His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej in the United States – Forging the Bonds of Friendship
The United States and Thailand share an enduring friendship that spans more than 180 years. The official relationship between Thailand and the United States dates back to 1833 with the signing of the Treaty of Amity and Commerce that began a partnership that has developed and strengthened over time.
An important milestone that further reinforced the bonds between the two allies and embodied the warm friendship between the two nations in its purest form was the birth of His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej in Cambridge, Massachusetts on December 5, 1927 while his father, Prince Mahidol, was a student at Harvard Medical School. For the next 30 years of his life, His Majesty nurtured a nostalgic curiosity and longing to return to his birthplace. In 1960, at the start of a 15- country tour to establish relations and build goodwill globally, His Majesty and Queen Sirikit’s first stop was the United States of America. Addressing the U. S. Congress during his visit, His Majesty said:
“I have the natural human desire to see my birthplace. I expect some of you here were also born in Boston or, like my father, were educated at Harvard. I hasten to congratulate such fortunate people. I am sure that they are with me in spirit. We share a sentiment of deep pride in the academic and cultural achievements of that wonderful city.”
The King’s first visit to the U. S. solidified U. S.- Thai relations and gave a human face to the longstanding friendship between the two nations. The Royal couple charmed Americans from Honolulu to Washington, DC. People were delighted by His Majesty’s wide- ranging interests and talents. In addition to statesmanship activities such as speaking at a joint session of the U. S. Congress and receiving the Legion of Honor, the highest U. S. award given to non- Americans, from President Dwight Eisenhower, His Majesty played jazz with Benny Goodman, visited Disney Studios and met with Walt Disney, indulged in an impromptu jam session with Elvis Presley, and greeted New Yorkers at a ticker tape parade. The King, in his wisdom, understood that cultural and social ties were as important as diplomatic relations in fostering a bond between two nations. “Friendship of one government for another is an important thing. But it is friendship of one people for another [ that] assuredly guarantees peace and progress,” the King said in his Congress address. He added:
“It can be said that from the beginning of our relationship right up to the present time no conflict of any kind has arisen to disturb our cordial friendship and understanding. On the contrary there has been mutual goodwill and close co- operation between our two countries. In view of the present world tension and the feeling of uncertainty apparent everywhere, it is my sincere feeling that the time is ripe for an even closer co- operation. It will demonstrate to the world that we are on in purpose and conviction and it can only lead to one thing – mutual benefits.”
These prescient words led to His Majesty’s second visit to the U. S, in 1967 when he hoped to win U. S. support for the Thai military as it struggled with a communist insurgency. During the Cold War, His Majesty became a trusted ally to the United States. He led his country into a treaty alliance with the United States and committed his people to battle side- by- side with the
United States in Korea and Vietnam. Thailand would go on to send troops to fight in Vietnam, and it provided bases for the U. S. Air Force.
After the 9/ 11 attacks, Thailand served as a valuable partner in the struggle against terrorism. It participated in the U. S.- led war effort in Iraq and contributed to reconstruction efforts in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Thailand made its military facilities available for U. S. transiting to both arenas. Today the United States and Thailand cooperate on a wide range of programs across a vast range of issues, including education and culture, public health, business and trade, democracy, as well as security and military cooperation.
During his 70- year reign, His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej witnessed the presidency of, and became companions with, several U. S. presidents. Not only was he a well- received political ally to the U. S., he was a friend that could be called upon in the time of need and it was known that the United States would return the favor when needed.
His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej was dearly loved by both Thais and Americans and was seen as a pioneer of his country’s development and a symbol of unity. Thailand has lost one of the most prominent figures of its history and its guiding light and AMCHAM Thailand stands with the people of Thailand at this time of mourning. Not only was His Majesty a unifying influence for the country, he was seen as a stabilizing figure that citizens looked to in times of unrest and turmoil. For over 70 years, His Majesty led Thailand with integrity and compassion, with the needs and
aspirations of the Thai people at the heart of every project he pursued. He was a trusted and honorable ally of the United States and because of him we will forever represent two nations and one friendship.
U. S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, gave a heartfelt tribute to His Majesty at the UN General Assembly Memorial Service in his honor. She eloquently pinpointed why His Majesty was as loved and respected abroad as he was at home:
“His Majesty told members of the U. S. Congress that there was one tradition valued above all others for the Thai people – the commitment to family. He said, “The members of a family are expected to help one another whenever there is a need for assistance. The giving of aid is a merit in itself. The giver does not expect to hear others sing his praises every day; nor does he expect any return. The receiver is nevertheless grateful. He too, in his turn, will carry out his obligations.”
Now the King was speaking about the bonds and generosity among members of Thai families. But in retrospect, his words can just as easily be applied to the way that he lived his life. A life of always looking for ways to be useful to those in need. A life of giving, and of serving, every single day. Not to earn praise, not to get something in return, but rather because that is what one does for family. And His Majesty considered all the people of Thailand to be his family. How fortunate the Thai people were to have had His Majesty as a member of their family. And how fortunate we are to be able to learn from the way that this remarkable king chose to live his life.”
Deanna Pajkovski is Communications Director and Adrian Wynn is intern at AMCHAM Thailand. They can be contacted at deanna@ amchamthailand. com and intern1@ amchamthailand. com.
Walt Disney, Animated film maker and founder of Disneyland, presents a banner of his first cartoon star, “Mickey Mouse,” to H. R. H. Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn on June 22, 1960. Photo: United States Information Service. The Eagle and the Elephant: Thai American Relations Since 1833, Bangkok, 1997, p. 123.
The King of Thailand joins in a ‘ jam session’ with American jazz greats during his visit to the U. S. in 1960. Left to right: King Bhumibol Adulyadej, saxophone; Urbie Green, trombone; Benny Goodman, clarinet, Jonah Jones, trumpet and Gene Krupa, drums. Photo: IIP Photo Archive on Flickr
His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej addresses a joint session of the U. S. Congress on June 29, 1960. Photo: United States Information Service. The Eagle and the Elephant: Thai American Relations Since 1833, Bangkok, 1997, p. 118.
Their Majesties meet singer and movie star Elvis Presley on the set of “G. I. Blues” in Hollywood during their visit in June 1960. Photo: United States Information Service. The Eagle and the Elephant: Thai American Relations Since 1833, Bangkok, 1997, p. 123.
The City of New York greets the King of Thailand with a ticker- tape parade on July 5, 1960. Over 750,000 New Yorkers turned out to extend this warm welcome. Photo: Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Indelible Impressions of a Royal Visit, Bangkok, 1999.
A plaque in Cambrige, Massachusetts commemorates the birthplace of the King. Photo courtesy of The King of Thailand Birthplace Foundation ( KTBF) www. thailink. com/ ktbf
His Majesty with former U. S. President Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton during a state visit in 1996
King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand, Queen Sirikit, and President Dwight Eisenhower stand at salute as they receive honors at National Airport in Washington on June 28, 1960 on the King’s arrival for a state visit. ( AP Photo)
His Majesty and U. S. President Barack Obama during the President’s visit to Thailand in 2012