A walk through history: Diplomatic Courier turned ambassador—Natale Bellocchi

Moscow as courier Cold War

Natale Bellocchi was one of only two known diplomatic couriers who achieved the rank of ambassador after leaving the Diplomatic Courier Service. Bellocchi joined the couriers in 1955 and served as the U.S. ambassador to Botswana from 1985-1988. The only other courier known to achieve the ambassador rank was Amos Peaslee, the founder of the Diplomatic Courier Service, who served as U.S. ambassador to Australia from 1953-1956.

As a diplomatic courier before the onset of the jet age, Bellocchi traveled tens of thousands of miles, safeguarding classified information and often spending weeks on the road traveling solo through difficult and dangerous terrain.

“During the Cold War, courier trips were often rife with intrigue, adding to the potential for danger,” wrote James B. Angell, then-director of the Diplomatic Courier Service, in a letter to the U.S. Secretary of the Army, February 19, 2015. Angell noted that on one such trip, Bellocchi’s plane developed engine trouble and had to ditch in the Mediterranean.

“He survived, was rescued and, like the consummate professional he was, delivered the diplomatic pouches safely before proceeding on to his next assignment,” added Angell.

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In an oral history with the U.S. Library of Congress, March 21, 1995, Bellocchi recalled his adventures as a diplomatic courier and his airplane crash. In his own words:

I came in ’55 as a courier and went to Frankfurt.… I was there for a better part of a year…. It was a bad year [for courier accidents]. [Diplomatic courier] Frank Irwin piled up in a Yugoslav airplane in Vienna, very badly burned…. I went to see him in the hospital on a later trip, and then Louis Hebert had to jump off a plane in the New Delhi airport…hurt his back, but not too badly.

I was on an airplane between Tripoli and Athens, a C-47 at that time, and it didn’t quite make it. We tried to get back but couldn’t and took a dip in the water. I got the [courier] bag out and got on a raft.…I had the bag with me when I got off the plane…and the supervisor from Frankfurt had flown down because they had heard that all was lost, and they had all the [lost] classified mail to deal with.

So, he was down there when I got off the airplane. He looked at the bag [which I had managed to save], and he said, “For heaven’s sake, you got the mail all wet.” I realized I wasn’t going to get an awful lot of sympathy. It was a different world in those days.

“Even in his very early days as a courier, Nat Bellocchi was known for his determination,” noted Angell. “Arriving in Frankfurt in 1955 on his first overseas assignment, he asked his new colleagues about taking Chinese language lessons—an endeavor to which he devoted himself throughout his career as a courier, then as a foreign service officer.

Swearing In Courier NHB

Bellocchi’s knowledge of China and mastery of the language led him to a long and successful later career in Taiwan. After serving as ambassador to Botswana, he was named chairman of the American Institute in Taiwan in 1990. He served as the highest-ranking U.S. diplomat there until his retirement and return to the United States in 1995. Bellocchi died in Bethesda, Maryland, on November 17, 2014. A funeral was held in December 2015 in Arlington National Cemetery.

To read the entire oral history of Natale Bellocchi, access the following: Interview with Natale H. Bellocchi | Library of Congress (access via the PDF link at the top left of the screen).

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