Lee Embree

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Lee Embree (July 9, 1915 – January 24, 2008) was an American Army staff sergeant and photographer who took the first American air-to-air photographs of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. Embree took the pictures of the attack from on board an Army Air Corps B-17 which he happened to be flying on from California to Hawaii on December 7, 1941, as the Japanese attacked the Pacific Fleet stationed at Pearl Harbor.[1]

Personal life[edit]

Lee Embree was born and raised in Iowa.[1] He married his first wife, Elizabeth Gene "Betty" Lain on February 22, 1941.[1] Betty died in 1998, and he married his second wife, Violet "Vi" Timm McRoberts, in 2001.[1]

Pearl Harbor photographs[edit]

Ground photo by Lee Embree showing damage to Hickam Field. A plane from Embree's B-17 squadron, which was forced to land at Hickham, is shown in the foreground.

Embree first enlisted in the Army Air Corps in 1936.[1] By 1941, the year of the Attack on Pearl Harbor, Embree had become a staff sergeant.[1]

Embree snapped a number of pictures of the attack, but eventually stopped. In a 2001 interview, he explained "Many people have asked me why I didn't take more photos from the air... I can only answer that I was so flabbergasted at what I saw that I forgot about the camera that was in my hand."[1]

Later life[edit]

Embree enlisted in the Air Force Reserve in 1945.[1] He officially retired as a major from the military in 1957. He and his family lived and worked in Southern California for many years. Embree moved to Port Angeles, Washington, in 1988.[1]

Embree was interviewed in 2003 by a production crew for the Discovery Channel for a documentary on the Pearl Harbor attacks.[1] He also appeared in the KCTS series Stories of the Northwest in 2007.[1] The locally produced series, which focused on the lives of World War II veterans in the Pacific Northwest,[2] was aired as a complement to PBS' The War.[1]

Embree's photographs, as well as his Speed Graphic camera, goggles and dog tags, were placed on display at the Museum of Flight at Boeing Field in Seattle, Washington, in 2007.[1][2]


Lee Embree died at his home in Port Angeles on January 24, 2008, of a kidney infection at the age of 92.[1][2] He was buried at Mount Angeles Memorial Park.[1] He was survived by his second wife, and by two children, three grandchildren, three stepchildren and five step-grandchildren.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Casey, Jim (2008-01-24). "Lee Embree, first photographer to fly into 1941 Pearl Harbor attack, dies in Port Angeles". Peninsula Daily News. Archived from the original on 2011-07-15. Retrieved 2008-02-06.
  2. ^ a b c "Lee Embree, Pearl Harbor attack photographer, 92". Honolulu Advertiser. Associated Press. 2008-01-27. Retrieved 2008-02-22.

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