WASHINGTON -- -- Editor's Note: News photographer Leighton Mark, caught in a firefight in Beirut three years ago and gravely wounded, losing the use of his right arm, credits the author of this dispatch, UPI Vice President for Newspictures Ted Majeski, with his comeback. "Ted put me back on the street to let me find out if I could still work," Mark says today. He could, and Still does.
Viewers of the Iran-Contra hearings have come to recognize in the background a news photographer with a limp and useless right arm who, like the principal players in the unfolding drama, is no stranger to war.
"I almost came back in a body bag," said UPI photographer Leighton Mark, recalling the spring day three years ago in Beirut when a bearded Druze militiaman sprayed him with a burst of automatic rifle fire, leaving him with multiple wounds and lying in a pool of his own blood.
"I bemember seeing the AK go up, ducking -- too slowly -- screaming my head off in terror and bouncing off the wall," he said.
Now Mark is part of the band of Capitol Hill photographers who crouch between the witness table and the congressional interrogators to photograph them and the key figures in the scandal.
Watching Mark work with his one good arm, Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, the panel chairman who himself lost an arm in World War II, asked, "How do you do that?"
Mark explained his method briefly to Inouye, who in turn offered to teach the photographer how to shoot pool with one arm.
Despite nine hours of surgery and a year of recuperation, Mark's right arm is paralyzed. So he shoots only with his left one. He holds the camera in the palm of his left hand, releasing the shutter with his little finger.
"I can pretty much do the same things I did before," he said. "I just do them a little differently than other shooters."
He said it now takes him more time to switch from a horizontal to a vertical view and he requires more working space than before.
"I can't use one camera while holding another," he said. "But, compared to the alternatives, I don't have too much to complain about."
Mark says modifications to his equipment by Jorge Mora, a former camera repairman for National Geographic, made his comeback possible. A motor drive advances his film. He uses special telephoto lenses with added shutter releases connected to the motor.
"I knew what I wanted," said the 35-year-old photographer from Topeka, Kans., a shooter for 17 years whose bases also have included Brussels and Johannesburg, South Africa. "I just didn't know if it was possible. Jorge made it possible.
"I suppose it is a bit unusual," Mark said of his remarkable comeback. "You don't see too many one-armed photograhers."
Then, with typical modesty, he added, "But it's no big deal."
Recalling the dark days in Beirut, Mark said, "There were nights I'd go home and know I wasn't going to wake up the next morning."
On the day he was wounded, Mark awakened in his apartment to the sound of automatic weapons fire. He picked up his cameras, peered cautiously out a window and stepped out onto his balcony -- and into a firefight.
That is when he was shot. The impact threw him back against a wall and he crumpled to the floor, "screaming my head off."
"If I don't get out of here," he remebers thinking, "I'm dead."
So he ran. A maid saw him, screamed and fainted. A friend, the apartment building manager, tried to stop his bleeding and pleaded with the Druze to take the wounded photographer to a hospital.
"Forget it, he's dead," a Druze said. "Throw him away."
But the Druze miltiamen finally took him to a hospital. After four days, he was transferred by a U.S. Marine helicopter to a ship, then to Cyprus, Athens, West Germany, Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington and finally to the Oschner Clinic in New Orleans.
Nerves from both legs were transplanted into his right shoulder to replace those destroyed by an exploding bullet.
Despite what happened to him, Mark sometimes misses the excitement of the bad old days.
"After all, I went from being a foreign correspondent, a war correspondent and all the excitement that entails, to sitting on my tail covering official Washington. I'm still trying to learn to live with that." Mark volunteered in 1985 to return to South Africa to cover escalating violence there. UPI accepted his offer but he was denied entrance by South African authorities.
"As much as I grumble at times," Mark said, "I really can't complain. I can't think of any place in the world better than Capitol Hill to relearn how to be a photographer. And with my arm growing back, I'm going to have to do it all over again."
While his arm has shown "considerable progress" since the 1984 surgery, Mark said he will never regain full use of it. When the nerves have completed their growth, he faces months of physical therapy. Then, he said, he will have to learn how to use his cameras with "one and a half hands."
"Shooting is going to be so easy," Mark said brightly.
Then, more seriously, he added, "Don't take my optimism wrong. It's always been 'when my hand comes back,' not 'if.'''