The World War II Photographs of W. Eugene Smith

Highly respected for his brilliant and compassionate photo-essays, W. Eugene Smith (1918–1978) was one of America’s most acclaimed photojournalists. During World War II, he gained a reputation for pictures that showed both the horror of war and the heroism of soldiers under fire, including “Front Line Soldier with Canteen, Saipan, June 1944”  (photograph courtesy of the Center for Creative Photography, Tucson, Arizona).

That photograph appeared on the Masters of American Photography stamp pane issued in 2002, but it also posed a bit of a mystery: Just who is that soldier? His identity remained hazy until U.S. Postal Service researchers talked to a curator at a photography archive in Tucson, Arizona. She was able to identify the marine in the photograph after she happened, simply by chance, to see a picture from the same shoot in a restaurant called Evangelo’s in Santa Fe, New Mexico. As it turned out, not only was the restaurant named for the marine in the photograph, Evangelo Klonis, but it was also owned by his son, Nick.

When the U.S. Postal Service contacted Nick Klonis, he was thrilled to hear about the stamp. He told researchers that he’s the spitting image of his father—and that he was looking forward to hanging a copy of the stamp in the restaurant.

Not surprisingly, Derry Noyes designed the Masters of American Photography stamp pane with just that sort of intention in mind. “As you take each stamp off the pane,” she said, “it should feel like a picture in a frame.”

The pane honored 20 of our country’s most important and influential photographers and included examples of portrait, documentary, landscape, and fine art photography. “The stamp pane serves not only as a history of the art of photography in America, but also as a capsule history of our country,” Noyes said.

Smith’s photograph was published in Life magazine on August 28, 1944. It’s still just as powerful today.

W. Eugene Smith photograph © The Heirs of W. Eugene Smith