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Horst Faas, noted war photographer, dies

In this July 15, 1966 file photo taken

In this July 15, 1966 file photo taken by Associated Press photographer Horst Faas, U.S. Marines scatter as a CH-46 helicopter burns, background, after it was shot down near the demilitarized zone (DMZ) between North and South Vietnam. Credit: AP

As chief of photo operations for The Associated Press in Saigon for a decade beginning in 1962, Horst Faas didn't just cover the fighting -- he also recruited and trained new talent from among foreign and Vietnamese freelancers.

The result was "Horst's army" of young photographers, who fanned out with Faas-supplied cameras and film and stern orders to "come back with good pictures." He and his editors chose the best and put together a steady flow of telling photos -- South Vietnam's soldiers fighting and its civilians struggling to survive amid the maelstrom.

Faas, a Pulitzer Prize-winning combat photographer who carved out new standards for covering war with a camera and became one of the world's legendary photojournalists in nearly half a century with the AP, died Thursday in Munich, said his daughter, Clare Faas. He was 79 and had been in deteriorating health.

A native of Germany who grew up during World War II, he joined the U.S.-based news cooperative there in 1956.

Faas photographed wars, revolutions, the Olympic Games and events in between. But he was best known for covering Vietnam, where he was severely wounded in 1967 and won four major photo awards including the first of his two Pulitzers.

Faas was a brilliant planner, able to score journalistic scoops by anticipating "not just what happens next but what happens after that," as one colleague put it.

His reputation as a demanding taskmaster and perfectionist belied a humanistic streak he was loath to admit, while helping less fortunate ex-colleagues and other causes. He was widely read on Asian history and culture.

"Horst Faas was a giant in the world of photojournalism whose extraordinary commitment to telling difficult stories was unique and remarkable," said Santiago Lyon, AP vice president and director of photography.

Faas' Vietnam coverage earned him the Overseas Press Club's Robert Capa Award and his first Pulitzer in 1965. Receiving the honors in New York, he said his mission was to "record the suffering, the emotions and the sacrifices of both Americans and Vietnamese in . . . this little bloodstained country so far away."

Burly but agile, Faas spent much time in the field and on Dec. 6, 1967, was wounded in the legs by a rocket-propelled grenade at Bu Dop, in South Vietnam's Central Highlands. He might have bled to death had not a young U.S. Army medic managed to stanch the flow.

On crutches and confined to the bureau, Faas was unable to cover the February 1968 Tet Offensive, but directed AP photo operations like a general deploying troops. AP photographer Eddie Adams came back with the war's most famous picture, of Vietnam's national police chief executing a captured Viet Cong suspect on a Saigon street.

"Generally we had to go pretty far into the field but this was a situation in which the war came to us," Faas recalled. "It was right next door."


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