Harold A. Drake, longtime reporter, senior writer and columnist for Pacific Stars and Stripes died Sunday in Australia after a lengthy battle with stomach cancer. He was 83.
For nearly four decades, Hal Drake covered everything from high-level summits and the release of POWs from Vietnam to Muhammad Ali and high school sports.
“Stars and Stripes has lost a true legend,” former colleague Gerry Galipault said.
A native of Santa Monica, Calif., Drake served 10 months in the Korean War as an artilleryman, viewing up close the carnage on Heartbreak Ridge.
He applied for one of a handful of reporting jobs at Pacific Stars and Stripes and joined the staff in July 1956.
Until his retirement on Dec. 31, 1995, Drake worked as a reporter, then later as senior writer and columnist. He traveled four times to Vietnam during the war, and later returned with freelance photographer Jim Bryant in April 1985 for the 10th anniversary of the end of the war.
He and Stripes Spc. Tom Lincoln traveled to Clark Air Base, Philippines, in February 1973 to greet returning POWs released from Vietnam.
Every president, “Ford through Clinton – I think I got them all when they came over here,” Drake once said. He was equally comfortable quizzing rock musicians such as Rod Stewart about their choice of song lyrics.
“He managed to find the human element in everything he wrote. And he was always a gentleman in the process,” former Pacific Stripes news editor Ron Rhodes said.
Though claiming not to be an avid sports follower or expert, Drake held a fascination for boxing. So much so, that he covered the legendary Ali when he fought Mac Foster in Tokyo in 1972, then an exhibition against Japanese pro wrestling icon Antonio Inoki in June 1976. He was also on hand when Buster Douglas knocked out Mike Tyson in the 10th round in February 1990 at Tokyo Dome, one of the biggest upsets in boxing history.
That expertise helped Drake in his years of covering Air Force boxers from Misawa Air Base in the 1980s and ’90s, including Carlos Elliott and Rick Roberts, each of whom fought unsuccessfully for world titles.
Drake marched to his own drummer his former co-workers said.
“Hal’s desk — a pile of thousands of papers nearly three feet tall — was the stuff of newspaper legend,” said former colleague Adam Johnston, who was assigned to Stripes from 1993-99 while in the Air Force.
Drake could often be seen wandering the newsroom twirling and eyeing an elongated band of wire called a “whirligig.”
“He was quirky, but always fun and always smart,” said Galipault, who worked in the Tokyo office from 1984-90. When working the “whirligig,” “you could tell his mind was working a mile a minute, thinking about what to write next, what to say. And he always said it beautifully.”
After leaving Stripes, Drake and his wife Kaz retired to the Gold Coast in Queensland, where they helped run an international student exchange program.
Drake is survived by his wife of 38 years, Kazuko, his sons Larry, 52, and Kenny, 47, both of a previous marriage, and two grandchildren. Funeral arrangements are pending.
Here are a few of the stories from his noteworthy career:
Duke Ellington on fourth Japan swing, January 8, 1972
Muhammad Ali's verses thrill throng at Yokota, March 28, 1972
`Stevie, touch me!' — A feel for people, too, April 7, 1981
Mother Teresa critical of Japan on abortions, April 27, 1981