"It's hard to describe, but I was just thinking of [scenes of carnage] photographically," he says. "I just had no time to think. Afterward, that's when it hit me, and there is a price you pay for that." In Shearer's case, he says that price involved almost getting thrown out of the Marines at one point for threatening to shoot a sergeant "who busted my chops after I spent a night sitting on top of a friend who had just been killed."
Marty Bolhower, a retired Marine corporal, was a still photographer during the Korean War, and he has vivid memories of essentially "becoming the camera" in a firefight.
No ordinary job
"In a big fight, there is so much smoke and dust and everything is so chaotic that it isn't really that interesting photographically," Bolhower says. "I learned early on that I had to get close to the men, frame tight, make the picture interesting. If you look at great combat shots over the years, they are mainly tight shots that really show faces and pain and what is really going on. That takes an incredible amount of concentration, and the danger sort of recedes in your mind in those moments."
Still, the job is much different than being an "ordinary" photographer, the veterans concede. For instance, Shearer says that, in Vietnam, he trained himself to operate a motion picture camera with both eyes open.
"Usually, when filming, you keep the second eye closed," he says. "But in combat, I learned to compose the shot with one eye in the viewfinder, while keeping the other eye open to watch my surroundings. I got some great pictures and stayed alive that way." The veterans feel the risk was worth it, because it served a noble purpose.
"Wars aren't good, let me tell you that," Hatch says. "They always say make sure history doesn't repeat itself, but if people never see that history, then it might. My work in the Pacific, and the work of those other guys, was done to record the history of our Marines, and to help the public. The best way for the public to decide if they want to support a war or not is to see what it's really like."
-- Michael Goldman