Manuscripts/Mixed Material Interview with Peter J. Skoufis
I went to see Graham Martin and told him that I didn't want to stay in the VA operation. I wanted out and was prepared to return to the U.S. He asked whether I would be interested in working for the Embassy. I told him that I had been in Paris for four years and that I thought it was time to move on. I had been recently married and I though it was time to get back home. Then I got a cable from the VA informing me that Tom Quinnen in Rome was about to retire and that I had been assigned to replace him. I thought that that job sounded interesting; I wanted to get back to Italy and I would be in charge of the office. Tom had been an FSR and an Attach�—diplomatic passport and status. The VA promised that I would be given the same rank and privileges that Tom had had.
So at the end of 1950, Helen and I embarked for Rome; we were anxious to do a tour there. We drove to Rome with all of our earthly belongings. We didn't have many personal effects because we had lived in a furnished apartment in Paris after we were married in 1949. After we arrived in Rome, we ran into similar problems. The Department's attitudes toward the former VA employees had been adopted by Embassy Rome. We were to be supported by the Embassy, but were viewed as essentially VA employees. I did my best to disabuse them of that notion. The Rome administrative officer was Gase Lukas, assisted by Tom Carroll and Jim McDevitt. Mrs. Flack was the disbursing officer. We dealt with her because she got the money from the VA and wrote out the checks to our clients.
So we had the same perception problems in Rome as we had had in Paris. The “straw that broke that camel's back” came when my mother sent me a Christmas present—some shirts and ties. The package was held up by the Italian postal authorities for customs duties. At the time, that duty may have been all of $1.50 or perhaps even less. I refused to pay it and sent the chit I had received to the personnel office so that they would clear my package through customs under the diplomatic immunity process. I was then told that my name was not on the “Diplomatic List”. I said that I was replacing Tom Quinnen as the head of the VA office and had been told that I would be accorded the same privileges that he had. The Embassy checked with the State Department who again took the position that I worked for the VA and therefore not eligible for any diplomatic privileges. That meant that my car would also be subjected to taxation; I refused to pay that as well. The Embassy said that my car would be impounded; I said “So be it”. I became very stubborn.