Neil Sheehan, Celebrated American Journalist, Dead at 84
Posted by: Erin Ward in Notable Deaths | January 8

Neil Sheehan 

Journalist & Author
October 27, 1936 — January 7, 2021

Neil Sheehan was a celebrated American journalist and author best known for his extensive coverage of the Vietnam War. He spent much of his life as a journalist for the New York Times and was instrumental in generating public awareness about misconducts taking place by US military leaders and politicians. After his landmark article was published back in 1971, Sheehan went on to receive a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting.

Sheehan spent his early years growing up on a dairy farm in Massachusetts. After graduating high school, he attended Harvard University and graduated cum laude with a B.A. in History. Following graduation, Sheehan went on to serve three years in the military where he was stationed in Korea and Japan.

During his time in Japan, Sheehan moonlighted with the Tokyo bureau of United Press International (UPI). After discharging from the army, he spent two years covering the Vietnam War as a UPI’s bureau chief in Saigon.

In 1964, Sheehan started working for the New York Times and worked stateside for some time. Eventually, he returned to the far east where he spent time in Indonesia and Vietnam reporting for the New York Times. Finally, in the fall of 1966, Sheehan was assigned as a correspondent at the Pentagon. This eventually led to coverage of the White House as well where Sheehan reported on political and military affairs.

In 1971, he garnered major international attention when he published an article for the New York Times titled Should We Have War Crime Trials?. The article was based on the Pentagon Papers he obtained which outlined the United States political and military involvement in Vietnam from 1945-1967. Sheehan’s article suggested that senior US political and military leaders could be subject to trials for crimes against humanity based on misconducts occurring during the Vietnam War.

After numerous setbacks and recovering from a bad accident back in 1974, Sheehan finally completed his book A Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam. The book focused on John Paul Vann, an American military leader during the early stages of the Vietnam War. After the book was published in 1988, Sheehan received a Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction as well as the National Book Award for Nonfiction.

Sheehan went on to publish three more books during his lifetime. The books examined military history during the Cold War and the aftermath of the war in Vietnam.

Sheehan is survived by his wife Susan, daughters Catherine and Maria, and their families.

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