Howard Silber, a New York native who was wounded in World War II and went on to a 33-year career covering the military for The World-Herald, died Thursday of complications from cancer. He was 91.
During the war, Silber killed a German soldier with a trench knife in hand-to-hand fighting in France and later spent nine months in the hospital with injuries from a tank attack. He survived several forms of cancer and other health problems, including diabetes.
Silber retired in 1988 but continued writing occasional pieces about military affairs and other topics. He is a contributor to a book on the Cold War to be published this fall by The World-Herald.
Among stories he covered for the newspaper were the Charles Starkweather killings, the Cuban missile crisis, the Strategic Air Command and state highway development. He was in charge of the newspaper's election results for decades.
“I never wanted to be anything other than a reporter,” Silber said as he retired.
After World War II, Silber worked for the Utica (N.Y.) Observer-Dispatch before joining The World-Herald in 1955. He began covering stories at Offutt Air Force Base the next year, interviewing every SAC commander from Gen. Curtis LeMay until his retirement.
Silber once wrote of LeMay: “A master of tactics and strategy, the general had a twofold mission: to win wars and keep the nuclear peace. When he assumed command of SAC Headquarters in 1948, he commented that ‘no one in the outfit was up to strength, neither the airplanes, nor the people, nor anything else.' LeMay went on to transform SAC into an elite and powerful striking force.”
Silber was named military affairs editor in 1966, and occasionally colleagues would call him “Gen. Silber” because he seemed able to find out almost anything about the Air Force.
In 1957, he was the first journalist to fly in a B-52 bomber, and in 1984 he wrote one of the first stories with details of the Air Force's B-2 stealth bomber.
On one occasion a visitor with an eastern European accent came to the newspaper's Washington bureau and asked for a copy of a story Silber had written. No copy was on hand, so the man left the telephone number of the Soviet Embassy.
Silber made two reporting trips to Vietnam during that war and once went to the South Pole on assignment. He also reported from Korea, Singapore, Japan, the Aleutian Islands and several European countries, becoming perhaps the most traveled reporter in World-Herald history.
In 1958 he flew to Wyoming when authorities captured Starkweather. While there, Silber conducted a jailhouse interview with Caril Ann Fugate, 14, who later was convicted as an accomplice.
In 1976, Silber became the first newsman to receive the Air Force Association's national Citation of Honor, and he won a Nebraska Press Association award for spot news reporting. He co-authored one of the first books about University of Nebraska football, titled “Go Big Red.” He was president of the Omaha Press Club in 1973.
Silber graduated from the University of Alabama in 1941 with a degree that combined journalism, broadcasting and English. He and his wife of 37 years, Sissy, traveled extensively after his retirement and regularly hosted football-watching parties at their residence in Bellevue.
Other survivors include daughters Irene Silber of Minneapolis and Lorraine May of Fort Myers, Fla., and two grandsons. Funeral arrangements were pending.
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