Photographer Joe O’Donnell, 85, Dies--Was involved in Enola Gay controversy

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Joe O’Donnell, who took some of the first disturbing pictures after the nuclear bombing of Japan and also captured lastingly famous scenes as a longtime White House photographer, died last Thursday in Nashville, where he made his home. He was 85....

As a presidential photographer, Mr. O’Donnell caught images of Harry S. Truman and Gen. Douglas MacArthur shaking hands at their meeting on Wake Island during the Korean War; Vice President Richard M. Nixon in his “kitchen debate” with the Soviet leader, Nikita S. Khrushchev; and President John F. Kennedy deciding whether to go ahead with the Bay of Pigs invasion.

And the O’Donnell photograph of John F. Kennedy Jr. saluting his father’s coffin became the most reproduced version of that memorable scene....

Mr. O’Donnell’s work was caught up in controversy in 1995, before the National Air and Space Museum exhibited the Enola Gay, the B-29 that had bombed Hiroshima. His images were supposed to demonstrate the bombs’ horrific effects, but veterans objected that the photos and the words others had written to accompany them gave an unbalanced view that neglected both Japan’s aggression and the bombs’ role in ending the war and saving American lives....

One of Mr. O’Donnell’s pleasures as White House photographer was the moments of intimacy that he got to share with presidents.

In the National Public Radio interview 12 years ago, he told of having summoned his courage to ask Truman, while walking on a Wake Island beach in 1950, if he had ever had second thoughts before the atomic-bombing of Japan.

“Hell, yes!” he recalled Truman responding. “And I’ve had a lot of misgivings afterwards.”

Mr. O’Donnell was too shy to ask for clarification.

“I don’t know what he meant,” he said.

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