Erik Jürgen-Karl Dietrich-Berryman died on April 7, 2020. His brother Rainer Günther-Karl Dietrich predeceased him.
Born in Berlin, Germany on August 3, 1940 the son of Karl Friedrich Dietrich of Sulzbach-Saar, a Luftwaffe scientist who helped engineer V-1 and V-2 rockets at the Institut für Ballistik und technische Physik der Technischen Akademie der Luftwaffe in Berlin-Gatow, and his wife Ella Barbutzki von Wernen, the daughter of a Prussian Army officer from Königsberg, Hans Joachim von Wernen. His paternal grandfather was an editor from the Saarland, Friedrich Karl Dietrich.
Evacuated from Berlin he spent the early war years in a children’s home in Langenbrück, Upper Silesia. Over time he came to believe that the deliberate terror bombing of Germany’s urban residential areas belongs to a different chapter, same book, of the Holocaust.
On the morning of April 16, 1945 he stood next to his mother, a volunteer Wehrmacht field nurse, after being winkled out of their basement hospital bunker by a U.S. infantry rifleman. The two stood with hands firmly plastered on top of their heads, backs against the house wall. When the region ceded to the Soviets in the partition of Germany he walked with his mother back to Berlin, a journey of several months in train with unnumbered other refugees. He arrived covered in lice that his grandmother cracked between her thumbnails. With packs of children he hunted for food and fuel amid the ruins of what had been a great city.
In 1948 his mother married John M. Berryman from Cobden Street, Aberaman, Wales one of the Occupation soldiers stationed in Germany. Once a Rhondda Valley coal miner, the Royal Air Force had made him into a fine cook who served in Africa, Persia and Germany from 1939 to the finish. Kindness, an unfailing sense of duty and the haunting beauty of his tenor voice framed his stepfather’s strength of character. No boy ever had a better role model. His birth father was released from a POW camp in 1948 and remarried. Father and son met again by coincidence in the summer of 1956, in Berlin.
Upfield Preparatory School, Stroud, and Gloucester Technical College anchored his early education. Unaccompanied, at the age of 17 he arrived in the US aboard the freighter Zoella Lykes from Liverpool to Mobile. He promptly enlisted in the U.S. Army which put him in an infantry division in Germany. He was a decorated combat veteran of the Vietnam War where he served as a helicopter door gunner on 120 combat missions. To the end of his days he was ever grateful to America for taking him in.
Enabled by the GI Bill he graduated with distinction from Hofstra University (BA, 1966) and the University of New Mexico (MA, 1968; PhD, 1971). In 1969 he was the D.H. Lawrence Graduate Fellow. As a University Fellow he read at the Houghton Library and the Folger Shakespeare Library. A Dissertation Fellowship concluded his academic career and he was briefly an assistant professor of English literature at Fitchburg State College, Massachusetts before taking up his Reserve commission to join the staff of the Secretary of the Navy (who remained a life-long friend) as the Navy’s Bicentennial Coordination Officer. Various postings ashore and at sea, followed. He retired as a commander in 1993.
He was logistics director for an expedition that salvaged twenty-two tons of the hull of the square-rigger St. Mary, wrecked in the Falkland Islands in the late 19th century. The retrieved pieces form a permanent exhibit at Maine State Museum, Augusta. In the austral summer of 1978/79 he was field director for the survey of San Francisco’s sole surviving Gold Rush ship Vicar of Bray, abandoned in Goose Green, Falkland Islands. And in the summer of 1979 with support of the novelist Clive Cussler he organized an expedition to search for John Paul Jones’s Bonhomme Richard, lost in the North Sea. This was the first attempt with modern electronics by the standards of the day to locate the famous American Revolution warship.
He served as deputy director of publications and interim press chief for the Immigration and Naturalization Service, Department of Justice. In 1996 he was appointed special assistant for veterans’ organizations to the Secretary of Defense’s Gulf War Illness investigation. The experience left him deeply skeptical of the integrity and mental balance of pacifist organizations and their representatives. He retired in 2003 as press chief and senior speechwriter to the director, National Geospatial Intelligence Agency.
With his youngest daughter he backpacked the camino across northern Spain to Santiago de Compostela in the winter of 2006, and again a second time with his wife during a golden October the following year. He found personal satisfaction in the uplands of his retirement with directorships on civic boards in Hampton Roads and London, and with military fraternal groups. He was a prolific author of articles on maritime history, and three books. As faculty advisor to the University of New Mexico Student Rodeo Association he rode a Brahma bull in a student rodeo, but not for long.
His marriage, 1962-1979, to Judith Susan Milner of Brooklyn, New York did not succeed. He married, 1980, Roberta Lucille Truckey of Minneapolis, MN, who survives him as do three daughters and two step-children: Lillian Diamond, a math and science teacher; Monique Travelstead McNamara, a corporate communications vice president; Ted Travelstead (Julie Wright), actor and scriptwriter; Kimberly Berryman Rotter (Anthony Rotter), editor and writer; Stefanie English (Michael English), Cleveland community investor, and four grandchildren, Michael Greenstein, Dayna L. Diamond, Max S. McNamara, and Moxie R. Rotter.