In 1967, after a four year assignment in Seoul, we returned to Washington for a home tour. I was assigned to the Australia, New Zealand and Pacific Islands desk of the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs. There were three officers in the office, and my main interests were Pacific Islands. The only Foreign Service post in the islands was a consulate in Suva, Fiji. The consular district itself included 3 million square miles of Pacific Ocean, from New Caledonia, near Australia, to French Polynesia--other groups were Tonga, the Gilbert and Ellice Islands, the New Hebrides (an Anglo-French Condominium), and the Solomon Islands.
In 1970, the British Crown Colony of Fiji gained its independence, and the Consulate became an Embassy and the Consul in Suva became Charge d'Affaires (the Ambassador to New Zealand was made Ambassador). About the same time, Tonga, which had the status of a British-protected state, chose to take over what responsibilities the British had and become an independent state, or as the King of Tonga, Taufa'ahau Tupou IV, preferred, "made its reentry into the Comity of Nations". With that, the United States decided to add Tonga to the hat of the Ambassador in Wellington. However, the Ambassador at the time left his post before presenting credentials in Tonga.
We were assigned to Suva in 1973, and I took over the largest district with the smallest staff in the Foreign Service. There was myself, another Foreign Service Officer, a Foreign Service Secretary, and several Foreign Service Nationals, in a steep walkup office over an Indian-owned tourist shop on a small street in the middle of Suva. It was a post of diverse jobs--everything from dealing with the Fijian Government to burning classified documents in the city dump.
In 1974, former Congressman from Alabama Armistead I. Selden, Jr. was
named Ambassador to New Zealand, and thus to Fiji and Tonga. The credentials ceremonies for both were worked out, Tonga first and then Fiji.
On April 9, the Ambassador and his wife and youngest son, and we boarded an Air Pacific flight to Fua'amotu Airport and from there to Nuku'alofa, capital of Tonga, and to the International Dateline Hotel. The next day, in the very hot early afternoon, Ambassador Selden put on his frock coat and striped pants and the four of us were driven to the Royal Palace, a white clapboard Victorian-style house like many in the rural South--a red roof, lots of porches, and a turret.
We were met by a band that...