John R. Clingerman, 73, a career Foreign Service officer who was U.S. ambassador to Lesotho from 1979 to 1981, died of cancer May 29 at his home in Locust Grove, Va.

Mr. Clingerman retired in 1987 after 30 years in the Foreign Service. He began his career as an economics consular officer in Nepal, followed by an assignment in the early 1960s in what is now Congo.

While living in the former Belgium colony of Congo, he helped in the execution and aftermath of a U.S.-Belgian military operation to rescue more than 1,600 American, European and other international hostages held by Congolese rebels for three months in the city of Stanleyville (now Kisangani).

For his role in the rescue, he received the State Department's Distinguished Honor Award for Heroism.

Mr. Clingerman had assignments in what are now Benin and Zambia and in Belgium before his ambassadorship to Lesotho. He then taught at the University of Redlands in California as part of a Foreign Service fellowship program and served three years as director of African affairs for the U.S. Information Agency before retiring in 1987.

Mr. Clingerman was born in Doniphan County, Kan., raised in Lansing, Mich., and graduated with bachelor's and master's degrees in history from Michigan State University. He also studied at the Sorbonne in Paris and the National War College.

He served in the Army in France and Germany from 1953 to 1955.

In retirement, Mr. Clingerman was a faculty member at Troy State University in Alabama. In that capacity, he taught graduate-level courses on international relations at U.S. Army and Air Force installations in Germany, Britain and the Azores.

He also served as a consultant to the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center at Fort Bragg, N.C.

His wife, Ruth Clingerman, died in 2000.

Survivors include three sisters and a brother.