One of the times that the East Room of the White House is completely full of the nation’s finest is the presentation of the Medal of Honor. This morning the ceremony was for a Captain who spotted a suicide bomber and ran straight for him. He pushed the bomber away from the group that he was protecting and down to the ground. The bomb exploded along with another bomb, but he lived. The top military brass is on the first two rows of the right side of the East Room and the Medal of Honors winners are on the right–a very elite group.
The number of video and still photographers is greatly expanded because of the amount of military journalists who want to cover this story. The entire back and side of the room is covered with ladders and tripods. The White House press advance staff did an excellent job in making sure that the photographers were not blocked.
President George H.W. Bush and former Presidents Jimmy Carter, Gerald R. Ford and Richard Nixon.The first-ever gathering of five past and present U.S. chief executives was a chance for a history making photograph.The Reagan advance staffgot together to produce the event and they did in their usual fashion—they did it perfectly.The first thing they did was to ask their old friends, the news photographers who covered President Reagan, what would make the best photograph and wasthe exact location for the best background and lighting.We all chimed in and decided on a court yard towards the entrance of the library.Wally McNamee, David Hume Kennerly, and I along with several other photographers were in position and waited.And waited.Turns out that the presidents were in the replica of the Oval Office and they had started telling presidential war stories about their experiences in their time in the Oval Office.An aide stepped in to tell them that 3,000 guest were waiting for them and they told him to let them wait, and restarted their stories.Finally, they came out and we made the historic photograph above.
The day went perfectly, but it was warm and bright.First Lady Pat Nixon felt ill and was not able to make the photo of the First Ladies.We looked over to a small bench in the court yard and there was the First Lady.President Nixon was seated beside her trying to comfort her.
On Nov. 2, 1865, Warren Gamaliel Harding was born near Marion, Ohio. He was a friend of the White House photographers when they needed a friend. The photographerswere still standing at the gates of the White House on West Executive Avenue, in that day an active street for automobile and pedestrian traffic. Harding began to notice this group of grown men as he walked back to the White House after lunch each day. At first he thought that they were just tourists. Finally, he asked someone and learned that they were the photographers and that they were permitted on the White House grounds only on special occasions.
Harding was a newspaperman, the publisher of the Marion Daily PresidentStar in Marion, Ohio, and the only newspaper publisher to become president. He decided that the photographers were journalists just like the reporters and should have the same access to the White House. A small wooden shed was built near the West Wing door for the photographers and their equipment.
Harding knew the value of a good human-interest story. When an Airedale named Laddie Boy arrived as a gift for the new president, Harding stopped his Cabinet meeting and went out to meet the dog who would become the White House mascot. Within minutes the president and his new friend were walking around the White House grounds and posing for photographs. A series of “First Dog” stories helped make Laddie Boy the first famous presidential pet. In the years that followed, his exploits were a bit of good news amid the scandals that embroiled the Harding administration.
Harding himself was a good subject. He was cooperative and thought of as a regular fellow by the photographers.
“We went with Harding down in Virginia when they reenacted the Battle of the Wilderness,” photographer Buck May said. “I remember some of us were sitting around one night in our tent playing poker. Suddenly the tent flap opened and President Harding stuck his head in and asked if anybody had a chew of tobacco. We asked him to stay and play with us. He said he would have liked to but had to get back to his tent.”
Pan American Airlines was the airline of choice for the White House Press Corps.The reason: Pan Am was always there when you needed them.When it was tough going. Many journalists breatheda sigh of relief when the the big blue ball was sighted at an airport. Sometimes it was to take you home or at least somewhere out of where you didn’t want to be.Sometimes it was to put you precious film in the hands of a friend, probably a flight attendant, knowing that the package would make it’s way back to New York.Yes, we did that often before the cautious times that we live in today.
The flight crews on the Pan Am press charters were generally the same and they did what all Pan Am flight attendants do.They gave the best service that they could possibly give.Sometimes it got a bit dicy.I remember a lead flight attendant, (purser), standing in the plane’s door to prevent customs officials of a country from entering the aircraft. The officials were attempting to prohibit several journalists from continuing on the flight because they had written unfavorable stories to the country—the journalists continued their flight. There were hundreds of stories like this.
Last week Pan Am flight attendants gathered in Savannah Georgia for a reunion.What other company’s employees would hold a reuniontwenty-four years after the company ceased to exist?
Al Topping, the Pan Am station manager in Saigon in 1975,told how he adopted 300 Vietnamese babies in order to get them out of the country during the days of the fall of Vietnam.
Pamela Borgfeldt Taylor, a PAA purser, told stories of how the Pan Am flight attendants had volunteered for the dangerous mission to get the Pan Am employees out on that last flight.
