Stories flood back like that waterfall flowing into Hank Byroade's swimming pool at an American embassy residence in Manila, a view best appreciated form a patio chair during sunset. "One night the waterfall wasn't working," remembered Marshall Green, who has served with the Foreign Service his whole life. "I told Hank, 'Oh, we'll rough it.'"
They sat at a State Department lunch in a wood-paneled room yesterday -- former ambassador Green and several other Foreign Service officers telling war stories, laughing like all veterans remembering the exotic and the comic, the dangerous and the difficult.
Stories of evacuations bring back pictures of Foreign Service Officer Terry McNamara in the Congo, huddled asleep with two missionaries waiting to leave that African nation during the worst of the violence there in the '60s. McNamara awoke the next morning to find the missionaries gone and a note from them pinned to his jacket. "We decided it was best to leave in the middle of the night. . . ."
They drank up these stories as enthusiastically as they dug into their late lunch -- remembrances occasioned by the 200th birthday -- today -- of the Department of State. It was created as the Department of Foreign Affairs in 1781. One 95-year-old man (the oldest State Department alum) had served in Europe, Latin America, Africa, Asia. "I asked for La Paz once." Cornelius Engert told an audience during an open forum before lunch. "I wanted to go mountain-climbing in Bolivia.That's the only reason why I wanted to go. But I didn't tell State that. They kissed me on both cheeks and told me no one had ever asked to be go Latin America. They said I could go anytime a post was open in Boliva."
They reminisced over cable traffic (messages back and forth), evacuations, codes. The cables from the State Department went out in code . . .
"When I was in Tokyo before the war we had a brown code book and a gray code book," said former ambassador Green, a Japanese language officer. "The gray code had been around so long, everyone could read it. The Japanese knew it. Anytime we wanted to send them a message we put it in gray code." This earned guffaws around the table.
These days (for those who might be worried), cables go out in computerized codes that change every day. At the other end, the cables have to be put through another computer for decoding.
More life stories came from three Foreign Service officers who would later in the day receive the American Foreign Service Association's annual prizes -- the Christian Herter, William Rivkin and Averell Harriman awards.
The winners: Ray Caldwell (Rivkin), internal division head in the political section of the embassy in Spain when the country changed from dictatorship to democracy; Geraldeen Chester (Harriman), one of the negotiators of the Panama Canal Treaty; and Frank Crigler (Herter), deputy chief of mission in Bogota, when the ambassador, Diego Ascencio, was taken hostage by terrorists last February.
"Mr. Caldwell displayed an unusual degree of analytical ability, moral integrity and intellectual courage," read the program of his work in post-France Spain.
"Walk-on-water stuff," said Caldwell, 38, grinning. He now works in a special State Department program that has assigned him to the governor's office in Colorado.
His first assignment back in 1971, straight out of Foreign Service officer training, was Guadalajara, Mexico. "Some people really wanted to go to Europe. Others really wanted to go to Latin America. Two guys fought over Ouagadougou [the capital of Upper Volta in Africa]. They both really wanted to go there. Neither got to go. "I think the post was eliminated," said Caldwell.
Frank Crigler basically ran the embassy in Bogota, talking daily to Ascencio on one phone, calling from captivity, and the State Department on the other, calling from Washington.
"In one ear, I have State saying, 'ignore Ascencio, he's a passive prisoner,'" said Crigler over lunch, noting that no one knew what influence the captors were having on Ascencio. "Passive! Hardly! In the other ear, I have Ascencio calling telling me, 'try this, contact this person, talk to that person.'"
After Ascencio was released, Crigler continued to run the embassy for a brief while, but State picked a new ambassador. They didn't pick Crigler. "I tried to convince them they should," he said, smiling ruefully.
Crigler and Caldwell had met up with each other at an elevator in the State Department on their way to lunch. They chatted briefly.
"I didn't know you were in Guadalajara," Crigler said to Caldwell.
"I was the only man in my class who could drive to his first post," Caldwell cracked.
"It was my first overseas post too," said Crigler.
"Mine was New Orleans," quipped another Foreign Service officer overhearing this. It was the end of the budget year and they had to put us in the passport office."
In the evening, the State Department hosted an elegant party complete with Marine band. And what better way to celebrate than by having Vice President Mondale conjure the memories of some celebrated ambassadors . . .
For instance, who could forget that ambassador to Venezuela in the early 1800s? "After seven years he was let go," said Mondale as Secretary of State Edmund Muskie looked on. "No one had ever heard from him."
And then there was the 26-year-old appointed ambassador to Ecuador. In his first message back home, he suggested the United States annex Ecuador.
Well, very funny. As guest chuckled, Muskie had his turn. "Of course," he said, "You all know our famous vice presidents . . ." and proceeded to name half a dozen very unheard-of people. And maybe one day, Muskie noted Fritz Mondale would be among them.
Award recipients mingled with awards sponsors and friends in the Benjamin Franklin Room at the State Department. Richard Queen, former hostage in Iran, now working at the State Department, was introduced to Diego Ascencio, former hostage in Bogota. And the highest-ranking foreign ambassador to the United States showed up -- Soviet Ambassador Anatoliy Dobrynin.
Meanwhile, Muskie heartily worked the room. In remarks to guests, he had said, "I've reached the end of the trail for some purposes, but not all. You can't ignore me altogether."
Muskie said he will continue living in Washington. "I may practice law. I might make speeches. Anything useful."
Enid Long, the now remarried widow of Ambassador William Rivkin, initiated the award in his memory for "Foreign Service officers who showed qualities of creative dissent," she said. "We don't want troublemakers -- just someone who says, 'I have another idea about how to do something.' When my husband was an ambassador he would always come home saying, 'If one more Foreign Service officer says to me, "Yes, Mr. Ambassador" . . . I want them to say "No, Mr. Ambassador," sometimes.'"
Because none of the awards -- which carry a monetary prize -- was given out last year, the $3,000 was set aside as seed money to endow a scholarship fund for the children of the hostages in Iran.