Catherine Leroy, Famed War Photographer, Dies

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Catherine Leroy, the French-born photojournalist whose stark images of battle helped tell the story of the Vietnam War in the pages of Life magazine and other publications, has died. She was 60.

Leroy died of cancer early Saturday at St. John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, said the attending physician, Dr. Jerome Helman.

Leroy was 21 years old in 1966 when she took a one-way ticket to Saigon to document American troops in Vietnam. A year later she became the only accredited journalist to participate in a combat parachute jump, joining the 173rd Airborne in Operation Junction City.

In 1968, during the Tet Offensive, Leroy was captured by the North Vietnamese Army. She managed to talk her way out and emerged with images of the North Vietnamese Army in action that were used for a Life magazine cover.

“She was tiny and totally fearless,” said Jonathan Randal, a longtime Washington Post correspondent who met Leroy in late 1965 and worked with her for many years. “Like many young war photographers she was probably braver than she was talented in the beginning. But she went on to become a very fine photographer.”

A famous 1967 photo, “Corpsman In Anguish,” portrays a young Marine, his face wrenched in torment, hunched over the dead body of his friend, while smoke from the battle rises into the air behind them.

Leroy worked for the Gamma and Sipa photo agencies and later sold her work to The Associated Press and United Press International. Her photos appeared in publications worldwide.

In 1972, Leroy shot and directed “Operation Last Patrol,” a film about Ron Kovic and the anti-war Vietnam veterans.

After Vietnam, she covered conflicts in several countries including Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran and Libya.

Leroy co-authored the book “God Cried” with Tony Clifton, about the siege of West Beirut by the Israeli army in 1982.

Randal also remembers being struck by Leroy’s foul mouth.

“She spoke the most disgusting English. I asked her where she learned it from and she said ‘the Marines’.”

She is survived by her 91-year-old mother, who lives in France, Helman said. The French Embassy is making arrangements to return Leroy’s body to France.


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