Foreign Service Journal - June 2013 - page 41

the Foreign Service journal
|
JUNE 2013
41
FEATURE
T
he presence in our country of well
over a million Americans of Vietnam-
ese, Cambodian and Lao origin owes
much to the determination of a single
Foreign Service officer. Shep Low-
man made it his life’s work to seek
resettlement in the United States and
elsewhere for the Indochinese who
were our allies during the long, brutal
war in Vietnam.
A longtime director of the State Department’s Office of Asian
Refugees in the Bureau for Refugee Programs (now the Bureau
of Population, Refugees and Migration), Shep later served as the
bureau’s deputy assistant secretary. And he continued his work
long after his official career had ended.
The success of those former refugees is his epitaph.
Shep died peacefully at his home in Fairfax, Va., on the
evening of March 2, leaving his family, his many friends and his
abundant admirers in deep mourning (see In Memory, p. 66).
His loss deprives us of a major humanitarian and a man of great
decency and warmth.
I worked for Shep twice, succeeded him in another job after
our retirements, and traveled with him to the Balkans during the
Kosovo crisis. He was at once mentor, inspiration and friend.
He was an unlikely leader, though, at least initially. I first
met him in 1970 at the apartment of my then-boss, Cal Mehlert,
above the Eden Gallery in downtown Saigon (after which the
Eden Center in Falls Church, Va., is named). He was visiting, as I
recall, and seemed dispirited. Notwithstanding his Harvard law
education and sharp mind, he made a lackluster impression.
Four years later, in 1974, Shep returned to South Vietnam, this
time as chief of the internal unit of the embassy’s very large polit-
ical section. That fall, I became his deputy. Together, we came to
know many of the country’s politicians and other leaders.
The Fall of Saigon
Months before the April 1975 evacuation of Saigon, it had
become clear that the U.S. Congress was unwilling to allocate the
resources that would have allowed South Vietnam to continue
its struggle against the North Vietnamese. President Nguyen
VanThieu’s decision to pull back his forces from the north had
provoked a debacle, and the fall of Saigon was not far off.
Ambassador GrahamMartin gave our unit a major role in the
evacuation, with particular responsibility for the Vietnamese
who had been on our side. Our first job was to make lists of the
categories of people who would be most at risk in a communist
takeover, an effort that proved of dubious utility as the clock
wound down and disorder increased.
But we were able to evacuate many Vietnamese families of
Americans. Shep worked almost around the clock, and we both
left Saigon by helicopter from the embassy roof on the last day.
Shepard C. Lowman
(1926-2013)
AnAppreciation
Countless Indochinese-Americans will remember FSO Shepard Lowman
for enabling their admission to the United States. His country should
remember him, as well, for embodying our finest inclinations.
By Lacy Wr i ght
Lacy Wright, a Foreign Service officer for 30 years, now works as
director of the INL section at Embassy Vientiane.
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