NEW YORK -- David Halberstam, whose writings probed American
life from its failures in war and civil rights to its sports
glories, was mourned Tuesday by some of the best and brightest of
"In his public life, he was a Mount Rushmore of a figure, but I
loved him for his kindness," writer Michael Arlen, a close friend,
told about 1,000 people at a memorial service for the Pulitzer
Prize-winning journalist who died on April 23 in a car crash at the
age of 73.
Singer-songwriter Paul Simon sang "Mrs. Robinson,"
accompanying himself on guitar, from the altar of Riverside Church.
Yarrow, from the famed folk trio "Peter, Paul & Mary" and who
lived in the same building as Halberstam, sang "Sweet Survivor."
Writer Gay Talese and historian Doris Kearns Goodwin also
attended the service at the progressive, politically involved
church. It was an appropriate place to celebrate the life of a man
who seemed to be on a mission to save the world -- through a kind of
journalism that was not only a craft, but his calling.
Born in New York during the Depression, the son of a surgeon,
Halberstam was the grandson of Jewish immigrants who fled
persecution in Poland and Lithuania.
Fresh from Harvard University, he covered civil rights in the
South while working for a tiny newspaper in Mississippi.
"Without David, the civil rights movement would have been like
a bird without wings. He made us fly higher," said Rep. John
Lewis, D-Ga., who met him then and called Halberstam "a great
witness of our nonviolent revolution ... and we will never, ever be
By 1960, Halberstam was writing for The New York Times in
Washington, D.C., then moved to the heart of African strife, in
Congo. In 1962, the Times sent him to Vietnam, where he became an
expert in exposing military misinformation and won a Pulitzer for
President Kennedy had committed U.S. troops to Vietnam with the
advice of White House aides Halberstam considered brilliant but
arrogant, dubbing them "The Best and the Brightest" -- his 1972
best-selling book chronicling U.S. involvement in Southeast Asia.
It was "the wrong war at the wrong place at the wrong time ...
where our power wasn't applicable," he later said.
That's also how Halberstam felt about the current Iraq war. His
2002 best seller, "War in a Time of Peace," examines how the
lessons of Vietnam have influenced American foreign policy.
Halberstam's 15 best sellers range from "The Breaks of the
Game," which some consider the best book about pro basketball, to
books about the auto industry ("The Reckoning") and the mass
media ("The Powers That Be"). "The Coldest Winter," an account
of a key battle of the Korean War, is to be published posthumously
in the fall.
Halberstam had given up day-to-day reporting by the late 1960s,
instead writing books and magazine pieces and "Turning Journalism
Into History" -- the title of the talk he gave to students at the
University of California, Berkeley, two days before his death.
Halberstam died in Menlo Park, Calif., when the car in which he
was a passenger was hit by another vehicle.
He was working on a book about the 1958 NFL championship between
the New York Giants and Baltimore Colts, considered by many to be
one of the greatest games ever. He was on his way to interview NFL
Hall of Famer Y.A. Tittle when the crash occurred.
With his tall, patrician bearing, the graying but vital
Halberstam could be spotted walking his dog to Central Park and
greeting doormen and parks workers in his deep baritone voice.
Other times, he would stroll through a local supermarket to buy
groceries; he was seen one night reaching into a basket of inviting
sundried tomatoes to enjoy a taste.
But his mind took paths far from the ordinary -- as described in
her eulogy by author Anna Quindlen, a former Times columnist.
"One of our sons said that on the phone, David sounded like
God," Quindlen said.