December 7, 1941, Washington,DC. Photographer Max Desfor’s Amazing Story

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!”

 Max Desfor on his 102nd birthday. Max celebrated in now 103.
Max Desfor on his 102nd birthday. Max is now now 103 years old and in good health.

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.

Soon, Desfor walked out of the AP bureau in the Washington Star building and turned the corner to be fitted for a smart brown military uniform.