Please be seated. Good morning, everyone. My name is John Naland. As president of American Foreign Service Association, it’s my deep privilege to join my colleagues from across the Foreign Service and the foreign affairs community to pay tribute to those who have lost their lives in the line of duty while serving overseas.
I am honored to welcome this morning our Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Acting USAID Administrator Alonzo Fulgham, Foreign Agricultural Service Administrator Michael Michener, Director General of the Foreign Service and Director of Human Resources Ambassador Harry Thomas, and most importantly, the families and colleagues of our honorees.
The AFSA Memorial Plaques on either sides of this lobby are a testament to the dedication of the men and women who courageously advance America’s interests abroad and promote the grand and enduring ideals that gave our nation birth. These plaques remind of the profound sacrifice made by these individuals and their families.
The AFSA Memorial Plaque, in front of which I stand, was first unveiled on March 3, 1933, by Secretary of State Henry L. Stimson at the entrance of what is now the Eisenhower Executive Office Building next to the White House. When first unveiled, this plaque inscribed 65 names, representing over 150 years of history. Since then, in just over half that length of time, an additional 166 names have been inscribed.
Today’s ceremony marks the inscription of four additional names, bringing the total on the two plaques to 231, representing deaths in over 70 different countries. The individuals whom we honor today were separated by many miles; three died years ago and are being honored now in AFSA’s ongoing effort to recognize those who were previously overlooked. Yet despite the differences in time, location, and circumstance, each of these individuals volunteered to serve their country just as their colleagues do today in dangerous postings around the globe.
Brian Daniel Adkins joined the Foreign Service in 2007. He was tragically killed this past January in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where he was serving as a first tour Foreign Service Officer. The members of his family here with us today, as well as his many friends and colleagues who are also present, are a testament to the impact that he had on everyone whose lives he touched.
Felix Russell Engdahl joined the Foreign Service in 1930. After serving as Vice Consul in Port-au-Prince and Kolkata, he was transferred to Shanghai. He traveled to Hong Kong on courier duty and was there on December 7, 1941. He and several other Foreign Service members were captured by the Japanese when Hong Kong fell. He died in May 1942 from an accidental fall while in an internment camp.
Thomas W. Waldron was appointed as the first U.S. Consul to Hong Kong in 1843. He traveled to Macau on an official visit in September 1844, where he died of cholera.
Edmund Roberts was appointed as Special Diplomatic Agent in 1832 by President Andrew Jackson, who tasked him to negotiate commercial treaties with Muscat, Siam, Cochin China and Japan. While in Siam, Mr. Roberts contracted dysentery and died in Macau on his way to Japan.
AFSA is grateful to Jason Vorderstrasse, former Consular Officer in Hong Kong, who is here with us today, for doing the research and sending AFSA the information on the three older cases so that we might honor their sacrifices today.
To the families and friends gathered here, I express my deepest gratitude for the contributions that your loved ones made to our nation, and for the sacrifices that they and you have made. They have left a legacy of dedication that will serve as an inspiration to future generations who pass through these halls.
Speaking of family members, in 2000, AFSA established in cooperation with the Associates of the American Foreign Service Worldwide a plaque recognizing Foreign Service family members who have died abroad. Every year on Foreign Affairs Day, a wreath is also placed at that plaque, located on the other side of this lobby, to recognize the sacrifices made by family members who accompanied their spouse or parent overseas. We proudly honor those individuals’ memories today.
I now ask you to please stand as the United States Armed Forces Color Guard presents the colors, then please remain standing to join me in saying the Pledge of Allegiance.
(The colors were presented.)MR. NALAND:
Please join in saying the Pledge of Allegiance.
(Pledge of Allegiance.)MR. NALAND:
Please be seated.
It is now my honor to turn over the podium to our Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who will read a message from the President and offer remarks.SECRETARY CLINTON:
Thank you very much, John. Let me thank all of you for being here, and particularly members of the Adkins family. This cannot be easy, and we understand that. But we want you to know that we are deeply touched by your son’s loss, your brother’s loss, your grandson’s loss, your nephew’s loss.
