Doug Ramsey ’56 was one of the most exceptional “good guys” in Vietnam

Douglas K. Ramsey ’56—retired U.S. State Department ­foreign service officer, Vietnam prisoner of war, and Oxy’s 91st Commencement speaker—died Feb. 23, 2018, in Boulder City. Nev. A native of Tocsin, Ind., Doug majored in political science at Oxy and graduated summa cum laude. In June 1956, he entered the Foreign Service. After successive assignments in Washington and Honolulu, he volunteered for Vietnam, arriving there in May 1963. Later Doug was ­detailed to the Agency for International Development in Hau Nghia Province, where he eventually took over as chief provincial representative and pacification adviser for the ARVN 25th Division, as well as doing refugee survey and ­relief work and promoting change in U.S. policy, strategy, and tactics. 

On Jan. 17, 1966, while personally trying to deliver refugee relief supplies to a combat operations zone, he was captured by Viet Cong guerrillas who mistook him for a CIA agent. Seven years and “several hundred attacks of malaria later,” he later wrote, he was released in February 1973.

Shortly after, Doug was invited by President Richard C. Gilman to deliver the Commencement address to the Class of ’73—a move met with protests and petitions by many graduating seniors. Gilman didn’t budge, explaining to The Occidental, “Rather than U.S. ­policy, I asked him to reflect upon American life and society after being completely cut off during the seven years of his imprisonment.”

“Deeply troubled by the reaction, Ramsey came to campus the week before Commencement to talk with the objecting students directly about what he had to say and their attitudes,” Gloria Duffy ’75 reported. With his speech (which he titled “Strange Meeting,” after a poem by a British poet who died on the battlefield of World War I), he won over critics with a core message “of empathy and tolerance and forgiveness at home and abroad, not for recrimination.”

After recuperation and further training in economics and Mandarin Chinese, Doug served successively in positions in Taipei, Bejing, Kuala Lumpur, and Manila, retiring in 1988. He was the recipient of both individual and group Superior Honor awards and the State Department Award for Valor, as well as the American Foreign Service Association’s Harriman Award for creative policy dissent. In retirement, Doug contributed to several books and was past commander of Las Vegas Chapter 7-11 of American Ex-POWs.