Oral History Interview with
General counsel, Department of the Army, 1949; Assistant
Secretary of the Army, 1950-52; Under Secretary of the Army, 1952. More
Karl R. Bendetsen
New York City, New York
October 24, 1972
by Jerry N. Hess
[Notices and Restrictions | Interview
Transcript | Additional Bendetsen Oral History
This is a transcript of a tape-recorded interview conducted for the
Harry S. Truman Library. A draft of this transcript was edited by the
interviewee but only minor emendations were made; therefore, the reader
should remember that this is essentially a transcript of the spoken,
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Harry S. Truman Library
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| Additional Bendetsen Oral History Transcripts]
Oral History Interview with
Karl R. Bendetson
New York City, New York
October 24, 1972
by Jerry N. Hess
HESS: To begin Mr. Bendetsen, will you tell me about your introduction
into the Army, when you joined the Army and what your assignments were?
BENDETSEN: Mr. Hess, I will undertake to give you a sequential account.
I entered the United States Army on extended active service in 1940.
I had been a commissioned officer of the Officerís Reserve Corps since
1929 when I received my bachelorís degree at Stanford University, and
I was commissioned in the field artillery. I reached the rank of captain
of field artillery in 1939, some ten years thereafter. In the intervening
years I saw no active duty at any high level headquarters. All of
commissioned active duty was performed at Fort Lewis, Washington, in
fortnightly periods. The 10th Field Artillery was stationed there during
that decade, and my assignment as a Reserve Officer was to that Regular
Army field artillery unit. This arrangement obtained in a number of
cases around the country where a Reserve Officer happened to have his
residence sufficiently close to a Regular Army unit of his military
branch to permit frequent communication, inactive duty assignments on
weekends and other times of convenience. So, I had some preceding connection
with the Army at numerous times each year.
Parenthetically, I would add that I joined the Washington State National
Guard when I was 14 years old, enlisting in the 248th Coast Artillery
Battalion (Separate). I now "confess" that I prevaricated
about my age. It was general practice in those days. Many young men
of high school age thought it was "the thing to do" to be
in the National Guard. So did I. The State authorities maintained a
convenient posture of official ignorance. My span
of military service began then.
In late 1939 while I was practicing law, then at Aberdeen, Washington,
I became deeply concerned about our national situation. I shared the
view of many others that the clouds of war were gathering and we were
ill prepared. At my own expense and with my slender resources, I took
myself to Washington, D.C. in late 1939 to talk to my Washington State
U.S. Senators and to my Congressman about our woefully inadequate military
posture. I stayed for two weeks. I was not encouraged by what I heard.
I returned to Washington, D.C. in the spring of 1940 and joined with
others of like mind. We were there as private citizens to persuade Congress
to enact a draft law. I was really for universal military training,
which as you know, so also was President Truman.
HESS: Very much so.
BENDETSEN: I believed strongly in it. We urged that the Congress adopt
some such law. Short of that, certainly Selective Service was essential
because our standing forces, our reserves and our federally
recognized National Guard were small and ill prepared.
On August 16, 1940, Congress passed Public Law 96. This authorized
the President to call the Army, Navy and Marine Corps Reserves and the
National Guard of the several states into active Federal service. This
statute also authorized the establishment of Selective Service.
At that point, someone casually said to me, "Well, Bendetsen,
youíve been around here on your own for several months trying to help
get this through Congress. As a citizen, it seems to me you had ought
to be one of the first ones to come forward and say you are ready to
come into the Army."
I said, "I can hardly deny the force of your argument so I will
do just that. Let me have up to 60 days to settle my affairs. After
all, I have been here on some sort of active service for three months
as it is."
I was ordered to active duty effective about 75 days later. I then
reported as a captain of
field artillery to the Commanding Officer,
10th Field Artillery, Fort Lewis, Washington . While serving there I
chanced to meet the Judge Advocate of the Third U.S. Army Division which
had its headquarters at Fort Lewis. He was then a colonel. His name
was Harry Auer. He soon became a brigadier general as the Assistant
Judge Advocate General of the Army under Major General Allen W. Gullion.
As he was leaving for Washington, D.C. he told me, "You shouldnít
be here in the 10th Field Artillery; you ought to be in the Judge Advocate
Generalís Department at the War Department in Washington, D.C."
