Longtime AP photographer Fred Waters dies at age 86

By Jim Salter ,AP

ST. LOUIS — Fred Waters, a longtime Associated Press photographer who covered everything from the Korean and Vietnam wars to construction of the Gateway Arch, has died, his daughter said Thursday.

Waters died Wednesday in Gulf Breeze, Florida, after several years of failing health, daughter Karen Wiley said. He turned 86 last month.

Waters was born in Alabama in 1927. His family moved to Miami in the 1930s and he got a job as a clerk in the photo lab of the Miami Herald.

He was 17 when he joined the Navy in World War II, earning a Purple Heart on Guam. He joined the Army after his hitch in the Navy ended in 1946 and was trained as a photographer, serving a tour in Japan and earning the name “Mizu-San,” Japanese for “Mr. Waters.”

Waters was hired by AP in 1952. He remained in Southeast Asia and covered conflicts that included the Korean War, the French-Indochina War and Vietnam. He was wounded in Korea, hurt in a helicopter crash in Laos and suffered an eye injury from a bamboo trap in South Vietnam.

During the French-Indochina War, Waters covered the fall of North Vietnam. He was one of the last three newsmen to leave Hanoi before it was overrun by the Vietminh in 1954. Under constant surveillance and forbidden to take pictures, Waters hung his camera around his neck and as he walked around, aimed his body and snapped his shutter. Once his film was smuggled out of the country, it provided the first photos from Hanoi under Vietminh rule.

In his book, “Mizu-San,” published in 2011, Waters wrote, “Very few people can say that they accomplished their life’s goal before they were 30 years old. That’s what happened to me. It’s been a good ride.”

Waters was transferred to St. Louis in 1962 and worked there until he retired in 1987. His photos chronicled construction of the Gateway Arch, presidential visits, World Series and Stanley Cup Finals games. He traveled with Martin Luther King Jr. and covered the upheaval after his assassination.