Pulitzer-winning writer dies in car crash

David Halberstam, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author who chronicled the Washington press corps, the Vietnam War generation and baseball, was killed in a car crash, a coroner said. He was 73.

Halberstam, who lived in New York and Nantucket, Massachusetts, 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. He said the cause of death had not been determined, but appeared to be internal injuries.

The accident occurred on April 23, and Halberstam was declared dead at the scene, Menlo Park fire chief Harold Schapelhouman said. The drivers of both cars were also injured.

Halberstam was being driven by a graduate journalism student from the University of California, Berkeley, which had hosted a speech by the author on Saturday night about the craft of journalism and what it means to turn reporting into a work of history.

His wife, Jean Halberstam, said she will 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 by telephone from their New York home.

As word of Halberstam’s death spread through the news industry, tributes and remembrances poured in.

“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 as Saigon bureau chief for the Associated Press. “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 on Monday night, said he had known Halberstam since the early 1960s, was best man at his wedding and shared Thanksgiving holiday dinner with him in Paris last year.

“He was a dear friend,” Talese said.

Jean Halberstam said her husband was being driven to an interview he had scheduled with Hall of Fame quarterback YA Tittle. Halberstam was working on a new book, The Game, about the 1958 National Football League championship game between the Baltimore Colts and the New York Giants, often called the greatest pro football game ever played, she said.

Halberstam was born on 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.

Halberstam 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 newspaper in West Point, Mississippi. He 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 United States action there but became disillusioned. That was apparent in Halberstam’s 1972 bestseller, The Best and the Brightest, a critical account of US involvement in the region.

“He was a brilliant journalist who set the standard during the war in Vietnam for courageous and accurate reporting,” said US Senator John Kerry, a Vietnam veteran who knew Halberstam from Nantucket, where both had vacation homes. “He was wonderful company, and I always learned something when I talked with him. I’m very sad to hear we’ve lost him.”

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 bestseller, War in a Time of Peace, was a runner-up for the Pulitzer Prize in nonfiction.

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

“The crueller the war gets, the crueller 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.” — Sapa-AP

Associated Press writer Kim Curtis and Brian Melley in San Francisco and Dino Hazell in New York contributed to this report

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