by William H. Freivogel
St. Louisans learned about the great events of the second half of the 20th century through the eyes, ears and forceful dispatches of Richard B. Dudman, a great American reporter who led the Washington Bureau of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch from 1969 to 1981. Dudman died last week at 99.
The Kennedy assassination. The Bay of Pigs. The Vietnam War. The Pentagon Papers. Watergate. The attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan. Dudman wrote about them all with a straight-forward, tell-the-truth insight few matched.
He rode a horse to the front when covering a 1954 rebellion in Guatemala instigated by the CIA. He raised questions about a bullet hole in the windshield of the car in which Kennedy was killed. Reporting in Vietnam he wrote his editor in 1965, “The war is being lost, and in a hurry.” About 55,000 Americans died in Vietnam after that assessment.
Dudman and two companions were captured in Cambodia in 1970 and held 40 days – an experience he turned into riveting news stories and a book.
When the United States left Vietnam, Dudman wrote in a special section that the war had ended in “defeat and humiliation.” Other newspapers called it a tragic end of a “noble effort.”
Dudman had a proud place on Nixon’s Enemies List. In his story about the Nixon resignation he wrote the president was leaving office “in disgrace” – a truth an editor cut out.
When a federal court ordered The New York Times to stop printing the Pentagon Papers – the secret history of the Vietnam War – Dudman figured out where to get a copy and wrote stories for the Post-Dispatch. He was dismayed that a top editor submitted to a court order blocking publication.
On a return trip to Cambodia in 1978, Dudman narrowly escaped death by dodging bullets and hiding behind a bed. Another reporter on the trip was killed.
On his last day at the Post-Dispatch Dudman covered the attempted assassination of Reagan, even though his leg was in a cast.
Dudman retired from the Post-Dispatch but not from journalism. He became active in the family radio station in Maine and wrote editorials for the Bangor Daily News until he was 94.
In celebrating the life of this great American reporter, we have linked to obituaries in The New York Times, Washington Post, St. Louis Post-Dispatch and Bangor Daily New. The Times obit is an extraordinary account of Dudman’s career.
Also published here is an autobiographical story that Dudman wrote in 2004, an appreciation my wife, Margaret Wolf Freivogel, wrote upon Dudman’s retirement from the Bangor paper in 2012 and an article I wrote for the journalism review on his 95th birthday.
Dudman played a special role in Margie and my lives by agreeing in 1980 to bring us into the Washington Bureau sharing a job so we could raise our four children while continuing our reporting. Dudman was skeptical of the arrangement until he asked the opinion of a good friend – Betty Friedan.
Included in the package are photos from Dudman’s life, including one from this spring when he perked up during hospice as he read in the Times about the incredible news from the new administration in Washington. We’d all be better off if Dick Dudman were here to cover the Trump presidency.