David Gulick Nes, 89, career State Department officer

June 01, 2006|By JACQUES KELLY | JACQUES KELLY,SUN REPORTER

David Gulick Nes, a retired State Department officer who had been a deputy to Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge in Saigon early in the Vietnam conflict, died of cancer Saturday at his Owings Mills home. He was 89.

Mr. Nes was assigned to Cairo in June 1967, and was running the U.S. Embassy at the time of Egypt's Six-Day War with Israel. He helped evacuate about 500 Americans from Egypt.

Born in York, Pa., he was a 1935 graduate of Gilman School and earned a bachelor's degree in history at Princeton University. He then undertook graduate studies at Harvard and was briefly a Sun reporter before becoming a divisional assistant at the State Department in 1942.

Mr. Nes enlisted in the Army and attained the rank of captain. He was awarded the Bronze Star while fighting in the Burma campaign during World War II.

In April 1946, he was appointed a Foreign Service officer. When asked where he would like to be assigned, he said that because he had contracted malaria while in Asia, "I would really like a rather cool post."

He was assigned to Glasgow, Scotland, and was later a special assistant to the U.S. ambassador to France, David K. E. Bruce. He also was part of a task force in the early 1950s, headed by Ambassador Clare Boothe Luce, that decided the city of Trieste would be Italian rather than Yugoslav.

"He would thrive in a crisis. He was calm and unflappable," said a daughter, Nancy Nes Knowlton of Baltimore. "He was also able to speak out and say just what he thought, if he thought it was in the country's best interest."

After holding diplomatic posts in Libya and Morocco, Mr. Nes was interviewed by Secretary of State Dean Rusk and President Lyndon B. Johnson, who told Mr. Nes that he did not want to lose Vietnam.

"I hope Nes is the kind of guy who goes for the jugular because that's what we need out there," Mr. Johnson was quoted as saying in David Halberstam's 1972 book, The Best and the Brightest.

According to an oral history Mr. Nes gave at Georgetown University, there were 25,000 U.S. military advisers in Vietnam when he arrived in 1964 as a deputy chief of mission.

"Shortly after my arrival, General [William] Westmoreland arrived to take over command. We got along very well. I traveled with him by helicopter and light plane into every provincial capital in South Vietnam, which gave me a pretty good bird's-eye view of the situation," he said in the oral history.

Mr. Nes said he felt that the "tentacles of the Communist effort" extended so far that "it would be difficult, if not virtually impossible" to rout them without a full-scale occupation of North Vietnam and its capital, Hanoi.

"My departure from Saigon was sudden and unexpected," Mr. Nes wrote of that assignment's end -- when his boss, Ambassador Lodge, returned to the U.S. as an unexpected write-in winner in New Hampshire's Republican presidential primary.

Mr. Nes was posted to Cairo and wound up in charge of the U.S. Embassy during a period of crisis in the spring of 1967 as Israel and Arab states were attacking each other.

Amid the Six-Day War pitting Israel against Egypt and neighboring Arab states, he helped evacuate 500 Americans on the steamship Carina.

At his 1968 retirement, Mr. Nes received the Superior Honor Award from the secretary of state for his role in the evacuation.

In retirement, Mr. Nes built a Greenspring Valley home and served on the boards of Greater Baltimore Medical Center and the Chesapeake Maritime Museum at St. Michaels. He also lectured on the Middle East and wrote numerous essays for The Sun.

He also sailed from Galesville to Northeast Harbor, Maine, each summer until about 2000. He played golf until last summer.

A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday at St. Thomas Episcopal Church, 232 St. Thomas Lane in Owings Mills, where he was a member.

Survivors include four other daughters, Victoria Kirby of San Francisco, Margaret Nes Alderisio and Audrey Nes Kuykendall, both of Taos, N.M., and Wendy Nes Del Terzo of Lancaster, Pa.; and two grandsons. His wife of 57 years, the former Elizabeth Houghton, died in 2004.

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

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