Robert Timberg; chronicled scars, survivors of Vietnam

NEW YORK — Robert Timberg, a Marine combat veteran who became an author and journalist after his agonizing recovery from disfiguring injuries inflicted by a land mine in Vietnam, died Sept. 6 in Annapolis, Md. He was 76.

The cause was respiratory failure, his son Craig, a reporter for the Washington Post, said.

Mr. Timberg’s best-known book, “The Nightingale’s Song,” wove together the lives of five of his fellow Naval Academy graduates who fought in Vietnam.

They included Senator John McCain, the Arizona Republican who endured torture by the North Vietnamese; Jim Webb, a former Navy secretary and senator from Virginia; and three others who became enmeshed in the Iran-Contra scandal during the Reagan administration in the 1980s: Lieutenant Colonel Oliver L. North of the Marines and two former White House national security advisers, John M. Poindexter and Robert C. McFarlane.


The scandal involved shipping arms to Tehran to win the freedom of hostages in Lebanon while using some of the proceeds to illegally fund CIA-backed rebels fighting the leftist government of Nicaragua.

“They are secret sharers,” Mr. Timberg wrote in his 1995 book, “men whose experiences at Annapolis and during the Vietnam War and its aftermath illuminate a generation, or a portion of a generation — those who went.” He added: “They shared a seemingly unassailable certainty. They believed in America.”

Reviewing the book in The New York Times, Christopher Lehmann-Haupt wrote that Mr. Timberg had sought to “dramatize the sense of betrayal these men felt when America turned against the Vietnam War and spell out the tragic consequences of their feelings.”

Mr. Timberg also wrote a memoir, “Blue-Eyed Boy,” in which he recounted the explosion that destroyed his armored personnel carrier and disfigured his face when he was 26, . He underwent 35 reconstructive operations.

A former Nieman fellow at Harvard, he retired in 2005 from the Baltimore Sun’s Washington bureau.