Ambassador Kordek was a first class diplomat and gentlemen, who certainly loved Poland. I had the honor of knowing and working with him. Rest In Peace my friend.
America recently lost a quiet professional, and unsung Cold War hero. A young airman with the Strategic Air Command (SAC) in the 1950s, John F. Kordek went on to become a gifted linguist and career U.S. diplomat actively engaged in some of the most interesting and significant events of the Cold War.
During his impressive foreign service career, Kordek was nominated for diplomatic positions by every American president, from Lyndon B. Johnson to Bill Clinton. But he achieved some of his greatest successes as part of President Ronald Reagan’s efforts to defeat the Soviet Union at the end of the Cold War.
Recruited into the U.S. Foreign Service while a college senior at DePaul University, where he later completed his Ph.D. in 1964, he was also a graduate of the prestigious School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) of Johns Hopkins University, and Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government (KSG).
Kordek, who learned three foreign languages (Serbo-Croat, Polish, and Spanish), served 26 years as a diplomat with the U.S. Information Agency (USIA) and the U.S. State Department, attaining the rank of Career Minister and then U.S. Ambassador.
As part of his professional career, Ambassador Kordek served in Serbia, Croatia, Italy, Belgium, Poland, Venezuela, Botswana, and Washington D.C. He also worked in numerous other countries as part of official U.S. foreign policy and public diplomacy delegations.
One of his first jobs in the Foreign Service in 1965 was to escort Louis Armstrong, who was visiting the former Yugoslavia as part of the State Department’s cultural programs overseas.
Ambassador Kordek was also the Acting Deputy Chief of Mission (DCM) at the U.S. Embassy in Warsaw during the rise of the ‘Solidarity’ movement and the visits of Pope John Paul II to Poland. Both were significant events in the downfall of the Soviet empire. Additionally, during Reagan’s presidency, Kordek was the USIA Director of European Affairs and then the Counselor of the Agency, the highest career official in USIA.
Kordek participated in numerous international negotiations, including those with the Soviet Union, Poland, Germany, and other countries. Significantly, he was involved in the critical Geneva and Reykjavik summit meetings between President Reagan and Soviet leader Gorbachev that helped finally bring the Cold war to end in the late 1980s.
For his service, President Reagan nominated Kordek to be a U.S. Ambassador in 1988, and the U.S. Senate unanimously confirmed him. During the Reagan Administration, he briefed senior officials, including Vice President Bush, and participated in key National Security Council (NSC) meetings at the White House.
Kordek also earned a presidential award from Reagan for “…, sustained superior conduct of U.S. foreign policy.”
Later, in 1995, President Clinton appointed Kordek to two five-year terms to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council in Washington, which oversees the operations of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. Kordek served on the Council’s Executive Committee and the Committee on Conscience, which monitors genocide worldwide.
Clinton also selected Ambassador Kordek to be a member of the U.S. presidential delegations to commemorate the 50th anniversaries of the 1943 Warsaw Ghetto Uprising and the 1945 liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Nazi death camps. On some of these delegations, he traveled with Nobel Peace Prize laureate Elie Wiesel.
America, and the free world, owe a great debt to Ambassador Kordeck, a quiet professional U.S. diplomat, U.S. veteran, and unsung Cold War hero.