On December 7, 1941, Associated Press photographer Max Desfor had been covering the Redskins-Eagles football game in Griffiths Stadium in Washington. He was in a special press box on the fifty-yard line. The box was positioned below the loge seats and held four or five photographers. Desfor was sitting behind a camera called a “Big Bertha,” a Speed Graphic with a long telephoto that used 5×7 sheets of film. During the first half of the game he heard a series of messages over the stadium public address system telling colonels and admirals to call their offices. He knew something was up and at halftime called the AP bureau from a pay phone. “Max,” he was told, “get your ass back here. We’ve been attacked!” As soon as Max returned to the AP bureau he was told to go to the State Department. At that time the State Department was in the Old Executive Office Building, now called the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. He rushed to the bottom of the steps just as Japanese diplomats Kichisaburo Nomura and Saburo Kurusu were leaving the building. Secretary of State Cordell Hull was following them, extremely angry and berating the diplomats in a loud voice. Desfor made pictures, rushed back to the AP bureau, and was told to get to the Japanese Embassy. When Desfor arrived at the Japanese Embassy, on Massachusetts Avenue, he found photographer Tom O’Halloran of Harris and Ewing and other photographers in the courtyard. They were making pictures of the embassy staff burning top-secret documents. The staff tried to prevent the photographers from making pictures by coming at them with brooms. Without any planning, the photographers broke up into two groups. While the Japanese staff chased one group with their brooms, the other group would make pictures. Desfor would see one of the Japanese diplomats again—nearly four years later, on the deck of the USS Missouri as Japanese officials signed the document of surrender that ended World War II.
Max covered the war in the Pacific. On October 6th, 1945 Max was told to get to the tiny island of Tinian as fast he could . Max made it and took the only photographs of the Enola Gay landing after it’s Hiroshima mission.
Max returned to the Pacific for AP.and covered the Indonesian Revolution. Max covered the Indian Pakistan Kashmir War. In Bombay, 1946, Max made the iconic photograph of Gandhi and Nehru.
Max won a Pulitzer prize for his coverage of the Korean War and his photograph “Flight of Refugees”.
While Max was head of AP photos in Japan, President Nixon announced that he was going to China. Max was part of AP’s on the ground team on that history trip.
Max came back to the states and became the Director of Photography for US NEWS & WORLD REPORT
Max retired years ago, and is in good health. Last November Max and his wife, Shirley, celebrated Max’s 100th birthday with a party at the National Press Club in Washington, DC
A few days ago Max called to tell me about a photograph that is on page 27 of PRESIDENTIAL PICTURE STORIES. The photograph is of Arthur Scott showing President Roosevelt the finalists in the White House News Photographers contest. The president was to select the Grand Prize Winner. Max said that I probably didn’t know that the little boy in one of the pictures was his son. Max said that his son wasn’t feeling well and had one of those prize-winning expressions so Max took the picture. The picture was prize winning but not Grand Prize winning. FDR selected the combat picture as the Grand Prize. FYI, Max’s son is feeling better. In his seventies and living in the Chicago area, he comes to visit Max often.
Arthur Scott showing FDR the White House News Photographer finalists