Anthony B. Herbert, one of the most highly decorated enlisted men in the Korean War who later accused his superior officers of covering up war crimes in Vietnam, then sued “60 Minutes” for libel after the CBS news program cast doubt on his story, died June 7, 2014, at a veterans facility in Florence, Colo. He was 84.
The cause was cancer, said his daughter, Toni Herbert. She said the family did not release details of the death until after her father’s burial at Arlington National Cemetery on Feb. 9.
Dr. Herbert, who became a clinical psychologist after his military career, enlisted in the Army while still in high school and became renowned for battlefield heroism in Korea, receiving multiple Silver Stars, Bronze Star Medals and Purple Hearts. One Silver Star citation noted that he charged an enemy machine-gun nest armed only with a bayonet and succeeded in killing the entire crew in hand-to-hand combat.
He was promoted in rapid succession from corporal to master sergeant and was sent on tour around the world as an outstanding example of an American soldier. He met President Harry S. Truman and former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt, who urged him to attend college.
Later, after serving as an Army Ranger on clandestine missions, Dr. Herbert — by then a lieutenant colonel — took command of an airborne battalion in Vietnam in 1969. In 58 days of combat, he received a Silver Star, three Bronze Star Medals, two Air Medals and an Army Commendation Medal. His unit had one of the military’s best records of capturing and killing enemy combatants.
On the 59th day, he was relieved of his command.
His sudden reversal of fortune came after he accused two superior officers — Brig. Gen. John Barnes and Col. J. Ross Franklin — of condoning war crimes against prisoners and Vietnamese civilians.
Barnes and Franklin promptly filed an unfavorable fitness report about Dr. Herbert, saying he had “no ambition, integrity, loyalty or will for self-improvement” and, for good measure, had “a terrible appearance.”
It was the only time in his 20-year military career that Dr. Herbert had not received an exemplary review. He was sent back to the United States and assigned to desk jobs.
In 1970, when revelations about the My Lai massacre of 1968 were in the news, Dr. Herbert filed a formal complaint with the Army, charging his former commanding officers with failing to investigate or report incidents of murder and torture.
He went on “The Dick Cavett Show,” gave interviews to newspapers and magazines, and became one of the most visible — and divisive — figures in the military. Many people saw him as a principled whistleblower whose credibility as a straight-arrow Army officer was unassailable. Others considered him a braggart and liar.
As someone who joined the service as a private, Dr. Herbert criticized what he called the “West Point Protective Association,” or a network of U.S. Military Academy graduates in the Army’s upper ranks.
“I’m only interested in justice,” he said in 1971, before the Army denied him permission to speak to the media, “and ever since I began reporting these things — and kept on reporting them — the Army has threatened, cajoled, thundered, begged, pleaded.”
Dr. Herbert ended up at Fort McPherson, Ga., where he managed the laundry and mortuary. He was twice passed over for promotion. The post commander reprimanded him for not saluting correctly and for not giving proper emphasis to the word “Sir.”
In the meantime, the charges against Barnes and Franklin were dropped.
At the Army’s request, Dr. Herbert took a lie detector test, which he passed. The critical evaluation of Dr. Herbert was removed from his record, but Barnes, his former commanding general, went public with his personal assessment: “I have commanded 20 battalion commanders in my time, and Herbert was clearly the worst.”
Fed up with what he viewed as harassment and humiliation, Dr. Herbert retired from the Army in February 1972. He then wrote a book with New York Times reporter James T. Wooten, “Soldier,” recounting his life story and his claims of war crimes and coverups.
On Feb. 4, 1973, Dr. Herbert was interviewed on CBS by Mike Wallace for a “60 Minutes” segment called “The Selling of Colonel Herbert.”
Wallace challenged Dr. Herbert’s story and, by implication, his integrity. He produced receipts and a canceled check indicating that Franklin, the colonel Dr. Herbert had accused, was in Hawaii when some of the alleged war crimes took place.
Several soldiers who served with Dr. Herbert portrayed him as a vainglorious self-promoter who had subjected prisoners to the same harsh treatment for which he had condemned others. At the end of the interview, Dr. Herbert’s reputation was in tatters.
“Herbert had walked into his interview a heroic figure,” Washington Post reporter James Lardner wrote in 1977. “He walked out a wreck. No one, not even Richard Nixon in 1960, has sustained a more grievous blow on nationwide television.”
Dr. Herbert filed a $44 million defamation lawsuit against Wallace, “60 Minutes” producer Barry Lando and the Atlantic Monthly, which published a story by Lando.
In 1979, Herbert v. Lando reached the U.S. Supreme Court, which issued a landmark ruling affecting libel law: Internal newsroom discussions and a journalist’s “state of mind” could be questioned to determine if deliberately erroneous or damaging information had been published.
The case was not fully resolved until 1986, when two lower courts threw out Dr. Herbert’s claims of libel. The U.S. Supreme Court refused to intervene.
Anthony Bernard Herbert was born April 17, 1930, in the western Pennsylvania town of Herminie. His father was a coal miner.
At 14, Dr. Herbert tried to join the Army but was sent home. He enlisted at 17 and trained as a paratrooper, then was discharged to complete high school. He rejoined the Army in 1950, at the beginning of the Korean War.
Following Eleanor Roosevelt’s advice, he graduated from the University of Pittsburgh in 1956, then received master’s and doctoral degrees in psychology from the University of Georgia in 1968 and 1975, respectively.
Dr. Herbert worked in Colorado with prisoners and, since the 1970s, had a private psychological practice specializing in behavior modification.
“Anything I work on can be cured in eight weeks,” he told People magazine in 1980. “Bed-wetting takes one night, stuttering two to four hours. For other problems I occasionally use shame therapy.”
Survivors include his wife of 61 years, Marygrace Natale Herbert, and a daughter, Toni Herbert of Sandy Spring, Md.; and two grandchildren.
Beginning in 1955, Dr. Herbert published several books about his military experiences and self-defense techniques.
His 1973 book “Soldier” was reportedly used as inspiration by actor Robert Duvall, who played an air cavalry lieutenant colonel — the one who says, “I love the smell of napalm in the morning” — in the 1979 film “Apocalypse Now.”
“People tell me I should see ‘Apocalypse Now’ because the Duvall character is modeled after me, and others tell me the Brando character, Kurtz, is modeled after me,” Dr. Herbert told The Post in 1979. “I’m not Brando; Brando’s not me . . .
“And I don’t want to see any [expletive] war movies. If I want to see a movie, I go to ‘The Sound of Music.’ I’ve seen it 31 times.”