Ben A. Thirkield, 66, a former journalist and retired Foreign Service officer who had lived in Washington and Alexandria before moving to Putney, Vt., in 1977, died of emphysema Thursday in a hospital in Bellows Falls, Vt.

Mr. Thirkield joined the Foreign Service in 1948 and was a public information and press officer in South africa, Finland, Burma and Nigeria. He was stationed in Washington as a press officer from 1958 to 1961, and spent his last 10 years with the State Department here as a watch officer before retiring in 1973.

He was a native of Franklin, Ohio, and a 1936 graduate of Washington & Lee University in Lexington, Va. He was a journalist in wilmington, Del., and then worked for The Post as a copy editor in the late 1930s and again in the mid-1940s before joining U.S. News & World Report in 1947. He served with the Navy in the Pacific during World War II and was awarded the Bronze Star and Silver Star medals.

Survivors include his wife, the former Nancy Jane Smith of Lake Worth, Fla.; a daughter, Phoebe T. Roth, and a son, Ben A. Jr., both of Putney, and three grandchildren.

The family suggests that expressions of sympathy be in the form of contributions to rescue Inc., in Brattleboro, Vt., 05301.