Skip to main content

One Man's Foreign Service Career

by Paul D. McCusker

WWII experience 1943-1946: Undergraduate B.A. degree cum laude 1943 from Holy Cross, Worcester, MA, ASTP test. Induction, East Texas in hot summer for three months, rail travel with other soldiers to Palo Alto, CA, Stanford University, Language & Area Studies, assignment by civilian educators to Italian language studies, cancellation of ASTP after six months, declared fluent in Italian (Latin, Greek, French, German languages background), Signal Corps assignment to learn how to typewrite which I learned when I was eleven years old, assignment to Signal Corps unit in Assam, India, in 1945.

1946: Debating whether to apply for admission to law school or to apply to take the Foreign Service written examination. Chose both. Admitted to both Harvard Law School and Comell Law School. As married sister in Ithaca with family and room for me in their house, I chose Comell Law School. Paid $12 per week for room and board. Began Law School. Foreign Service written exam was administered in New York City, so I took the train and went to Manhattan. A Law School classmate told me after I had missed two classes in the course on Contracts because of FS exam in Manhattan that I would never make it through Law School. Three years later, including a year after my marriage (still today, 57 years later, the same wife), (I moved out of my sister’s home to our own apartment near the Law School), I earned my Doctor of Law degree and passed my New York State bar examination. I had previously been notified that I had passed the 1946 FS written examination. The Board of Examiners invited me in 1947 to come to Washington, DC, to take the oral examination. By that time, I had received my first term’s grades and knew I could handle the studies of law school. So I wrote a letter to the Board of Examiners and declined the invitation to go to Washington for my oral examination, saying that I was going to become a lawyer and “earn a lot of money”! I never did that…

My bride who had toured Europe, including Italy, reminded me that I had, thanks to Stanford and the US Army, been rated fluent in the Italian language. She suggested I apply for a grant to study in Italy, which I did. In fact, I won a Fulbright Fellowship as well as an Italian Government grant. The Fullbright Fellowship paid twice as much for a married scholar as a single person. I rejected the Italian Government’s scholarship, and my bride and I sailed off to Naples on the S.S. Vulcania, an Italian ship. We were in the third class of the passengers, but we were young and it didn’t matter. We quickly found an apartment near the University of Rome where I registered as a law student, as my Fulbright project was to study the Italian legal system..

Of course, as a member of the Fulbright scholars, that first year of Fulbright scholars in Italy (1949), from all lines of endeavors and specialties, I was known to the Embassy’s Cultural Division which soon introduced me to the Embassy’s Legal Section, dealing with the claims of Americans under the terms of the Peace Treaty with the vanquished Italian Government. I received an offer to be employed, after I would have finished my year on the Fulbright Fellowship, in the Legal Section, mainly because of my legal education and Italian language ability. In those days, Americans could not be employed by an Embassy or Consulate who had not been seen at the Department of State (for security reasons, I suppose). So I had to return to the USA and check in to the Department. I was duly appointed as a Legal Officer and for five years I served the Embassy in Rome, not a hardship post. For reasons I don’t recall, I managed to become a Foreign Service Officer at some point in those five years, without having ever to appear before the Board of Examiners, although I was interviewed by the Deputy Chief of the Mission in the Embassy at Rome. I also figured that I should do a stint at the headquarters back in Washington, DC, where I had never served. However, I also managed to pass oral examinations at the Law Faculty of the University of Rome and was awarded my second Doctor of Law degree, this one by a civil law system, as opposed to the American common law system, an achievement that was not necessarily reflected in my subsequent Foreign Service career.

After about three years in the Department, mostly in the section of Special Consular Services, I was assigned to the Consulate General in Hamburg, Germany, as Chief of the Consular Section. While in Hamburg, I transferred to be Chief of the Economic Section.I was then sent with my family to Jakarta, Indonesia, where I spent five years, first as the Commercial Attache and then as the Counselor for Economic Affairs. I was then transferred to the Department. A friend in the International Organizational Division kindly recommended to me a vacant post in the secretariat of the United Nations, where I was recruited and served thirteen years following my twenty years as a career FSO.


Paul D. McCusker, lives in Durham, N. C.


Comments are closed.