I said, "Colonel Auer, I want nothing to do with the Judge Advocate
Generalís Department. If Iím going to practice law, I would rather go
back to my office, and thatís how it is."
"Well," he said, "thatís an interesting point of view.
I suppose I should respect it."
I said, "I certainly hope you will."
After I had been at Fort Lewis a month, I was ordered to the headquarters
of the 9th Service
Command at the Presidio of San Francisco. You may recall having heard
the term "service command" with relation to the Army. There
were nine service commands in the United States then. These constituted
the field structure of the Army. Each respectively had responsibility
for the administration and command and management of all posts, camps
and stations, and Army troops in the field within Continental United
States. This structure was soon to be abandoned in favor of other organizational
arrangements. I will briefly allude to these arrangements later because
they have some bearing on some of my subsequent remarks which will be
closer to the center of the area of your interest in gathering this
To return to my new assignment, I was afraid I was going to be assigned
to the Judge Advocateís office of the 9th Service Command. As it turned
out in the beginning, my fears were not well founded. To my delight,
I was assigned to the office of the Assistant Chief of Staff G-3, the
of the general staff of the 9th Service Command.
I enjoyed that service. It did not last long. General Auer apparently
had not changed his mind! I was transferred to the office of the Judge
Advocate of the 9th Service Command!
This also became a relatively brief tour of duty. A month later, I
received orders to report to the Judge Advocate General of the Army
at the War Department in Washington, D.C.
I was assigned to the Military Affairs Section which can be described
as the Attorney Generalís office of the Army. It did not deal with military
justice subjects. Instead, it dealt with the broadest range of legal
questions: international law, civil functions of the Engineer Corps,
administrative law, the status of Army personnel stationed offshore
and abroad, the precursory considerations and legal bases for lend-lease
agreements, for example. I met an expanding circle of both civilian
and military personnel in the War Department and in other executive
departments and agencies. I met members of the
House and Senate and
their key staffers in the course of these duties. While it was not my
desire to be in the law department or in Washington either, I found
my role both stimulating and challenging.
I began to receive a number of assignments bearing very directly upon
the provisions of the National Defense Act and also upon the civil status
of draftees. It fell to me to draft, and to present to the Bureau of
the Budget and then to ten committees, proposed legislation which I
authored known as "The Soldiers and Sailors Civil Relief Act."
There were four legislative committees, two in each House dealing with
military and naval affairs respectively. There were also four subcommittees
of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees dealing with military
and naval affairs. Finally, the Soldiers and Sailors Civil Relief Act
also came under the jurisdiction of the Judiciary Committees, one in
each House. Thus there were ten individual committees through which
the proposed legislation required clearance.
This was an intensive experience. Two major law journals requested
authoritative coverage. I
prepared them and each was published. Within
certain large circles, the demand for these articles was unprecedented.
Requests poured in to the Adjutant General (who then handled all War
Department correspondence and issued all travel orders) that I address
special groups in various sections of the nation. I received orders
to do so.
This brought me into my first direct introduction to then Senator Truman
as a member of the Military Affairs Committee of the Senate (which later
was merged with the Naval Affairs Committee, as you know, to become
the Armed Services Committee after the 1947 Act established the Defense
Establishment). This was "The National Security Act of 1947,"
which Felix Larkin undoubtedly discussed with you. Senator Truman was
very deeply interested in fair protection for draftees and as well for
their families. Most of them had no real means to defend themselves
against various kinds of civil actions brought against them for debt,
or alleged debt, or for mortgage foreclosures or any number of actions
whether in contract or tort, or domestic relations.
and Sailors Civil Relief Act" provided such means. It became milestone
The very intelligent and penetrating questions which Senator Truman
asked were of major assistance to me. Several times he asked me to come
to his office and explain to him whether in fact the provisions of certain
parts of the bill would take care of special situations. He was
interested not only in preparedness, but he thought that protection
of draftees, other military personnel and their families had much to
do with that subject. Most fully, I agreed with him.
HESS: When you would go to his office would you also see Hugh Fulton,
the Chief Counsel of the Committee, or was it generally Mr. Truman?
BENDETSEN: Senator Truman primarily. I knew Mr. Hugh Fulton, but not
well. He was widely respected and I was among the many who admired him.
