We basically put the image in front of as many people as possible, which with VSA Partners, Harley-Davidson and my efforts came to about 100,000 people. In the end, it was good “CSI” work combined with good luck that found him. If you are interested in the incredible efforts that went into finding our subject, read on. It is a bit long winded, but I wanted to document it to remind myself of all that went into this project and some of you have requested the details. (You can also skip to the last to paragraphs and get the gist of it.

It all started with a phone call from VSA partners, a Chicago based design firm that handles much of Harley-Davidson’s graphic needs including their website, catalogues, and the annual report. VSA called me to ask if they could use two images they found on my website including one of the back of a man covered with tattoos including the Harley-Davidson bar and shield, a motorcycle, the American and Marine flags, the POW/MIA logo and more, for the cover of the new Harley-Davidson annual report. The photograph was taken in August of 2003 in Milwaukee during the H-D 100th anniversary party. When the call came in, I was with my assistant Steve in the middle of a big shoot at the Easyriders Magazine Invitational Bike and Tattoo Show in Columbus, Ohio with four days to go on assignment. They needed model releases to use the photos, and they didn’t exist. Hopeful, I said I would do my best to get permission, which they needed by Monday, my travel day back to Colorado. The chances were better to find the guy with the tattoo than the pretty woman, but I would give both my best shot.

I immediately called my studio in Colorado and had Rochelle create a banner with both images for the top of my home page. With 2,500–3,000 visitors to the site each day, I thought this would give us our best and widest exposure. Next, Steve created a slide that could be put on a screen over the main stage at the bike and tattoo show. Not that everyone there would see it, but I thought that would give us another 10,000 hits over the weekend. For both these graphics, I had to be careful it didn’t look like these people were wanted for something bad, or by the police, so we simply wrote “Easyriders photographer Michael Lichter needs to find these people to use the photos” with a phone number.

My good friend and editor of Tattoo Magazine, Billy Tinney, was also at the Columbus show and was able to print some copies of the tattoo back image to show to tattoo artists at the show. His assistant Coco broadcasted it to her 2,000 plus tattoo friends on MySpace as well. For being in the middle of 14-hour days shooting bikes in my traveling studio, I thought we were doing pretty well. Someone would surely come into the studio and say “that guy on the screen is a good friend and here’s his cell number”, and I kept monitoring my email for the email saying “it’s me” but by the time Monday and the deadline rolled around, it hadn’t happened. VSA called and I didn’t have good news for them, but they encouraged me to keep trying. They said while the deadline had come and gone, Harley wanted the photo enough that they would swap it back in for the replacement photo they found, right until the deadline to ship to the printer the following Monday.

By Tuesday morning, I was back in my Colorado studio and it was time to step up the efforts. I knew at this point my best chance was with the guy and the tattooed back. We still had the woman on the website banner, but he was to be the focus of my efforts. I did a MySpace broadcast to over 600 people, and requested they rebroadcast it to all of their friends. I started calling tattoo artists around the country for leads. Most tried to id the tattoo artist in hopes of getting us closer. One person led to another, lots of phone calls were made, and emails sent out. E-mails were also coming in with suggestions. Royboy remembered seeing him at the 100th and that a vet friend of his talked to him for quite a while. He got calls into his friend and called me the next morning - his friend had told him the guy was living around Green Bay, WI. Considering this was the only positive lead we had so far, we moved the focus to Green Bay. Numerous calls were put into all of the Harley shops, tattoo parlors and HOG chapter officers in the area, and follow-up emails were sent with the photo. With the lag time between voicemails, and return emails, this was putting us into Thursday.

By that time, I had also sent out 2,800 emails with the photo and request to everyone in my contact list and a stack of replies were starting to come in. Most said “no” in one of many, often humorous ways. Many said “great shot”, “nice ink” or “cool tat” and wished me well in the search while others were lengthy saying it had been some time since they heard from me and were bringing me up to date. Lots of the e-mails had suggestions - “it looks like a few different people did the work…”, “Looks like your boy might be Native American...”, “I will post it in the news tomorrow”, “He is a marine for sure. I'll hit up some of the local Chi area vet riders.”, “I will check with my German colleagues considering the international involvement of the event”, “I will keep sending it and posting it until I hear back from you”, “try the armed forces branch he is in, apparently they track "distinguishing marks" on all soldiers...”, “We posted it on the blog”, “will forward to all my USMC contacts”, “We have your request up and running at”, “I will forward the email to all I know”, “my nephew was administrative in the Marines during this time and big into tattoos - he’ll check with any contacts in the Marines”, “I'm gonna send this out to al my Military clubs and ask them to do the same”, “I can send this out to over 3,000 contacts on myspace”, “Wow! He is gorgeous! I would like to know him” and plenty more! I checked into everything and encouraged forwarding and reposting of the photo but nothing positive was coming back from the general search, nor the Green Bay focus.

On Friday, there was a major break when a very savvy person at VSA went back to the original web gallery where they found the photo, as I had also done to look for details and other clues. Only they dug a little deeper and found another image, separated from the 5-images taken in sequence. I still don’t know why I would have taken a single image about 5 minutes later, with quite a few photos in between, but in this particular photo, you can see a dog tag. Back to the original high resolution file, we opened it as big as we could, filled the screen with the tag and Voila – ID.

You would think that this should be the end of the story but it isn’t quite that simple. I got back to VSA and they pursued the ID numbers with the power of their organization. I went through the name - J.R. Schmarje. The only mention I could find on the Internet was a 2003 article in the St. Petersburg Times titled “When the master serves in the military” in which they wrote about how a Staff Sgt. James Schmarje had to leave Peanut, his 6-year-old Alaskan malamute, in Tampa when he shipped out to Iraq. I believed I had my man. I got in touch with the writer, who now lived and worked in another state, the animal rescue people, and a local recruiting office in Tampa. This led me to a Marine Corps office in Orlando, and then to a public information officer in Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. Finally, someone confirmed he is still in the Marines, believed he had just returned from Iraq and had a number to get in touch with him. They would leave a message for him to contact me. It was Friday night by this point.

By Saturday morning, I hadn’t heard anything back, so I continued my efforts by calling a friend and owner of Carolina Harley-Davidson in Gastonia, NC., Click Baldwin. Click led me to Bob Williams, the owner of Cape Fear HD who led me to New River Harley-Davidson, in Jacksonville, NC, the closest dealership to Camp Lejeune. Salesperson Trisha Maras at New River took my call and said she knew of the photo from internal Harley communications all dealers had already received. With the name, she checked the dealership records and confirmed he was a customer, and would try to reach him at the number she had and would ask other employees if they knew Sergeant Schmarje.

As Trisha was talking with her colleague Tiffany, a customer, Scott Wilson, overheard the mention of Sergeant Schmarje’s name and chimed in that he was James' boss. Less than five minutes after I got off the call with Trisha, they called back. I spoke with Scott, who also happens to work Easyriders security at the Fowlerville Easyriders motorcycle rodeo, and knows of me. Scott explained that he is a logistics chief for the 2nd assault and amphibious battalion, is James’ boss, that James is still at Camp Fallujah in Iraq, and that he could go into work that Saturday night and would email as well as try calling James direct.

Sunday morning, I was thrilled to receive an email from James that said he is “honored for this opportunity” and on Monday morning, he called me by phone from Fallujah. I spoke with VSA to go ahead with the cover, and all is good. Of course I was keeping VSA abreast of my progress throughout, and then there is there side of the very same story. Through there efforts, they heard from James Monday morning. On that note, once again to everyone that helped make this happen.

Sincerely, Michael Lichter
Michael Lichter Photography, LLC
Boulder, CO

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