In 1965, when he was a young LIFE photographer in Santo Domingo covering the Dominican uprising, Bill Eppridge came, literally, within an inch of his life. A bullet from a .50-caliber spotting rifle barely missed his head and tore a hole in the wall behind him. "It was a tracer round," says Eppridge. "I could feel the heat of the phosphorus when it went by me."
Eppridge was sent to the island after President Johnson had dispatched troops to protect American interests there. He and two LIFE reporters were assigned to cover the fighting from the rebels' side. It was a Sunday when the shot whizzed by. Eppridge was perched on a balcony of the rebel-held Customs House aiming his 500-mm. mirror lens across the Ozama River toward a gun emplacement near some grain elevators defended by American troops. Later he learned that the bullet with Eppridge written on it had been fired by members of a weapons squad of the U.S. Army's 82nd Airborne Division who were using a spotting rifle mounted on a 106-mm. recoilless rifle. The spotting rifle was for zeroing in, the 106 for obliteration.
This apparatus had been aimed at the Customs House balcony from which a rebel, nicknamed "One Shot Charlie," had been pestering the U.S. soldiers with rifle fire for days. The American squad had orders from its commander to "get" One Shot "the next time he moves." But Charlie took Sunday off, and the man moving on the balcony was none other than Eppridge.
That, dear readers, is called a war story. Traditionally, when two or more veterans get together, they tell war stories. A few weeks ago Eppridge was in Ayer, Mass. to photograph Joe Morris, the latest of Syracuse University's great running backs, and his three highly talented brothers for Doug Looney's profile that begins on page 36. Earl Morris, the patriarch of this extraordinary clan, is a retired U.S. Army staff sergeant. One afternoon, while Morris was driving Eppridge around Ayer and nearby Fort Devens, the two veterans got to telling war stories. It turned out both had been in Santo Domingo in May of 1965, Morris as a weapons squad leader in the 2nd platoon, Company A, 2nd Battalion, 325th Infantry, of the 82nd Airborne. Eppridge said he had been on the other side, camped out with the rebels.
August 23, 1981
From there, according to Eppridge; the conversation went like this:
"Where were you?"
"On the river."
"No kidding. I was at the Customs House. Some Americans were shooting at us from some grain elevators."
"No fooling! I was at the grain elevators."
"You tried to kill me!"
The tour of Ayer continued in a somewhat altered mood. "He didn't quite know whether to laugh or not," says Eppridge, laughing.