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Former Marine and famous war photographer passes away

5 Oct 2004 | Sgt. Stephen D'Alessio

A Marine of legendary standing recently passed away after devoting his life's work through the Korean War and Vietnam Conflict.  He wasn't known so much for what he accomplished in the Corps, as what it was he did after he was out.

Eddie Adams was a 71-year-old photojournalist and former Marine combat photographer, who died of Lou Gehrig's disease in his Manhattan, N.Y. home, Sept. 19, according to his assistant, Jessica Stuart.  Adams was a prominent figure who worked for the Associated Press from 1962-72 and with Time-Life, Parade and many other magazines from 1976 to '80.

As a Marine during the Korean War and as a civilian professional throughout 13 wars since then, he stood out among other photogrpahers in his peer group.  It was his ability to have a non-political or social agenda with his photographs.  He was also known for something Marines pride themselves on - attention to detail.

"He was also a perfectionist who would go to the mat over anything he saw in the editing that he felt detracted from the story - but he was most critical of himself, for opportunities missed or not up to the high standards he set," said Hal Buell, AP's former executive photo editor.

In 1969, Adams stood out to the world as the man who captured the Pulitzer Prize winning photograph of a South Vietnamese police chief executing a Viet Cong soldier in the streets of Saigon.  Adams caught the instant of death that was printed in newspapers and magazines across the globe. 

The black and white shot is of Lt. Col. Nguyen Ngoc Loan, whose pistol is pointed to the temple of the North Vietnamese soldier and a bullet penetrating his skull.  The expression on both of their faces epitomizes the old adage "A picture is worth a thousand words."

Although the photo received criticism from American war opposition groups to dispute official claims that the conflict was being won, it has remained one of the most prominent images of that period in time.

Perception is not always reality, though.

"The guy was a hero," Adams once said about the executioner.  The Viet Cong he shot was responsible for murdering eight family members of Loan's closest aide only hours prior.

Adams said in an interview for a 1972 AP photo book, "Sometimes a picture can be misleading because it does not tell the whole story."  The image reportedly haunted him for the rest of his life.

One of Adams' proudest moments was when a photo of Vietnamese boat people fled the postwar country.  It prompted Congress and the Jimmy Carter White House to welcome 200,000 Vietnamese refugees to the U. S.

It was accomplishments like this that highlighted Adams' work, and showed that even after so many years out of the Marine Corps, his Corps values remained.