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A Book you can Swear By: Becoming Ambassador in the Most Unusual of Circumstances

Traditionally, U.S. government officials put their hand on the Bible for their swearing-in.  In recent years, some have used alternatives, such as the Qur’an or the U.S. Constitution.  In June 2014 Suzi LeVine was the first ambassador to be sworn in on an e-reader. Ambassador Peter de Vos, however, had nothing readily available when he was rushed off to Liberia in 1990, set to take over the post in the midst of a raging civil war. 

Ambassador Johnny Young recounts the unusual and creative swearing-in ceremony in an October 2005 interview with Charles Stuart Kennedy.

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 I’ll never forget this particular incident. Pete de Vos was all ready to go. He had spent a few days with us. We were sending cables back and forth. We were observing this situation that was growing in intensity as the fighting grew closer and closer to the capital city.

We then began to talk about possible evacuations and things like that, but no evacuation had been made at that point. Pete was all set to go. We rented the plane for him to go to Monrovia. We took him out with an embassy car.

Just before he got on the plane we got a telegram that said you cannot go to Liberia until you have been sworn into office. We thought, “My God, how are we going to do this because we needed to get him there as quickly as possible?”

We got him on the radio because we got the driver on the radio and we put all of our heads together and I said, “Well, we’re going to have to do this swearing in via two-way radio.”

We spoke to Pete and we said, “Do you have a Bible with you?”

He said, “I don’t travel with a Bible.”

We said, “Do you have anything that could substitute for a Bible?”

He said, “Well, I have my address book.”

We said, “Take that address book out and put your hand on the address book, raise your right hand.”

I think he got the pilot on the plane to hold the address book for him and he put his hand on the address book and then the consular officer, Allen Latimer, I said, “Allen, here’s the oath. You’ve got to get him to repeat it over the phone and then we can sign it and certify it and send it out to him and he can sign it and he’ll have his copy in the works.”

And that’s how we did it. It was a riot.

An officer in a holding pattern in Sierra Leone at the time, Charles Gurney, wrote a cable on this that became a classic that described how Pete de Vos was out in the middle of this field. There was a man passing with goats and looking at him with his hand on this address book and his other hand in the air, you know, listening to the radio saying, “I, Peter de Vos, do solemnly swear” and on and on. It turned out well and he went on to Liberia.

[In this photo taken by Admin Officer Ned Arcement, Charles Gurney and Darlene Mann witness the swearing-in of Ambassador de Vos, center, holding the radio.]