Wartime camera operators want story told at Air Force Museum
By Barrie Barber | Dayton (Ohio) Daily News | Published: August 21, 2014
DAYTON, Ohio (MCT) — They stand on the front lines of combat, or the aftermath of a natural disaster, or shoot photos from the back seat of a supersonic fighter.
For decades, Air Force Combat Camera squadrons documented the work of airmen in war and peace around the globe, and now veterans want their story told at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.
Veterans of the select group of photographers who meet with museum staff Thursday hope for a future exhibit showcasing Combat Camera airmen’s work documenting history. Some alumni note many photographs and videos that tell the Air Force story inside the museum’s walls were shot by Combat Camera.
“There has never in the history of the Air Force given much recognition for the work we did,” said Robert A. Brooks, 71, a former Combat Camera airmen in the late 1960s who lives in Centerville. “The people who just did the day-to-day coverage sometimes under very hostile conditions and sometimes (they) lost their lives in combat.”
The museum has asked exhibit backers to submit a written proposal, which the staff will evaluate.
“A recommendation will be made to museum leadership based on the relevance to the overall Air Force story and whether it fits into the museum’s exhibit plans,” museum spokesman Rob Bardua said in an email.
Combat Camera veterans will dedicate an ornate $13,000 granite bench, paid for through private donations, a first step commemorating the group on the museum’s grounds. The ceremony is set for 9:30 a.m. Friday in the museum’s Memorial Park.
Barbara “Zimm” Eagan, a former Combat Camera airmen from the early 1980s, will travel to the Air Force museum from Las Vegas to join colleagues arriving across the country.
Combat Camera airmen have endured ever more rigorous training over the years to document the military at work in all kinds of conditions, she said.
“We’re everywhere,” said Egan, 55. “We do everything. We’re always there covering it for the Air Force.”
Ken Hackman, dubbed the “godfather” of Air Force Combat Camera for his past role shaping modern military photojournalism, documented in a 39-year career the last U.S. atmospheric nuclear test over the Pacific Ocean, the war in Vietnam, and military athletes competing in winter and summer Olympics.
The Studio City, Calif., resident, who spent five years as an airmen in the 1950s before he became an Air Force civilian photographer, will be at the Air Force museum Friday. He led the military photojournalism program at Syracuse University in New York that trains a handful of elite Defense Department photographers every year.
In 1962, he photographed a U.S. nuclear test near Christmas Island, a coral atoll in the Pacific. A B-52 Stratofortress dropped the nuclear weapon from the sky and the massive bomb exploded thousands of feet above the ocean.
“When the bomb went off it was so powerful that as far as you could see everything just turned white,” he said, even though he wore dark goggles that blacked out the sun. “There was no color.”
Twenty to 30 seconds later, the shock wave bent grass as it raced towards him. “If you weren’t prepared for it, it could actually knock you out,” he said.
In Vietnam, Hackman photographed aerial refueling and bombing runs. “I did quite a bit of flying, backseat,” he said.
Later, he snapped photos of the presidential jet, Air Force One, over famous sites from Washington, D.C., to Mount Rushmore, S.D., to New York City.
©2014 the Dayton Daily News (Dayton, Ohio). Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.