Neil Sheehan, reporter who obtained Pentagon Papers, dies at 84

A wounded soldier is given plasma after being hit during violent engagements in the woods and hillsides November 21, 1967. The following day parachutists landed on the communist fortress and the attack on the fortress continued with throwing of grenades and the use of flame throwers, while pilots dropped napalm bombs. (UPI Photo)(UPI Radiophoto)

Jan. 7 (UPI) — Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Neil Sheehan died on Thursday, his family said. He was 84.

Sheehan’s wife, Susan Sheehan, and daughter, Catherine Sheehan Bruno, said the Vietnam War correspondent known for obtaining the Pentagon Papers for The New York Times died due to complications from Parkinson‘s disease, The Times and Politico reported.

Born on Oct. 27, 1936, in Holyoke, Mass., Sheehan graduated from Harvard in 1958 and joined the Army where he worked as a journalist. He moonlighted for UPI in 1962 reporting from Saigon.

In 1964, he was hired by The New York Times and sent back to Vietnam.

Seven years later, Daniel Ellsberg, a former Defense Department analyst, leaked the Pentagon papers to Sheehan providing 7,000 pages of classified documents revealing that the government was deceptive about U.S. prospects for victory in the war.

The Nixon administration obtained an injunction against the publication of the report, saying national security was at stake.

The issue was taken to the Supreme Court, which on June 30, 1971, ruled 6-3 in favor of allowing The New York Times and The Washington Post to publish their stories.

The New York Times won a Pulitzer Prize in public service in 1972 for the Pentagon Papers coverage and its editors praised Sheehan for obtaining the documents.

After the publication of the Pentagon Papers Sheehan published his book A Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam, which won a National Book Award and a Pulitzer in 1989 as he described his disillusionment with the war.

“I simply cannot help worrying that, in the process of waging this war, we are corrupting ourselves,” he wrote in The New York Times Magazine in 1966. “I wonder, when I look at the bombed-out peasant hamlets, the orphans begging and stealing on the streets of Saigon and the women and children with napalm burns lying on the hospital cots, whether the United States or any nation has the right to inflict this suffering and degradation on another people for its own ends.”

Sheehan is survived by his wife, two brothers Patrick and Eugene, two daughters Maria Sheehan and Catherine Sheehan Bruno and two grandsons.


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