Ellsworth Bunker

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Ellsworth Bunker
Bunker in 1965
United States Ambassador to South Vietnam
In office
April 5, 1967 – May 11, 1973
PresidentLyndon Johnson
Richard Nixon
Preceded byHenry Cabot Lodge Jr.
Succeeded byGraham Martin
United States Ambassador to the Organization of American States
In office
January 29, 1964 – November 7, 1966
PresidentLyndon B. Johnson
Preceded bydeLesseps Story Morrison
Succeeded bySol Linowitz
United States Ambassador to India
In office
November 28, 1956 – March 23, 1961
PresidentDwight D. Eisenhower
John F. Kennedy
Preceded byJohn Sherman Cooper
Succeeded byJohn Kenneth Galbraith
United States Ambassador to Italy
In office
May 7, 1952 – April 3, 1953
PresidentHarry S. Truman
Dwight D. Eisenhower
Preceded byJames Clement Dunn
Succeeded byClare Boothe Luce
United States Ambassador to Argentina
In office
March 13, 1951 – March 12, 1952
PresidentHarry S. Truman
Preceded byStanton Griffis
Succeeded byAlbert F. Nufer
Personal details
Born(1894-05-11)May 11, 1894
Yonkers, New York, U.S.
DiedSeptember 27, 1984(1984-09-27) (aged 90)
Brattleboro, Vermont, U.S.
Harriet Allen Butler
(m. 1920; died 1964)

(m. 1967)
Alma materYale University
ProfessionBusinessman and diplomat
Awards Presidential Medal of Freedom with Distinction (1963, 1967)
President's Award for Distinguished Federal Civilian Service (1979)

Ellsworth F. Bunker (May 11, 1894[1] – September 27, 1984)[2] was an American businessman and diplomat (including being the ambassador to Argentina, Italy, India, Nepal and South Vietnam). He is perhaps best known for being a hawk on the war in Vietnam and Southeast Asia during the 1960s and 1970s. As of June 2021, Bunker is one of only two people to have been awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom twice, and the only person to receive both awards With Distinction.

Early life and education[edit]

Born in Yonkers, New York, he was the eldest of three children of George Raymond Bunker and Jeanie Polhemus (née Cobb), whose family descended from prominent early Dutch settlers including the Evertson family (of the Great Nine Partners) and the Schuyler family. His great-grandmother Eliza Brodhead Polhemus née Heyer was a niece of Stephen Whitney, reputedly the wealthiest American of his time after John Jacob Astor, while her first cousin Charles Suydam was the brother-in-law of Astor's grandson William Backhouse Astor Jr. and his wife Caroline Schermerhorn Astor.[1][3][4]

Bunker's father was one of the founders and chairman of the board of National Sugar Refining Company. His younger brother, Arthur Hugh Bunker (July 29, 1895 – May 19, 1964), was also a noted businessman, chairman of the executive committee of the War Production Board (1941–1945) during World War II, and president and then board chairman of American Metal Climax (AMAX). He was married to actress and writer Isabel Leighton.[3][5] His first cousin Dorothy Penrose Cobb was married to historian Frederick Lewis Allen.[citation needed]

Ellsworth Bunker studied to be a lawyer, and graduated from Yale University with the class of 1916.[1] During World War II he served as chairman of the War Production Board's cane sugar advisory committee.[6]


Ellsworth Bunker with Indonesian President Sukarno at Merdeka Palace during a visit to Jakarta, Indonesia March 1965.
Ellsworth Bunker with President Lyndon B. Johnson and Secretary of Defense Clark Clifford at Camp David, Maryland April 1968.

Bunker first worked in his father's company, National Sugar Refining Company,[1] eventually becoming the company's president, succeeding Horace Havemeyer Sr., in 1942. He retired as an active executive in 1951 and purchased a 600-acre dairy farm in Putney, Vermont.[7] He remained a member of the board of National Sugar until 1966.[8]

He then moved to government during the Harry S. Truman administration, when Truman appointed him ambassador to Argentina in April 1951.[9] Next he was ambassador to Italy in February 1952.[10] From November 1953 until November 1956 he was president of the American Red Cross.[11][12] In November 1956 he was appointed ambassador to India and Nepal by Dwight D. Eisenhower,[13][14][15] and sworn in December 1956,[16] where he played a crucial role in the covert alliance between the two powers against China. He was replaced by John Kenneth Galbraith in 1961. During 1962 he acted as U.S. mediator in the New York Agreement over Western New Guinea.

After a period back in Washington, D.C., he was made U.S. ambassador to the Organization of American States, 1964–1966. President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed him U.S. ambassador to South Vietnam, 1967–1973.[17] Once in Saigon, he strongly supported the war efforts of Presidents Johnson and Richard Nixon, and applauded US incursions into Laos and Cambodia.[18] Following the conclusion of the Vietnam War, Bunker headed the US team involved in the drawing up of the 1977 Torrijos-Carter Treaties.

He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom with Distinction twice—the first time by John F. Kennedy in 1963 (though the ceremony took place during Lyndon B Johnson's term) and the second time by Lyndon B. Johnson in 1967. He is one of only two persons (the other being Colin Powell) who received the award twice, and the only person to receive it both times with distinction.

