Former AP photographer Max Desfor dies at 104
WASHINGTON (AP) — 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 U.S 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 in 1997 for an AP oral history. "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.
"My hands got so cold I could barely trip the shutter on my camera," he remembered. "I couldn't even finish a full pack of film. It was just that cold."
The Pulitzer jury in 1951 determined that Desfor's photos from Korea the previous year had "all the qualities which make for distinguished news photography — imagination, disregard for personal safety, perception of human interest and the ability to make the camera tell the whole story." The Pulitzer board honored his overall coverage of the war, based on a portfolio of more than 50 photos, and cited the Taedong River bridge shot in particular.