Tag Archives: Robert F. Dorr

By Tom Demerly for


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, [1] the journal of the Air Force Historical Foundation, and was Washington correspondent for the discontinued Jane’s World Air Power Journal.[2] 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.


By Tom Demerly for

Handful of Hell 10

Rarely you find a great treasure, a book that reaches back with precious reflection on the past and ignites inspiration for the future.

It’s even more delightful when it celebrates an incredible career.

A Handful of Hell: Classic War and Adventure Stories by Robert F. Dorr gives you each of those treasures. Handful of Hell is thoughtfully edited by Robert Deis and Wyatt Doyle to adapt its brilliant snapshots for a new age of readers. The result is incredibly special.

This book is something unique a new audience will love, the reader who won’t sit through an entire novel to get to the action. Handful of Hell is “extreme writing”, the X-Games, the Nitro Circus of story telling. That gives these stories new life to a fresh audience.

This anthology also serves as a historical time capsule, not just of the events depicted, but also of a style of writing mostly extinct that shaped publishing and story telling into the age of Ian Fleming, Alistar MacLean, Tom Clancy and even modern thrill-writers like Stephen King, David Baldacci and Brad Thor.

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Author Robert F. Dorr has lived a James Bond-like lifestyle. Born in 1939 he became a shadowy diplomat from Madagascar to Korea to Liberia, Sweden and England. A published author from age 16, Dorr has been seen in every corner of the globe on diplomatic missions and posing next to advanced fighter jets before orientation rides, something reserved for the connected and influential.

In addition to providing a rare and uniquely informed perspective on conflict, espionage and adventure Dorr is incredibly prolific as an author, having published over 70 books and contributing frequently to aviation and defense publications.

In each of the 17 remarkable adventure stories in Handful of Hell Dorr thrills and teaches- history, editing, writing and style. Writing is hard work, and Dorr has been a tireless slave-virtuoso to the trade. He bangs out tense, staccato sentences that hit like a burst of machine gun fire, punctuating the action the way it happened- and the way we want it remembered.

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The post WWII era of the late 1940’s, ‘50’s 60’s, and even early ‘70’s featured a huge population of American men thrust into middle class America from a life fighting or contributing to brutal wars around the globe. Back at home middle class American life had become dull. This audience was looking for escapism in romanticized adventure. An accounting of their lives that added danger, meaning and romance to their personal narrative. Dorr’s writing does that elegantly. It is quick, tight, vivid and often terrifying.

Interestingly, this book works perfectly in the modern age of media, where attention spans are short and appetite for the sensational is strong. Each story is quick and serrated; once it saws into your imagination it won’t release your flesh to the end. Each one is a quick read. That is how audiences were then, and are again- they want tight, fast action in small sound bites. This is YouTube for book lovers, a collection of crashes, combat, catastrophe and heroism written as if a GoPro could make words on a page.

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Since most “sweat” magazines now reside in a musty pile in your grandfather’s basement Handful of Hell is also a historical homage to the era of adventure magazines. If you want to understand that publishing movement, this book will unlock that understanding.

That new 500-page “best seller” thriller novel will gather dust when you crack the binding on Handful of Hell. Its historical relevance, tight, sensational editing and crisp attention to technical detail are far more engaging, entertaining and even educational. As soon as you start reading Handful of Hell you’ll know it is page-fulls of fun.

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Get your own “Handful of Hell” by clicking this photo.