American University of Beirut

President's Speech - Hostler

​Dr. John Waterbury's speech
introducing Charles Hostler

Soldier, diplomat, ambassador, businessman, scholar, educator, author - Charles Hostler has been, and still is, a tireless global traveler and citizen of the world. In a life spanning almost the entire twentieth century and beyond, Ambassador Hostler has been time and again at the very center of world-altering events as he moved from the United States to Europe, Turkey and the Arab world, the Near and Far East, India, Africa, Asia, and Russia. Much of his international contribution has focused on the Middle East, and Lebanon and the American University of Beirut have always held a special place in his heart. His wife, Chin Yeh once said, "He's been to 160 countries, and every time someone asks him which one was his favorite, he always says Lebanon."

Hostler lived for a total of nine years in Lebanon. He earned an MA in Middle Eastern studies from AUB in 1955, later served as United States air attaché with diplomatic accreditation in Lebanon, Jordan, and Cyprus; and then, after retiring from the US Air Force in 1963, lived in Beirut while directing a branch of the McDonnell Douglas Corporation. He always treasured his AUB experience (he saw his son matriculate at AUB in 1975), and he has served for many years on the University's International Advisory Council. Hostler dreamed of giving AUB a student center, and planned to leave the University a substantial amount of his estate. More than six years ago, however, Hostler decided to launch the student center immediately, "in order to give the gift of giving while I'm alive." His gift of $11.7 million for the center is the second largest single grant ever made to the University. Ground breaking for the Charles Hostler Student Center took place in June 2004.

Born at the beginning of the twentieth century, Hostler attended school in England, where he became fluent in French, a language he later used frequently, along with Rumanian, Turkish, and Arabic. During the Great Depression in the United States, he and his parents drove west from Chicago in search of economic security. In the depression-wracked United States, when homeless people were starving in the streets, 13-year old Charles helped secure his own education by selling newspapers, and later worked his way through high school and university. In January 1942, just one month after the entry of the United States into World War II, he graduated from the University of California at Los Angeles, where he was in the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC). Shortly thereafter he entered the Army Air Force as a second lieutenant. He landed with the allied forces in Normandy on D-Day, June 6, 1944, and as part of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS, predecessor of the CIA), he penetrated and converted German sympathizers and agents among the French civilian population, and later was awarded a Purple Heart for a wound received in action. He next served in wartime Rumania as that nation shifted its allegiance from Germany to the allies and struggled under Russian domination.

For Hostler education was a lifetime pursuit. In Rumania he studied law at the University of Bucharest. Private study on the ethnic Turks in Rumania, Bulgaria, and Turkey eventually led to an MA in international relations from Georgetown University in 1950. After earning his AUB MA, he completed a PhD thesis at Georgetown, which was published as Turkism and the Soviets, and later updated as The Turks of Central Asia in 1992. Hostler has also published numerous articles; his autobiography, Soldier to Ambassador; From the D-Day Normandy Landing to the Persian Gulf War, A Memoir Odyssey, appeared in 2003.

After he retired as a colonel from the US Air Force in 1963, Hostler devoted his various talents to international and domestic commerce. Appointed by President Nixon, he served as Deputy Assistant Secretary for International Commerce in the US Department of Commerce from 1974 to 1976. During the period from 1976 to 1989 he served in Cairo, Egypt, as regional vice president for E-Systems of Dallas, Texas, was president of the Pacific Southwest Capital Corporation of San Diego, and president of his own investment and leasing companies in California.

He returned to the international scene in 1989, when he was appointed by President George H. W. Bush as US ambassador to Bahrain, a position he held during the Gulf War of 1990-91. Back in the United States he was president of the consular corps in San Diego and served as an international consultant.

Charles Hostler has received numerous commendations, awards, and honors throughout his life. In addition to the Purple Heart, he was awarded a medal of commendation for his work in Normandy and the US Legion of Merit. During the 2004 celebrations of the 60th anniversary of the World War II D-Day landings, he was the only US veteran chosen by the French government to receive personally from President Jacques Chirac the French Legion of Honor in the presence of 17 heads of state. He has received decorations from four religious leaders and nine countries, including two Lebanese Orders of the Cedars, one of Officer and one of Commander Rank.

Hostler's engagements have always included educational, civic, and international concerns. As a past chairman of People to People International, a non-profit organization founded by President Eisenhower to promote international understanding, Hostler continues in his belief that cultural exchange is an excellent way to achieve peace in the world. Randall Phillips, honorary consul general of Japan in San Diego, wrote, "Ambassador Hostler is a visionary and a personal example . . . of a bridge builder of peace. He is a superb leader of hopefulness for the world." His gift of the Hostler Student Center provides all AUB students, present and to come, with expanded hope for the future.

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