John Emil Peurifoy – Foreign Service Office & United States Ambassador

Ashes of Ambassador and Son
To Be Buried In Arlington

Washington, September 30, 1955 – The ashes of the late United States Ambassador to Thailand, John Peurifoy, and his 9-year-old son, Daniel, will be interred with military honors at Arlington National Cemetery next Thursday.

The State Departm,ent, in announcing this today said the Rev. George Pittman of St. Mary’s Protestane Episcopal Church in Arlington, Virginia, would conduct the services at graveside.

Mr. Peurifoy and his son were killed August 12, 1955 when the Ambassador’s sports car collided with a truck near a beach resort in Thailand.  Another son, Clinton, was injured.

Dulles Heads Dignitaries At
Arlington Cemetery Rites

Washington, October 6, 1955 – The ashes of Ambassador John E. Peurifoy and his 9-year-old son, Daniel, were buriedin Arlington National Cemetery today with full military honors.

Secretary of Stare John Foster Dulles led several hundred mourners, including diplomatrs from nearly every foreign embassy in Washington, at the ceremonies.

Soldiers carried the coffins to the graveside.  A cannon boomed out a nineteen-gun salute, followed by a three-volley burst by a rifle squad.

Mr. Peurifoy, most recently United States Ambassador to Thailand, as a career diplomat.  He and his son were killed last August in an automobile accident.

DATE OF BIRTH: 08/09/1907
DATE OF DEATH: 08/12/1955

DATE OF DEATH: 08/12/1955

DATE OF BIRTH: 10/05/1940
DATE OF DEATH: 09/23/1959

John Emil Peurifoy (1907-1955) Born in Walterboro, South Carolina, August 9, 1907. U.S. Ambassador to Greece, 1950-53; U.S. Ambassador to Guatemala, 1953; U.S. Ambassador to Thailand, 1954-55. Died in an automobile accident,  near Hua Hin, Thailand, August 12, 1955. Interment at Arlington National Cemetery.

Peurifoy, John Emil (1907-1955)
Foreign Service officer
1947 Assistant Secretary for Administration
1949 Deputy Under Secretary for Administration
1950 Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary, Greece
1953 Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary, Guatemala
1954 Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary, Thailand

After Arbenz resigned, five successive juntas took over the presidential palace in eleven days. Finally, the US ambassador, John Peurifoy, “bullied and cajoled” and managed to put together a successor administration, including Castillo Armas, who was later assassinated by a member of the presidential guard. Cullather makes it clear that the Guatemalan operation was so inept that it would have resulted in a complete disaster if the Guatemalan army and Arbenz had not panicked and caved in. Instead, the story “went into Agency lore as an unblemished triumph.”

On the evening of 16 December 1953, the newly-appointed American Ambassador to Guatemala, John Peurifoy, held a dinner at the Embassy. He wished to greet Jacobo Arbenz Guzmán, President of Guatemala since 1951, and his wife Maria. The following day, in the  telegraphic style of prose he shared with many of his colleagues, Peurifoy related that in their six-hour talk,

[Arbenz] began by saying problem here is one between United Fruit Company and his government. He spoke at length and bitterly on Fruit Company’s history since 1904, complaining especially that now his government has a $70 million budget to meet and collects only $150,000 in taxes. . . . I interrupted here to say I thought we should put first things first, that as long as the Communists exerted their present  influence in Guatemalan government I did not see real hope of better relations. . . . I came away definitely convinced that if President is not a Communist he will surely do until one comes along and that normal approaches will not work in Guatemala.

These words contain the seeds of discord that led Peurifoy’s superiors, barely half a year later,  to overthrow Arbenz.

Peurifoy and many other United States diplomats before and after him admitted that Guatemala suffered from a dependence on the United States, and that the Guatemalan economy needed to be restored to a state propitious for business, if not necessarily to one of autonomy.

In June 1947, a Senate Appropriations subcommittee addressed a secret memorandum to Marshall, calling to his attention a condition that developed and still flourishes in the State Department under the administration of Dean Acheson. It is evident that there is a deliberate, calculated program being carried out not only to protect communist personnel in high places but to reduce security and intelligence protection to a nullity. On file in the department is a copy of a preliminary report of the FBI on Soviet espionage activities in the United States which involves a large number of State Department employees, some in high official positions.

The memorandum listed the names of nine of these State Department officials and said that they were “only a few of the hundreds now employed in varying capacities who are protected and allowed to remain despite the fact that their presence is an obvious hazard to national security.” On June 24, 1947, Assistant Secretary of State John Peurifoy notified the chairman of the Senate subcommittee that ten persons had been dismissed from the department, five of whom had been listed in the memorandum. But from June 1947 until McCarthy’s Wheeling speech in February 1950, the State Department did not fire one person as a loyalty or security risk. In other branches of the government, however, more than 300 persons were discharged for loyalty reasons alone during the period from 1947 to 1951.