Many people knew him well but I doubt that he would remember me. Although
I met him on a number of occasions, these were very active days for
A proposal for legislation of this nature such as the Soldiers and
Sailors Civil Relief Act, originating in the War Department, fell within
the purview of the G-l section of the War Department General Staff (the
Personnel Section). The Assistant Chief of Staff then was Brigadier
General [Wade Hampton] Haislip, who after World War II became the Vice
Chief of Staff of the Army. General Haislip presided over the entire
Personnel Section of the General Staff. He was responsible to the Chief
of Staff for personnel program preparation and for proper personnel
actions of every nature, a gargantuan task. He was a very able man.
He took a deep interest in the Soldiers and Sailors Civil Relief Act.
Thus, I had occasion to brief him. On introduction of the measures,
after clearance by the Bureau of the Budget and the White House, he
went to Capitol Hill to introduce the subject and me first to the Military
Affairs Committees of each House.
He then had many other legislative problems to deal with. Apparently
he believed that my handling of the relationships with Senators and
and the other agencies of the Government which were
directly or indirectly involved in the course of the Civil Relief Actís
passage, etc., qualified me to assist him in a variety of other legislative
subjects. He requested that the Judge Advocate General (Major General
Gullion) make my services available to assist him. Shortly this relationship
reached the point in which he would not go to the Hill for any purpose
without taking me along. By that time I could recite from memory, every
line of the National Defense Act, and all of its amendments. It was
a case of necessity. Someone had to be there by his side who knew the
subjects well. In the rush of legislation, much unintentional damage
can otherwise be done.
These assignments led in a very natural way to answering many of Senator
Trumanís questions and to my attendance at informal conferences with
him and others.
Another significant legislative problem arose during the prewar emergency.
A bill, which had been
introduced in both Houses of the Congress was
pending before the Judiciary Committees of both Houses, the exact title
of which escapes me at the moment--it may later return to my recall,
it probably will, usually does. The effect of the bill would have been
to require "quasi-judicial" proceedings, involving
notice, hearings, the right to counsel, in regard to hundreds of thousands
of Executive Department and independent agency actions, both at the
seat of Government and in the field. Its provisions were so sweeping
that, for example, the War Department and Navy Department could not
issue regulations touching military personnel either at the seat of
Government or in the field without giving advance notice of publication
of the proposed regulations and of a date and place for a formal hearing
before an administrative law judge. The provisions of the legislation
were such that the Corps of Engineers in making decisions related to
Civil Works would become enmeshed in a stranglehold of red tape. The
concept did not violate anybodyís sense of justice.
However, the bill
had a potential for great damage by seeking to erect a massive bureaucratic
superstructure over the military departments during a national emergency.
As the hearings developed, I had been directed to represent both the
War and Navy Departments with the consent and approval of both Secretaries
and their respective chief military subordinates as well as the Chief
of Engineers with regard to his extensive civil functions. I cleared
the thrust of my prepared testimony with the Director of the Bureau
of the Budget.
Oh, yes, I do recall the title. It was a measure whose title was: An
Act to Provide for Quasi-Judicial Processes and Procedures Throughout
the Executive Branch; For Notice and Hearings; for Appeals to the Federal
Circuit Courts; and for Other Purposes. It was 350 pages long!
My prepared testimony consisted of twenty pages of summary; plus twenty-six
chapters such as, for example, in each case a chapter for the functions,
respectively, of the Secretaries of War and Navy (including their Under
and Assistant Secretaries); the Chief of Staff and the General Staff
of the Army; the Chief of Naval Operations and the Navy Staff; each
of the Technical Services and Bureaus respectively of the Army, Navy
and Marine Corps; the Munitions Board, etc., etc. These chapters were
topical and were cross-referenced to each section and subsection of
the bill. The chapters filled 200 pages plus annexes. There was a complete
index. The summary, also indexed, was made available separately to meet
My principal appearances on the Hill were before the two Committees
on the Judiciary. It took sixty days of eight to twelve hours each to
complete the research and prepare my testimony.
When I testified as the War Department representative, both in the
House and in the Senate, I was still a captain. And here again, the
then Senator Truman had a very deep interest in this subject because
he could see that it would have profound implications
upon the ability
of the armed services to lift themselves by their boot straps. I might
remind you in this regard that in August of 1940, only 16-1/2 months
before Pearl Harbor, the U.S. Army consisted of 165 thousand officers
and men, total.
BENDETSEN: Yes. That included offshore as well as stateside personnel,
commissioned, warrant and noncommissioned officers as well as enlisted
personnel. It did not include civilian personnel.
