The Department of the Army Special Photographic Office (DASPO) was created in 1962 to provide motion picture and still photographic documentation directly to the Pentagon. In the beginning, there was the Pacific Detachment, based in Fort Shafter, Hawaii, which provided photographic coverage of Vietnam, Korea, and other actions in the far East; the Panama Detachment, based in Fort Clayton, Canal Zone, which provided photographic coverage of Central and South America; and the Army Pictorial Center in Long Island City, New York, which provided back-up photographers as needed to the Panama unit. Later, the CONUS detachment was opened in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, to provide photographic coverage of activities inside the Continental United States (CONUS).
DASPO Panama was the smallest of the three units, and was authorized 7 members and one Commanding Officer. The written mission of the unit was to ďdocument cold war activities as requested by the Department of the Army.Ē In actuality, DASPO Panama provided motion and still pictures of activities throughout the Central and South American countries that would be of interest to the Pentagon, the President of the United States, or members of Congress. Our primary mission was clear, to provide accurate and unbiased photographic documentation. For this reason, our work was most valuable to those in the federal government, because they could see what was actually going on at any given time in Central and South America, without the bias, slant, or editing that is common in commercial news reporting.
Members of the Panama unit were always packed and ready to go on a momentís notice. For that reason, for several years members of the Unit resided in the Tivoli Guest House when in Panama, a majestic hotel built for the inspection visit of the Canalís completion by President Teddy Roosevelt. Whenever the call
came, no matter night or day, members would be transported to the Tocumen Airport or Howard Air Force Base to board a plane and head out on emergency situations. On other occasions, the Unit would create ideas for films that would cover activities of the US government in Central and South America. When the Tivoli was demolished by the government to placate Panamanian Dictator General Omar Torrijos complaints of colonialism, the unmarried members of the Unit shared an apartment in Panama City.
In itís short 12 year history, DASPO Panama provided coverage of many events, including the Panama Riots of 1964; the interrogation of Che Guevarra in Bolivia after his capture (team members who happened to be there came under fire during the battle in which he was captured); the Panama
Presidential Inauguration of Arnulfo Arias Madrid and following Presidential Ball; the overthrow of President Arnulfo Arias Madrid; the Peru Earthquake relief; Volcano eruptions and relief efforts of the United States; Floods and relief provided by the US; activities of the 8th Special Forces Group in training US troops in the Panama Canal Zone, as well as training of military forces throughout Central and South America; and so much more. Members of the Unit were authorized to wear civilian clothing when necessary and often looked like a news team so that they would not stand out or face opposition or harm in cases where they were covering civil activities. We were authorized to do whatever was necessary to accomplish our mission, including the rental of private vehicles, planes, or any equipment necessary.
Being a member of DASPO Panama was an honor. We worked hard, and we played hard; but we always accomplished that which we were sent to do with professionalism and honor. We had a strict Code of Conduct which we followed when working in other nations. Failing to do so would mean immediate dismissal from the Unit.
We hope that you enjoy seeing the pictures of some of our photographers at work in the pictures on this website. Many of our members have now passed away, but the work they provided will never die; nor will our memories of them.
DASPO Panama 1967-1971
All original material on this site Copyright 2010-2012 by Michael G. Griffey