The Heroes of U.S. Diplomacy initiative tells the stories of the U.S. Department of State’s modern-day heroes among us and heroes from throughout our rich history. The following historical figures were nominated by the Department of State’s Office of the Historian and selected by a Steering Committee comprised of senior Department officials.
Patti is being recognized as a Hero of U.S. Diplomacy for her trailblazing work at the U.S. Department of State, encompassing her career long commitment to training others in personal safety and her broader community preparedness work, including drafting evacuation plan for Saigon during the Vietnam War, which was put to use during the fall of Saigon in April 1975 and the ultimate evacuation and closure of the embassy. Moreover, Patti is a Hero of U.S. Diplomacy who advanced the work and service of the U.S. Department of State by not only being a trailblazer for women in security, but also for dedicating the later part of her career to championing broader diversity in recruitment and hiring. Throughout her international career, Patti was also a proponent of cultural diplomacy and a model of personal diplomacy, acting as an informal representative for the United States on a variety of levels beyond her security work.
Patti first joined the U.S. Department of State’s Foreign Service in 1965. She served as a Foreign Service Officer staff secretary at several U.S. diplomatic missions overseas, including Nepal, Kinshasa, Cameroon, and Singapore. Patti excelled in all her assignments and was featured as one of the faces of the State Department’s promotional materials for recruitment of Foreign Service Secretaries.
Patti became the first female Diplomatic Security Special Agent in 1972, after she was recruited by the Office of Security, a precursor to today’s Diplomatic Security Service (DSS), and was recommended for training as a security officer. After being passed over for numerous duty assignments in the Diplomatic Security Washington, D.C. Field Office her first year on the job, Patti finally got her chance supporting the advance team when the Chinese acrobatic team and reporters came to the U.S. after President Nixon established bilateral relationships between the two countries. Another high-level protective detail included that of Grace Kelly, with whom she became a close personal friend.
Patti also took unarmed self-defense courses at the Metropolitan Police Academy while working in the D.C. field office. She then began offering classes herself, passing along what she learned to colleagues in an auditorium in the State Department over lunch hours. These classes were the precursor to the nonviolent self-defense training available to foreign affairs professionals and their family members via the Foreign Service Institute today.
From her earliest days in the Diplomatic Security Service, it was clear that Patti was a great shot. It was during this period that she earned her now famous nickname “Pistol Packin’ Patti” due to her habit of carrying her Diplomatic Security-issued pistol in her purse. At the time, the DSS did not issue gear for women to hold their weapons. As a result, Patti exercised ingenuity by using her clutch to hold her .357 Magnum pistol.
Patti was also a courageous trailblazer abroad. She went on to become the first female Regional Security Officer (RSO) in the Department of State’s history when she was stationed at U.S. Embassy Saigon. When Patti arrived at post in the spring of 1974, she was one of four RSOs in Vietnam – an assignment then considered extremely dangerous given the ongoing Vietnam War. Patti took seriously her role of promoting the safety of the entire embassy community and led training sessions and briefings for embassy staff and their families on defensive driving techniques, utilizing a set of toy cares to role play dangerous scenarios. Among her many responsibilities, Patti’s duties included physically surveying all Consul Generals throughout Vietnam, as well as supervising the Marine Security Guards who guarded the embassy. Patti was also the emergency and evacuation coordinator and authored the embassy’s evacuation plan, which became a crucial document when it was put to use during the embassy evacuation and closure amidst the fall of Saigon in April 1975.
At every location, Patti was a patron of the local performing arts and attended museums and other cultural exhibits. She believed in the value of cultural and people to people diplomacy and saw art as a way to connect people around the world. At the time of her death in 2019, Patti donated her own apartment and the contents therein to the U.S. Department of State.
Patti was aware of her legacy. She went back to speak to her alma mater in Washington State and encouraged students to consider serving their country through careers at the State Department. In the 1980s, Patti became the Deputy Director of the Office of Civil Rights and also served as the Federal Women’s Program Manager, where she would direct the State Department’s efforts to provide employment for women at all levels. She then went on to become a member of the State Department Board of Examiners where she was responsible for the selection of new entrants to the Foreign Service. In an interview reflecting on her career, Patti said, “When I think of being the first woman security officer, what I think of most is I hope I have done the best job I can, and that it will be easier for those who follow. I think of those things as opposed to – Hey, I was the first. I never think anything is due to me because I was the first.”
