From the Stars and Stripes archives

'I'll be darned:' The story behind a famous photo

Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower reacts to the news that Gen. Douglas MacArthur had been relieved of command in April, 1951.


By GEORGE EBERL | Stars and Stripes | Published: December 10, 1976

ON A GRAY, CHILLY April 12, 1951, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower was cheerfully chatting with two French generals and a handful of press representatives on a hilltop near Coblenz, Germany.

A few hours earlier, nearly halfway around the word, another general, equally well known, was anything but cheerful. Gen. Douglas MacArthur, Far East commander, had learned he had been fired by President Harry S Truman, the final shot in a running battle between the two strong-minded men.

Technically, MacArthur had been relieved of his command. But Truman's word was fired. The act made front pages of newspapers around the world.

It also lay behind the click of a camera utter thousands of miles away that produced a photograph which has since been held up as one of the finest news pictures of the past quarter century.

Following its appearance in The Stars and Stripes two days after the event, the photo was picked up by several major news services and published in newspapers across the U.S.

It later won many prizes and reappeared not only in the Encyclopedia Britannica, but also in a volume of the best news pictures of a quarter-century published in Life magazine.

But the picture almost didn't make the paper.

It all seems so easy now; it was just a facial shot capturing the surprised expression on Eisenhower's elastic face upon learning of MacArthur's firing. Develop the film, make the contact prints, and turn them in to an editor who would quickly see he had a surefire front page photo.

Looking back across nearly 26 years, S&S photo chief Francis "Red" Grandy is now amazed his photo.— taken by him when he had only three months' newspaper experience, all at S&S — even came out, much less was published.

He remembers that cold day near Coblenz, trailing Eisenhower around as the Supreme Allied Commander reviewed the French troops stationed there.

After a morning of freezing and shooting, Grandy joined other press representatives at a luncheon in Coblenz' Park Hotel. where the first whispered word of MacArthur's firing circulated among the media people.

Eisenhower didn't know; if the French had heard, they had kept it from the SHAPE chief. Grandy said the press decided it had an obligation to tell him. It occurred to the young Stripes photographer it might make a good picture when Ike learned about MacArthur's fate.

After lunch, Eisenhower and his entourage went to Mt. Carmel, behind Coblenz. Grandy had gone ahead to wait, hoping Ike wouldn't learn en route.

It was cold. Grandy had perched his cumbersome Speed Graphic on the Stripes car's front fender. He got into the car and turned on the engine to run the heater. He saw the camera sliding from the car's vibrations and fall to the frozen ground.

With a sinking feeling, he checked the camera; it appeared to be all right. He also had a film pack of 12 4-by-5-inch sheets in the camera; there was no way to tell if the camera was damaged or the film fogged. When Eisenhower arrived, Grandy tagged along up the slope to the hill's crest, where tables were set up under the trees.

Eisenhower was removing his gloves and chatting with two French generals when Associated Press correspondent Dick O'Malley, to Ike's right, spoke up.

Grandy recalled he had stationed himself directly in front of the general. O'Malley said, "General, have you heard the news about Gen. MacArthur?"

Eisenhower partially turned. "No, what happened?

O'Malley replied. "He's been relieved of his Far East command by President Truman and replaced by General Ridgeway."

Eisenhower looked away, Grandy clicked, and Eisenhower said, "I'll be darned."

Nearly a year later, after the photo achieved its considerable fame, Grandy and then Stripes managing editor Kenneth Zumwalt were responsible for delivering another piece of news to Eisenhower, this time at Rhein-Main Air Base in March; 1952.

They informed him that he had won the New Hampshire primary election.

During that conversation, Eisenhower, who went on to capture the .presidency, commented to Grandy about the previous year's photograph, "By golly, I'm glad I've done somebody some good over here."

But back to how the picture almost wound up in the waste basket.

After Grandy finished his Coblenz assignment, he returned to Stripes, processed his film, made up contact prints, and hurried them down to the paper's news editor, Joe Rabinovitch.

Grandy remembered it was about 8 o'clock in the evening, but he was told the paper was already filled and the editor couldn't use any of the shots. Grandy had separated the Eisenhower face contact print from the others.

Grandy shrugged and left to catch an evening train from Frankfurt to Garmisch (at a cost of $3.40 in those days) for a short skiing trip.

The following morning, another news editor, John Livingood, came on duty and found the pictures. He asked what they were. Luckily, one of the copy editors had had to work the previous evening and swing back on the early morning shift. She was the only person at hand who knew about the photos — including the Eisenhower face shot — which were rapidly becoming ancient history.

She offered an explanation and the editor, seeing the Eisenhower shot, recognized its possibilities but worried about upsetting the general by using it. However, managing editor Zumwalt confirmed Livingood's judgement of the photo, and it ran on Page 1, two columns wide.

Requests to use the photo flowed in and the rest was a piece of journalistic history, the story of a historic American event photographed far from the event in the expression of a man's face.

"It was one shot." Grandy said, shaking his head. "One chance to catch the one expression with a camera loaded with built-in traps. There's so much luck, so much chance ..."