HESS: This was at a time too that when the Army would go on maneuvers,
they would have to use broomsticks for rifles, isnít that correct?
BENDETSEN: Well, that is almost correct but not quite. In August
of 1940 the only Army troops on active duty were Regular Army troops
and officers. While their arms were antiquated, they did not use broomsticks.
They had rifles, sidearms and French 75 nun. and other World War I artillery
pieces, still horsedrawn, not even mechanized, some tanks, a few howitzers,
some WWI machine guns, gas masks and old trucks. It was when pursuant
to the Act of August 16, 1940 (Public Law 96), that the large elements
of the National Guard were activated into the Federal service and when
a few months later, large numbers of selectees began to report for induction
into the Army, that there was not sufficient ordnance materiel to equip
them with the basics such as rifles, sidearms, bayonets, or even canteens.
That was the "broomstick" era.
It was during this latter period, in which efforts to remedy these
deficiencies were accelerating, that Senator Truman became interested,
on the one hand, to see to it that preparedness actions would not provide
an umbrella under which to hide abuses, and on the other, to facilitate
an effective preparedness effort.
To return to the "Quasi-Judicial Process" bill, Senator
Truman asked me to summarize for him, before the hearings on the proposed
measure, what I was going to say and why. He wanted to be sure that
he understood it, mainly for his Preparedness Subcommittee
the Military Affairs Committee (then known as a Committee because it
was established by the Senate as a whole).
HESS: Thatís right.
BENDETSEN: It was during the Louisiana maneuvers in the winter and
spring of 1941 (General Eisenhower was then a Brigadier General) that
shortages of ordnance weapons led to the issue of wooden rifles to many
of the personnel involved.
Well, back to the Procedures Act. After I had "negotiated"
the ordeals at the Judiciary Committees, General Haislip asked that
I be assigned to the Office of the Assistant Chief of Staff G-1 over
which he presided. I was then made a member of the General Staff of
the War Department, which is a detail and not a branch. An officer can
be detailed to the General Staff, War Department, or to the General
Staff with Troops from any basic Army branch. It was then that General
Haislip suggested that there was a law which would enable the President
to appoint me as an officer of the Regular Army if I were willing
accept a commission. I said that I was highly complimented by his offer
and hoped that such an appointment would not immediately change the
assignment I had just been given. In consequence, I accepted a commission
in the Regular Army, as a captain. It was a direct appointment by the
President, confirmed by the Senate, and with rank, just before the members
of the graduating Class of 1929 at the Military Academy. Army serial
number 022885 was assigned.
HESS: You will remember that for a long time, wonít you?
BENDETSEN: Yes, although I also remember the serial number I have now
as a retired Reserve officer because it is the same as my Social Security
I had various assignments in the Office of the Assistant Chief of Staff
G-l. These entailed coordination with other elements of the General
Staff. In the course of those assignments came the answers to the questions
which had not then been asked and fully answered for a long time such
as, for example:
If war comes, how will prisoners of war be handled?
Should steps immediately be taken to work out the details of a Prisoner
of War Information Bureau as contemplated by the Geneva Treaty on the
subject, to which the U.S. was a signatory? The Germans and most of
our allies were signatories whereas the Japanese and the Soviets were
not. What steps should be contemplated regarding enemy aliens if war
came? What, if anything, should now be done to prepare for such contingencies?
There had not been a Provost Marshal General since World War I and
no Corps of Military Police since 1921. Should these be reestablished?
If war came and we found ourselves engaged overseas, what about military
government and civil affairs? How would these vital functions be effectively
performed? How would suitably trained officers conversant with these
essentials be provided in a timely manner?
I prepared a study and research agenda to deal with such questions
as these. I formulated a series of recommendations for proposed appropriate
actions which after General Haislip approved, I coordinated
the sections of the General Staff. These followed presentations to the
Chief of Staff and the Secretary of War and briefings for appropriate
Senate and House subcommittees. Then Senator Truman had a deep and abiding
interest in all these questions. We discussed each topic frequently.
He had a keen perception of all aspects of preparedness.
These considerations culminated in approvals (some by the President)
and concurrences by the Military Affairs Committees of the Senate and
the House to create the Office of the Provost Marshal General; the Corps
of Military Policy; and a School of Military Government. In the Senate,
the active support of then Senator Truman was indispensable.
