Portrait of Robert Capa smoking cigarettes. (Photo by Alfred Eisenstaedt/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation)

Portrait of Robert Capa smoking cigarettes. (Photo by Alfred Eisenstaedt/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation)

Robert Capa (1913-1954) was the preeminent war photographer of his time and one of its most magnetic figures. It is entirely apt that this Hungarian emigre, Endre Friedmann, conspired in the ‘30s to create the dashing persona of Robert Capa, and then expanded on it until Robert Capa was bigger than life—at the Spanish Civil War, in China covering the fight against Japan, with U.S. troops in North Africa and Italy, and on a terrible Normandy beach on D-Day. All this from a man who hated war: “A war photographer’s most fervent wish is for unemployment.” But there is always one more war. After serving as  LIFE staff photographer from 1944 to 1946, Capa went on to co-found Magnum Photos in 1947. In 1954 he was in Japan with a Magnum exhibition when LIFE needed a photographer in Indochina. Robert Capa, of course, volunteered, but he would be killed there on assignment after stepping on a landmine. Said his brother, photographer Cornell Capa: “He died on a not-important road, in a not-important action. It had to be fate for him to do that.” He died with his camera in his hands.

Robert Capa wearing parachute and gear prior to jumping in with troops during WWII. (Photo by Robert Capa/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation)

Robert Capa wearing parachute and gear prior to jumping in with troops during WWII. (Photo by Robert Capa/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation)

Capa was with the first wave of Allied soldiers to hit Omaha Beach on D-Day. He shot four rolls of film. A photo assistant, however, ruined all but 11 images. Fortunately, the handful that survived were more than enough to limn the massive assault. Capa shared the fears and fatigue of the men he accompanied. During one campaign, he just kept repeating to himself, “I want to walk in the California sunshine and wear white shoes and white trousers.”

Adapted from The Great LIFE Photographers

Robert Kirkland playing a game of basketball. (Photo by Robert Capa/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation)

Robert Kirkland playing a game of basketball. (Photo by Robert Capa/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation)

Actress Tallulah Bankhead attending the Barter Theatre auditions with director Robert Porterfield. (Photo by Robert Capa/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation)

Actress Tallulah Bankhead attending the Barter Theatre auditions with director Robert Porterfield. (Photo by Robert Capa/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation)

More Like This

Senator John F. Kennedy playing peek-a-boo with his daughter Caroline in her crib. (Photo by Edward Clark/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation) Photographer

Edward Clark

Steve McQueen aims a pistol in his living room. (Photo by Loomis Dean/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation) Photographer

Loomis Dean

Indian leader Mohandas Gandhi reading next to a spinning wheel at home. (Photo by Margaret Bourke-White/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation) Photographer

Margaret Bourke-White

Members of 1st Marine Division carrying their wounded during the Vietnam War, 1966. (Photo by Larry Burrows/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation) Photographer

Larry Burrows

Photographer

Anthony Linck

Yugoslavian infantrymen and an officer dancing the conga-like Kolo while singing. (Photo by John Phillips/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation) Photographer

John Philips