With the CIA’s backing, Castillo Armas and took over the presidency. Guess what Armas was doing just before he became President of Guatemala? He was working in Honduras as a furniture salesman after a career as a military officer! Armas was flown into Guatemala from Honduras on the personal plane of U.S. Ambassador John Peurifoy and was given $80 million from Eisenhower over the next three years to boost his government. Immediately, he suspended the constitution and instituted policies of military repression.

On June 17, 1954, Colonel Castillo, using about 450 troops, initiated a paramilitary operation  against Arbenz which ended on the 18th.  Castillo and his men crossed over into Guatemala from Honduras to attack the Arbenz government. Castillo set-up camp six miles inside Guatemala, and his Air-Force, a mixed handful of B-26s and P-47 fighters, dropped leaflets, made strafing runs in outlying districts, and dropped a few bombs.  The attacks were militarily insignificant, but they contributed to the wide-spread fear of all-out raids. Meanwhile, the Voice of Liberation, the CIA-run broadcasting station, was active around the clock, reporting phantom “battles” and spreading rumors.  Arbenz was bombarded with conflicting reports. Without even one serious military engagement having occurred, Arbenz found himself confused, excited, undecided, and alone.

In mid-campaign, Castillo Armas had lost two of his three P- 47s without which he would be incapable of maintaining a show of force.  The United States negotiated the “sale” of a number of planes to the Nicaraguan Air-Force. Sorties were flown in the planes for Castillo Armas by CIA pilots. Arbenz was forced to flee, and on June 25, 1954, he sought asylum in the Mexican Embassy.  Two days later, he resigned.  A few days later, Castillo Armas, having taken charge, arrived victorious in Guatemala on the plane of U.S. Ambassador John Peurifoy.  Peurifoy’s wrote the following jingle which appeared in Time magazine July 28, 1954, which seemed to sum up nicely the U.S. attitude about the CIA-sponsored operation in Guatemala:

Sing a song of quetzals, pockets full of peace! The junta’s in the palace, they’ve taken out a lease. The Commies are in hiding, just across the street; To the embassy of Mexico they beat a quick retreat. And pistol-packing Peurifoy looks mighty optimistic For the land of Guatemala is no longer Communistic.

As the CIA’s Guatemala operation gained strength in late spring 1954 — with an invading force from Honduras and psychological warfare at work in Guatemala City — Arbenz relinquished power and sought refuge in the Mexican Embassy. His successor, Col.Carlos Enrique Diaz, then went on the radio and vowed to protect Guatemala’s independence in the face of the CIA-sponsored rebel army.

“The two top CIA operatives in Guatemala reacted angrily to Diaz’s radio remarks,” Schlesinger and Kinzer reported. “An irate John Doherty, the CIA station chief, and an exasperated Enno Hobbing — the former Time Paris bureau chief who had just arrived in Guatemala to help shape a new ‘constitution’ for the incoming regime — met and decided they would overthrow Diaz themselves. In his place, they planned to install Colonel Elfegio Monzon, an officer who had worked with them in the past as a secret leader of anti-Arbenz forces within the military.”

U.S. Ambassador John Peurifoy had reached a similar conclusion about Diaz. Peurifoy pounded his desk during the radio talk and declared: “O.K., now I’ll have to crack down on that s.o.b.” So with Peurifoy’s approval, the two CIA men confronted Diaz.

With Monzon in tow, the CIA officers lectured Diaz about the problems with Arbenz’s “communist” policies. Hobbing told Diaz bluntly, “Colonel, you’re just not convenient for the requirements of American foreign policy.”

Diaz demanded to hear these ouster instructions directly from the U.S. ambassador. So at 4 a.m., Peurifoy joined the CIA officers at Diaz’s headquarters and insisted that Monzon be made the new president. According to Diaz (as later recounted to Guatemalan Foreign Minister Guillermo Toriello), Peurifoy also wanted a number of suspected communists executed.

“Peurifoy waved a long list of names of some leaders,” Toriello wrote. “He was going to require Diaz to shoot those who were on that list within twenty-four hours. ‘That’s all, but why?’ Diaz asked. ‘Because they’re communists,’ replied Peurifoy.

“Diaz refused absolutely to soil his hands and soul with this repugnant crime and rejected the pretensions of Peurifoy to come and give him orders. ‘It would be better in that case,’ he [Diaz] went so far as to tell him [Peurifoy], ‘that you actually sit on the presidential chair and that the stars and stripes fly over the palace.’ Saying too bad for you, Peurifoy left.”

According to Bitter Fruit, officials in Washington had supplied Peurifoy with the death list that he had handed to Diaz, although it is not clear whether the list was identical to the CIA’s earlier version.

The confrontation with Diaz spilled into the next day, with Diaz favoring a general amnesty and release of political prisoners to ease tensions inside Guatemala. Since the release would mean freedom for some communist organizers, Peurifoy and the CIA men decided to send Diaz a blunter message: a CIA plane flew over Guatemala City and dropped a few bombs.

Diaz finally succumbed to the pressure. Within a few weeks, Carlos Castillo Armas, who had led the CIA’s rebel band, was installed in the presidential palace as Guatemala’s new leader.

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