Manuscripts/Mixed Material Interview with Stephen T. Johnson
JOHNSON: You are right. We went out to Governor's Island, but we were staying at Seaman's Rest as well. That was a different trip that I went to Governor's Island. It was down in the Bowery kind of area. Yes, you are right.
Q: I don't think you'd do that today. You'd lose too many of your class probably.
JOHNSON: There weren't any minorities in the class. We had one fellow who in today's terms would be described as a Hispanic, but that was about it. When we got our assignments, I was assigned to the Department. Almost all classes have this deal where you pitch in money, a dollar, and whoever gets the worst assignment gets all the money. In our case it was a fellow assigned to Georgetown, Guyana, which, as I understand, still often takes the bell.
But I had the problem that I was on language probation, as were lots of my classmates, so the first thing that happened, to a bunch of us at least, [was that] we started studying language - in my case, French - in the same basement cubbyholes that we had been in before. We did four months of French. But four months of French wasn't enough to get us to 3.0 [proficiency]. They were very tough in the French department. In any case, I got 2+ and went to my first job in the Department, in the European Bureau in the office of Western European Affairs as an information specialist.
In those days, the European Bureau had public affairs officers in each office of the bureau. In other words in the Western European office, there was a public affairs person. In fact, there were two. I was number 2. In addition, there was a Bureau public affairs person. This was really a large establishment, and it was almost immediately cut back after I arrived.
In fact, my first boss, a woman who was a civil servant, had her job abolished within a few weeks after I arrived. There were other discombobulations, and my job was basically eliminated as well, as they went to something roughly like the system that has prevailed ever since of having a small public affairs office for the Bureau. So I was there for a few months doing odd jobs around the European Bureau.
One good thing was that August of 1961 of course, was the Berlin Wall crisis. In September 1961, apparently the Defense Department decided to send a group of American reporters to Europe to see what the Defense Department was doing in the way of preparing for meeting this crisis. Somehow or other, somebody decided that there should be somebody from the State Department along on this, and since I was perhaps the least useful person in the Western European Office, I got the job and went off.