Robert G. Fichenberg, 85, a former newspaper editor and former Washington bureau chief for Newhouse Newspapers, died of cardiac arrest June 4 at home in the Mount Vernon section of Fairfax County.
Mr. Fichenberg began his journalism career in Saranac Lake, N.Y., as an editor and reporter with the Adirondack Daily Enterprise. He later moved to the Binghamton (N.Y.) Press, where he was, in succession, reporter, copy editor and assistant city editor. During this time, he also served as a radio and TV newscaster at a local station with which the newspaper had an affiliation.
In 1957, Mr. Fichenberg moved to Albany, N.Y., where he became managing editor and later executive editor of the afternoon newspaper, the Knickerbocker News. His editorial commentaries were nominated twice for the Pulitzer Prize, and one of the entries was a finalist. He became Washington bureau chief for Newhouse Newspapers in 1978 and retired in 1991.
After his retirement, he worked for the National District Attorneys Association at its Alexandria headquarters as a writer. He also took a number of graduate-level law courses at George Washington University.
Robert Gordon Fichenberg was born in Philadelphia. He attended the University of Pennsylvania and graduated magna cum laude from Syracuse University's school of journalism in 1940. A lover of stringed instruments, he played guitar and banjo in dance bands during school and college.
A veteran of World War II and the Korean War, he served in the Army Signal Corps and was discharged as a captain. He was the cryptographic officer on duty in an Army code room in Nancy, France, on May 7, 1945, when he decoded and relayed Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower's classified message to Army commanders in France, notifying them that the German high command would surrender and all military operations would cease at 12:01 a.m. May 9 (European time).
Mr. Fichenberg kept the original Teletype message as a souvenir and logged in a duplicate. In 2000, the historic message was given to the Virginia Military Institute Museum in Lexington, Va.
Shortly after the story of the gift to VMI was reported on the AP wire and published in newspapers across the United States, Mr. Fichenberg "met" via telephone the person who, as an 18-year-old Army Signal Corps sergeant in Eisenhower's headquarters, had transmitted the original message, a family member said. The ex-sergeant, now a retired New York State Supreme Court judge, read the story in a Phoenix newspaper.
Mr. Fichenberg was a member of the Gridiron Club, the University Club, the Army and Navy Club, the Federal City Club and the National Press Club. He also was a member of the board of the Friends of the Carlyle House, a historic mansion in Alexandria, and was an emeritus director of the National Press Foundation.
Survivors include his wife of 57 years, Ruth Fichenberg of Alexandria; two daughters, Ann Lovett of Needham, Mass., and Kathryn Bono of Potomac; five grandchildren; and one great-granddaughter.