Manuscripts/Mixed Material Interview with John H. Holdridge
So a year went by, and I proceeded with my regular duties. And then two or three months before I was due to leave Korea, a letter floated in from the board of examiners of the Foreign Service that said, please be present for your oral examinations three weeks from now in Washington, DC. And, holy smokes, how could I get back there in three weeks, there was no way. I had heard nothing about even passing the darn exam. I assumed I had passed because I wouldn't have been up to the board of examiners otherwise. I wrote them a letter saying I would be back at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, and that I was being transferred in early 1948. I asked would it be possible to defer my appearance in front of the board of examiners until I was back in Fort Belvoir. They came back and said yes. So in November of 1947, I got on a US Army transport and sailed off back across the Pacific to California, picked up a car I had bought from another officer in Korea, and drove across the country. A friend was with me, and I picked up his wife, too, from Houston, Texas. And then we kept on going and came to Fort Belvoir to which we were both assigned. Eventually in January 1948 I went down to the board of examiners, in a temporary building in the vicinity of where the State Department is now located, sat before them, and to my utter astonishment, I passed.
Q: What sort of questions did they ask?
HOLDRIDGE: Well, when they questioned and looked at me I was in full uniform. Here was this group of people who were rather formidable—old Joe Green, who was the chairman of the board of examiners, with all due respect sir, he looked a lot like you.
Q: I had Cromwell Richards in my day.
HOLDRIDGE: They looked at me in uniform, and then Joe Greenasked me, he said, tell me all about the Battle of Gettysburg, why it actually took place, the events that led up to it, everything you know about the Battle of Gettysburg except don't go into the battle itself. So I had to explain Lee's philosophy of trying to carry the war to the North, trying to gain European attention, and possibly inflict a decisive defeat on the Union army. And that pleased them. Then they gave me a piece of French to translate, and I translated that satisfactorily enough. And they just sort of ran it to see how I would bear up, I guess, under pressure. The main thing. I passed, “with distinction,” which meant my security clearances were rushed through. I left the army in March 1948, Fort Belvoir, and I was in the Foreign Service by mid-May.
Q: Tell me, while all this was going on were you able to run across any Foreign Service people to find out what this peculiar profession was about?