Robert Harry Berlin (2017)
On Saturday 30 September 2017, Robert H. Berlin passed away in Prescott Arizona. Diagnosed just six months earlier with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease), his strength and health had rapidly deteriorated. He is survived by daughters Leslie and Jessica, son-in-law Matt, his grandsons Asher and Levi, and a brother Michael.
The long-tenured (2000-2017) Executive Director of the Society for Military History, Bob previously had served as newsletter editor, then as recording secretary. As executive director he was the steward of the organization and took his duties seriously—as officers and committee chairs can attest when he did not think they were taking their duty to the Society seriously enough. In big ways and small he looked out for the interests of SMH and its members. Finances, the Journal of Military History, relations with the wider historical community (particularly the American Council of Learned Societies), and hotel venues and host institutions for annual meetings were all areas of his particular interest and concern. But what best characterized Bob was how he related to individual SMH members—regardless of their institutional affiliation, scholarly accomplishments, or academic status and achievements.
Bob grew up in the Pittsburg area, graduated from Rockford College in Illinois, and earned his doctorate in history at the University of California-Santa Barbara; his dissertation was on the judicial system of the Continental Army. He taught military history at Mansfield College in Pennsylvania, the University of Kansas, and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott.
But most of his career was spent as a professor at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth Kansas beginning in 1979-- initially with the Combat Studies Institute (CSI) teaching in the first-year General Staff Officers Course, but eventually as a professor and administrator with the second-year School of Advanced Military Studies (SAMS). While at Leavenworth he crafted two brief but useful and widely cited publications, both published by CSI: “CSI Historical Bibliography No. 8, Military Classics” (1988) and “U.S. Army World War II Corps Commanders: A Composite Biography” (1989). But it is mostly as a teacher, mentor, and generous colleague that Bob will be remembered. A former office mate at CSI recalled he was always available to advise, assist, and encourage students and fellow faculty. The colleague remarked: “He didn’t leave a large body of published work, but he touched a lot of lives.” For his contributions to Army professional military education he earned the Department of the Army Superior and Meritorious Service Awards.
Bob Berlin very much enjoyed people—making new acquaintances, hosting old friends for good food and lively conversation, traveling with groups to new and interesting places. And Bob was always the first to “break the ice” within such groups. Following his retirement from Leavenworth he capitalized on those traits and his love of teaching and history by leading tour groups, often sponsored by the National Geographic Society, to battle sites and other historic places in Europe, and serving as lecturer and historical consultant on cruise ship trips to similar places.
Robert H. Berlin—a valued colleague and close friend to many-- lived an interesting, useful, productive life. But sadly it was far too short—we miss him already.