Photographer John Florea standing in open hatch of a tank. (Photo by John Florea/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation)

Photographer John Florea standing in open hatch of a tank. (Photo by John Florea/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation)

The photographs of John Florea (1916-2000) ranged from fluffier than meringue to dark as death. He was in a darkroom on December 7,1941, developing photographs of actress Jane Russell, when he heard about Pearl Harbor. He decided then and there to take his career in a different direction, which led to the dreadful combat at Tarawa, Rabaul and the Battle of the Bulge, then to the liberation of POW and concentration camps. Florea, the son of Romanian immigrants, was upset with LlFE’s meager coverage of the camps: “I felt that LIFE was ignoring it at times … evidently they were afraid that it would horrify their readers.” A stormy relationship with Picture Editor Wilson Hicks finally ended with Florea and the magazine parting ways in 1949. He went on to become a very successful director and producer of popular TV shows.

Private Joe Demler, a prisoner of the Germans for 3 months, revealing his skeleton-like limbs as he lies on cot. (Photo by John Florea/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation)

Private Joe Demler, a prisoner of the Germans for 3 months, revealing his skeleton-like limbs as he lies on cot. (Photo by John Florea/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation)

“In the town of Limburg we discovered an Allied prison camp… They asked me for food that I didn’t have. I did have a roll of Life Savers with me … and I said to these fellows all in a row, ‘Fellows, this is all I’ve got. So I gave each one of these kids a Life Saver out of my roll. Finally, I started to run out and I started breaking them in half and giving each one of them a half. Then I asked a couple of them if they could get up. One kid could not. He weighed something like 70 pounds, and I’ll never forget his name. His name was Demler, Joe Demler.” 

Adapted from The Great LIFE Photographers

Photographer John Florea surrounded by Chinese children in a Queen's Road marketplace. (Photo by John Florea/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation)

Photographer John Florea surrounded by Chinese children in a Queen’s Road marketplace. (Photo by John Florea/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation)

The bodies of 3,000 of the Nazi's slave laborers in preparation for burial. (Photo by John Florea/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation)

The bodies of 3,000 of the Nazi’s slave laborers in preparation for burial. (Photo by John Florea/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation)

Columnist Sidney Skolsky (L) catching a ride on Bob Hope's (R) bicycle on his way from his dressing room to the sound stage. (Photo by John Florea/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation)

Columnist Sidney Skolsky (L) catching a ride on Bob Hope’s (R) bicycle on his way from his dressing room to the sound stage. (Photo by John Florea/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation)

More Like This

"False sunset" during the Blitz, with Tower Bridge silhouetted against burning docks, London, 1940. (Photo by William Vandivert/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation) Photographer

William Vandivert

A pilot looking out the window of a plane. (Photo by Bill Ray/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation) Photographer

Bill Ray

American soldiers of 7th Marines landing on the beaches of Cape Batangan during the Vietnam War. (Photo by Paul Schutzer/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation) Photographer

Paul Schutzer

Cleveland Browns Vince Costello (#50) wrapping a tackle around Green Bay Packers running back Jim Taylor. (Photo by Arthur Rickerby/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation) Photographer

Arthur Rickerby

Writer Niven Busch lying on sofa with newspaper over his face as he takes nap from screenwriting. (Photo by Paul Dorsey/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation) Photographer

Paul Dorsey

Models lying on beach to display bathing suits. (Photo by Nina Leen/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation) Photographer

Nina Leen