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State Department Memories from The Hanoi Hilton

November 4, 2007

Introduction By John E. Carey, Peace and Freedom: Maybe State Department employees, even those with 36 years of service like Mr. Jack  Croddy, need an occasional reminder of their proud heritage. 

United States
Department of State
Seal of the United States Department of State

Last Wednesday, October 31, 2007, Senior Foreign Service Officer Jack Croddy stood up at a “Town Hall Meeting” at the United States Department of State and addressed the Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice with these words:

“It’s one thing if someone believes in what’s going on over there and volunteers, but it’s another thing to send someone over there on a forced assignment. I’m sorry, but basically that’s a potential death sentence and you know it. Who will raise our children if we are dead or seriously wounded?” 

The essay below was given to me today by my friend Mike Benge.  Mike was a staffmember of the United States Agency for Internatiional Development, an Agency of the Department of State, in Vietnam when he was scooped up by the communists and ultimately landed in the Hanoi Hilton.  But because Mike was not a member of the uniformed services, he could not be held as a Prisoner of War (POW).  So he was held separately.

For those too young to recall, the “Hanoi Hilton” is the American nickname given to the most infamous of communist North Vietnam’s prisons.

Mike has contributed to America and the world in many ways but I always recall his memory of the “Christmas lights over Hanoi in 1972.”  That essay closes with these simple words: “Yes Christmas lights are pretty, but none will ever be as pretty as those over Hanoi on Christmas ’72.  And  God Bless the pilots and crews of the planes who gave their lives to set us free.”

Mike and I have had contact for several years, and Mike has taught me much and there is not much that I could ever teach Mike.  He is an expert in duty, honor, service to country and service to his fellow man. I first met Mike because of his insightful work writing for the Washington Times.  We share a passion for freedom and human rights, a love of the peoples of Vietnam and a desire to contribute in the world community. Mike would be my half brother as I can never fully honor or equal his time held captive by communists or his stellar contributions to many venues including the History Channel. We cannot regain the past; so we both now man the gates of justice and reality and attempt to keep honest and aware those that might overlook different problems in far away lands. Or in Washington DC, it now seems.

HanoiHilton.jpg

The Hoa Loa Prison (Vietnamese: Hỏa Lò, meaning “fiery furnace”), later known to American prisoners of war as the Hanoi Hilton.
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On the State Department at War
By Mike Benge

Like me, those who choose government service — be they military or civilian — swore an Oath of Service:

“I (person taking oath says own name) do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic. That I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same. That I take this obligation freely and without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion. That I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me, God.”

Although sworn to this Oath of Service, some Foreign Service Officers join not really to serve their country but to be elitists and enjoy the perks of cushy government employment: job security, good retirement package, travel to exotic foreign countries, free housing, generous leave packages, and access to good life and other accompanying bennies – never dreaming that they may someday be called to really serve their country in dangerous situations.

And now when these people have been called to live up to their oath of office, last week at the State Department, officials began crying, “I didn’t sign up for this!” (See: Envoys Resist Forced Iraq Duty, Washington Post, 11/1/07)

Sorry folks, but you did, and it wasn’t even in fine print at the bottom of your Oath that by the way is a binding contract.

After first serving in the Marine Corps, I went to Vietnam with the International Voluntary Services, then joined what is now the U.S. Agency for International Development serving as a foreign service officer doing what is now termed “nation building.”

In 1968, I was captured by the North Vietnamese and was held hostage for over five years. After my release in 1973, I again returned to Vietnam as a volunteer and continued going in an out until the communist takeover in 1975.

My government service spanned 44 ½ years.

We had many fine foreign service officers who served in Vietnam, quite a few from the State Department who served in various capacities including in danger zones out in the provinces.

The closest thing to a “green zone” perhaps was service in Saigon — which was sometimes dangerous.

Every one of these dedicated State Department officers in Vietnam did an excellent job, and many gave the ultimate sacrifice of their lives in service of their country — 27 State Department officials gave the final sacrifice for their countrymen, I believe. Many more from USAID and other government agencies lost their lives, and some like I, were taken prisoner.

None of them went on strike like the present breed of elitists at the State Department; none of them cried, “Not I!”

Related:

For a real hero’s story from the Hanoi Hilton go to:
Meet “Bud” Day; Read His Medal Of Honor Story

Other stories related to the Diplomatic Corps:

Diplomat Jack Croddy: You Don’t Want to Go To Iraq? Step Forward and Meet the Families of the Fallen and Those that Serve

Diplomats Who Refuse Assignments: “Hit The Road, You are Terminated with Prejudice and Without Pay”

The Abyss Between State and Defense

In Iraq: Reporters More Dedicated than the U.S. Foreign Service?

Diplomatic Infighting Hurts Terror War Effort

Rice Tells State Department Staff: You Took an Oath

A Diplomacy of neighborhoods

“Gaffe Machine” Karen Hughes Leaving State Department

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