David Lamb, longtime foreign correspondent and city resident, dead at 76

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By Chris Teale (Photo/UPI)

David Lamb, veteran journalist and a longtime Alexandria resident, died of cancer June 5 at the age of 76.

He reported from some of the world’s most troubled areas as a foreign correspondent for the Los Angeles Times as well as some of its most peaceful in a career that spanned more than three decades.

Lamb began his tenure with the Times in 1970 and by his retirement in 2004, he had reported from more than 100 countries and multiple conflict zones, including Vietnam, Iraq during the first Gulf War and the genocide in Rwanda.

He first came to Vietnam in 1968 as a reporter for newswire service United Press International, and in spring 1969 became well known for his dispatches from what was known as “Hamburger Hill” in A Shau Valley. Lamb coined the moniker after a conversation with a soldier, and it quickly became a symbol of the war’s futility.

Having captured the hill, the U.S. military abandoned it after two weeks, but not before Lamb had made his name describing what the U.S. Army officially called Hill 937. He spent six years as a war correspondent, and returned to Vietnam in 1975 to report on the collapse of the U.S.-backed South Vietnam government in Saigon.

“You could send him to a country in turmoil and get great copy,” former LA Times foreign editor Alvin Shuster told the Times. “And then you could send him to Australia, where nothing was happening, and get great copy.”

Lamb was born March 5, 1940 in Boston. He attended the Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire but was expelled five months before graduation for running an illicit gambling ring, betting on MLB games.

In 1954, after the Boston Braves MLB team relocated to Milwaukee, he wrote a letter to the Milwaukee Journal newspaper offering advice on covering the team. The paper went on to publish columns all summer called, “Dave Lamb Says — a 15-year-old Boston boy’s opinions about baseball.”

Lamb finished high school n Brookline, a suburb of Boston, and graduated from the University of Maine’s in 1962. He first worked for the Okinawa Morning Star, an English-language newspaper in Japan, then at papers in Las Vegas and Oakland, Calif., as well as at the UPI’s bureaus in San Francisco and Denver.

He married Sandy Northrop, a documentary filmmaker, in 1977 while working in Nairobi, Kenya, for the Times. While based in Nairobi, Lamb traveled to 48 countries in Africa over four years, eventually authoring his first book, “The Africans,” in 1983. His second book, “The Arabs” in 1987, was produced in a similar way after traveling around the Middle East.

Lamb also wrote “A Sense of Place: A Midlife Escape by Bicycle Across America” in 1993 about two decades of traveling across the U.S., and “Over the Hills” in 1996, about a 3,100-mile solo bike ride he took across the country. Lamb also wrote “Stolen Season,” a 1991 book on mi- nor league baseball.

Lamb returned to Vietnam in 1997 as Times bureau chief after being in Iraq and Kuwait during the first Gulf War, and made history as the only American newspaper correspondent from the war to live in Vietnam during peacetime. He would release another book, “Vietnam, Now,” in 2002 that looked at the country’s efforts to modernize after 3 million people died during the war. That book was accompanied by a documentary on PBS called “Vietnam Passage,” which was produced by Northrop.

“He was the most genuinely decent, honest and fun-loving person I’ve ever known,” Tyler Marshall, a former foreign and national correspondent at The LA Times, told the newspaper. “Professionally, he taught me you don’t have to be a hard-nosed, overbearing personality to be a good reporter and come up with engaging stories. For him, simple kindness was the real currency of life. That said, he had a healthy skepticism when dealing with those who wielded power.”
Lamb continued to write for the Times even in retirement, as he spent 11 years writing for the newspaper’s travel section as a freelancer. Some of his work included a visit to a former prison site that held 40,000 prisoners of war and lunch at a castle from the 14th century, reached after wading through floodwater up to his knees.

Lamb is survived by Northrop, who told The Washington Post his death was caused by esophageal cancer and cutaneous T-cell lymphoma, a cancer of the immune system.

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