Edgren, Emil

Another combat photographer is Emil Edgren, born October 8th 1919 in San Francisco.

I always wanted to be an artist,” Emil says. In 1939, he was granted a scholarship from the San Francisco Art Institute to study photography. But, his life intersected with history. World War II erupted in Europe.

I volunteered for the military because I wanted to go to photo school. But the school turned out to be full,” Edgren says. “I got really mad at the Army.”

Emil was assigned to the 54th Signal Battalion, which was soon shipped to an unknown destination the convoy only knew to be called “Plum.”  On December 7, 1941, with their ship a couple hundred miles out to sea en route to the secret destination, they received the message that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor.  They later found out that “Plum” was the Philippines. The ship turned around and headed back to shore. His camera in his bag, Edgren was sent to New York. He left behind his San Francisco fiancée and the career he had in sight to board another warship in New York. His destination was kept secret.

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The 54th Battalion soon received the news that they would be going to Iceland and Edgren debarked in Iceland, taking pictures on his own. Later on, he became a regimental photographer in the Army.

You have to imagine there were not many cameras at the time. So it got us a lot of attention,” he says.

The bulky camera quickly earned him a ticket to Europe. After 18 months in Iceland, Emil was shipped to England.  After he arrived at the repo-depot, he was transferred to Salisbury, a luxurious resort town where he encountered many interesting people, including the Queen of England.  Blitz bombing of London and the surrounding areas occurred prior to Emil’s arrival.  When Emil was in England, the Germans had just invented the V rockets which were hitting England with devastating results.

Stationed in the United Kingdom, he was asked by a general to photograph King George VI’s wife, the Queen Consort Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, during a baseball game organized by the Army. After the game, Emil even shared a cup of tea with her.

Edgren also spent part of his service in Paris, after the Allied forces liberated France. His pictures, showing Dwight Eisenhower receiving the Grand Cross of the Legion of Honor from Charles de Gaulle, or Parisians celebrating under the Arc de Triomphe, captured the euphoria in the city.

He was on the front, camera in hand, during the Battle of the Bulge in Belgium, and missed by one day the battle for the bridge at Remagen in March 1945.

His impressive career starting with  the United States Army Pictorial Services and went on with International News Photos, the Associated Press, the United Press International, the San Francisco Call Bulletin, the San Francisco Examiner and the San Jose Mercury News. He is a lifetime member of the San Francisco Bay Area Press Photographers Association.

Part of his legacy is now enshrined on the Internet. His granddaughter Renee paid tribute to her grandfather by creating www.emiledgren.com, a website that features some of Emil Edgren’s best photographs.

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