Saturday, May 05, 2012

Foreign Affairs Day

May 4th this year was Foreign Affairs Day. Each Foreign Affairs Day, AFSA marks the day with the annual Memorial Plaque ceremony, where any new names of diplomats who have perished in the line of duty are added. People don't often realize how dangerous our work can be. They think about the military putting their lives on the line for the country but fail to realize that we do as well, only without guns to defend ourselves. In fact, more Ambassadors have died in the line of duty than have Generals and Admirals.

Here is what AFSA wrote about this ceremony this year. Below that, you will find a video of this year's ceremony. 

The first memorial plaque, now at the west end of the diplomatic lobby of the Department of State, was unveiled on March 3, 1933 by Secretary of State Henry Stimson at the entrance of what is now the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, standing next to the White House, which then housed the State, War and Navy Departments. The inscription on this plaque states: "Erected by members of the American Foreign Service Association in honor of diplomatic and consular officers of the United States who while on active duty lost their lives under heroic or tragic circumstances". The establishment of this plaque grew out of efforts in the late 20s and early 30s to establish a "Roll of Honor" naming those who had died by violence or other causes related to service abroad such as tropical diseases. The first name is that of William Palfrey, chosen by the Continental Congress as Consul General to France, who set sail in 1780 and was never heard from again. Travel by sea was dangerous and often fatal in the early years of our country, and tropical diseases also frequently struck down 19th century American representatives.

The first plaque was limited to Foreign Service officers, but after World War II the plaque became open to Foreign Service personnel of all ranks. The second plaque erected in 1972 at the east end of the lobby, during the Vietnam War, carried a new inscription "Erected by the American Foreign Service Association in honor of those Americans who have lost their lives abroad under heroic or other inspirational circumstances while serving the country abroad in foreign affairs." This phrase was interpreted to comprehend the distinctive dangers, including terrorist acts, of life and work in the Foreign Service. Disease was generally no longer considered after World War II, and terrorism became the chief cause for inscription. In 1982, eligibility was extended to include US Government employees of other agencies serving at embassies, including military personnel. However, in 2005, due to the sharp increase in the number of non-Foreign Service civilians serving abroad from agencies that have their own memorials to fallen employees, the AFSA Governing Board re-instituted the original plaque criterion. In one other change, the AFSA Governing Board in 2001 established an additional criterion of “in the line of duty” to cover Foreign Service members killed during the official performance of their duties even if not due to terrorist acts. The criteria were revised slightly again in 2011; please see the criteria by clicking the link to the right.
There are 108 names on the west plaque and 128 on the east plaque, for a total of 236, as of May 2012. These Americans died in 64 different foreign countries, as well as at sea. It must be emphasized that the names on these plaques represent only a part of the total number of Americans who die of various causes while serving their country overseas.

AFSA owns and maintains the plaques. The AFSA Awards and Plaques Committee considers proposals for additional names and makes recommendations to the AFSA Governing Board which selects the final names for inscription, based on the criteria established by the Governing Board. AFSA organizes unveiling ceremonies in cooperation with the Department of State when new names are added. At the 2012 ceremony, we added one new name: That of Sharon S. Clark, a first-tour Foreign Service Office Management Specialist who died of cerebral malaria in Abuja, Nigeria in December 2010.
The next ceremony will be held on the next Foreign Affairs Day, which is May 3, 2013.

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