From Vietnam Marine to Washington Correspondent: No Cubical Commandos Wanted

By Robbin Laird and Ed Timperlake

Ed arranged a chance for us to talk with a very interesting man who has clearly made a major contribution to his country through an unusual path. He served as a Marine Corps “grunt” in Vietnam, and because he is a skilled writer, he was hired by the Chicago Tribune to become its defense correspondent based in Washington.

We now live in the age of the army of “cubical commandos” as Ed has called them, namely analysts with no combat experience who comment regularly on things like the war in the Ukraine.

In contrast, David Evans was steeled in combat prior to becoming a journalist. And his track record while at the Chicago Tribune indicated that he was not going to take the news coming from official sources in Washington as served up. He saw too many fellow soldiers in Vietnam fight a very different war than portrayed by the official news machine operating during the war.

He continues to be very active and in recent years has worked extensively on aviation safety and has focused on the gap between the FAA and its ability to deliver the kind of aviation safety the American public deserves. The latest news associated with the disaggregating Boeing plane in flight is simply a visible example of the problem.

We have included his resume at the end which underscores his extraordinary career.

We started first by focusing on Vietnam. Throughout our discussion, we focused on a problem which plagues the U.S. to this day, namely, the gap between facts on the ground and the narrative crafted inside the Beltway.

Evans went to Vietnam in 1966 serving as a USMC artillery officer. Ed as a former USMC F-4 pilot who went to South East Asia later was interested on whether Evans experienced integrated fire support.

According to Evans: “We were too far forward to benefit from air-ground coordination which was being worked back at the fire support coordination center. I saw little of that activity show up until the battle had been decided. My experience was that the planes would arrive after we had a sigh of relief that we had survived an ambush by the North Vietnamese or whatever threat we were facing.”

The deadliness of the war was clearly underscored by Evans with this comment. “I was the only officer commissioned at the University of Illinois in 1966 that came out alive.”

He then went on to describe a harrowing combat situation which he went through. “We were attacked by two regiments of North Vietnamese in the badly mis-named demilitarized zone. There were about 100 of us when the sun went down but only 40 who could walk off when the sun came up the next day.”

Despite these experiences, Evans extended his 12-month tour and went to Khe Sanh. He knew that was going to be difficult because when he arrived, he found the latrines were secured by sandbags!

When time for a second extension came up, he decided to leave. As he describes his way out from Khe Sanh: “I was on a convey out of Khe Sanh going down route 1. We were ambushed by the North Vietnamese on the road. I jumped off the truck I was on and jumped behind a wall with only my 45. The enemy had seen me move to that position and were shooting at my position. Then a truck came down the road at speed but slowed and one solider held out his hand and pulled me onto the moving truck for my exit.”

When he finally reached safety and prepared for his return he was struck by the stark contrast between the reality of the combat going on in Vietnam and the relatively tranquility of a place like Saigon.

And this contrast was one of the problems for American officials understanding ground truth versus tour truth with regard to the war and its fate.

Evans would continue to serve in the USMC back in Washington, but our discussion now turned to his time as a journalist.

As he described what happened: “I was contacted by the Washington Bureau Chief of the Chicago Tribune which at the time had a large bureau to cover news from Washington. When I discussed coming to the paper, I indicated that I was going to be hard hitting and not write Pentagon pablum stories. Is that alright with you guys? And it was for a number of years.”

He indeed did write a number of hard-hitting articles, for example, about the USAF buying a B-1 bomber but with no spares for an actual war operation. Some of his work from this time can be seen in the video vault of C-SPAN.

After his time with the Chicago Tribune, he went to work for an organization which produced highly regarded defense and aviation newsletters.

What we saw in Evans career was an inside the Beltway journalist steeped in the real world of combat. At the same time, the foreign policy engagement of the elites of many large cities were actively involved in the foreign policy process as well.

But as Washington became Versailles, a warrior journalist was not needed. Cubical commands now have become established figures.

Talking with Evans, we were able discuss a very significant migration in our time of dwindling journalistic defense expertise and enhanced discussion in the increasingly unreal world of Washington DC, at least in terms of its grasp on America in the world.

David Evans



Editor-in-Chief, Aviation Safety Journal, an electronic newsletter devoted to covering all aspects of aviation safety for Nolan Law Group in Chicago. The publication can be viewed at In addition, I wrote a blog on air safety issues, which can be viewed at


Editor-in-Chief, Aviation Maintenance magazine. Previously during this time period, editor of Air Safety Week, the world’s most recognized newsletter on air safety and security issues. The publication was voted the company’s “Product of the Year” for 2000 and enjoyed a phenomenal 75% renewal rate. Also, served as contributing editor to Avionics magazine, writing a monthly column on aircraft electronics and electrical systems.


Nationally syndicated military affairs correspondent for the Chicago Tribune newspaper (Washington, DC, bureau). Put the Tribune on the map for defense reporting. Deployed with the first U.S. troops into Mogadishu, Somalia, in 1992, and was among the first American journalists to travel into the so-called “crescent of famine” deep in the interior. Garnered exclusive interview with Mohammed Aideed, eldest son of the late warlord Farah Aideed.

Deployed to cover the Persian Gulf war in 1990-1991. Wrote the very first stories about the air campaign and predicted Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf’s “Hail Mary” end-run sweep around Iraqi defenses in Kuwait.

Wrote a series of stories for the Tribune in 1990-1991 about the “geriatric jet” issue in the wake of the explosive decompression of an Aloha Airlines B737 in the spring of 1988. This series revealed that 1,000 Boeing jetliners then in service would have been retired under the U.S. Air Force’s fatigue life standards.


Career officer, U.S. Marine Corps, a two-decade journey that began with close combat in the Vietnam War and which ended fighting the budget wars in the Pentagon. As a lieutenant colonel in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, acted as a key player in the successful top-level effort to improve military preparedness over the resistance of the military services, whose top priority was to buy more weapons than they could support. Security clearance: above Top Secret.


Extensive experience and exposure, to include appearances on NBC, CBS, ABC, CNN, PBS and BBC. Such appearances continue, most recently on the Jim Lehrer NewsHour. In 1993, served as special consultant to the Arts & Entertainment Network’s Investigative Reports on a documentary of the 1988 downing of an Iranian airliner by the Aegis cruiser USS Vincennes. In 2004, appeared on a PBS Nova documentary about the causes of the 1998 crash of Swissair Flight 111. Commented extensively on various Canadian radio broadcasts on the legacy of this crash on the 10th anniversary in 2008.


1994: Grants from the John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation supporting the writing of magazine articles on the U.S. role in the international arms bazaar.


1992: Media Fellow, Hoover Institution on War, Revolution & Peace, Stanford University, California


2004: Royal Aeronautical Society Aerospace Journalist of the Year award for writing excellence, maintenance category.

2002: Flight Safety Foundation Cecil H. Brownlow Publication Award for excellence in writing on air safety and security issues.

2002: Royal Aeronautical Society Aerospace Journalist of the Year award for writing excellence, avionics category.

2002: American Business Media Jesse H. Neal Award for writing excellence in a regular feature, Avionics magazine.

2002: Newsletter and Electronic Publishers Association first place award for analytical writing on aviation safety and security issues.

2001: National Air Disaster Foundation, Corboy & Demetrio journalism award for contributions leading to improved aviation safety.

2000: Royal Aeronautical Society Millenium Aerospace Journalist of the Year award in the safety category.

1999: Royal Aeronautical Society Aerospace journalist of the Year award in the safety category.

1999: National Press Club award for excellence in analytical writing.

1999: William D. Littleford Award by the American Business Press for corporate and community service.

1998: Society of Professional Journalists Sigma Delta Chi award for public service in newsletter journalism.

1998: National Press Club award for excellence in analytical writing.

1998: Washington DC chapter of Society of Professional Journalists Dateline Award for excellence in local journalism.

1988: New York University Center for War, Peace and the Media Olive Branch Award as one of the nation’s best journalists covering national defense.


1981: Post-M.A. studies in statistics and public administration, The George Washington University.

1977: M.A. in English, University of Nebraska.

1966: B.A. in History, University of Illinois (plus 3 varsity letters)

1962: Punahou School, Honolulu, Hawaii