Obituary: A. William Korber / War experiences converted him to Buddhism

May 19, 1941 - Sept. 8, 2012

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A. William Korber, son of a Yukon coal miner and passionate proponent of early rock and roll, had his eyes opened to the broader world by experiences during the Vietnam War.

An Army private whose work background in the 1960s was as a radio disc jockey, Mr. Korber was persuaded by military higher-ups that he should seek a college degree, which led him to a career in advertising for area newspapers.

What he witnessed and heard during the war led him to become a Buddhist pacifist, who devoted his later years to writing memoirs and speaking to high school and college students about wartime experiences.

Mr. Korber, who has provided the Heinz History Center with his recordings and photos from Vietnam, died of bladder cancer Saturday at Excela Westmoreland Hospital. The Greensburg resident, 71, had been diagnosed in May 2011.

Known as "Bud" to those closest to him and "Bill" to colleagues who enjoyed his warm and sensitive demeanor while working at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Pittsburgh Press and Latrobe Bulletin, Mr. Korber's life took some interesting twists.

Raised in a small Westmoreland County mining town as a grandson of Slovenian immigrants, the Yough High School graduate ended up as a soft-spoken vegetarian. He befriended, assisted and worshipped with a Buddhist monk, Thich Kien Nhu, a Vietnamese immigrant who established a temple in Braddock.

During a 1966-68 stint in Vietnam, Mr. Korber's duties had been to interview U.S. soldiers about their combat experiences for broadcast on armed forces radio. He accompanied them to the front lines for some of the recordings, many of which he retained himself and would share later with history center representatives, students and others riveted by the stories.

"He was such a gentle man who developed this great curiosity about the world, with a real desire to share what he knew," said Ellen Foster, a history center volunteer from Grove City who was assisting Mr. Korber with a manuscript describing his life.

He obtained a bachelor's degree in advertising from Point Park College after the war and went to work for the Latrobe Bulletin, rising to advertising director by the time he left in 1980. He then joined the Press, which later had its operations taken over by the Post-Gazette. There, he worked as an advertising sales representative until 2008.

Mr. Korber had been a music lover ever since his teen years and early adulthood, when he played trumpet and worked as a DJ at local dances in addition to doing his radio work.

Late in life, he put together that passion with the skills he had acquired in his sales career by producing a popular series called Pittsburgh Oldies Show and Dance.

"His marketing skills were as good as any promoter that I've ever known who's made a living at it," said Jeff Allen, the WLSW-FM disc jockey Mr. Korber recruited as a partner and emcee.

"He had that warmth and approach to people that automatically made friends everywhere he went. ... Everybody just loved buying a ticket from him."

The concerts featuring the likes of Jimmy Beaumont and the Skyliners, The Duprees, Earl Lewis & The Channels and Terry Johnson's Flamingos drew hundreds of fans into hotels and club halls around Westmoreland County in the late 1990s and the first half of the following decade.

Mr. Korber is survived by his wife, Nancy; a daughter, Jill Korber of New York City; a son, Jay Korber of San Francisco; and a brother, Terry Korber of Yukon.

A memorial service will be scheduled at a later date.

obituaries

Gary Rotstein: grotstein@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1255.


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