American Diplomacy

June 2006

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Diplomats on Stamps

On May 30, 2006, the U.S. Postal Service will issue a set of six stamps in honor of distinguished U.S. diplomats. This is, of course, long overdue. The USPS has, over many decades, issued stamps not just for U.S. presidents but for sports heroes, movie actors, cowboys, musicians, etc. etc. The drive to honor distinguished diplomats with stamps was begun in 1988 by Robert Kim Bingham, son of Hiram Bingham IV, one of the diplomats to be honored. Hiram Bingham, while serving as vice consul in Marseilles in 1940, saved many Jews, who were being rounded up by the Vichy government to be sent to Germany for extermination. He did so both openly, by granting hundreds of visas (far too many for the State Department's liking), and clandestinely, which included hiding some (such as the writer Lion Feuchtwanger) in his home. His assignment was cut short in 1941, and he was transferred to Buenos Aires. He was passed over for promotion several times and resigned in 1946.

The others are:

Frances E. Willis, the first female Foreign Service Officer to become an ambassador. Born in 1899, she entered the Foreign Service in 1929 as vice consul in Valparaiso. Later, she was Ambassador to Switzerland (1953-57), to Norway (1957-61) and ended her career as Ambassador to Ceylon (1961-63).

Charles E. Bohlen, born 1904, entered the Foreign Service in 1929. His first post was Prague, followed by Moscow, where he spent six years (1934-40). He later served as Ambassador to the USSR (1953-57), and to the Phillipines (1957-59). His last assignment was as Special Assistant to the Secretary of State. He was named a Career Ambassaador in 1960.

Robert D. Murphy (1894-1978) began his diplomatic career in 1917 at the Legation at Bern. Later he was consul at Paris (1930-36) which led to his post as Chargé d'Affaires to the Vichy government. After advising Pres. Roosevelt on French North Africa in preparation for the invasion, he was appointed Minister to French North Africa. After WWII, he ws named Ambassador to Belgium (1949-52), and to Japan (1952-53). He was Assistant Secretary for United Nations Affairs (1953) and subsequently, Deputy Under Secretary and then Under Secretary for Political Affairs until 1959. He was named Career Ambassador in 1956. He was Pres. Eisenhower's personal representative during the Lebanon Crisis of 1958. After retiring from the Foreign Service, he went on to become an advisor to Presidents Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon.

Clifton R. Wharton, born 1899, began his career as a law clerk in the Department of State in 1924, and entered the Foreign Service in 1925. He was the first black FSO. His first post was Monrovia. Later, he was Consul General at Lisbon (1950-53) and at Marseilles (1953-57). He was appointed as Minister (EEMP) to Romania in 1958, and was promoted to Career Minister in 1959. In 1961, he was named Ambassador to Norway, by coincidence, replacing the first female ambassador, Frances Willis.

Philip C. Habib, born 1920, served in the Army in World War II as a captain. He entered the Foreign Service in 1949 as an economic officer at Ottawa, and then at Wellington. Later, he served at Saigon (1965-67) where he was given the personal rank of Minister. He was named Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs (1967-69). He was appointed Ambassador to South Korea in 1971.

Some of us who are both retired diplomats and philatelists tried to persuade the U.S. Postal Service to issue these stamps on Foreign Affairs Day (formerly Foreign Service Day) May 5. However, the USPS felt it had to issue them on a day coinciding with the major international philitelic exhibition in Washington May 27-June 3. The above bio sketches are necessarily sketchy, not having been written by someone who knew these diplomats personally. Any one who did know one or more of them, and has some story or incident to tell about them is welcome to submit it to this journal.


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