Eddie Adams (1933-2004)
Adams was born to Edward and Adelaide Adams on June 12, 1933, in New Kensington, Pennsylvania. . After graduating from high school, he enlisted in the United States Marine Corps, where he spent three years as a combat photographer during the Korean War. After leaving the Marines, Adams joined the staff of The Evening Bulletin in Philadelphia, where he worked from 1958 until 1962, at which time he became a photographer for the Associated Press.
In 1965, Adams and his friend, United Press International (UPI) photographer Dirck Halstead, both decided they wanted to travel to Vietnam to photograph the war there, according to a reminiscence by Halstead on the Digital Journalist website. "Sometime in the middle of an alcoholic haze, we came up with the idea that we should go to Vietnam," Halstead recalled. "We agreed on a plan. I would go to UPI and tell them that Eddie had told me he was being assigned to the war, and he would do the same at AP, using me as the bait. It worked like a charm. A month later, Eddie and I were both on China Beach watching as the first waves of U.S. Marines came charging ashore." Adams remained in Vietnam for a year, often serving double - duty as a reporter.
He returned to Vietnam in 1967 and was near the South Vietnamese capital of Saigon on February 1, 1968, the Vietnamese New Year, when the Vietcong launched what came to be known as the Tet offensive. Adams recalled the events of that day to historian Susan D. Moeller, as recounted in an obituary in the London Independent: "NBC heard about a battle taking place in Cholon, the Chinese section of Saigon. Vietcong were inside a Buddhist temple, using that as a cover to shoot into the street and into the South Vietnamese soldiers and police. A small minor battle was going on. So the NBC crew came over and said, 'Anyone want to come?' and I said, 'Why not?' " It was during this battle that Adams snapped his legendary photograph of South Vietnamese Brigadier General Nguyen Ngoc Loan shooting a Vietcong prisoner in the head in the middle of the street. The photograph was completely uncalculated, Adams told Moeller. Adams and the news crew saw Loan grab the soldier and kept their cameras trained on the pair. "As soon as he went for his pistol, I raised the camera thinking he was going to threaten him," Adams recalled. "I took a picture. That was the instant he shot him. I had no idea it was going to happen. He put the pistol back in his pocket and walked over to us and said, 'He killed many of my men and many of your people.' And walked away."
The photograph appeared in newspapers throughout the world, including on the front page of the New York Times..
Eddie Adams documented thirteen wars, shot one of the most iconic, memorable and gritty images of the Vietnam War. This image is forever etched into the minds and history books of both past and future generations, to the effect that one simply cannot lookup information on the Vietnam War without coming across this photograph. This image won Adams a Pulitzer Prize in 1969 and despite the fact that he truly, desperately wanted to win a Pulitzer, he lamented the fact that he won for this image.
When asked about the reaction of this photo has had on the world, Eddie would become quite serious in his mannerisms and often change the topic to something else. In a discussion about General Nguyen Ngoc Loan He was quoted saying: “The general killed the Viet Cong; I killed the general with my camera. Still photographs are the most powerful weapon in the world. People believe them; but photographs do lie, even without manipulation. They are only half-truths. … What the photograph didn’t say was, ‘What would you do if you were the general at that time and place on that hot day, and you caught the so-called bad guy after he blew away one, two or three American people?“
February 1, 1968. South Vietnam police chief Nguyen Ngoc Loan shots a young man, whom he suspects to be a Viet Kong soldier. Photo Credits: Eddie Adams, USA, The Associated Press.