Appreciation: Former Proceedings Editor Robert Timberg Dies at 76

September 8, 2016 12:38 PM
Robert Timberg. CSPAN Image
Robert Timberg. CSPAN Image

Robert Timberg, U.S. Naval Academy Class of 1964, journalist, author and former Editor-in-Chief of Proceedings died on Tuesday of respiratory failure. He was 76.

Timberg was best known, of course, as author of the highly acclaimed 1995 book, The Nightingale’s Song, a compilation of profiles of five U.S. Naval Academy graduates whose lives became intertwined in the post-Vietnam War political landscape.

Around the U.S. Naval Institute, however, Bob is remembered for the stirring addresses he delivered to the assembled panelists at a 1996 conference on the Vietnam “Fault Line” at a cosponsored event with the McCormick-Tribune Foundation held at Cantigny just outside Chicago. He reprised his commentary for the Institute’s Annual Meeting that April and subsequently had it published in the July-August issue of Naval History.

Robert Timberg in 1996. US Naval Institute Photo
Robert Timberg in 1996. US Naval Institute Photo

“What is this generational fault line I am talking about,” he wrote. “I define one part as those who served as enlisted men and junior officers during the Vietnam War. The other part is made up of their contemporaries, men of roughly the same age who did not serve. In simple terms, I am talking about those who went and those who didn’t. . . . That was what turned Vietnam into what has been called an indigestible lump. . . . To the other half of our generation, I know you think you were smarter than us, and more sensitive, and lived on a higher moral plane, and you probably thought you had more reason to live. But that is not what you looked like to us.”

A combat veteran in Vietnam, Bob was severely wounded when his transport loaded with fuel hit a land mine in South Vietnam. He was later medically retired from the Marine Corps because of his injuries, undergoing 35 surgeries over the course of several years. In the face of all that, he nonetheless embarked on the writing life after the war.

Bob Timberg was a towering figure in the profession of reporting. He was a true journalist with proverbial ink in his veins, one who toiled in the state house beat in Annapolis, Maryland, City Hall in Baltimore, as the Baltimore Sun’s White House correspondent, and as editor-in-chief of the U.S. Naval Institute’s Proceedings from 2005-2008. He also had many stories to tell from all sides of his career and often kept his staff here spellbound. His friends and colleagues will miss him.

On a personal note, from someone who knew Bob both professionally and personally, he could be tough as nails in the office yet one of the most princely friends and companions outside those doors. He was also very fond of desserts, most notably pies. And then there was one thing he truly adored. He once inscribed a book to my parents, finishing with the line “Please send fudge.”

Fred Schultz

Fred Schultz is the Managing Editor for U.S. Naval Institute's Proceedings.

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