Personal life[edit]

Bunker married a neighbor, Harriet Allen Butler, daughter of Ellen Mudge and George Prentiss Butler, in Yonkers, New York on April 24, 1920.[19] Harriet had made friends with Bunkers' sister Katherine when the two girls attended Miss Porter's School in Farmington, Connecticut.[20] They had three children, John Birkbeck, Samuel Emmet, and Ellen Mudge.[21] She died in 1964.[22]

On January 3, 1967 he married fellow ambassador Caroline Clendening "Carol" Laise in Katmandu, Nepal.[23][24] She died in 1991. Ambassador Laise was a friend of the first Mrs. Bunker.[25]

Bunker died on his dairy farm in Putney, Vermont.[26] The funeral was attended by his good friend and neighbor former senator George Aiken and former president Richard M. Nixon. Aiken died two months later.[27]

His middle child, John Birkbeck Bunker (March 8, 1926 – May 26, 2005), a first lieutenant in World War II, died of cancer at his home in Wheatland, Wyoming at age 79.[28][29][30]

In popular culture[edit]

  • In a 1977 Doonesbury cartoon, one of the supposed terms of the Torrijos–Carter Treaties was that "We get to keep Ellsworth Bunker."
  • In a 1978 Doonesbury cartoon, a New York tailor fitting Phred with a very old-fashioned suit says "Ellsworth Bunker used to get everything from me".
  • Bunker is mentioned in Allen Ginsberg's poem "September on Jessore Road", which includes the line "Where is Ambassador Bunker today? Are his Helios machine gunning children at play?"[31]


  1. ^ a b c d Nolan, Cathal J. (1997). Notable U.S. Ambassadors Since 1775: A Biographical Dictionary. Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 48. ISBN 978-0-313-29195-1.
  2. ^ "Ellsworth Bunker Is Buried Near His Home in Vermont". The New York Times. October 4, 1984. Retrieved 2007-05-29.
  3. ^ a b Roberts, Harry Jr.; and Nelson Sutro Greensfelder (1949). The Explosives Engineer: Volumes 27-29. Hercules Powder Co. p. 4.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  4. ^ Institute for Research in Biography (1957). Who's Who in Commerce and Industry, Volume 10. New York, N.Y.: Marquis Who's Who. p. 167.
  5. ^ "Arthur H. Bunker Dead at 68". The New York Times. May 20, 1964.
  6. ^ "WPB Official Testifies Sugar Imports Are Cut 50 Per Cent". Chicago Tribune. March 24, 1942.
  7. ^ "Determined Diplomat". The New York Times. August 1, 1962.
  8. ^ International Publications Service (1983). International Who's Who, 1983-84: Volume 47. Europa Publications. p. 192. ISBN 978-0-905118-86-4.
  9. ^ "Ambassador Bunker Sails". The New York Times. April 6, 1951.
  10. ^ "Two Ambassadors Named By Truman". The New York Times. February 22, 1952.
  11. ^ "New President Is Named By American Red Cross". The New York Times. November 17, 1953.
  12. ^ "Gruenther Named Head Of Red Cross". Eugene Register-Guard. November 13, 1956.
  13. ^ "U.S. Ambassadors to India - U.S. Embassy New Delhi, India". Archived from the original on 2007-05-28. Retrieved 2007-05-29.
  14. ^ "Nehru Backs Links to Commonwealth". The New York Times. December 8, 1956.
  15. ^ "A New Envoy to India". The New York Times. November 17, 1956.
  16. ^ "A New Ambassador". The Baltimore Sun. December 8, 1956.
  17. ^ Gillette, Michael L. (December 9, 1980). "Transcript, Ellsworth Bunker Oral History Interview I, 12/9/80" (PDF). LBJ Library. Archived from the original (PDF) on July 14, 2007. Retrieved 2007-05-29.
  18. ^ Sorley, Lewis (1999). A Better War: The Unexamined Victories and Final Tragedy of America's Last Years in Vietnam. Harcourt. pp. 265–266. ISBN 978-0-15-100266-5.
  19. ^ "Marriage Announcement: Bunker-Butler" (PDF). The New York Times. April 26, 1920. Retrieved 2008-07-03.
  20. ^ Schaffer, Howard B. (2003). Ellsworth Bunker: Global Troubleshooter, Vietnam Hawk. University of North Carolina Press. pp. 16. ISBN 978-0-8078-2825-0.
  21. ^ Schaffer. p.16.
  22. ^ "New Envoy to Saigon; Ellsworth Bunker" (fee). The New York Times. March 16, 1967. Retrieved 2008-07-03.
  23. ^ "In Brief". Lewiston Evening Journal. Associated Press. January 4, 1967.
  24. ^ "U.S. Ambassadors Wed in Nepal; Carol C. Laise, Envoy in Katmandu, and Bunker Married: Two U.S. Envoys Are Wed In Nepal" (fee). The New York Times. January 4, 1967. Retrieved 2008-07-02.
  25. ^ Cook, Joan (July 26, 1991). "Carol Laise, 73, Ex-Ambassador and High State Dept. Aide, Dies". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-07-03.
  26. ^ "Ellsworth Bunker, Longtime Diplomat". Chicago Tribune. September 28, 1984.
  27. ^ "George Aiken, Former Senator Dies". Record-Journal. United Press International. November 20, 1984.
  28. ^ "Obituaries", Brattleboro Reformer, June 4, 2005
  29. ^ "Death Notice", The Philadelphia Inquirer, June 5, 2005
  30. ^ Culver, Virginia (June 7, 2005), "A Colorado Life: Sugar exec let others get in on his sweet life", The Denver Post, p. C-13
  31. ^ "Books: On Jessore Road by Allen Ginsberg". The New York Times. December 17, 1971. Retrieved 2017-04-30.

External links[edit]

Diplomatic posts
Preceded by United States Ambassador to Argentina
1951 – 1952
Succeeded by
Preceded by U. S. Ambassador to Italy
Succeeded by
Preceded by U.S. Ambassador to India
Succeeded by
Preceded by U.S. Ambassador to South Vietnam
Succeeded by
Awards and achievements
Preceded by Sylvanus Thayer Award recipient
Succeeded by