Ellsworth Bunker

Ellsworth Bunker bigraphy, stories - American diplomat

Ellsworth Bunker : biography

11 May 1894 – 27 September 1984

Ellsworth F. Bunker (May 11, 1894 – September 27, 1984) was an American businessman and diplomat (including being the ambassador to Argentina, Italy, India, Nepal and South Vietnam). He is perhaps best known for being a hawk on the war in Vietnam and Southeast Asia during the 1960s and 1970s.


Born the eldest of three children of Jeanie Polhemus (née Cobb) and George Raymond Bunker in Yonkers, New York. His father was one of the founders and chairman of the board of National Sugar Refining Company. His younger brother, Arthur Hugh Bunker (July 29, 1895-May 19, 1964), was also a noted businessman, chairman of the executive committee of the War Production Board (1941–1945) during World War II, and president and then board chairman of American Metal Climax (AMAX).

Ellsworth Bunker studied to be a lawyer, and graduated from Yale University with the class of 1916. During World War II he served as chairman of the War Production Board’s cane sugar advisory committee.

Bunker first worked in his father’s company, National Sugar Refining Company, eventually becoming the company’s president, succeeding Horace Havemeyer, Sr., in 1942. He retired as an active executive in 1951 and purchased a 600-acre dairy farm in Putney, Vermont. He remained a member of the board of National Sugar until 1966.

He then moved to government during the Harry S. Truman administration, when Truman appointed him ambassador to Argentina in April 1951. Next he was ambassador to Italy in February 1952. From November 1953 until November 1956 he was president of the American Red Cross. In November 1956 he was appointed ambassador to India and Nepal by Dwight D. Eisenhower, and sworn in December 1956, where he played a crucial role in the covert alliance between the two powers against China. He was replaced by John Kenneth Galbraith in 1961. During 1962 he acted as U.S. mediator in the New York Agreement over Western New Guinea.

After a period back in Washington, D.C., he was made U.S. ambassador to the Organization of American States, 1964–1966. President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed him U.S. ambassador to South Vietnam, 1967–1973.

Once in Saigon, he strongly supported the war efforts of Presidents Johnson and Richard Nixon, going so far as to applaud US incursions into Laos and Cambodia. Following the conclusion of the Vietnam War, Bunker headed the US team involved in the drawing up of the 1977 Torrijos-Carter Treaties. 

He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom with Distinction twice—the first time in 1963 and the second time in 1967.

Family life

He married a neighbor Harriet Allen Butler, daughter of Ellen Mudge and George Prentiss Butler, in Yonkers, New York on April 24, 1920. Harriet had made friends with Bunkers’ sister Katherine when the two girls attended Miss Porter’s School in Farmington, Connecticut. They had three children, John Birkbeck, Samuel Emmet and Ellen Mudge.Schaffer. – p.16. She died in 1964.

On January 3, 1967 he married fellow ambassador Caroline Clendening "Carol" Laise in Katmandu, Nepal. She died in 1991. Ambassador Laise was a friend of the first Mrs. Bunker.

Bunker died on his dairy farm in Putney, Vermont. The funeral was attended by his good friend and neighbor former senator George Aiken and former president Richard M. Nixon, Aiken died two months later.

His middle child, John Birkbeck Bunker (March 8, 1926-May 26, 2005), a first lieutenant in World War II, died of cancer at his home in Wheatland, Wyoming at age 79.