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A Tribute to John Prados
By Ellen Pinzur
John Prados (born January 9, 1951 hated that he shared Richard Nixon's birth date!) died on November 29, 2022, in Silver Spring, Maryland. After 25 years together, I was by his side, holding his hand when he took his last breath. He had been 6'1" tall; weighed around 190 pounds; had tightly curled hair which he wore pulled back into a short, fuzzy pony tail; and almond-shaped dark brown eyes that lit up with joy when he was happy or amused. He gave himself the nickname of "Gato," which is Spanish for cat. He had excellent posture, ramrod straight, yet moved with the grace of a feline. If you met him, you would remember.
John was a renowned author of more than 25 books, covering military and intelligence history from World War II through Dien Bien Phu, the whole of the Vietnam War, the invasion of Iraq and early tapings of presidential records. In addition, John edited a number of well-received, major document compilations in the Digital National Security Archive series, especially covering Vietnam and the history of the CIA. In addition, he was generous with his time and knowledge to help other scholars, students, and reporters understand and learn more about various areas of interest.
John enjoyed playing and designing war games; he felt that such games worked with his findings about how wars came about and were pursued. He understood that wars didn't necessarily have to turn out the way they did—human choice made a difference.
It may sound strange to some that an intense interest in military history and an avid enjoyment of wargaming could go together with a loathing of war itself. He understood that those who know most about war, either through study or through combat experience are often those who take it most seriously and recognize its horrors as much as its fascination and occasional glories.
And while he could be scathingly critical of many military leaders and politicians, he was always deeply moved by the courage and suffering of the grunts who did the fighting—all of them—American, Vietnamese, Japanese...Union and Confederate...all of them.
He was committed to telling the truth about US involvement in foreign affairs, i.e., war—he explained in so many of his works that the US backed the wrong man, or the wrong policy and that the soldiers sent into battle paid the price.
John's death was reported on line by a moving tribute on the National Security Archive and with extensive obituaries at the New York Times and the Washington Post.
But one of the most important aspects of John's life was not mentioned in any of those tributes—and that was his life membership in and full support of Vietnam Veterans Against the War.
John worked out of the New York branch office and participated as a draft counselor and activist, including the march to Valley Forge in 1971, the protests at the trial of the Gainesville 8 in 1973, the protest in front of the Whitehall Selective Service Induction Building, and the myriad anti-war protests in the New York and Washington, DC, area. He also was heartbroken to learn that there were FBI informants among those he considered his friends at VVAW.
John was very proud that he attended many of the VVAW reunions over the years. He never got over the fact that he never got to hear Country Joe McDonald during the 25th Reunion in New York (he was nursing an inebriated friend) nor at the 35th in Milwaukee (when he, Brian Matarrese and I were in a car accident on our way to the festivities—we weren't hurt but we were delayed!).
John knew and lived by the principle that you cannot kill for peace.
Links to obituaries:
In 2000 Ellen Pinzur moved from Boston to Silver Spring, MD, to live with John and have the grand adventure of their lives, after having met at the 2nd Triennial Vietnam Symposium at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas. And whereas most people will say that Paris is the most romantic city in the world?John and I cited Lubbock in our world!
John Prados at the International Spy Museum, Washington, DC, 2008.
John Prados at Olsson's Books and Records,
Washington, DC, on the publication of his book Hoodwinked, 2004.
John Prados at VVAW's 40th Anniversary in Chicago, 2007.
Horace Coleman and John Prados at VVAW's 40th Anniversary in Chicago, 2007.