by Bill Dale
As Ambassador Dale found out, one can obtain valuable information during Foreign Service training.— Assoc. Ed.
After the fighting stopped in the war against Germany and Japan, many of the almost 200 officers stationed at the US Naval Ammunition Depot, Crane, Indiana faced several months of inactivity waiting to be discharged. The maintenance workers at the Depot were also underemployed, and just to keep busy, offered to build articles of furniture for us which we could take with us into civilian life. I still use three bookcases acquired in this way made from scraps of wood left in the huge empty warehouses.
But the main preoccupation of most of us was not to obtain furniture, but to decide what to do with the rest of our lives. I had four options at that time. Our commanding officer, Captain Lunsford Hunter suggested I stay in the Navy, but with Jane expecting our first child, I could not enjoy a career in which one is separated from the family a large part of the time. K’ung Ling Kai, son of the Chinese Finance Minister, and I had become friends at graduate school in Harvard where he was writing a doctoral thesis on tyrannicide, asked me to come to China as his personal assistant . However, the Communists were already gaining strength and I did not want to enter a career which could end in violence and failure. I declined my friend’s offer.
Also, I could return to Savage Arms Corporation in Utica, N.Y. where I had worked for over a year after graduating from college in 1940. Bill Higgins, the sales manager, offered me the job of advertising director, but I knew I couldn’t devote my life to the welfare of a private company, no matter how estimable it was.
Thirdly, I could return to the Graduate School of Public Administration at Harvard and either teach or go into the civil service. This option had great appeal and for years I tried unsuccessfully to get enough time off to obtain a PhD. Foreign Service personnel was not very cooperative.
I returned to Harvard in pursuit of my third option, but did not feel content with my choice. In April of 1946, I consulted with my former tutor, Professor William Y. Elliott, and a respected professor, former German Chancellor, Heinrich Bruning. To my surprise, they advised me strongly to take up a Foreign Service career and forego a Doctor’s degree for the time being. I’d already taken the written test so only the oral exam remained. Since the military had exhausted the pool from which the Foreign Service usually recruited new officers, it was eager to enlist young men (like me) now that the fighting was over. The oral proved to be a minor hurdle and by June of that year I found myself in the Foreign Service Training School.
The school was located in Lothrop House, the former mansion of the family by that name on Florida Avenue in Northwest Washington. At first, I found it hard to concentrate for long periods and the strain on my rear end from sitting all day long in one position became acute.
Perry Jester, an experienced consular officer, presided over twenty-some new officers, one of the first classes after World War ll. If any of us had entertained visions of joining the Foreign Service to hobnob with the high and mighty or negotiate world shaking treaties, Perry quickly abolished them. Instead, we learned about visas, passports, welfare of American citizens, seamen’s rights, and other aspects of consular work. On the commercial side, we heard about imports, exports, and trade practices. The school management crammed all the material it possibly could into our heads so that classes lasted all day and sometimes spilled over into the evening.
Our teachers did not entirely neglect our social life. The deputy director, Mr. Hopkins, hosted a reception for the students towards the end of the course. He gave a talk during the proceedings, but didn’t mention the subject we wanted most to hear about—our assignments. The teachers had already asked each of us where we most wished to go and we were more than eager to learn whether the Foreign Service was about to fulfill our desires. On July 12, I learned that I would not have my first choice, Germany, where I spoke some of the language, but Denmark. Mr. Jester explained that Denmark was a healthier place to bring up the child we now had. Although I was downcast at the news, in retrospect, I believe the Department was probably right. At least, the baby, known as the Monster, flourished in Copenhagen. Since there were vacancies everywhere, most of the students received their first choices. One, however, was way off. Frank Meloy had opted for Montreal, where he thought he might find a nice Catholic girl to marry. But since he was a bachelor the heartless Foreign Service sent him to Jidda, Saudi Arabia, also because he was a bachelor.
Before we left the school, the management invited the students and their wives for a tour of Lothrop House. We got some idea of the luxurious lives its inhabitants must have lived from gawking at the rooms the School had not absorbed. One such learning experience occurred when we crowded into the main bathroom, about the size of the living room of the house we had rented. A bathroom feature which claimed the curiosity of most of us was a shallow porcelain basin about knee high with hot and cold running water, a spout in the middle and a drain. One of our number suggested that it might be used to wash lingerie or maybe socks, but his guess received little support. Finally, one wife, who had been fortunate enough to have visited France, spoke up. She explained in exquisite detail how a French woman used a bidet. The subject immediately dropped. The Lothrop House bidet became the first indication that unexpected discoveries lay in wait for new Foreign Service officers.