Man Who Won a Pulitzer With This Photo Dies at 104
Max Desfor joined the AP as a messenger in 1933
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Feb 20, 2018 12:15 AM CST
Max Desfor pauses for a photo on Nov. 16, 2012, in Rockville, Md., at his 99th birthday party. Desfor, a former Associated Press photographer who won a Pulitzer Prize for his coverage of the Korean War...   (AP Photo/Jon Elswick)
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(Newser) – Former Associated Press photographer Max Desfor, whose photo of hundreds of Korean War refugees crawling across a damaged bridge in 1950 helped win him a Pulitzer Prize, died Monday. He was 104. Desfor died at his apartment in Silver Spring, Md., where he'd been living in his retirement, said his son, Barry. Desfor volunteered to cover the Korean War for the news service when the North invaded the South in June 1950. He parachuted into North Korea with US troops and retreated with them after forces from the North, joined by the Chinese, pushed south. He was in a Jeep near the North Korean capital of Pyongyang when he spotted a bridge that had been hit by bombing along the Taedong River. Thousands of refugees were lined up on the north bank waiting their turn to cross the river.

"We came across this incredible sight," he recalled for an AP oral history in 1997. "All of these people who are literally crawling through these broken-down girders of the bridge. They were in and out of it, on top, underneath, and just barely escaping the freezing water." Desfor climbed a 50-foot-high section of the bridge to photograph the refugees as they fled for their lives. He was awarded a Pulitzer for his war coverage in 1951.

  • Desfor was born in the Bronx in 1913 and joined the AP in 1933 as a messenger. After teaching himself the basics of photography and moonlighting as a baby photographer, he began shooting occasional assignments for the AP. He became a staff photographer in the Baltimore bureau in 1938 and moved to the Washington bureau a year later.
  • During World War II, Desfor photographed the crew of the Enola Gay after the B-29 landed in Saipan from its mission to drop an atomic bomb on Hiroshima in August 1945.
  • He was with the first wave of Marines at Tokyo Bay shortly after Japan's surrender that month and photographed the official surrender ceremony aboard the USS Missouri on Sept. 2, 1945.
  • Desfor worked for the AP in the Philippines and in India, where he photographed Mahatma Gandhi and later covered the assassinated leader's funeral in 1948. He also worked in the AP's Rome bureau and was set to return to the US when war broke out in Korea.
  • After the war, Desfor served as supervising editor of Wide World Photos, the AP's photo service, and returned to Asia in 1968 as photo chief for the region. He retired from the AP in 1978, then joined US News & World Report as photo director.
  • Desfor and his wife, Clara, raised a son, Barry, of Wauconda, Ill. Clara died in 2004. In January 2012, when he was 98, Desfor and his longtime companion, Shirley Belasco, surprised guests at a party celebrating her 90th birthday by marrying in front of their guests. Ms. Belasco died in 2015.

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