Colonel Wilton B. ("Jerry") Persons, later Major General
Wilton B. Persons, later Special Assistant to the President of the United
States, Mr. Eisenhower, who later became a dear friend of mine, had
observed the performance of my duties on Capitol Hill. He was then the
Chief Congressional Liaison officer of the War Department. His assignment
was a part of the
Office of the Chief of Staff. He recommended to General
Marshall that I be assigned as an assistant to him (Colonel Persons)
for congressional relations.
It was during that service in August of 1941, five months before Pearl
Harbor, that a crisis event took place in the House of Representatives.
The Selective Service Act of August 16, 1940 would expire on August
16, 1941 if not extended by congressional action. The Senate had voted
for extension in a relatively close vote. In the House there were great
pressures to let the Act die. Most people have probably forgotten how
some of the draftees and many others were behaving in those days. Draft
cards were publicly burned. There were riots. There was a concerted
effort to end the draft. It was a "rehearsal" for the anti-Vietnam
As mentioned, the bill passed the Senate by a narrow margin but only
as a consequence of a major effort there. We had worked night and day
trying to supply the Senators, who were the Managers of the Bill to
extend the draft, with every conceivable kind
of information. This was
a very sensitive task. As neither of us was eligible to be on the floor
of the Senate, gallery seats were reserved for Persons and me in the
first row where the Managers of the Bill could see us and we them. We
would signal one of them by a prearranged method or one of them would
signal us, using a mutually agreed method unobservable to the uninitiated.
One or both of us would then rush to the cloakroom of the Senate for
a conference. In some cases, the questions put to us would require that
we reach by telephone either the Chief of Staff of the Army or his Deputy.
Senator Truman was totally committed to extension of the Act. He knew
it to be absolutely essential.
The bill came to the floor of the House for debate a very short time
before it was due to expire, about seven days as I recall. Mr. [Sam]
Rayburn was Speaker of the House. He was for extension. Jerry Persons
and I literally "lived" 18 hours a day on Capitol Hill. There
was strong sentiment against the extension. The Speaker was very kind
to us. He made his outer office and a
special pair of telephones available
to us wherewith to make and receive calls. He assigned a secretary to
us also. He knew that we had to support the Managers of the Bill in
the same manner as in the Senate. Similar arrangements were made with
the Managers of the Bill in the House. We were required to inform Mr.
Stimson, the Secretary of War, the Chief of Staff and the office of
the President of all significant developments. We provided the Speaker
An hour before the final vote, Mr. Rayburn sent word that he wished
to see us both at once. He instructed us to get in touch with the Secretary
of War. He said that if the Secretary agreed with him that we should
state that the Speaker desired that Mr. Stimson get in touch with the
President to seek the latterís agreement. He told us that a compromise
had been proposed which would assure passage if agreed to. He then outlined
the compromise. He stated that the extension Act would limit the total
length of service of each draftee
to 12 months; prohibit service outside
the Continental limits of the 48 states; and require the immediate redeployment
of each individual draftee then serving beyond these territorial limits,
such as for example: Puerto Rico, the Canal Zone, Hawaii, the Philippines
and Alaska. "What do you think of the compromise?" he asked?
I waited for Jerry Persons, my senior, to speak. Colonel Persons said,
"Mr. Speaker, there is a custom in the armed services that the
junior speaks first, because his views should not be prejudiced by hearing
from his superior first, when then he would be constrained to express
his own views." He said, "Karl, tell the Speaker what you
I said, "Mr. Speaker, while I would rather not tell you
what I think, because I donít want to prejudice anything I say, or may
be called upon to say to Mr. Stimson, or the Chief of Staff, or anyone
else on the executive side, if you really want to know I will, of course,
He said, "Yes, I do want to know."
I told him, "Itís untenable, unworkable. It will intensify the
crisis that we already face. This compromise will make it impossible
adequately to train, deploy and replace our soldiers. The logistics
which this compromise would impose are unworkable. They would be inordinately
expensive. The President has declared that an emergency exists. If the
draft is extended under the proposed severe limitations, the people
will believe that the Congress does not believe there is an emergency
and the draftees themselves, those on board now and those later drafted,
will not believe there is any emergency. Morale is not high now. If
the Congress does this, morale will vanish and we could have a series
of mutinies. The country will be torn apart. It will make conditions
in the ranks far worse than they are today. Beyond all this, it will
send the wrong signal to our potential adversaries. Mr. Speaker--that
is my view."
