Lawrence S. Eagleburger, the career diplomat and onetime secretary of state who died earlier this month, was honored at a memorial service in Virginia on Tuesday.
Among the participants was Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who regaled the audience with an anecdote so good it’s worth retelling.
The anecdote was actually first told by Eagleburger himself during an event last month to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the State Department’s Operations Center. Here’s how Clinton told it:
One of his earliest jobs in the Foreign Service was with INR, the intelligence bureau, and his beat was Cuba. One morning in 1961, he came to work early and discovered that something big had happened in Cuba overnight, what we now know was the start of the Bay of Pigs invasion. And Larry thought it was his job to try to report on what was happening insofar as he could figure it out.
So he collected up all the facts available and he wrote up his analysis. Someone, he wrote, was trying to overthrow the Castro government and they were going to fail.
A few hours later, he discovered who was supporting the invasion —senior officials of the United States Government — and he discovered how they felt about his analysis. He was summoned to the White House, and for several hours he was chewed out by one big shot after another.
Now, Larry was, in his own words, a junior, junior, junior officer, and plenty of people in those circumstances would have softened or moderated or even reversed their position, but not Larry. He just kept explaining his point of view repeatedly, never backing down. And eventually he was issued a warning never to cross paths with the Kennedy Administration again. And he was sent back to the State Department bloody, but unbowed.
Clinton closed the anecdote by pointing out that “that was Larry then, and that was Larry a month ago at the State Department.”
He was, she said, “unimpressed by all of the pomp and circumstance, unafraid to put forth an unpopular opinion if he was convinced he was right. And often, as with the Bay of Pigs and on many other occasions, he was right.”
An earlier version of this post provided an incorrect name for the military installation where the memorial service was held. The State Department said the service took place at Fort Myer. The installation is now known as Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall.