Author David Halberstam dies in crash - East Valley Tribune: Get Out

Author David Halberstam dies in crash

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Posted: Monday, April 23, 2007 8:07 pm | Updated: 7:21 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

SAN FRANCISCO - David Halberstam, a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer who chronicled the Vietnam War generation, civil rights and the world of sports, was killed in a car crash Monday, his wife and local authorities said. He was 73.

Halberstam, of New York, was a passenger in a car that was broadsided by another vehicle in Menlo Park, south of San Francisco, San Mateo County Coroner Robert Foucrault said. The cause of death appeared to be internal injuries, he said.

The accident occurred around 10:30 a.m., and Halberstam was declared dead at the scene, Menlo Park Fire Chief Harold Schapelhouman said.

The driver of the car carrying Halberstam and the person driving the car that crashed into his were injured, but not seriously.

Halberstam was being driven by a graduate journalism student from the University of California, Berkeley, which had hosted a speech by the author Saturday night about the craft of journalism and what it means to turn reporting into a work of history. They were headed to an interview he had scheduled with Hall of Fame quarterback Y.A. Tittle.

Halberstam was working on a new book, "The Game," about the 1958 NFL championship game between the Baltimore Colts and the New York Giants, often called the greatest game ever played, said his wife, Jean Halberstam.

She said she would remember him most for his "unending, bottomless generosity to young journalists."

"For someone who obviously was so competitive with himself, the generosity with other writers was incredible," she said.

As word of Halberstam's death spread through the news industry, tributes and remembrances poured in for the veteran reporter whose baritone matched the heft of his nonfiction narratives.

"The thing about David Halberstam was that he stayed the course and he kept the faith in the belief in the people's right to know," said George Esper, who spent 10 years in Vietnam with the AP and was Saigon bureau chief when the city fell. "In the end, and I think we can all be very proud of this, he was proven right. The bottom line was that David was more honest with the American public than their own government."

Author Gay Talese, who was at the Halberstams' home Monday night, said he had known Halberstam since the early 1960s, was best man at his wedding and shared Thanksgiving dinner in Paris last year.

"He was a dear friend," Talese said.

Halberstam was born April 10, 1934, in New York City to a surgeon father and teacher mother. His father was in the military, and Halberstam moved around the country during his childhood, spending time in Texas, Minnesota and Connecticut.

He attended Harvard University, where he was managing editor of the Harvard Crimson newspaper.

After graduating in 1955, he launched his career at the Daily Times Leader, a small daily in West Point, Miss.

Halberstam went on to The Tennessean, in Nashville, where he covered the civil rights struggle, and then The New York Times, which sent him to Vietnam in 1962 to cover the growing crisis there.

In 1964, at age 30, he won the Pulitzer Prize for his reporting from Vietnam.

He later said he initially supported the U.S. action there but became disillusioned. That was apparent in Halberstam's 1972 best-seller, "The Best and the Brightest," a critical account of U.S. involvement in the region.

"He was a brilliant journalist who set the standard during the war in Vietnam for courageous and accurate reporting," said Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., a Vietnam veteran who knew Halberstam from Nantucket, Mass., where both had vacation homes.

Neil Sheehan, former Saigon bureau chief for United Press International, said he had lost his best friend, a man of enormous physical and mental energy who had "profound moral and physical courage."

"We were in Vietnam at a time when we were being denounced by those on high," Sheehan said. "There was tremendous pressure. David never buckled under it at all. He was capable of standing up to it. You could not intimidate David."

Sheehan recalled how Halberstam once called a general at home to get permission to fly to the site of a U.S. defeat. At a briefing the next day, a brigadier general scolded "pitiful, lowly young reporters" for having the temerity to call a general at home.

"General, you do not understand," Halberstam responded, according to Sheehan. "We are not corporals. We do not work for you. ... We will call a commanding general any time at home we need to get our job done."

The general was flabbergasted, Sheehan said.

Halberstam quit daily journalism in 1967 and wrote 21 books covering such topics as Vietnam, civil rights, the auto industry and a baseball pennant race. His 2002 best-seller, War in a Time of Peace, was a runner-up for the Pulitzer Prize in nonfiction.

In 1964, Halberstam and Malcolm W. Browne, of the AP, won Pulitzers for their coverage of the war and the overthrow of the Saigon regime.

Halberstam's reporting from Vietnam was a major irritant to the Kennedy Administration, which had tried unsuccessfully to pressure the Times to transfer him from the war zone.

Speaking to a journalism conference last year in Tennessee, he said government criticism of news reporters in Iraq reminded him of how he was treated while covering the war in Vietnam.

"The crueler the war gets, the crueler the attacks get on anybody who doesn't salute or play the game," he said. "And then one day, the people who are doing the attacking look around, and they've used up their credibility."

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