Edward Steichen (1879–1973) may have been America’s most celebrated and highly paid photographer when, in the wake of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, he started lobbying the U.S. Navy to let him form a commissioned unit that would travel around the world documenting its activities. During World War I he had helped establish the first U.S. aerial reconnaissance operation, and for years afterward he listed himself in the New York telephone directory as “Steichen, Col. Edward J.” Now, at age 62, he aimed to wangle his way back into active military duty. After obtaining a special medical waiver from the navy, Steichen (left) recruited some of the world’s best photographers—Horace Bristol, Fenno Jacobs, Charles Kerlee, and Victor Jorgensen among them—to join his unit, and together they captured some of the most iconic images of World War II, including those in these pages. “Above all, concentrate on the men,” Steichen told them. “The ships and planes will become obsolete, but the men will always be there.”

  • Steichen stood atop the sail of an unidentified submarine at Naval Submarine Base New London. (U.S. Navy, National Archives)
  • USS Lexington (CV-16), November 1943. Sailors find a spot to relax near one of the carrier’s two elevators, which ferried aircraft to the deck from its three-square-kilometer hangar. (U.S. Navy, National Archives)
  • Three U.S. Navy officers looking over the sailors lined up for inspection on the sub’s deck. (U.S. Navy, National Archives)
  • Battle of Iwo Jima, March 1945. A lone U.S. Marine surveys the shattered landscape of Iwo Jima as he looks for Japanese soldiers who might remain at large. U.S. Navy (Naval History and Heritage Command)
  • USS Lexington, November 1943. Pilots of Fighting Squadron 16 (VF-16) celebrate after shooting down 17 Japanese aircraft in the skies above the Gilbert and Marshall Islands on November 23. U.S. Navy (Naval History and Heritage Command)
  • Battle of Iwo Jima, March 1945. A Grumman TBM Avenger torpedo bomber flies over Mount Suribachi after U.S. forces secure the island on March 16. Tents and vehicles are visible on the rim of the mountain’s volcanic crater. U.S. Navy (Naval History and Heritage Command)
  • USS Belleau Wood, October 1944. On October 30, as the Belleau Wood was patrolling east of Leyte Island in the Philippines, its crew shot down a Japanese kamikaze plane, which exploded as it crashed onto the carrier’s flight deck aft. Before the fire could be brought under control, 92 men had perished. (Life Picture Collection, Getty Images)
  • USS Lexington, November 1943. A Grumman F6F Hellcat takes off from the Lexington for a third day of strikes on Japanese installations in the Marshall Islands. (U.S. Navy, National Archives)
  • USS Saratoga, February 1945. Smoke rolls back from fires ignited by Japanese hits as confusion descends on the port side of the forward sector of the flight deck. The ship has been hit forward and an F6F fighter starts to burn. (U.S. Navy, Nimitz Library, U.S. Naval Academy)



This article appears in the Autumn 2019 issue (Vol. 32, No. 1) of MHQ—The Quarterly Journal of Military History with the headline: Steichen’s War

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