I have covered 13 wars or conflicts, the first one being Korea. Among the others are Vietnam 1965, '66, '68, the Jordanian civil war, 1973 war between Israel and the Arabs, Iraq and Iran in the 1980s, Grenada, 1991 Gulf War, and the Turks in Cypress. I went to Afghanistan, but not during a war.
During the Korean War I enlisted in the Marines to become a photographer. I had been taking pictures since I was 12 and during high school I worked for a local newspaper at night. When the war started, shortly before I graduated from high school, a kid from my hometown was killed. I kept volunteering and they wouldn't send me. Then finally they sent me. That was the first time I had ever seen a bullet fired. The war ended six months later. It really pissed me off.
I went to Vietnam because I kept seeing these pictures coming over the AP wire and I said, "Wow, this would really be great." This was before the American troops were there. AP sent me for a two-week assignment. When I got there, the Marines landed. Nobody knew this was going to happen, I found out more as a civilian covering the war than I did as a Marine photojournalist in the military. When I came back to the States, it seemed like nobody cared about our guys getting killed over there. This really disturbed me.
New technologies have definitely made things immediate. When we used to transmit a photograph from Vietnam or the Middle East, it would take one hour to do a 6x7 frame. You couldn't do that many pictures. And there were only so many transmitters. Now you can transmit digital images in a minute or two. It's a whole different ball game.
In Saigon, pilots would drop film off at the AP office, where a guy in the darkroom would process it and make prints. Someone would take it to the radio station. Associated Press, United Press, every big agency had to wait in line to use the transmitter. Pictures would be transmitted to newspapers and the like. Image quality wasn't that good and we never transmitted color. It was a black-and-white war for the most part.
Having embeds in Iraq was a great idea because it gave photographers the opportunity to cover this war, to get up close. It was smart on the government's part; I'm surprised they did as much as they did. I'm jealous. I wish I had been there.
Most photographers see more war than any soldier. There were 600 people covering the war in Vietnam, maybe 40 or 50 were hardcore, like me, going out all the time with different units. So I'd be with the Marines in the northern part of South Vietnam, come back to Saigon after five days, and go out and live life to the utmost. We accepted the fact we could get killed, but didn't dwell on it, because once you start thinking about all this, you become a target for the bad guys.
When you have a camera in your hand and you bring it up to your face, it's like a physical shield comes up that protects you. I'm a whole different person when that camera comes down. If the bullets fly, they're gonna get the soldier on this side of me and that side of me, but they're not gonna get me. I believe that. Maybe it's my way of psyching myself up.
When someone is wounded I feel their pain. When I am shooting a president or king, I feel like that president. Children starving in a refugee camp-I cry when I take those pictures. That's why I do celebrities now.
I couldn't handle the hurt anymore.
Timothy Floyd, orthopedic surgeon and nature photographer (tfphotographer.com), joined Army Reserves after 9/11. Served as Major and orthopedic surgeon with 934th Forward Surgical Team, U.S. Army's Third Infantry Division.
Major Rob Bass outside the surgical tent near Karbala, Iraq.
© Timothy Floyd
At Tikrit Air Base, SPC Bonneson works out with some of the weights made in the MASH unit out of discarded mechanical equipment.
© Timothy Floyd
As a full-time surgeon and nature photographer, I joined the
Army Reserves after 9/11 because the Army was short of surgeons. I
became the orthopedic surgeon in the 934th Forward Surgical Team
(FST) with the U.S. Army's Third Infantry Division. Our unit moved
just behind the front lines past An Najef, Karbala, and then
Baghdad. We were right at the front, with explosions audible and
visible. We watched flashes of light from night bombing in Karbala
During the height of fighting, wounded American soldiers and Iraqis were brought to our small surgical tent. After Baghdad was taken, we moved north to Balad then to Tikrit, our final duty assignment, and began to make humanitarian missions to sick and injured Iraqis in the countryside.
These "house calls" were potentially dangerous in that we often drove without armed escort to villages and farms. We were usually surrounded by friendly Iraqis whenever we stopped. People would run out to greet us and wave. Women blew kisses.