Tony Vaccaro was a combat infantryman in the 83rd Infantry of the U.S. Army during WWll and had his camera with him when his unit stormed the beaches in Normandy on D-Day and beyond. His photos of the war take us through France, Belgium and Germany and capture the realities of war with all its violence, destruction and death. But they also captured the joy of liberation and candid photos of his fellow soldiers when they were relaxing between battles.
After the war, Tony had a career as a photojournalist and fashion photographer. He worked for major magazines and has taken photos of important people in the arts, science and politics. He is now retired and living in Long Island City.
When Frank Banoff and I last saw Tony in May 2014 to work on an article about Tony for the Sept/Oct issue of the Juniper Berry, he was preparing for a journey back to Normandy France for the 70th Anniversary of D Day on June 4, a trip that would last six months.
He's 93 and still full of life
Recently, Frank and I again met Tony at his favorite restaurant/cafe Manducatis Rustica (where the owner has decorated the wall with many of Tony's photos). But when we arrived, Tony was not there. The owner said he would be right back. We waited for more than an hour and a half and when he showed up, he told us that he had to walk two French women to Water Taxi Ferry. What a guy, he's 93 years old and still full of life and vitality.
Tony's European trip started with his son David accompanying him on the Queen Elizabeth 2 from NYC to Southampton via Liverpool and then by ferry to Normandy. It was there where veterans and their families, local people and world leaders gathered such as President Obama and President Hollande of France. Before the ceremony, President Obama talked with Tony and showed him the speech he had written. After the President departed, Tony was the next speaker and he saw that the President had left his speech at the podium. He now has a cherished memento of the occasion.
Tony received the Legion of Honor medal from France to add to the many other medals he has received in the past from France, Italy and even Germany. He also attended events at the Caen- Normandy Memorial Center for History and Peace where his photos are displayed in a permanent exhibition on WWll and D-Day. He also spoke at many events from veterans' groups to schools in France and Italy (he speaks Italian, French and German).
He then visited Bonefro, Italy where his family is from and where he had lived before the war. In August 2014, a Tony Vaccaro museum opened up in the town and a plaza was named after him.
Back home in NYC, Tony has been having lots activity in his life. He was interviewed at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in Battery Park City in lower Manhattan in May for the 70th Anniversary of VE Day by Alex Kershaw of the NY Times, the best-selling author of the book The Liberator.
There is also a film about him coming out this year called The Unlikely Journey of PFC Tony Vaccaro by Dog Green Productions. Included in the film will be comments about his work from Pulitzer Prize winning photographers and photo journalists.
Tony's next project is a book he will call 100. It will contain 100 portraits of people he photographed that he feels made important contributions to mankind.
When the war ended, Tony said he would never take another photo of war. His work then focused on important people in the arts, science and politics. He feels very strongly that mankind must find ways to live together and help each other and get away from the tools of mass destruction. He saw the beautiful cities in Europe and people devastated by war and hopes we can find solutions that will avoid that ever happening again.
Tony doesn't think he'll be returning to Europe soon but he is leaving the possibility for returning for the 80th anniversary of D-Day in 2024. Tony says we must never forget the sacrifices so many made during World War ll.