Thanks for writing your column on Anne Smedinghoff in the Wednesday Journal of Oak Park-River Forest [Anne’s vision of a different world, Ken Trainor, Viewpoints, Sept. 1]. I am a retired Foreign Service officer and the daily media digest on Sept. 2 from the American Foreign Service Association listed your column.
As a Foreign Service officer (26 years, seven overseas tours), I grieve each loss from the Foreign Service. But Anne somehow became special to me, and in her memory, I want to pass on a few notes about how she was, and is, memorialized at the State Department.
The State Department has a series of green marble plaques listing U.S. diplomats who have died in the line of duty. The plaques are in the “C Street” lobby, the so-called diplomatic entrance with all the flags along the back wall that often is used as a backdrop for television stories. The plaques are simple: name, year of death, and place of death. Anne’s is “Anne T. Smedinghoff, Afghanistan, 2013.” You can just make out Anne’s entry in the section above the marine’s head in the attached photo.
I, and I think all Foreign Service officers, take this plaque with the utmost gravity. This picture does not show the lobby in its usual format, since it was set up with a podium and curtains for the ceremony. But those blue curtains cover a hallway leading to an elevator lobby and the west side of the first floor of the State Department’s Harry S. Truman Building. I worked on the Mexico Desk in that part of the building in 2013, and I would walk by that plaque every day. When I brought visitors from the lobby to our office, I would stop at the plaque and describe it briefly to them, lowering the pitch of my voice and speaking slowly so they would not hear my voice quavering.
I have forgotten the exact date, but in 2013, Secretary Kerry led a memorial service for Anne at the State Department’s big auditorium, just a few yards from this plaque. Anne’s family was there, and so was I.
The atmosphere in the auditorium was, of course, subdued as we waited for the memorial to start. When Secretary Kerry appeared with the Smedinghoff family, we all stood instantly in respect. In the absolute silence that ensued, the only sound was from the spring-loaded seat-bottoms popping up and banging against the back of the seats.
As a way to describe Anne’s career at the State Department, Secretary Kerry spoke briefly about each of Anne’s career steps: the A-100 orientation class, a tour in Venezuela (a tough assignment even then, by State Department standards), and of course Afghanistan. There may have been other stops on her journey. For each place, folks in the audience who knew her at that time would stand in small groups. I remember people in the groups would often have their arms around each other.
Anne’s father talked about various events in Anne’s life. Clearly, Anne was a special person with a lot of intelligence, nerve, and energy.
I wanted to pass on to you some of the personal memories I hold of Anne, a person I never knew in life but whom I now love and admire in death.
Jock Whittlesey, a retired U.S. State Department Foreign Service officer, lives in Jupiter, Florida.