He then asked, "Jerry, what do you think?"
He said, "I think weíre caught up with an unacceptable proposal."
The Speaker said, "Well, so do I."
It was a critical situation. Jerry and I made our telephone calls to
the Chief of Staff and the Secretary of War. After 20 or 30 minutes,
we were instructed to advise the Speaker that the Secretary and the
Chief of Staff "cannot, in deference to our accountability for
the preparedness of the nation agree to such a compromise."
The Speaker said, "We will see what happens. I canít predict the
result." He handled the situation masterfully. A final vote was
soon taken. It was the then to become famous vote of 201 to 200 in favor.
Mr. Rayburn banged the gavel at a critical moment and declared the Bill
had passed. If he had not banged it at the precise moment he did, the
vote would have been reversed in the next few minutes. The fainthearted
Congressmen who had voted "aye" would have switched their
votes when they realized that there were 200 votes against. The Speaker
sensed this and he knew his parliamentary rules full well. If the nation
owed anyone a debt, it was to him for that forthright action. He later
told us in his office that as he raised the gavel,
he saw five "doves"
on the way to the floor of the House. He knew they would sink the extension!
Still later, we all went over to see Senator Truman who invited us to
Les Biffleí s office (The Secretary of the Senate) where we raised a
toast with a small splash of bourbon!
Shortly after this dramatic experience, my assignment to the office
of the Chief of Staff under Colonel Persons terminated. I disliked to
leave it. The establishment of the Provost Marshall Generalís Office
had been approved while all of this had been going on and General Allen
W. Gullion, who was the Judge Advocate General when I was suddenly transferred
from the Presidio of San Francisco to General Gullionís office, had
been appointed the Provost Marshall General. He went to the Chief of
Staff and later told me that he said to the Chief of Staff, "Iíd
like to have Captain Bendetsen, and Iíd like you to promote him to temporary
Major. He knows more about what needs to be done than anybody else.
He made the study, he did the work, he
researched the World War I history,
he has a good base. This will require coordination with the FBI, the
Justice Department and other agencies. He will have to keep certain
people on the Hill informed. He has demonstrated his capacity for this
assignment. His experience is just what I need." The Chief of Staff
agreed. I was promoted to the temporary rank of Major and assigned as
General Gullionís assistant.
It proved to be a many faceted assignment entailing extensive research
and detailed preparation of plans and programs which required coordination
and concurrences both within and beyond the War Department.
Included were specifics for site selection; construction arrangements
for housing of enemy aliens during wartime; laying the groundwork and
readying for immediate activation in case of war of a Prisoner of War
Information Bureau. In this latter case, the Department of State, the
Swiss Embassy and the International Red Cross were heavily involved.
As should be evident, the enemy alien aspects entailed close consultation
with U.S. intelligence agencies, notably the FBI, the Offices of Naval
Intelligence and Army Intelligence.
Negotiations were initiated for the establishment of a School of Military
Government to be located at the University of Virginia.
Senator Truman envisioned all of these needs. He closely questioned
me and made many valuable suggestions.
Some of my duties dealt with subjects of a very sensitive and highly
classified nature. These led General Gullion to conclude that someone
be sent to the Hawaiian and Philippine Departments of the Army, as they
were then known, for coordinating conferences. The Commanding General
of the Hawaiian Department was General Walter C. Short whose headquarters
were at Fort Shafter on the outskirts of the City of Honolulu. The Commanding
General of the Philippine Department was General Douglas MacArthur.
General Gullion made such an urgent recommendation to the Chief of
Staff who talked to the Secretary of
War. The recommendation was approved
and it was decided that I should go with the title of Special Representative
of the Secretary of War. This answers the question you asked me about
how I happened to see General Douglas MacArthur in late 1941 and also
answers a similar question relative to my conference with General Short
and Admiral Kimmel at Fort Shafter shortly before the attack on Pearl
I conferred with General Short and his staff on the way to the Philippines
as well as with the Office of Naval Intelligence, the FBI and the Immigration
and Naturalization Service. At the conclusion of my Hawaiian Department
mission, I left via Boeing Clipper for the Philippines.
