Photographer who Captured Nation’s Grief, Succumbs to Cancer

by J-Mirabelli

Stan Stearns, who captured JFK Jr. saluting as his father's coffin, passed away on March 2, 2012 at the age of 76.

The photographer who took the famous picture of John F. Kennedy Jr. saluting his father’s coffin during the slain president’s 1963 funeral has died. Stan Stearns, 76, died of cancer on Friday, March 2, 2012 at a hospice in Harwood, Md.. Stan Stearns captured a nation’s grief when he photographed John F. Kennedy Jr. saluting his father’s coffin on Nov. 25, 1963.

He was assigned to cover John F. Kennedy’s funeral, as a photographer for United Press International. He stood in the cordoned off press area as the president’s flag-draped casket was loaded on to a horse-drawn caisson after the funeral. Through his telephoto lens, he watched as Jacqueline Kennedy leaned down to whisper to her son, who turned 3 years old that day. Then the boy stepped forward and saluted. Stearns’ camera clicked.

The salute lasted less than five seconds. Though television cameras captured the moment, it was Stearns’ photo that became famous. Stearns later said he learned other photographers missed the picture because they had focused on Mrs. Kennedy or the president’s coffin.

Stan Stearns spent four years with the U.S. Air Force as a photographer for the military newspaper Stars and Stripes, before joining U.P.I. in Washington near the end of the Eisenhower administration. He later covered the administrations of Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard M. Nixon before moving into commercial photography in the 1970s.

In 2007, Mr. Stearns’s signature shot became the center of a controversy after the death of the photographer Joe O’Donnell, whose claim that he had taken the famous picture was repeated in remembrances nationwide.

Mr. Stearns’s colleagues quickly set the record straight. In e-mails to former U.P.I. colleagues in 2007, Mr. Stearns offered his own detailed retelling.

Stearns didn’t get rich off his famous photograph. He told the Baltimore Sun in 1999 that it earned him $25 in a picture contest. But the image has become a part of American history.

“The picture told the whole damn story,” he said later.

Read more:

Stan Stearns who caught JFK Jr. salute on film, dies

Stan Stearns took picture of JFK Jr. saluting father’s coffin

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