Photographer who recorded execution in Vietnam dies

Eddie Adams won Pulitzer for image of shooting

September 20, 2004|By Myrna Oliver | Myrna Oliver,LOS ANGELES TIMES

Eddie Adams, whose Pulitzer Prize-winning photo of a Vietnamese officer executing a Viet Cong prisoner in the streets of Saigon became an enduring symbol of the brutality of the Vietnam War, died yesterday in his New York home. He was 71.

Mr. Adams died of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, known as Lou Gehrig's disease, his assistant, Jessica Stuart, told the Associated Press. In May, he received a diagnosis of a rapid strain of the incurable neurological disorder and quickly lost his speech and became increasingly incapacitated.

The photographer recorded 13 wars from Vietnam to the Persian Gulf war, and earned some 500 awards including the 1978 Robert Capa Award, three George Polk Memorial Awards, three Sigma Delta Chi Distinguished Service Awards and National Press Photographer Association Magazine Photographer of the Year in 1975.

But none of his remarkable photographs of battle, international politics, fashion or show business evoked the emotions of the picture of the summary execution that won the 1969 Pulitzer Prize and the 1969 World Press Photo award. The picture brought Adams no joy.

An Associated Press "special correspondent," Mr. Adams was assigned to Vietnam when the communists launched their Tet offensive in 1968. On Feb. 1, the second day of the huge military operation, Mr. Adams hitched a ride with an NBC crew and rode toward the sound of gunfire in Cholon, Saigon's embattled Chinese quarter.

Finding no action, they were about to leave when Mr. Adams saw police walking out of a building with a bound prisoner.

"All of a sudden, out of nowhere, comes General [Nguyen Ngoc] Loan, the national police chief," Mr. Adams once related. "I thought he was going to threaten the prisoner. So as quick as he brought his pistol up, I took a picture. But it turned out he shot him."

The photo was published on front pages around the world and increased opposition to the conflict, illustrating for many that Vietnam was a brutal civil war where the United States had no business. It also turned the world against Mr. Loan.

Mr. Adams accepted Mr. Loan's explanation that the man he shot was a Viet Cong captain who had killed several civilians.

Years later, when Mr. Loan, who lost a leg to the war, was running a pizza parlor in suburban Washington, D.C., Mr. Adams visited him.

"He told me, `You were doing your job, and I was doing mine,'" Mr. Adams told Parade.

Despite efforts to deport him, Mr. Loan lived out his life in Virginia, dying of cancer in 1998.

Mr. Adams was far prouder of other Vietnam photos - a series of 48 refugees in a 30-foot boat that made it to Thailand only to be towed back out to sea by Thai marines. Presented to Congress, the photos and story helped convince President Carter to admit 179,000 boat people to the United States.

"I'd rather have won the Pulitzer for something like that," Mr. Adams once told The Washington Post. "It did some good, and nobody got hurt."

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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