James Bruce Amstutz was born in 1928 in Singapore during the last days of the British Empire. In his youth, he attended boarding school in Mussoorie, India, a municipality located in the foothills of the Himalayas. The trip from Singapore to Mussoorie was an adventure in and of itself. Bruce would travel by steamer up the Malayan coast, docking at Rangoon and then Calcutta, where he would catch a train for the cross-country trip to Dera Dun, and from there, by vehicle, then foot, up the winding road to Mussoorie.
World War II changed Bruce’s world forever. On the morning of the Pearl Harbor attack, he and his sister were making the return trip from school to Singapore. They were docked at Rangoon when the airfields outside of town were bombed. Instead of continuing to Singapore, they returned to India the next day, and were housed with a local family. Communications with Singapore were near impossible. Their mother later boarded one of the last steamers to leave Singapore and came to find the children. Bruce’s father stayed behind and was interned by the Japanese with the other Western civilians. For a year and a half, Bruce did not know whether his father was alive or dead.
In 1943, with the threat of U-boats a very present reality, Bruce and his mother and sister left India. They travelled by ship from the Bay of Bengal to Durban, South Africa, then across the South Atlantic, around the Southern tip and up the western coast of South America, then through the Panama Canal, finally landing in New York. He went from life in Singapore to a paper route in Evanston, Illinois.
When the war ended, Bruce entered DePauw University, where he was on the intercollegiate swim team and joined the Delta Upsilon fraternity. His father survived the war and became the Methodist Bishop in Singapore, and later Pakistan. After college, Bruce obtained his doctorate from The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, where he met his wife, Nan Louise Grindle (also a student and doctorate recipient).
Bruce began his career as a U.S. foreign service officer in the mid-1950s, first in Indonesia, then in Burma, Pakistan, Afghanistan and India. When the U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan, Adolph Dubs, was killed in 1979 during a botched kidnapping, as Deputy Chief of Mission, Bruce became the Acting Ambassador. When the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, he watched their helicopter gunships roll in. His last service post was in Bombay (now Mumbai) as consul general. In 1986, he concluded his career by writing “Afghanistan, The First Five Years of Soviet Occupation”, one of the first books published about the Soviet war in Afghanistan.
After this life of adventure, in 1987 Bruce retired with Nan to Brunswick, where he pursued his passions but hardly led a quiet life. He became a master gardener, visited most of Maine’s state parks, and enjoyed hiking, birding, genealogy and travel. He often organized international walking and birding trips in Europe and the Americas for small groups of friends and family. A lover of history, he maintained a list of all books read, beginning with his childhood in Singapore, and continuing throughout his life.
In preparation for retirement, Bruce and Nan bought a small farmhouse on an island off the Maine coast (Louds), which became a cherished summer home for more than 30 years. There, they hosted many friends and family. Bruce loved to drive his jeep along the island roads, blasting English choral music. He and Nan were an integral part of the island community. Bruce was married to Nan for over 67 years; she passed away in 2019 and Bruce passed away in 2021 in Brunswick.