This week I had the pleasure of hearing Henry Kissinger once again expound on some of the current and past foreign policy issues. Seeing him and listening to his accent brought back many memories.
I first met him when I worked as an intern at the National Security Council in 1974. Bud McFarlane had to promise HAK (as we called him behind his back) that I would not be a security risk or do anything stupid so that HAK would give permission for me to be assigned as an intern to the NSC. It had never been done before due to Kissinger’s obsession with security. (Something that has frequently been lacking in other administrations since then.)
The summer of 1974 was a momentous one to be working in the West Wing of the White House. Nixon resigned and Ford became President in the blink of an eye. It actually took an hour or so from the time we left the West Wing, walked to the East Room, heard Nixon’s farewell speech, and watched him get on the helicopter. By the time we walked back to the West Wing, all pictures of the Nixons were off the wall. There were not enough photos of the Fords to cover all the nails in the wall. It was indeed eerie.
I stayed at the NSC until Ford left the White House in January of 1977, so I was also present in April 1975 when the U.S. Embassy was evacuated due to the fall of Saigon to the North Vietnamese army. It was an amazing two and a half years and certainly helped me get decent grades in my classes at Georgetown University. I had first rate sources.
HAK was always very polite to the “kid” whereas more senior staff would get a sharper correction. I was housed in a closet (literally) with a desk and a chair and phone that was immediately outside the entrance to the Situation Room. My most important job was to cut out all articles about HAK in the papers and magazines and categorize and file them. I learned to despise the New York Times because my hands would be totally black after reading that one paper. (My father had different reasons for disliking that paper, which were definitely more intellectual than mine.) My second most important job was autographing the photos of HAK. It seems I had a knack for copying his signature and I am certain I still have some of those photos in my attic. I, however, never brought any of the classified documents home!
I had the privilege, thanks to Bud McFarlane and HAK, of being a witness to history up-close-and-personal. I am still grateful to this day for that amazing experience. Kissinger turns 91 in May and I wish him a wonderful birthday. His mind is still crystal clear – if you can understand him through his thick German accent. He still professes realpolitik when asked about modern events. And he still is as charming as ever to me. When I said hello to him, he laughed and commented, “Well, Meg, I must not have been mean enough to you since you still say hello to me.”
My Dear, You certainly have led a very interesting life!