The invasion of France by Allied forces began on a Tuesday in June 70 years ago. Commonly referred to as "D-Day," the image of thousands of soldiers pouring out of boats, storming beaches under heavy gunfire from German forces is burned indelibly on most of our minds. But of the thousands of images from that day, one iconic photo stands out.
After working his way up the beach, famed war photographer Robert Capa pulled a young U.S. soldier out of the water who had bailed from his landing craft. Continuing towards the beach, Capa took a position and then did something unusual: He turned his back to the defending German forces. It was only then that he spotted PFC Huston S. Riley of Mercer Island, Washington—the soldier he'd just helped—and took his picture.
It was a day that began with an armada of over 5,000 vessels and 150,000 soldiers storming the beaches, and ended with more than 9,000 Allied casualties. By turning his back to the fighting, Capa was able to put a human face on a day that is most often discussed only in cold, unfeeling statistics. It's an amazing portrait by one of the best photographers of the 20th century. And it was nearly destroyed before anyone saw it.
Capa was working for Life Magazine at the time, embedded with invading infantry forces. After the fighting he had four rolls of 35mm film, which he express shipped back to Life's London offices. When the photo lab checked out the first roll of film, however, they found that the images were totally ruined. Left to dry too long by a rushed darkroom technician, the emulsion had run off the cellulose.