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Fifty years ago — on June 5, 1967 — in the first hours of the Arab-Israeli Six-Day War, LIFE Magazine photographer Paul Schutzer was killed while riding in a half-track personnel carrier heading toward Gaza.
When he’d been hired in 1957, Schutzer was the youngest LIFE staff photographer. Over the course of a decade, until his death at age 36, he shot 491 stories for the magazine, including the 1960 Presidential campaign. At the Kennedy inauguration, he captured the iconic photograph of a beaming President with his glamorous wife, a symbol of the Camelot mystique.
During the magazine’s heyday, LIFE’s picture stories brought readers up close to unfolding events. For a photographer, an assignment was a passport to far-flung worlds and the front lines of history. Behind the scenes, Schutzer recorded the lives of leaders such as Presidents Eisenhower, Nixon and Kennedy, as well as Martin Luther King Jr. Describing her father’s work, Schutzer’s daughter Dena explains, “He focused on the people in power and the powerless, the people who were responsible for the events and those who were affected by them.”
From tensions at the Berlin Wall, to life in the war-torn villages of Vietnam, to the fight for desegregation by men and women demanding basic civil rights, the stories Schutzer covered required him to take numerous risks. Before boarding a bus heading to the Jim Crow south, he once wrote to his wife Bernice, “I’m going on the bus with the Freedom Riders. The magazine at first ordered me not to go, but the very reasons for not going, is the reason I must… This story should be told.” He was working at a time of American greatness, Bernice now recounts. “He wasn’t jaded or cynical.” He wanted to connect and did so by getting close. He carefully edited his own work after each assignment, telling his wife that he would have been lucky to have taken even ten great photographs in a lifetime.
Schutzer traveled extensively through Eastern Europe, where he was deeply affected by what he saw at the site of the Auschwitz concentration camp. His family tells LIFE that, particularly as a Jewish person living and working in the post-war years, he was inspired by the spirit and promise of the new state of Israel. So it was no surprise that, with war looming there in 1967, he was eager to be there. Determined, he prevailed on his friend Moshe Dayan, then Israel’s Minister of Defense, to embed with an assault unit.
He didn’t intend to stay long, saying to his wife that he was finished with war. He was shot soon after. “One perhaps can console oneself that Paul died where he wanted to die and gave his life for what he felt most. And that is true,” LIFE eulogized the next week. “But we have lost an exceptional, first-rate man — in Yiddish this type is called a mensch. Paul was a mensch.”
After his death, LIFE received many condolences and tributes, including from the master photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson, who said he admired Schutzer’s work and attitude toward photography. In a telegram, Robert Kennedy wrote, “Paul Schutzer was highly regarded as a professional and a friend of President John Kennedy and all those associated with him. His ability, intelligence, sense of humor, and devotion to his craft will be missed by his colleagues and friends.”
Schutzer’s complete photographic archive, a unique chronicle of the cold war era, has never been viewed, recognized retrospectively or compiled in a book. That is something his family hopes to one day achieve, but on the anniversary of his death here is a look at some of the highlights of that body of work.