Published: Sept. 1, 2015 By

Bernard Trainor

The General

From an early age, long before he became a U.S. Marine Corps Lt. General, Bernard Trainor (MA’63) pursued a simple life strategy.

“I followed my interests,” he says.

It’s led to a bounty.

An early interest was the military, which he joined after high school, in 1946. History and writing were others, and he’s blended all three.

Over the decades he saw battle in Korea and Vietnam, won a Bronze Star, taught at Harvard and reinvented himself as a New York Times journalist and best-selling author.

“Never anticipated that,” says Trainor, now nearly 87 and living in a Virginia retirement community for former military brass, CIA and State Department officials, “but it unfolded.”

Danger came early.

In June 1950, while he was training at Quantico, Va., and still an undergraduate at the College of the Holy Cross, the Korean War broke out.

“One day we were on the rifle range and had one rifle coach for every three men,” Trainor says. “The next morning, there was only one coach for everybody.”

After college, which he attended through a predecessor of NROTC, he was commissioned as a Marine second lieutenant and took over a rifle infantry platoon in Korea.

He didn’t plan to stay in the Marines when he came back, he says, “but I liked it.”

Over the next decade, he served aboard a heavy cruiser in the Atlantic and Mediterranean and as an exchange officer with the British Royal Marine Commandos, among other assignments.

Then came Boulder: In 1961 the Marines sent Trainor to CU to serve as a NROTC instructor. He enrolled as a graduate student in history and got as far as registering his dissertation and taking oral exams when Vietnam intervened.

“That was the end of that,” he says. “No more PhD.”

He participated in PT-boat raids in North Vietnam and fought from helicopters. As an infantry battalion commander, his role in the rescue of reconnaissance troops earned him a Bronze Star.

All the while, Trainor wrote for a variety of military publications. After his 1985 retirement from the Marines, he joined the Times, covering wars in Panama and the Middle East and becoming a fixture on the nightly news.

With Times colleague Michael Gordon, he co-wrote three painstakingly researched, best-selling books on the Gulf and Iraq wars.

“My wife of 65 years, Peggy, said, ‘Write another and it’s either divorce or justified homicide.’”

Boulder, where two of their daughters were born, remains “a Shangri-La” for Trainor. He follows the Buffs from afar and visits when he can. Last year he met up in Estes Park with NROTC students he’d led on Folsom Field 54 years ago.

Deep into his ninth decade, Trainor keeps busy, performing theater and penning op-eds about foreign policy and geopolitics, most recently for the Washington Post. He’s working on an autobiography.

“I’ve been writing my whole life,” he says. “Why stop now?”

Photography courtesy Bernard Trainor