Longtime photojournalist Fred Waters dies at 86

Fred Waters, longtime photojournalist for the Associated Press, covered everything from the Korean War to the construction of the Gateway Arch. Here is one of his photographs of the Korean War dated June 4, 1952 where the U.S. soldiers raided Compound 96 in Korea which held communist prisoners of war.

Fred Waters was a longtime Associated Press photographer. Since 1952, he recorded historical events from the Korean and Vietnam wars to the construction of the Gateway Arch through his lasting images. 

The Daily Mail reports the death of the photojournalist after finally succumbing to failing health in Gulf Breeze, Florida, Wednesday, December 4 this year. His daughter, Karen Wiley, said that Fred Waters just turned 86 last month.

Fred Waters hailed from Alabama. He was born on the year 1927. From Alabama, his family transferred to Miami in the 1930’s when the country was facing a Great Depression.

He eventually landed a job as a clerk of the Miami Herald. While working at the periodical, Waters became exposed to the wonders of photojournalism working in the photo laboratory.

He was 17 when the World War II broke out. He decided to leave his work and enlist in the Navy. While serving in the Navy, he earned a Purple Heart on Guam.

His service in the Navy ended after the Second World War in 1946. He, then, joined the Army. He trained to become a photographer and covered many events thereafter. He served in a tour in Japan. There, he was dubbed as “Mizu-San”, which was Japanese for “Mr. Waters”.

Fred Waters also traveled with Martin Luther King Jr. He covered the upheaval after King’s assassination. In his photo dated June 21, 1963, black protesters hold a demonstration against the re-segregation of public schools in St. Louis.

In 1952, Fred Waters was hired by the Associated Press. Since then, he worked for the AP replenishing the world with lasting images. He remained in Southeast Asia and covered the Korean War, the French-Indochina War and the Vietnam War.

His trips covering the conflicts were not a walk in the park. He faced the risks of being a war photojournalist including the possibility of death. Luckily, he survived the wars that he covered. He did incur war scars.

He was wounded while covering the Korean war. He also got injured in a helicopter crash in Laos. He also experienced the pain of being snared into a bamboo trap made by the Viet Cong in South Vietnam.

Waters also covered the French-Indochina War and witnessed the fall of the French to the Vietminh. He left Hanoi in 1954 among the three last newsmen to cover the historical episode before the place was overrun by the Vietminh.

He was constantly under surveillance. He was forbidden to take photographs. So, he hang his camera around his neck and walked around Hanoi. He aimed his body at his subject and snapped the shutter to avoid discovery.

His films were secretly smuggled out of the country. His photographs were the first from Hanoi under the Vietminh rule.

“Very few people can say that they have accomplished their life’s goal before they were 30 years old. That’s what happened to me. It’s been a good ride,” wrote Waters in his book, Mizu-San. The book was published in 2011.

After staying in Southeast Asia for many years, he was transferred to St. Louis in 1962. He was assigned there as a photojournalist until his retirement in 1987.

He covered the construction of the Gateway Arch, World Series and Stanley Cup Finals games and presidential visits. He also traveled with Martin Luther King Jr. He covered happenings after King’s assassination.

Fred Waters in his photograph dated January 29, 1952 with his Speed Graphic press camera. He covered stories in Southeast Asia. In Hanoi, he hung his camera on his neck and snapped the shutter because it was forbidden to take photographs during the French-Indochina War.

His name was included among the Missouri Photojournalism Hall of Fame in 2008. He was revered as a great photojournalist for his contributions not just to making news but also to chronicling history.

Funeral services for Fred Waters were made at Bayview Memorial Park Funeral Home in Pensacola, Florida, Sunday, December 8.

Fred Waters has a wife, Mary Waters, 54 years old, and two daughters Karen Wiley and Jane Taylor. Both his daughters are of Gulf Breeze. He also has a son, Oscar Waters, of St. Louis. At the time of his death, he has nine grandchildren and three great grandchildren.

Fred Waters of the Associated Press died at 86. From the World War II until his retirement in 1987, he produced lasting images that record significant historical events from Southeast Asia to America.


Siegphyl is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE