Robert F. Dorr, 1939-2016: The Eclipse of Adventure.
By Tom Demerly for tomdemerly.com
It took three days for me to write this, because writing this makes it real and I didn’t want that.
Robert F. Dorr is dead.
Dorr was “an author and retired senior American diplomat who published over 70 books, hundreds of short stories, and numerous contemporary non-fiction articles on international affairs, military issues and the Vietnam War. Most recently, he headed the weekly “Back Talk” opinion column for the Military Times newspaper and the monthly “Washington Watch” feature of Aerospace America. He is also on the Masthead as the technical editor of Air Power History,  the journal of the Air Force Historical Foundation, and was Washington correspondent for the discontinued Jane’s World Air Power Journal. He has appeared as an expert on numerous CNN, History News Network, C-SPAN and other local and cable television programs.”
That is from his Wikipedia page. I was too upset to write out my own accounting of his work so I just copied those words. That is what he was.
But this is who he was:
Robert F. Dorr was a humble and quiet man who became vast through the written word. The funnel of his imagination brought knowledge, inspiration, entertainment, education and excitement to readers around the world. He truly opened up new worlds from his pages.
Dorr combined the lessons of history with the most novel aspects of literature and entertainment. His lens focused the stories of an entire world experiencing an entire era. He told them like no other.
I worked briefly with Dorr as a beta-reader on his first fiction novel, Hitler’s Time Machine. Dorr was a non-fiction guy, but Time Machine was masterful work. It felt odd to exchange e-mails with him trying to make recommendations for changes.
Dorr leaves behind a family to whom he was a fine father, husband and friends to whom he was a very fine companion around the world.
And we lose something priceless and rare.
I read excerpts from one of Robert’s books to my 93-year old mother. She lived through WWII in Seattle when my dad worked on the Boeing B-29 Superfortress and the B-17 Flying Fortress, bombers used in the air war against Japan and Germany.
My mom lives in an assisted living home for seniors. I read to her in the pleasant downstairs lobby of her home. As I read Robert F. Dorr’s stories from Mission to Berlin other seniors sat down, listening to Dorr’s narrative of B-17 crews struggling for their lives in the thin, freezing air over Berlin:
“In another bomber of Lyle’s 379th group, 1st Lt. Carl L. “Kayo” Cook was minding his bombardier’s position in the nose and possibly feeling some temporary relief that his Fortress had not yet been hit. Cook had just written to his wife, the former Helen Kraft, in Pender, Nebraska, cheerfully reporting that he’d be home soon because he had just six missions left to fly. He was the father of two daughters, including one born just three weeks before on January 12, whom he’d never seen. Cook’s mother-in-law had recently remarried. The family was planning a big homecoming for him.
A fragment of metal, apparently from a flak explosion, punctured the Fortress’s glass nose, continued into the cramped narrow tube of the fuselage, and killed Cook instantly.
No one else in his plane was touched. Cook’s crew would make it home without him.”
One by one more old people sat down. Some looked at me as I read Dorr’s accounting, others looked at the floor. One man wearing a blue ball cap with “ARMY” scrolled on its ample crown stared out the window as I read. More sat down to listen.
“I remember that” my mom told me. “We didn’t hear about it at the time, but the telegrams came and later the stories”
The crowd of geriatrics, now about eight of them, was transported back through decades and miles and lives by Robert F. Dorr’s narrative. His words restored their youth, their fears, their heroics.
For a few minutes I saw the incredible worth and power of Dorr’s amazing work.
Dorr lived a life I idolize, envy, and aspire to. He was a diplomat, flew in fighter jets, and wrote stories and interviewed heroes and adventurers.
If I could have picked my father it would have been Robert F. Dorr.
I have a couple of his books inscribed to me by him. They seem to glow, feel warm.
I do not believe we die all at once, but a little at a time. And while Robert F. Dorr has passed away he is very much living for us through his amazing narratives. But I know that I have died a little too losing Robert F. Dorr, and I fell heavy under the knowledge that there will be no more stories from him, and no one will ever tell them like he did.
Thank-you…I uses to read his articles in the AF Times and made his acquaintance last year when I saw several of his books for sale. Although his passing was fore ordained, his time left to was spent living life to the fullness, spreading cheer and laughter. If he could, I think he might have rode a bull named Fu Manchu for 2.7 seconds. Vaya con Dios Mr. Dorr
Bob was a fellow aviation historian and writer, a friend and a mentor. He leaves a huge hole in the continuum, but also a clear image of what “getting it right” looks like.