Joe DoPadre began as a combat photographer in the early 1950's, but his first assignment sent him to the American Desert West, not overseas to war. "One day we got orders, and we were told we were going to go to Nevada. Of course all kinds of rumors came up, but they still didn't tell us why we were going to Nevada," DoPadre said. DoPadre soon found out what his assignment was. "To cover the atomic testing."
Early one morning, around 4 a.m., DoPadre sat in a trench waiting to catch pictures of the bomb test. "It was cold and dark." DoPadre says the trench sat about 8 feet deep, supported by 2x4's, chicken wire, and sand bags. "When the device went off, even though we had goggles on, it was so brilliant white. It was like looking into white snow; it's the only way I can describe it. I just snapped a couple of fast pictures, hoping that they would come out. If I may, the soldier that was on my left, to this day, I still think that it was like an x-ray. I could actually see his skull," DoPadre said.
Later, DoPadre spent two tours of duty with the First Infantry Division in Vietnam. He did some photography work there as well, but one of his most memorable pictures is one he didn't even take; it's one someone took of him. "We had been up in Cambodia, and President Nixon had stated that there were no American troops in Cambodia. Okay, I was a little bit worried about that picture because some newspaper guy came up and took my picture. I said, what are you going to do with that picture? He said 'We're just taking a picture', and I understand that picture hit the paper, which I didn't care for," DoPadre said.
Another notable moment came after an air attack. DoPadre says a mist fell over the area, but no one knew what it was. "We came back around 11 days later, and all these leaves were turning brown," DoPadre said. DoPadre says it was Agent Orange. "We were sprayed," DoPadre said.
DoPadre's memories also include a run in with a celebrity. "This is Jimmy Duranti. Some bug bit me. My nose was all swollen up, so when he saw me, he wrapped his arm around me and said, 'Another snoz-oli," DoPadre said.
DoPadre has since given up the camera for a paint brush, but his photos will serve as a life long tribute to his service. "It's easier to paint with a brush because photography now, as you know, everything is computerized, and the old camera aspect is gone now."
DoPadre says his life is quieter now, and he enjoys it, but he says he does miss the adventure of his past work. "I'm a very lucky guy and spending 21-years in the type of work that I did, I'd always be going, not just myself, all of us with the team that I was in, we'd be sent all over the world."
Dopadre now volunteers at least once a week at the Veterans Affairs Clinic in Lubbock.
|A United Tribute- Memorial Day 2006|