By Matt Schudel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, September 30, 2006
F. Brooke Nihart, a highly decorated Marine colonel who oversaw the development of Marine Corps museums and was the author of the U.S. Military Code of Conduct recited by every member of the armed forces, died Aug. 30 at Inova Fairfax Hospital of heart and kidney ailments. He was 87 and lived at Greenspring Village retirement community in Springfield.
After the Korean War, military officials observed a disturbing trend among U.S. prisoners who, after being subjected to brainwashing, revealed military secrets to their captors. The Marine Corps sought to prevent any future breaches of security by devising a formal code of personal honor for everyone in uniform.
Col. Nihart, who had performed heroically in combat in World War II and Korea, was given the task of putting those principles into words. Working at Marine Corps headquarters throughout the summer of 1955, he outlined his ideas in longhand on a yellow legal pad.
In its original wording, Article I of the Code of Conduct stated: "I am an American fighting man. I serve in the forces which guard my country and our way of life. I am prepared to give my life in their defense." After a 1977 revision, it now reads, "I am an American, fighting in the armed forces which guard my country and our way of life. I am prepared to give my life in their defense."
Article III states: "If I am captured, I will continue to resist by all means available. I will make every effort to escape and aid others to escape."
Article V advises a captured service member to give his name, rank and service number -- and nothing more: "I will evade answering further questions to the utmost of my ability."
On Aug. 17, 1955, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed an executive order making the Code of Conduct the official credo for Americans in all branches of the military. Recent wars have brought the code under fresh scrutiny, but its six straightforward articles remain in effect to this day, little changed from Col. Nihart's handwritten words of 51 years ago.
"I conceived of the code as a catechism in the first person," Col. Nihart wrote last year in an essay in "Semper Fi: The Definitive Illustrated History of the U.S. Marines," by H. Avery Chenoweth.
Brooke Nihart was born March 16, 1919, in Los Angeles and joined the California National Guard in high school. He entered the Marine Corps in 1940 after graduating from Occidental College in Los Angeles. Because the Marines required him to have three names, he adopted Franklin as a first name but seldom used it.
As a gunnery officer on the aircraft carrier USS Saratoga early in World War II, he participated in the battle of Wake Island. He later taught amphibious landing tactics and fought in the Battle of Okinawa, the bloodiest combat in the Pacific.
During the Korean War, Col. Nihart led Operation Blackbird, the first nighttime helicopter operation in military history, landing 200 troops on a hilltop inside North Korea at the "Battle of the Punchbowl" in September 1951. After commanding a battalion that defeated North Korean forces in the ensuing battle, he was awarded the Navy Cross -- second only to the Medal of Honor -- for his battlefield exploits.
He was military attache to the U.S. Embassy in Rangoon, Burma, in 1959 and commanded the 7th Marine Regiment at Camp Pendleton in Virginia Beach before retiring in 1966. In addition to the Navy Cross, he received two Bronze Stars, the Defense Meritorious Service Medal, Meritorious Service Medal and Air Medal.
A champion pistol and rifle marksman, Col. Nihart had the commanding manner and build -- 6 feet 1, 225 pounds -- of a classic Marine. But he also had a scholarly side that led to his second career as a historian and as deputy director of Marine Corps museums from 1972 to 1991.
He took the lead role in establishing the Marine Corps Museum at the Washington Navy Yard in 1977 and oversaw the opening of the Marine Corps Air-Ground Museum at Quantico Marine Base the next year.
Both museums are now closed, but many of the exhibits he designed will be incorporated into the new National Museum of the Marine Corps, opening at Quantico in November.
For the past 60 years, Col. Nihart wrote widely on the Marines, military history, weapons and uniforms in books and scholarly journals. He contributed the article on body armor to the Encyclopaedia Britannica. Several articles will appear posthumously in the Marine Corps Gazette and other publications.
He received a Distinguished Service Award from the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation and last year was presented the Gen. O.P. Smith Award for his contributions to "Semper Fi," the book on Marine Corps history.
Col. Nihart lived in McLean for 40 years and was a member of Immanuel Presbyterian Church. He belonged to dozens of military, history and firearms organizations and had a 2,000-volume library of books on military history.
Survivors include his wife of 61 years, Mary Helen Brosius Nihart of Springfield; two daughters, Mary Catherine Nihart of Milford, Conn., and Virginia Brooke Nihart of Colorado Springs; a brother; and twin grandsons.