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F. Brooke Nihart, 87; Marine Wrote U.S. Military Code of Conduct

October 02, 2006|Matt Schudel | Washington Post

WASHINGTON — F. Brooke Nihart, a highly decorated Marine colonel who wrote the U.S. Military Code of Conduct recited by every member of the armed forces, has died. He was 87.

Nihart died Aug. 30 of heart and kidney ailments at a hospital in Fairfax, Va.

After the Korean War, military officials observed a disturbing trend among U.S. prisoners who, after being subjected to brainwashing, revealed military secrets to their captors. The Marine Corps sought to prevent any future breaches of security by devising a formal code of personal honor for everyone in uniform.

Nihart, who had performed heroically in combat in World War II and Korea, was given the task of putting those principles into words. Working at Marine Corps headquarters in the summer of 1955, he outlined his ideas in longhand on a yellow legal pad.

In its original wording, Article I of the Code of Conduct stated: "I am an American fighting man. I serve in the forces which guard my country and our way of life. I am prepared to give my life in their defense." After a 1977 revision, it reads, "I am an American, fighting in the armed forces which guard my country and our way of life. I am prepared to give my life in their defense."

Article III says: "If I am captured, I will continue to resist by all means available. I will make every effort to escape and aid others to escape."

Article V advises a captured service member to give his name, rank and service number, nothing more: "I will evade answering further questions to the utmost of my ability."

On Aug. 17, 1955, President Eisenhower signed an executive order making the Code of Conduct the official credo for Americans in all branches of the military. Recent wars have brought the code under fresh scrutiny, but its six articles remain little changed from Nihart's handwritten words of 51 years ago.

"I conceived of the code as a catechism in the first person," Nihart wrote last year in an essay in "Semper Fi: The Definitive Illustrated History of the U.S. Marines," by H. Avery Chenoweth.

Brooke Nihart was born March 16, 1919, in Los Angeles and joined the California National Guard in high school. He entered the Marine Corps in 1940 after graduating from Occidental College in Los Angeles. Because the Marines required him to have three names, he adopted Franklin as a first name but seldom used it.

As a gunnery officer on the aircraft carrier Saratoga early in World War II, he participated in the Battle of Wake Island. He later taught amphibious landing tactics and fought in the Battle of Okinawa.

In September 1951, Nihart led Operation Blackbird, the first nighttime helicopter operation in military history, landing 200 troops on a hilltop at the Punch Bowl, near what is now the Demilitarized Zone. After commanding a battalion that defeated North Korean forces in the ensuing battle, he was awarded the Navy Cross -- second only to the Medal of Honor -- for his battlefield exploits.

He was military attache to the U.S. Embassy in Rangoon, Burma, in 1959 and commanded the 7th Marine Regiment at Camp Pendleton before retiring in 1966. In addition to the Navy Cross, he received two Bronze Stars, the Defense Meritorious Service Medal, Meritorious Service Medal and Air Medal.

A champion pistol and rifle marksman, Nihart had the commanding manner and build -- 6 feet 1, 225 pounds -- of a classic Marine. But he also had a scholarly side that led to his second career as a historian and deputy director of Marine Corps museums from 1972 to 1991.

Survivors include his wife of 61 years, Mary Helen Brosius Nihart of Springfield, Va.; two daughters; a brother; and twin grandsons.

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