Marine Autobiography Series

Note from Noah: Below is the autobiography of Donnie L. Shearer, GYSGT. USMC Retired, USMC Combat Photographer. This is the second U.S. Marine autobiography, in a series of autobiographies, that I plan to publish on my Web site.

We all have a life story that should be told, and if you would like to write your autobiography, I would consider it an honor to run it for a week on the front page of my Web site. It will then be filed on the Previous Articles page for years to come for your family, friends, and the world to read.

Your autobiography must be emailed to me and it will be published without editing. I will not write or rewrite anything you send me. You can also mail up to four pictures to me at P.O. Box 816, Gulf Breeze, FL 32562. After your pictures are scanned, they will be mailed back to you. If you could send the pictures via email attachment, that would be better. Your autobiography can be emailed to me at: .


Donnie Shearer, Vietnam 1968
GYSGT. USMC RETIRED USMC Combat Photographer

Donnie Shearer was born in 1942 of a Scottish Father and Dutch Mother and raised in the small town of Sunray Texas until the age of 17. October 1959 he joined the Marine Corps. He attended boot camp in San Diego California and advanced Infantry Training at Camp Pendleton. Donnie ended up in an Anti Tank unit as a loader for an Ontose Anti-tank vehicle. Searching for another job specialty, the Base Photo lab accepted him as a Photographer. He quickly showed great promise as a photographer and soon became a quality “shooter” in demand for prestige jobs. Donnie was promoted to Private First Class in 1960.


In 1961 he was transferred to the Marine Corps Air Station, Kaneohe Hawaii where he worked for the Base Newspaper, winning awards for his artistic and quality work and was promoted to Lance Corporal then to Corporal in 1963 just before he was transferred to El Toro Marine Corps Air Station. The next year he was transferred to Pensacola Florida to attend the Motion Picture School, changing his job title to Motion Picture Cameraman. Shearer returned to El Toro and worked in his new job for a short time when his unit needed to fill a quota and chose Corporal Shearer to attend State Department School to be an Embassy Security Guard, one of the most prestigious jobs in the Marine Corps. Shearer finished 5th in a class of 75 Marines and was assigned to the American Embassy in Asuncion Paraguay. While there he designed and supervised the construction of a Photo Lab for the Ambassador and became his personal photographer. He was soon promoted to Sergeant. Working as a security guard and the Ambassadors Body Guard until early 1967 when he was Med-evacked to Great Lakes Naval Hospital to repair damaged tendons in his right hand as a result of a confrontation with a local terrorist.

Donnie Shearer in Phenom Penh

After a 5-month stay at the Hospital and promotion to Staff Sergeant, Shearer was transferred to Quantico, VA to the East Coast Motion Picture Production Unit, shooting many productions including the Worlds Fair at Montreal Canada In 1967 attending the Camera Repair School at Fort Monmouth New Jersey. In April 1968 he was transferred to the 3rd Marine Division in Vietnam and was assigned as the Non Commissioned Officer in Charge of the Combat Unit Forward in Dong Ha, Vietnam.

Cordova Mall

There Shearer supervised 8 Photographers, assigning them to various Marine Corps units to document Marines in combat action. Shearer also accompanied many units into combat, making a name for himself for his quality and exciting pictures of combat action. Some of his noteworthy accomplishments were Photographing NVA aircraft to prove to Congress they were being used by the enemy, Photographing the build up of NVA soldiers and armor in the DMZ when Congress said the enemy was at the peace talks and not preparing to attack the South and photographing some of the most famous and deadly battles of the war, surviving without even getting wounded where losses were often over 60%. The Marine Corps Combat Correspondents Association awarded Shearer the Combat Photographer of the year for 1969.

Vietnam 1968, Cmdr. Tom Keppen

Shearer was awarded the Bronze Star with “V” for valor, the Navy Commendation Medal with “V”, 2 Vietnam Crosses of Gallantry with Palm and Bronze Star, National Defense Medal, Combat Action Ribbon, Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal, 2 Humanitarian Awards, Vietnam Service Medal, 6 Vietnam Campaign medals, Presidential Unit Citation, Navy Unit Commendation, Meritorious Unit Citation, Army Unit Citation and Vietnam Cross of Gallantry (Unit award).

Cpl. Van Horn, NVA bunker

After returning from Vietnam he was transferred to the West Coast Motion Picture Unit at Camp Pendleton and soon assigned to the University of Southern California to complete his studies on Motion Picture Production, Script Writing and Directing. Working as the Staff Photographer for the “Daily Trojan” the campus newspaper he earned the “Gold Press Card Award” from the California Intercollegiate Press Association in 1970 for the “Best Newspaper Photo Series”.

After Graduating in 1971 Shearer worked at Camp Pendleton making training and information films for the Marine Corps and safety films for the Highway Patrol on a “help the public” program until he was transferred back to Kaneohe Hawaii in 1972.

M-16 Sniper, Vietnam

In 1975 he was assigned by Headquarters Marine Corps to Document the final days of this country's involvement in Vietnam. Shearer flew into Phnom Penh filmed and photographed the evacuation of Americans there and during his filming of the Marine Security force departure he was left alone in the landing field. Captain Porter, the pilot of Marine Corps CH-53 Pineaple-5, the last Helicopter out of the Landing Zone, was alerted that he had left their photographer Shearer in the landing zone. Captain Porter flew his CH-53 back to the Landing zone and picked up Shearer, who was extremely grateful for his effort and not making him the last POW of the war. Shearer is recorded as the last Marine to be in Cambodia. Later he flew into Saigon with the Squadron to photograph the evacuation of Americans from Vietnam. Shearer was awarded the News Film Photographer of the Year award for his film of the Evacuation, titled “ The End of An Era”. His unique pictures of the Evacuation have been published in many history books.

In December 1975 Shearer was transferred back to Camp Pendleton to write and produce training and information films until he retired as a Gunnery Sergeant from the Marine Corps in June 1980.

Vietnam - taking out a bunker after throwing in a grenade

Shearer then attended Palomar College earning a degree in Engineering and Telecommunications, he obtained a job at the Weapons Quality Engineering Center at Naval Weapons Station Fallbrook California testing and documenting test of Marine Corps and Naval Weapons until 1985 when he transferred to the Naval Weapons Station Point Mugu where he worked with Naval Ship born weapons until he retired with 41 years and 7 months Federal service in March 2001.

Vietnam, machine gunner resting at Mutters Ridge

During his career in the Marine Corps Shearer won many 1st , 2nd , 3rd. and Honorable Mention awards for his Photography from the Marine Corps, the Interservice Military Photo Competition and the best Photo story for Military Newspapers while in Hawaii. Shearer is credited with 7 magazine covers including Time/Life, Leatherneck, Vietnam, Combat and “Bloods”, a documentary book about Blacks in Vietnam.

His award-winning photo taken in Vietnam was used as the model for the California Vietnam Memorial in Sacramento California. Before he retired, Shearer was considered one of the best Photographers in the Marine Corps. His poignant action packed Combat Photography is known, published and appreciated worldwide.

Vietnam, Anthony Hartman

Donnie Shearer presently lives with his wife in White House, Tennessee. He has been featured in 4 documentary films about Combat Photographers on the History Channel, Discovery, KCET Public Television and Mail Call on the History Channel.

Presently a Production company is working on a Documentary Titled “Trouble Shooters” about Shearer and Frank Lee another Marine Corps Photographer who was in the same area in 1967 and 68 and was awarded the Bronze star for valor.

Contact Noah at:

(Archive - Week of July 16, 2005)

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