B. Hugh Tovar


Paul Hillmer

Document Type

Oral History

Date of Interview



Bernardo Hugh Tovar was born on December 27, 1922 in Bogota, Columbia. His father was Columbian and his mother Irish. His family moved to Chicago in 1924, but his family frequently visited Columbia in his early youth. As a result he grew up bilingual. He attended Portsmouth Priory School in Rhode Island (1941), before attending Harvard, where he also learned French. His ROTC class was called to active duty in June 1943, though he was awarded a degree in 1944 because he passed his comprehensive exams. He graduated as a second lieutenant. After various assignments and training in Infantry, Artillery and Communications, he was selected to join the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) in 1945. He was flown to Kunming, China, and was active in the search for prisoners of war held by the Japanese forces in various parts of Asia. In late 1945 he parachuted into Vientiane in French Indochina to try and keep the French from re-entering the region (unsuccessfully). In September the OSS was disbanded, and he returned to Illinois, taking up graduate studies in political science and economics at Northwestern. Though he knew of the OSS’s successor organization, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), he accepted a position with Sears, Roebuck, and Co. to open new operations in Latin America. But the CIA came calling again, and he accepted a position in Manila in 1950, traveling there with his wife and one-year-old son. He served in posts in Malaysia and Indonesia in the 1960s, Laos, and Thailand in the 1970s, retiring from the CIA in 1978. He served as an advisor, scholar, and resource for many years thereafter.


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