There were other stories about the flight attendants who volunteered for a flight to rescue Pan Am employees on the last days of Americans in Tehran in 1978.There werestories about the early days of Pan Am and how the founder of Pan Am, Juan Trippe, and Charles Lindbergh developed the navigation systems for the Pan Am routes in South America.There were exciting stories about Pan Am clipper planes during World War Two,
but the stories that the flight attendants were looking forward to were the ones told by Frank Abagnale, Jr.Abagnale,
played by Leonardo DiCaprio in the movie, CATCH ME IF YOU CAN, impersonated a Pan Am pilot traveled all over the United States.Great stories.
The three day reunion was a tribute to interesting men and women who flew as flight attendants and pursers of Pan American Airlines.The journalists in the White House press corps, especially the photographers, will continue to be the largest fans of these bright, interesting icons of American history.
The United States had no better friend than Anwar Sadat.He was key to re-opening a relationship between the US and Egypt that had beennon existent for almost twenty years.President Nixon’s trip to Egypt in 1974 highlighted a turning point with Anwar Sadat as a gracious host.
Anwar Sadat hosted President Carter in Cairoon then on a train ride from Cairo to Alexandria.President Anwar Sadat traveled to the United States to meet with Israel’s Menachen Began atCamp David which resulted in the signing of the Camp David Accords in Washington
The Reagan’s and Sadat were good friends.
InAugust 1981, the White House was at it’s very best for the Sadat State Visit.
Two months later, the news of the assassination of Anwar Sadat shocked the world and especially the Reagan White House. An official delegation had to be the most prominent leaders of our nation.
President Reagan asked former President’s Nixon and Carter and Secretary of State Alexander Haig to head the delegation.This was something to be thought about because the assassination was by military extremists and no one really knew what was going on in Egypt at that time.
TIME magazine had obtained a seat on the plane that was to carry the delegation and the picture editor called me with the assignment.I just happened to be in Cairo, but it was Cairo Illinois, (no kidding), on a commercial assignment that could be interrupted. A day laterJohn Ficara from NEWSWEEK and I were in the back of one of the two planes for the delegation.The Secret Service was in the compartment in front ofus and as we were about to land it was like a scene out of a western to look through the curtain to see them “gun up”. The entire delegation was taken to a hotel for the night and the next morning we all met in the lobby.There was oneWhite House advance man and he had no press credential of John and I.
The best he could give us with a lapel pin handed out by the Chamber of Commerce with the Egyptian and American flags crossed.He advice—stick close. An we did.We were both in dark suits and everyone thought that we were the official photographers as we walked along with the world leaders in the middle of what was supposed to be the tightest security in the world.At one point a mass of Egyptian soldiers crashed into us and we were all crushed together thinking that this was the start of something very bad.I was touching noses with Secretary of Defense Casper Weigberger and there was nothing we could do.We both laughed about later, but it was real serious at the time..
Everything went as planned, the delegation paid a courtesy call on Mrs. Sadat and were scurried back to our plane.
My pictures were fine, but the TIME picture editors were extremely pleased that somehow I had happened to link up with Eddie Adams(FYI:Eddie was a “Big Foot” photojournalist. Hey, you just had to ask him )and I carried his film back to the United States.
Severe headaches forced President Woodrow Wilson return to the White House in the middle of a nationwide tour to promote the ratification of the League of Nations Treaty. On October 2, 1919, the president suffered a massive, debilitating stroke—not that the public knew about it.
The rush of doctors and medical equipment to the White House alerted the press that Wilson had a major health problem. Few knew the status of the president’s illness. The first lady, Edith Wilson, and Dr. Cary T. Grayson, Wilson’s physician, friend, and adviser, were not talking.
For months it was a mystery: Just who was running the country? The news photographers in Washington were feeling great pressure from their editors to get a photograph of Wilson.
In the spring of 1920, rumors of Wilson taking a bit of sun on the South Lawn of the White House sent photographers roam- ing around the fence of the South Lawn and at the gate of West Executive Avenue. No luck.
A flock of sheep grazed on the South Lawn, and every morning workmen rolled a wagonload of hay through the gate for the sheep to munch.
Early one morning a photographer, H. M. Van Tine, and a colleague climbed under the hay in an effort to get close enough for the highly sought photograph of Wilson in his wheelchair. A Secret Service agent noticed that the hay was a bit lumpy and began poking a stick into the load. It was back to the West Executive Avenue curb for Van Tine and his friend.
The arrival ceremony for His Holiness Pope Francis of the South Lawn of the White House on September 23, 2015. This was the second time that they had met.
