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.
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.
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.
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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