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

Painter Jackson Pollock smoking as he squats on floor, applying paint to canvas in Long Island studio. (Photo by Martha Holmes/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation) Photographer

Martha Holmes

Elvis and Priscilla leave the house he and his family occupied in Bad Nauheim, Germany. (Photo by James Whitmore/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation) Photographer

James Whitmore

Technician at Washington State University measuring lumps of cow fetuses. (Photo by Oscar Fritz Goro/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation) Photographer

Fritz Goro

American movie producer, artist, and animator Walt Disney and fellow artist and animator Mary Blair sit on a balcony and draw on sketch pads while in South America. (Photo by Hart Preston/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation) Photographer

Hart Preston

People walking along the shore of Hydra, Greece. (Photo by James Burke/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation) Photographer

James Burke

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

Nina Leen