Many filmmakers have tried to recreate the chaos of World War II, but Walter Halloran captured the real thing through his camera lens.
Halloran rushed into heavy gunfire with his camera to document the first wave of soldiers storming Omaha Beach on D-Day, capturing some of the only surviving footage of that historic event. As a U.S. Army photographer, he would go on to film some of the most significant moments of the war — from the Battle of the Bulge to the liberation of Buchenwald concentration camp.
The Chatfield native, who had been living in Edina, died in his sleep Oct. 18. He was 95.
Three years after graduating from high school, a 20-year-old Halloran jumped into the war on the beaches of Normandy armed with a 35mm camera, a pistol and two carrier pigeons strapped to his pack.
Like many soldiers that day, Halloran was seasick after a night floating on the English Channel due to a delay of the battle. And one of his pigeons drowned when he entered the water, limiting his ability to rush film back to England.
But Halloran pressed on into the German fusillade.
"Once on the beach, you could not stop! If you did, you were a beautiful target," Halloran told Minnesota Monthly in 2014. "I turned around and faced the sea and I started to film guys coming in [while lying] on my belly."
His shots from that day often appear in films about the war, partly because a duffel bag of film collected from other D-Day photographers was accidentally dropped in the English Channel. "You'd like to be able to say, 'Well get on the beach, turn around and start shooting film,' " said his brother Patrick Halloran. "But it wasn't that simple. You had to survive."
Halloran grew up on a farm in Chatfield, attending a one-room schoolhouse and later riding a horse 6 miles to high school. Seeking something bigger, Halloran hitched a ride with a relative to Los Angeles.
He soon landed an unlikely job shooting glamour photos of celebrities at Max Factor — a cosmetics company.
"I didn't know what [Max Factor] was. I thought it was a factory and I came from a farm and I thought, 'If it's equipment, I can operate it,' " Halloran said in a recent interview with a British historian.
He then volunteered to be a photographer for the Army and, after being approved by a board that included Ronald Reagan, received training at nearby Hollywood studios.
The Army sent Halloran and his team to significant battles. He earned a Silver Star for saving a fellow soldier's life at the Battle of Saint Lô. Later he would film the Battle of the Bulge and Americans crossing the Rhine River at the Battle of Remagen, a major Nazi defeat.
In 1945, Halloran's commander ordered them to Weimar, Germany, where troops had come upon the Buchenwald concentration camp. Halloran remembered seeing piles of naked bodies on carts, intended for the crematorium.
"We were hardened by years of combat," Halloran recalled in a 2007 Star Tribune article. "But nothing, nothing prepared us for the brutality — the sights, sounds and smells — we found there."
Images of the war stayed with him.
"He was fighting the war up until his last night alive," said his daughter Susan Halloran. "He would wake up and just say, 'Oh my god I had another dream.' "
Halloran was awarded a Purple Heart and remained in the military after World War II, serving as an officer in the Korean and Vietnam wars. The French government recognized Halloran with the Legion of Honor medal in 2007.
He spent several decades in Rochester, working as a stockbroker and flying small airplanes in his spare time.
Halloran is survived by his wife, Marion, of Edina, and daughters Joanne Snyder of Minneapolis, Patricia Halloran of Bronxville, N.Y., Susan Halloran of Minneapolis and Elizabeth Halloran of Eden Prairie.