I’d like to start by reading a message from President Obama:
“I send my warmest greetings to those gathered at the Department of State, as well as those serving around the globe, as we celebrate Foreign Affairs Day 2009. Throughout your years of service, you have worked to build a better, more democratic, secure, and prosperous world for the American people and the international community. Your dedication and commitment to advancing our national interests, often at the risk of your own safety, are to be commended. You make a difference in the lives of Americans and the lives of citizens of host countries. Your nation thanks you for you service.
Foreign Affairs Day is also a somber commemoration of those who have made the ultimate sacrifice in the line of duty. This year brought the untimely death of Brian Adkins, a 25-year-old Foreign Service Officer in his first tour of duty in the consular section of the American Embassy in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Brian’s passing reminds us the danger is not solely contained within war zones. And his memory will live on in the hearts of his family, colleagues, and friends.
Today, we also pay tribute for those who have not previously been recognized for their service, as John described. The etching of these names onto the Memorial Plaque is both a celebration of their lives and a remembrance of their service.
Today, as we recognized everyone here and those serving at posts abroad, we honor these four diplomats and pause to reflect on others who have given their lives in service to their country. I join Secretary Clinton in saluting them and in applauding all members of our diplomatic service.”
As we look at the plaque, you see names here gracing this lobby of fallen officers. It reminds us of the gravity of the work that we do here, and the courage and dedication that the mission of the Foreign Service requires. And it’s only fitting that we honor that courage and dedication by conducting our foreign policy with the highest levels of integrity.
Three of these inscriptions are many years overdue. One is being added all too soon.
Brian Adkins was a smart, talented, and generous young man – everything that his country looks for in a Foreign Service Officer. Wherever he went, he made an impression and he made a difference. As an undergraduate at George Washington University, he was a leader in Catholic service groups on campus. He was so industrious that when he left for Ethiopia, one of his friends said, “It took three of us just to fill his shoes.
When he arrived in Addis Ababa, he distinguished himself in a short time as a remarkable junior officer. His supervisor, Paul Cantrell, who is here today, nominated Brian for a Superior Honor Award, just seven months after he arrived. As Paul wrote, “Brian demonstrated an exceptional work ethic and impressive intellectual skills, while at the same time treating each individual with compassion and dignity.”
Brian immersed himself in the culture and language of his host country. His friend and fellow officer, Chuka Asike, said that their Ethiopian colleagues called Brian an honorary “Habesha,” or Ethiopian, because of his gift for speaking Amharic and his understanding of local culture. Chuka’s father, Joseph Asike, is here today.
Brian Adkins died at age 25 while serving in Ethiopia. His loss was felt in embassies and missions around the world, where his friends and fellow service officers are serving now. The Superior Honor Award was granted to him posthumously. The impact of his short career lives on in the work of his colleagues and of our Embassy in Addis Ababa, and in the work that all of us do throughout the Department.
On behalf of the Department of State, on behalf of President Obama, on behalf of our country, let me say to the members of Brian’s family who are here today, his parents and grandparents, his brother and sister and brother-in-law and his aunts, how deeply sorry we are for your loss. The presence of so many family and friends and colleagues of Brian’s is a testament to the effect this young man had on everyone who knew him. Please know how grateful we are for his selflessness and his service to our nation.
We also commemorate three men who died long ago: Felix Russel Engdahl, U.S. Consul in Shanghai, who died in 1942 in a Japanese internment camp; Thomas Waldron, first U.S. Consul in Hong Kong, who died of cholera; Edmund Roberts, a special envoy sent by President Andrew Jackson to negotiate a treaty with Japan, who died of dysentery.
These officers remind us that it’s not only our men and women in uniform who put their lives on the line for their nation overseas. The men and women of the State Department do as well. Today and every day, we will remember them and their service. As we walk by these names and dates, we will salute them and express our gratitude. They joined the Foreign Service because they wanted to make our nation and our world stronger and better. And I am so grateful for their service, and I am so grateful that our nation has young people like Brian Adkins.
Thank you, and God bless you.
(The wreath was placed.)MR. NALAND:
I’ll ask you to please stand again as the United States Armed Forces Color Guard retires the colors.
(The Colors were retired.)MR. NALAND:
This concludes the AFSA Memorial Plaque Ceremony. Thank you for honoring us with your presence. Thank you, ma’am.
Keynote Address and Town Hall Meeting At Plenary Session of Foreign Affairs Day