Today’s post was written by David Langbart, archivist in Research Services at the National Archives at College Park, MD.
Lawrence S. Eagleburger was a career Foreign Service Officer who rose in the ranks to become Secretary of State, albeit for only a couple of months. In his career, he held the following senior positions in the Department of State:
- Deputy Under Secretary of State for Management (1975–1977)
- Ambassador to Yugoslavia (1977–1981)
- Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs (1981–1982)
- Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs (1982–1984)
- Deputy Secretary of State (1989–1992)
- Secretary of State ad interim (1992)
- Secretary of State (1992–1993)
He also served in the National Security Council, as Executive Assistant to Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, and as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense (1971-1973).
Eagleburger was a large and gruff man. But he also had a humorous side. The following are three telegrams drafted by Eagleburger demonstrating that side of his personality.
At the end of May 1974, Eagleburger, then Executive Assistant to Secretary of State Kissinger, sent the following telegram to the American party returning from negotiating the Syrian-Israeli disengagement agreement. They had just spent an exhausting month shuttling around the Middle East working on disengagement agreements after the October 1973 war between Israel and its neighbors. Kissinger travelled over 24 thousand miles on forty-one flights.
While the details are not clear, this second example is related to a move that Eagleburger and his wife Marlene were handling for Secretary of State Kissinger. At the time, Kissinger was travelling with President Nixon in the USSR.
The final example relates to a speech Eagleburger was writing for Secretary of State Kissinger to deliver at the annual Al Smith Dinner (the Alfred E. Smith Memorial Dinner) for 1974. As the Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation notes about that event, “distinguished guests and luminous dignitaries have stepped from the world stage to honor and entertain dinner audiences with their light humor and political savvy to benefit the children of New York.” The foundation was founded in 1946, to honor the memory of Alfred E. Smith, former multi-term governor of New York and unsuccessful Democratic candidate for President in 1928, at which time he was the first person of the Roman Catholic faith nominated for President by a major political party. The dinner, which takes place in late October every year, supports the work of the Foundation by raising funds for Catholic charities that support children of various needs in the Archdiocese of New York.
As Eagleburger was working on the draft, he sent one version along with the comment “You will note the absence of jokes; frankly I find it difficult to write a serious speech and worry about jokes at the same time. I will try to have some suggested humor for you within a day or so.” Two days later, Eagleburger sent the following telegram:
The files contain no further messages regarding the jokes. Kissinger delivered his speech on October 16, 1974, at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel.
 Department of State to White House for transmission to SAM 86970 (Kissinger’s airplane), May 30, 2974, 1974STATE1132021, Central Foreign Policy Files, 1973-79/Electronic Telegrams, RG 59: General Records of the Department of State. This and the following telegrams are electionic records available in the Access to Archival Databases (AAD) system.
Department of State to the U.S. Delegation at Oreanda, “For the Secretary from Eagleburger,” June 29, 1974, 1974STATE141481, Central Foreign Policy Files, 1973-79/Electronic Telegrams, RG 59: General Records of the Department of State. President Nixon travelled to the USSR from June 27 to July 3, 1974. While there, he and Kissinger met with General Secretary Brezhnev, President Podgorny, and Premier Kosygin. On the afternoon of June 29, Nixon and Brezhnev travelled from Moscow to Oreanda, where Brezhnev had a beach house.
Department of State to Embassy Cairo, “For the Secretary from Eagleburger,” October 10, 1974, 1974STATE223392, Central Foreign Policy Files, 1973-79/Electronic Telegrams, RG 59: General Records of the Department of State.
Department of State to Consulate Jerusalem, “For the Secretary from Eagleburger,” October 12, 1974, 1974STATE226046, Central Foreign Policy Files, 1973-79/Electronic Telegrams, RG 59: General Records of the Department of State.