David Lamb, retired LA Times star reporter, 76

david-lamb-vietnam-nyt.jpgDavid Lamb interviewing a general in Vietnam. Via the NYT.

David Lamb was "the consummate newspaperman in the glory days of the profession," his obituary begins tonight in the LA Times, where he worked for three decades. Lamb reported from more than 100 countries, starting with South Vietnam during the Vietnam War, and was renowned as a foreign correspondent who could file a good story from anywhere on very short deadline — while working on books on the side. Without looking it up, I would guess he used to have as many bylines in a year, and inches of copy, as any news reporter at the Times.

"Reporters sent to the first Gulf War read his 1987 book, 'The Arabs,' like a bible," says his obit co-bylined by Tracy Wilkinson, who covered her share of war zones for the Times. "He inspired many, but few wrote as elegantly, using vivid details to capture a magical and mysterious world for readers back home." Kim Murphy, the LAT's assistant managing editor for national and international news, and herself a veteran of the Middle East, adds that "generations of us grew up wanting to write like David Lamb...I’ve yet to meet his match.”

Praise from former colleagues runs throughout the obit. He spent six years covering the Vietnam War, and in 1997 became the first U.S. newspaper correspondent in post-war Vietnam when he became the LA Times' Hanoi bureau chief. Also this:

Lamb proudly, and probably accurately, claimed credit for dubbing an otherwise anonymous killing ground “Hamburger Hill,” a name that U.S. troops adored and the Pentagon hated when it hit the headlines in 1969.

Lamb later explained that he had asked a soldier from the 101st Airborne Division if troops had a name for the heavily fortified mountain they were assaulting other than what the Army called it – Hill 937.

“I was hoping he would come up with a punchy, descriptive label that I could use in that day’s dispatch,” Lamb wrote. “Something like Pork Chop Hill from the Korean War.

“‘I don’t know what anyone else is calling it,’ [the soldier] said, ‘but with all this chopped up red meat, it reminds me of a hamburger.’

“That night I took journalistic liberty and wrote ‘The battle that GIs are calling Hamburger Hill…’” Lamb admitted.

Here's the top of the New York Times obituary:

David Lamb, a dauntless foreign correspondent for The Los Angeles Times who also wrote critically acclaimed books about the Arab world and Africa, died on Sunday in Alexandria, Va. He was 76.

Sandy Northrop, his wife and only immediate survivor, said the cause was lymphoma and esophageal cancer.

Mr. Lamb covered the front lines in Vietnam for United Press International and the fall of Saigon for The Times in 1975. Xan Smiley, a top editor at The Economist, characterized him as “inexhaustibly gutsy.”

Mr. Lamb was credited with naming the site of a 10-day battle in the A Shau Valley in 1969 “Hamburger Hill.” A young G.I. had told him, “With all this chopped-up red meat, it reminds me of a hamburger,” and the name stuck.

He returned to Vietnam in 1997 to open the newspaper’s bureau in Hanoi, becoming the only American wartime newspaper correspondent to live there in peacetime.

Among David Lamb's other works are a 2002 book, “Vietnam, Now: A Reporter Returns,” and a PBS documentary, “Vietnam Passage: Journeys From War to Peace.” He also wrote “Stolen Season: A Journey Through America and Baseball’s Minor Leagues,” published in 1991, and “Over the Hills: A Midlife Escape Across America by Bicycle,” (1996), in which he bicycled 3,145 miles from Washington to Santa Monica.

More by Kevin Roderick:
'In on merit' at USC
Read the memo: LA Times hires again
Read the memo: LA Times losing big on search traffic
Google taking over LA's deadest shopping mall
Gustavo Arellano, many others join LA Times staff
Recent Obituaries stories on LA Observed:
Doug Jeffe: a remembrance
Jonathan Gold, LA's preeminent food writer, has died at 57
Harlan Ellison, dangerous visionary
Murray Fromson, a fighter to the end
Cory Iverson, 32, California firefighter dies on Thomas Fire
Bruce Brown, surfing filmmaker of 'The Endless Summer,' dies at 80
A salute to Anacleto Rapping, photographer
LA Observed Notes: Photos of the homeless, photos that found homes