Nixon resigning, and leaving the White House forty years ago today, was one of the top five stories that I've covered in my career as a photographer. The others, in no particular order, are Vietnam, Jonestown, Sadat's trip to Israel, and the Reagan/Gorbachev Summit in Geneva. There have been plenty of others!
When I revisited this sequence of photos of Nixon on the steps of Army One, the presidential helicopter, I had always keyed on fame #12 as "the moment." A grim Nixon, lips pursed, arm bent as he gave a sharp wave goodbye, was leaving The White House in disgrace. It was a frame that I had always thought said it all. But not really. Forty years later, and after much consideration, I think the most telling photo is frame #11, where Nixon, having just started up the steps, turns and looks back at a scene he will never see again as president--the South Portico of the White House looming before him. His face reflected that split second of pain, humiliation, and loss. He then gave a curt wave. Moments later, and you had to be there to see and hear the rest of what prompted his actions, the crowd who had gathered on the lawn to see him off, comprised mainly of loyal White House staffers, started cheering and applauding. Nixon reacted in the manner of the old campaigner, with arms waving, and fingers outstretched with the "V" for victory sign. A smile lit up his face. But it wasn't a campaign event, but it was the last stop of the Nixon presidency. That smile soon disappeared, along with the 37th president, who lifted off from the South Lawn as Gerald R. Ford, the next president, watched from below the South Portico..