Al Chang, 85; soldier captured combat photos
Al Chang, a combat news photographer who covered three wars and whose best-known image showed a U.S. infantryman in the Korean conflict weeping in another soldier’s arms, died Sept. 30 at a veterans care center in Honolulu. He was 85.
Chang, had been in poor health after having two strokes and triple-bypass surgery in the mid-1990s. He was recently diagnosed with leukemia.
His Korean War picture, taken Aug. 28, 1950, shows a distraught soldier who has learned that his replacement as radio operator had been killed. In vivid contrast, it also shows a corpsman in the background sifting through casualty information with apparent detachment.
The tableau of grief and comfort, taken in the Haktong-ni area of South Korea, became one of the enduring images of the Korean War.
The photograph was featured in Edward Steichen’s celebrated “Family of Man” photography exhibit in 1955 at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, and has been reproduced in many newspapers, magazines, books and museum shows honoring wartime photography.
Anne Tucker, curator of photography at Houston’s Museum of Fine Arts and organizer of an exhibit on the history of war photography, said the picture is striking because it captures the connection between two unrelated men.
“You just don’t have that many pictures of guys just breaking down,” Tucker said. “The guy behind them maybe didn’t know the guy who has died. It’s not his day to have lost somebody.”
Albert Chang was born July 13, 1922, on Maui and grew up on Oahu, where his family labored on a sugar plantation.
As a 19-year-old dockworker in Honolulu, he witnessed the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and joined the Army as a rifleman. He switched to photography during a recruiting drive for cameramen, according to a history of his Army division.
Chang served in the Pacific during World War II and photographed the Japanese surrender ceremony aboard the battleship Missouri in Tokyo Bay in 1945.
His work in Korea earned him a reputation as one of the Army’s finest combat photographers. He spent much of the war with the 5th Regimental Combat Team, which had a majority of Hawaiian soldiers.
Chang’s images were not all stark. One showcased three soldiers at rest sharing canned poi and dried squid, with a ukulele nestled in the lap of one man.
After the war, he worked for publications such as National Geographic, but returned to the Army and reported for Pacific Stars and Stripes as fighting intensified in Vietnam. He retired as a master sergeant in the mid-1960s and then worked for the Associated Press for several years.
Chang’s other images of note included one that showed a Vietnamese family driven by ox cart on a road filled with bustling U.S. tanks leaving Saigon.
He was often present during breaking news, as when he photographed a group of Saigon residents detaining and beating a suspect in a parade bombing who was thought to have belonged to the Viet Cong.
Chang’s military decorations included the Purple Heart, which he received after a Viet Cong bullet hit his head as he accompanied a U.S. paratrooper operation northwest of Saigon.
Chang named his Saigon apartment the Pineapple Suite and ran it as an impromptu watering hole during much of the war. He was a short and affable man who liked cigars and flowing Hawaiian shirts, and he routinely invited soldiers, many of them strangers, to spend their leave at his apartment even if he was away on assignment.
“It may sound crazy,” he told Pacific Stars and Stripes in 1967, “but that’s the way I like it -- a lot of these people are old friends, and the others are going to be new ones.”
His marriage to Nani Lake Chang ended in divorce. A son from that marriage died.
Chang’s survivors include his second wife, Jacqueline Tashiro Chang, of Laie, Hawaii, whom he married in 1970; three children from his first marriage; two children from his second marriage; a brother; a sister; 11 grandchildren; and 15 great-grandchildren.