On the U.S. Army’s Birthday, Celebrating The Diplomatic Couriers’ Roots Laid by Soldiers

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The Army’s Silver Greyhounds assigned to the U.S. Embassy in Paris in 1918.  As part of the Delegation to Negotiate Peace, they became the first dedicated group of diplomatic couriers in U.S. history. (State Department photo)
The Army’s Silver Greyhounds assigned to the U.S. Embassy in Paris in 1918. As part of the Delegation to Negotiate Peace, they became the first dedicated group of diplomatic couriers in U.S. history. (State Department photo)

On the U.S. Army’s Birthday, Celebrating The Diplomatic Couriers’ Roots Laid by Soldiers

U.S. Army Silver Greyhounds, the precursors to today’s Diplomatic Courier Service, transport pouches in Europe by road in 1918-1919 (Department of State photo, courtesy family of Amos J. Peaslee)

The U.S. Army honors its 243rd birthday on June 14. The U.S. Department of State’s Diplomatic Courier Service, which is marking its 100th anniversary in 2018, has a century-long relationship with the U.S. Army.

The Courier Service traces its formal origins to the U.S. Army Silver Greyhounds messengers, a group of hard-charging soldier-couriers who hand-carried diplomatic messages across Europe during negotiations for the Treaty of Versailles that ended World War I. 

In early 1918, General John Joseph "Black Jack" Pershing authorized Army messengers to rush sensitive military documents between the United States and France. Following the Armistice of November 11, 1918, the Silver Greyhounds took on a diplomatic role upon their formal assignment to the U.S. Embassy in Paris, where they issued diplomatic passports, and directly supported the American Commission to Negotiate Peace. The Silver Greyhounds thus became the first U.S. organization dedicated specifically to the movement of diplomatic pouches. 

U.S. Army Major Amos Peaslee, founder of today’s Department of State Diplomatic Courier Service, with his Silver Greyhound uniform insignia. (State Department photo)

The courier unit -- created and led by Major Amos J. Peaslee -- reopened diplomatic routes to U.S. diplomatic posts across war-torn Europe and into Bolshevik Russia. The new diplomatic courier service was integral to the peace process that culminated with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles in June 1919.

At their height, the Silver Greyhounds included approximately 75 officers and 75 enlisted soldiers. They traveled by biplane, automobile, motorcycle sidecar, ships, and rail (principally the Orient Express).

The Silver Greyhounds adopted their name from the British royal couriers, and their U.S. Army uniform insignia included a greyhound symbol. Their motto, “None Swifter than These,” is still used by the U.S. Diplomatic Courier Service and is based a description of couriers for the ancient Persian Empire written by the Greek historian Herodotus in 440 B.C.

A U.S. Army diplomatic courier in 1919 pauses his dispatch automobile in front of the ruins in war-torn Europe. (Department of State photo, courtesy family of Amos J. Peaslee)

After the signing of the Treaty of Versailles, the U.S. Army’s Silver Greyhounds disbanded and returned to civilian life. The Department of State, however, continued to employ civilians as diplomatic couriers.

Peaslee had been a lawyer before his wartime service. After the Silver Greyhounds disbanded, he returned to an international law practice and in the 1950s served as President Eisenhower’s ambassador to Australia. In April 2018, Peaslee’s descendants donated many of his papers and personal effects to the Department of State, including historic documents and photographs of the Silver Greyhounds.

Throughout this year, DSS has celebrated the 100th anniversary of its Diplomatic Courier Service. As we continue to celebrate this milestone and as we join the nation in celebrating the 243rd birthday of the U.S. Army, we honor and remember our historic connection that dates back a century. 

About the Author: Vincent Crawley serves in the Diplomatic Sercurity Service at the U.S. Department of State.

Editor's Note: This entry also appears in the U.S. Department of State's publication on Medium.

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