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Neil Sheehan Dies at 84; Instances Reporter Obtained the Pentagon Papers

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The subsequent yr, Mr. Sheehan took a guide go away from The Instances after attending the funeral of John Paul Vann, a charismatic, idealistic former Military officer and outspoken dissenter on the struggle, whom Mr. Sheehan had identified in Vietnam. He got down to write the historical past of the struggle by the determine of Mr. Vann, who appeared to Mr. Sheehan to embody the qualities that People admired in themselves, and to personify the American enterprise. He anticipated the guide to take three to 5 years.

However he misplaced greater than a yr recovering from a head-on collision with a automobile {that a} younger man was driving on the fallacious aspect of a highway. Mr. Sheehan repeatedly ran out of cash. His topics, humanity and struggle, proved extra sophisticated than even he had identified.

Disciplined and nocturnal, he labored repeatedly till 4 a.m. Impressed by Truman Capote’s “In Chilly Blood,” he labored to present his guide — a mixture of historical past and biography — the narrative drive of a novel. “It was a grim enterprise,” he stated. He was, he stated later, much less obsessed than trapped.

The guide ended up 861 pages lengthy.

Cornelius Mahoney Sheehan was born on Oct. 27, 1936, in Holyoke, Mass., a son of Irish immigrants. His father, Cornelius Joseph Sheehan, was a dairy farmer, and his mom, Mary (O’Shea) Sheehan, was a homemaker.


Neil (his nickname from the time he was born) grew up on his household’s dairy farm outdoors Holyoke, attending Mass together with his two brothers each Sunday at his mom’s insistence. He acquired full scholarships to each the Mount Hermon prep faculty in Massachusetts and Harvard, the place he studied Center Jap historical past and graduated in 1958.

He then joined the Military, changing into a journalist to get out of a job as a pay clerk in Korea. Transferred to Tokyo to place out the division newspaper, he moonlighted for United Press Worldwide, which employed him in 1962 and despatched him to Saigon as a reporter, two weeks out of the Military, for $75 every week.

He was one of many youngest and least skilled of a gaggle of celebrated correspondents that included David Halberstam of The Instances, who turned his collaborator and pal. In 1964, The Instances employed Mr. Sheehan and despatched him again to Vietnam. Impassioned and haunted, he had what his spouse later referred to as “a quasi-religious streak.” By 1966, he wrote, the ethical superiority that the US had possessed after World Warfare II had “given strategy to the amorality of nice energy politics.”

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