Manuscripts/Mixed Material Interview with Robert E. Barbour
BARBOUR: It was ambivalence in reverse. They knew the Kennedy policy and were very worried about it, but the person was wildly popular. They liked this new President and his wife who spoke French, who knew France and things French. They were very popular, very popular. I think that applied to the government as well. He got on very well with de Gaulle when they came in May of 1961 on a real old-fashioned state visit. My place at that time was in the Quai d'Orsay, where they stayed; I didn't sleep there but I stayed there with them all day in to late night, every day they were there. I was the liaison between the party and the Quai d'Orsay or the security as far as the minutiae of the visit were concerned. It was wild and hectic and interesting. Kennedy and de Gaulle, I think, got along well. De Gaulle thought of him as an interesting young man; I think the chemistry was good. Their concerns were, of course, Europe; I don't recall whether they talked about Southeast Asia, they may have, but it certainly wasn't on the top of the agenda.
Q: Then you left Paris and went back to Vietnam? Reluctantly?
BARBOUR: Reluctantly and involuntarily, but I went. Anecdotally, after the Kennedy visit, General Gavin, who was then Ambassador, wanted to move me up to his office. But while that was in the process of developing I was summarily sent back to Vietnam, and I do mean summarily. One telegram—you are transferred, go. I don't think this sort of thing happens anymore. I didn't want to go, especially since between the Ambassador's front office and Vietnam there had emerged that fact that I was not to go to the Ambassador's office but would go back to be the French desk officer. Another reason we didn't want to go back to Vietnam; moreover we had two children by then and the war had started. So for these reasons we did not want to go back. My boss, the Political Counselor, made one telephone check and was told, “Yes, it's real,” so I saluted and reversed course and we went back to Vietnam in September of 1961.
Q: What were you doing there?