Vernon A. Walters
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Vernon A. Walters (January 3, 1917 – February 10, 2002) was a United States Army officer and a diplomat. Most notably, he served from 1972 to 1976 as Deputy Director of Central Intelligence, from 1985 to 1989 as the United States Ambassador to the United Nations and from 1989 to 1991 as Ambassador to the Federal Republic of Germany during the decisive phase of German Reunification. Walters rose to the rank of lieutenant general in the U.S. Army and is a member of the Military Intelligence Hall of Fame.
Walters was born in New York City. His father was a British immigrant and insurance salesman. From age 6, Walters lived in Britain and France with his family. His formal education beyond elementary school consisted entirely of boarding school instruction at Stonyhurst College, a 400-year-old Jesuit school in Lancashire, England. He did not attend a university. At the age of sixteen, he left school and returned to the United States, to work for his father as an insurance claims adjuster and investigator.
In later years, he seemed to enjoy reflecting on the fact that he had risen high and accomplished much despite a near-total lack of formal academic training.
He was fluent in French, Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese as well as his native English. He also spoke German fluently but, as he joked, inaccurately, and knew the basics of several other languages. His simultaneous translation of a speech by United States President Richard Nixon in France prompted French President Charles de Gaulle to say to Nixon, "You gave a magnificent speech, but your interpreter was eloquent."
1940s and 50s
Walters joined the Army in 1941 and was soon commissioned. He served in Africa and Italy during World War II. He served as a link between the commands of Brazilian Expeditionary Force and U.S. Fifth Army, earning medals for distinguished military and intelligence achievements.
He served as an aide and interpreter for several Presidents. He was at President Harry S. Truman's side as an interpreter in key meetings with America's Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking Latin American allies. His language skills helped him win Truman's confidence, and he accompanied the President to the Pacific in the early 1950s, serving as a key aide in Truman's unsuccessful effort to reach a reconciliation with an insubordinate General Douglas MacArthur, the Commander of United Nations forces in Korea.
In Europe in the 1950s, Walters served President Dwight Eisenhower and other top US officials as a translator and aide at a series of NATO summit conferences. During this period he participated in the famous visit of Eisenhower to General Franco. He also worked in Paris at Marshall Plan headquarters and helped set up the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers in Europe. He was with then-Vice President Richard Nixon in 1958 when an anti-American crowd stoned their car in Caracas, Venezuela. Walters suffered facial cuts from flying glass. The Vice President avoided injury.
In the 1960s, Walters served as a U.S. military attaché in France, Italy, and Brazil. In 1961, he proposed an American military intervention in Italy if the Socialist Party had participated in the Government.
While serving as a military attaché in Paris from 1967 to 1972, Walters played a role in secret peace talks with North Vietnam. He arranged to smuggle National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger into France for secret meetings with a senior North Vietnamese official, and then smuggle him out again. He accomplished this by borrowing a private airplane from an old friend, French President Georges Pompidou.
President Richard Nixon appointed Walters as Deputy Director for Central Intelligence (DDCI) in 1972. (Walters also served as Acting DCI for two months in mid-1973.) During his four years as DDCI, he worked closely with four successive Directors as the Agency—and the nation—confronted such major international developments as the 1973 Arab-Israeli war, the subsequent oil crisis, the turbulent end of the Vietnam War, and the Chilean military coup against the Allende government and the Letelier assassination. According to a close colleague, Walters also "averted a looming catastrophe" for the CIA in connection with the Watergate scandal:
Despite numerous importunings from on high, [Walters] flatly refused to...cast a cloak of national security over the guilty parties. At the critical moment, he... refused to involve the Agency, and bluntly informed the highest levels of the executive [branch] that further insistence from that quarter would result in his immediate resignation.
Walters himself reflected on those challenging days in his 1978 autobiography, Silent Missions:
I told [President Nixon's White House counsel] that on the day I went to work at the CIA I had hung on the wall of my office a color photograph showing the view through the window of my home in Florida…When people asked me what it was, I told them [this] was what was waiting [for me] if anyone squeezed me too hard.
Beginning in 1981, Walters served under Ronald Reagan as roving ambassador. Reagan used prominent Catholics in his government such as Walters to brief the pope during the Cold War. Walters was then United States Ambassador to the United Nations from 1985 to 1989 and ambassador to the Federal Republic of Germany from 1989 to 1991. Here he was responsible on behalf of the United States for the preparations of the Treaty on the Final Settlement with Respect to Germany.
Retirement and death
During the 1990s, after he had retired from public life, Walters worked as a business consultant and was active on the lecture circuit. On November 18, 1991, he was presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George H. W. Bush. He wrote another book, The Mighty and the Meek (published in 2001), which profiled famous people with whom he had worked during his life.
On February 9, the day before his death he gave an interview (in French language) for the mockumentary Dark Side of the Moon (original title: Opération Lune) by William Karel. This mockumentary suggests that the New York Herald Tribune's article on his death included the following paragraph:
General Walters' last known public appearance was on a French Television documentary in which he talked about the White House's involvement with the Apollo program in the late 1960s. Both the producer and director noted that Walters was in perfect shape. [February 15, 2002]
However, the web version of the article at the New York Times website uses a different paragraph:
'He was great as our James Bond, getting us in and out secretly, even giving us code names,' said Winston Lord, former president of the Council on Foreign Relations, who accompanied Mr. Kissinger to the secret talks with the Vietnamese.
In popular culture
- Henry R. Appelbaum: Vernon Walters—Renaissance Man In Memoriam, Central Intelligence Agency, April 14, 2007
- CONTENTdm Collection: Item Viewer
- Guido Crainz, Autobiografia di una Repubblica. Le radici dell'Italia attuale (Donzelli, 2009), p. 54
- Bono, Agostino (November 17, 2004), Officials say pope, Reagan shared Cold War data, but lacked alliance, Catholic News Service, archived from the original on January 18, 2013
- Kelley, Tina (February 15, 2002), "Vernon Walters, Ex-Envoy And Deputy C.I.A. Chief, 85", The New York Times
- A tribute by Henry R. Appelbaum (This work is in the public domain)
- Book : Silent Missions - Autobiography Publisher - Doubleday 1978; ISBN 978-0385135009
- George Bush Presidential Library and Museum
- Finding aid for the Vernon A. Walters Oral History, Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library
- Alan Goodman discuses the role of the United States at the UN and the UN's contributions to American foreign policy with Vernon Walters On American Interests,1987
- New York Times obituary
- Interview on Central American Crisis of 1984 from the Dean Peter Krogh Foreign Affairs Digital Archives
- Appearances on C-SPAN
Robert E. Cushman Jr.
| Deputy Director of Central Intelligence
E. Henry Knoche
James R. Schlesinger
| Director of Central Intelligence
| United States Ambassador to the United Nations
Thomas R. Pickering
| United States Ambassador to West Germany
as United States Ambassador to Germany
as United States Ambassador to East Germany
| United States Ambassador to Germany
Robert M. Kimmitt
as United States Ambassador to West Germany