Nicholas Proffitt, 63; journalist, author of 'Gardens of Stone'

Times Staff Writer

Nicholas Proffitt, an award-winning former Newsweek correspondent who wrote popular novels about men at war, including "Gardens of Stone," died Nov. 10 of kidney cancer at his home in Naples, Fla. He was 63.

Proffitt's interest in the military came naturally. His father was a career Army sergeant, and young Nicholas grew up on military bases around the country. After high school, he joined the Army and spent a semester at the U.S. Military Academy before dropping out.

He was assigned to the Old Guard, a part of the 3rd Infantry Division based at Ft. Myer, Va., and placed on the burial detail at Arlington National Cemetery.

He later said he didn't much care for the pomp, pageantry and continual inspections that came with the assignment, but the experience did give him the firsthand knowledge he needed to write "Gardens of Stone" (1983).

The book revolves around the lives of Clell Hazard and Thurgood Nelson, two veteran noncommissioned officers assigned to the Old Guard. While fiercely loyal to the Army, they are opposed to the Vietnam War as U.S. casualties mount in Southeast Asia and they must carry out the rituals of death. They mentor a young recruit, Jack Willow, who wants out of the Old Guard for a chance at Officers Candidate School and active duty in Vietnam.

Writing in the New York Times Book Review, Joe Klein called the work a "wonderful first novel" and noted that Proffitt "showed a talent for subtlety and complexity."

"Gardens of Stone" was made into a 1987 film by Francis Ford Coppola and starred James Caan, James Earl Jones and Anjelica Huston.

Proffitt was born in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich. After his army service ended in 1964, he went to the University of Arizona, where he received a degree in journalism. He was hired by Newsweek and worked in a number of the magazine's domestic bureaus before being assigned to the Saigon bureau for two years. After Saigon came Beirut, London and Nairobi, Kenya.

He received Overseas Press Club awards for his reporting on the Arab-Israeli War in 1973 and the fall of Saigon in 1975. He left print journalism in 1981 to write novels.

He told an interviewer for the reference work Contemporary Authors that correspondence "is a wonderful life for a younger man and not a very good life for an older man. It's not a profession in which you're allowed to grow old gracefully."

Proffitt also wrote "Embassy House" (1986), which covered the CIA's Phoenix program in Vietnam, and "Edge of Eden" (1990), which dealt with corruption and big-game poaching in Africa.

He is survived by his wife, Martie Hudson Proffitt; two sons; a daughter; five grandchildren; and a brother.


For The Record Los Angeles Times Wednesday November 29, 2006 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 44 words Type of Material: Correction Proffitt obituary: The obituary of author Nicholas Proffitt that appeared in Monday's California section incorrectly characterized the Army's Old Guard at Arlington Cemetery. The Old Guard is a nickname for the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment but is not part of the 3rd Infantry Division.
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