NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – A local veteran pulled double-duty during World War II, serving his country in battle while also documenting what he saw.
At 94 years old, Tony Vaccaro is still a working photographer. But it is his photographs taken during WWII that secure his place as one of the conflict’s premier eye witnesses, CBS2’s Dick Brennan reported.
“The camera was with me all the time,” Vaccaro said.
He was just 21 when he was drafted into the Army. He told them he wanted to take pictures to document what he would see.
“We needed history,” he said. “I wanted to be part of history.”
He was told, instead, to put down the camera and pick up a gun.
“I am drafted in the Army to do this, but I want to take pictures. So I cannot do this?” he said.
But Vaccaro did both. He faced enemy gunfire on the front lines in Italy and France and took pictures from a vantage point other wartime photographers didn’t have.
“That’s where the action was taking place. They weren’t there. I was there,” he said.
He produced thousands of photos. His unflinching pictures send a message, he says, of what war really is.
“It’s ugly. Man should not be involved with war. We can do better things on this earth than kill each other,” he said.
After shooting the horror of war, he made a conscious decision.
“I was looking for beauty. I found it,” he said.
Vaccaro became a renowned fashion photographer and took pictures of the beautiful, the famous and the influential, including Sophia Loren, Eleanor Roosevelt and former President John. F. Kennedy.
“I was trying to see him just what you see – a simple man,” he said.
He’s always known just when to grab the image, as in one portrait of Pablo Picasso.
“He looked at me in that picture, and I clicked,” he said.
But Vaccaro says his true legacy is shining a light on both the awfulness of war and the humanity that connects us all.
“We’re all in this together, and that’s what counts. We’re together.We are a family,” he said.
He was wounded twice and awarded a Purple Heart.
Vaccaro always carries his camera with him. He often takes photos while walking in his Long Island City neighborhood and actively produces work at his studio, in addition to showing at galleries.