Learn more about Patti Morton and her trailblazing career:
- : “Patti Morton: America’s first female Diplomatic Security Special Agent”
- State Magazine’s article: “Special Agent”
- “Director’s Note: A Conversation with ‘Pistol Packin’ Patti’” from the National Museum of American Diplomacy
- on first assignments and career reflections
- The Office of the Historian’s Foreign Relations of the United States, 1969–1976, Volume X, Vietnam, January 1973 – July 1975
Video Archive – “Honoring “Pistol Packin’ Patti” Morton” (07/28/20):
Dr. Ralph J. Bunche (1904-1971) was an academic and diplomat who shaped some of the most remarkable moments in 20th century history. The grandson of a freed slave, Bunche spent his life engaged as a civil rights activist in the United States while working for peace in troubled regions around the world. In recognition of his diplomatic contributions to the U.S. Department of State, the United Nations, and the international community, Bunche is honored as a Hero of U.S. Diplomacy.
With U.S. entry into World War II, Bunche served in the Office of Strategic Services before joining the U.S. Department of State (1944-1946), becoming the first African American Desk Officer. He was soon promoted to Chief of Dependent Area Affairs and played a major role in formulating the groundwork for the United Nations Charter. He joined the UN staff in 1946 and attended the first UN General Assembly that year in London. In 1948, Bunche worked to mediate the Arab-Israeli conflict. Although the UN originally chose Sweden’s Count Folke Bernadotte to mediate the conflict, with Bunche assigned as his chief aide, Bernadotte was assassinated in September, propelling Bunche to be lead negotiator. He negotiated the armistice while playing pool with the Israeli and Arab representatives, and eventually convinced both parties to accept the 1949 agreement. By 1955, Bunche became Undersecretary General for Special Political Affairs and focused on decolonization and human rights. He traveled to many conflicted areas such as Cyprus, Kashmir, Congo, and the Middle East.
In 1950, Bunche was the first African American awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his work negotiating a cease-fire between the new state of Israel and Arab nations in the region. President Kennedy awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1963 for his UN work in Middle East peace.
Equally important to his diplomatic work, Bunche supported the civil rights movement. In 1936, Bunche helped establish the National Negro Congress, an organization committed to labor and civil rights for African Americans. By the 1960s, Bunche marched with Martin Luther King, Jr. in Washington, D.C. and in Selma, AL.
Learn more about Ralph J. Bunche’s contributions to U.S. and international diplomacy:
- U.S. Department of State’s DipNote blog post: “Negotiating for Peace at Home and Abroad – Hero of U.S. Diplomacy Ralph J. Bunche”
- : “Dr. Ralph J. Bunche: An African-American Leader in the Intelligence Community”
- of Bunche from January 1962 as he discusses his early career, educational experiences, race, and work at the UN
- “Quick Facts” on Bunche and list of properties associated with him on the National Register of Historic Place
- The National Museum of American Diplomacy: “A Hero of U.S. Diplomacy”
Video Archive – “Honoring Dr. Ralph J. Bunche” (02/27/20):
As representatives of the most powerful neutral state during World War I from 1914 to 1917, a small group of U.S. Department of State officials and their (volunteer) spouses engaged in an unprecedented array of humanitarian and consular services. They assisted over 100,000 American citizens in their return home; facilitated U.S. efforts to care for wounded soldiers; looked after Prisoners of War, and oversaw massive relief initiatives to help civilians. These crucial activities required innovation, flexibility, resilience, and creativity to accomplish new missions borne out of the biggest ongoing crisis in modern history. The process of responding to these novel challenges shaped the modern Department of State. Additionally, the wartime experience later led to the creation of the Foreign Service, highlighted the need for professionalization and specialist expertise, and regularized activities that now comprise much of the work of the Department’s functional bureaus.
Learn more about the diplomatic work of Department of State officials during World War I:
- The Office of the Historian’s Department History: World War I and the Department
- ShareAmerica article: “The unsung, heroic U.S. diplomats of World War I”
- The Office of the Historian’s Foreign Relations of the U.S., 1914 World War I Supplement
- U.S. Embassy France’s World War I Centenary page: “The Role of the U.S. Diplomatic Community and American Citizens in France”
- : “William H. Hunt, American Pioneer”
Video Archive – “In the Diplomatic Trenches: Department Heroes Alleviate Suffering During World War I” (10/29/19):