First visit to the United States by a reigning Pope. was by Pope Paul VI.President Lyndon Johnson visited the Pope in New York city at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel.He bid the Pope farewell at the door of the hotel as the Pope went to the United Nations.
A convertible with the trunk lid removed was the pool car that preceded the Papal limousine.
Presidents Nixon and Ford met the Pope butit was in Vatican City.Pope John Paul II visited the USA in the fall of 1979 and it was a major news story.The first stop was Boston in a driving rain storm.The rain continued duringthe New York City portion of the visit. TIME and were counting on the ticker tape parade in New York, but the photographs were dismal.It also ruinedmany news photographer’s cameras.
The next stop was Des Moines, Iowa and blue sky and bright sun.A mass on the Living History Farm in Urbandale , Iowa was perfect for the TIME cover.
Pope John Paul II traveled to Washington, DC and President Jimmy Carter facing a tough second term election campaign was delighted to see and be seen with this loved Pope.
There was ceremony on the South Lawn and another on the North Portico.The highlight of the Papal visit to Washington was not the White House but a mass on the mall.
Pope John Paul II returned to the United States in September of 1987 for a nine day visit.
The Pope landed in Miami and was met by President and First Lady Nancy Reagan.
Any papal trip attracts protests from various groups.
There are also impromptu stops and no doubt the upcoming visit of Pope Francis will contain so surprises and great photographs.
The last stop on this trip was Detroit and Vice President was with the Pope at the farewell ceremony.
In August 1983 Pope John Paul II came to Denver Colorado for the World Youth Day event. President Clinton met with the Pope. A White House advancement who was not Catholic and did not know much about Catholic hierarchy attempted to tell the cardinals where to go in stern manner. He quickly lost his advance job. Too bad, The Rabbi was a good advanceman. Granted he was never known for his diplomatic manner.
Pope Benedict XVI visited President George Bush at the White House in April 2008. Later he attended a mass at the Nationals Stadium.
Truman vacationed at the Key West Naval Air Station eleven times while he was in office. These were major vacations; some lasted nearly a month. In contrast to the presidential vacations where the first family jumps from hiking, to fishing, to golf in a day, Truman limited his activities to an occasional fishing trip and the sport of poker. The photographers went along and loved every minute. The president stayed in the commandant’s quarters and many of the photographers stayed in the Bachelor’s Officers Quarters—Building 128. The press room was also in the BOQ. Truman would often walk into the BOQ just to check on how his boys were doing. There were no credit cards back then and the photographers got their travel expenses in cash before they left Washington. Truman learned that INP photographer Al Muto was nearly broke. He and the other photographers were making their pictures when the president reached into his pocket. “Al,” Truman said, “I hear you are running low on cash.” He gave Muto a hundred-dollar bill and said, “Remember, this is a loan, not a gimme.” Muto said, “I know, Mr. President”—then wired for more money as soon as he could.
A voter’s first look at a presidential candidate considers the person’s ability to handle economic issues, foreign policy experience, family values, and so on. The members of the White House press corps have just one question: “Where does the candidate go on vacation?” Vacation coverage duty can be heaven or hell. Sometimes, not often, the president likes to vacation in miserable places. For example, Carter chose St. Simons Island, Georgia, and the press stayed at Jekyll Island. The mosquitoes and the smell of pulp paper plants made that a vacation to forget. Other presidents chose wonderful places but were so active that it was not a vacation for the press. I guess it should not be a vacation for the working press, but we could always hope.
Reagan passed the vacation test with flying colors. During his second term as governor, he and his wife purchased Rancho del Cielo, a small ranch in the Santa Ynez Mountains near Solvang, California. During his tenure in the White House, Reagan would go to the ranch every year and the press would have to spend his vacation time in nearby Santa Barbara. That helped to make presidential vacation duty at its absolute best. Once the Reagans went up the mountain, everyone knew that they were in and not to be heard from until the vacation was over.
The photographers usually hung out with advance or travel office staff who had two-way radios and would know if there were any breaking stories or pool calls. Some photographers did have to work during those ranch vacations. The nightly news shows needed footage as visuals to roll during the reporter’s story on presidential issues. They found a clearing on one of the mountains that overlooked the ranch and named it Privacy Peak. Even with the 40,000mm mirror lens that CBS had rented, the quality was rough. Images of the Reagans’ morning ride looked like glimpses of Bigfoot. The crews took hours to get to the top of the mountain and they stayed up there for the entire day. It was all right for the men on the crews but not for camerawoman Jenny Vicario of ABC News, the only woman assigned to the coverage. One day the mountain crews heard the whoop of a large helicopter and looked up to see a portable toilet swinging in the wind. The helicopter hovered, the chain disconnected, and Vicario smiled. It was quickly named Jenny’s Jon.