On my return from the conferences in the Philippines with General MacArthur
and his staff and others, I briefly stopped over at Fort Shafter, the
Headquarters of the Hawaiian Department arriving via Boeing Clipper
at Pearl Harbor on the afternoon of December 4. The through passengers,
myself included, were advised that scheduled departure for San Francisco
would be delayed several hours. General Short sent for me.
HESS: What did General MacArthur and General Short have to say to you
during the trip?
BENDETSEN: Before responding to your question, I will summarize my
remaining travel. I stayed overnight with General Short at his invitation
because we (the passengers) had been informed that the Boeing Clipper
would not be ready for departure until the next night. This explains
why I could not leave until the night of December 5.
I was introduced to Admiral Kimmel at dinner the night of the fifth.
After dinner at General Shortís quarters, I left for San Francisco.
At San Francisco I boarded the first available flight to Washington.
It flew overnight landing there about 9 a.m. December 7, 1941 (before
the fateful attack on Pearl Harbor). Nine a.m. Washington time was 4
a.m. at Honolulu. The Clipper departed Pearl Harbor at approximately
9:30 p.m. It landed at San Francisco nonstop over fourteen hours later
on December 6. The cross-country flight with three essential stops entailed
about fifteen hours. Thus,
the United AirLines flight could not reach
Washington, D.C. until approximately 9 a.m., December 7.
I went by taxi directly to the office of the Chief of Staff. Walter
Bedell Smith was on duty. He was then a Lieutenant Colonel in the office
of the Secretary, General Staff. As an Assistant Secretary, he was duty
officer that morning. (Parenthetically, I omitted to mention that I
had briefly served in that Secretariat.) To go on--I reported to Colonel
Smith that I had been requested by General Short to convey a personal
and important message to the Chief of Staff as soon as possible. He
said, "The Chief will want to see you, and he will soon be here,
so instead of briefing yourself to me, you look a little tired, why
donít you go home, kiss your wife, freshen up and return here promptly.
I will order a staff car for you to save time. The Chief left here about
8:30 for some exercise. He will have some incoming and outgoing messages
to attend to; so be here by 10 a.m."
HESS: Horseback riding?
BENDETSEN: Right. "He will see you then."
HESS: This was his routine on Sunday mornings, was it not?
BENDETSEN: Yes, it was. I reached my residence in Bethesda, Maryland,
just over the District line. I was happily greeted by my wife--I had
been away for some time. And as we were walking arm-in-arm into the
house, the telephone rang. My wife answered, and she said, "Itís
for you, dear." It was Bedell Smith. He said, "The Chief is
coming in the building, get back down here right away!" and hung
HESS: But you didnít know anything about the attack at that time.
BENDETSEN: No, I did not learn of the attack until I reached the Munitions
Building in record time some twenty minutes later. He did not tell me
anything on the phone. Word was only then being flashed to the President,
the Secretaries of State, War and Navy.
I will now summarize what I was told by General Short and Admiral Kimmel
and staff--the nature of the urgent private channel messages which General
Short and Admiral Kimmel so intensively wished me to convey.
I was told by General Short at dinner that many months prior to December
5, 1941, the Army and Navy forces commanded from Hawaii had been on
Yellow Alert and the Pacific Fleet was not concentrated in Pearl Harbor.
Yellow Alert is a 24-hours per day, 7-days per week alert with all stations
and facilities manned (some skeleton manning) with minimal leaves, furloughs
and passes and no weekend intervals and with communications and early
warning networks being manned fully around the clock. Yellow Alert is
only one stage less than Red Alert wherein all battle stations, communications
and other facilities are fully manned around the clock, etc.
Further, I was informed that the Yellow Alert had been cancelled by
direction of the President. Shortly after this order (which greatly
surprised both) the Commander in Chief ordered the concentration of
Pacific Fleet in Pearl Harbor.
I was informed that each had appealed to Washington repeatedly, Kimmel
for permission to disperse the Fleet and both Short and Kimmel to resume
Yellow Alert status with air and naval patrols. Each time, word came
that the President declined to approve their requests.
The urgent messages given to me were well reasoned and in part factually
supported appeals to authorize Red Alert status, dispersal of the Fleet
and resumption of air and seaborne patrols. They placed their hopes
upon the effectiveness of private and personally delivered messages
of the nature entrusted to me. Each one believed that classified command
channels were of no avail because they were regularly furnished to both
the Department of State and the White House. Having resort to me to
make a direct presentation to General Marshall was in effect almost
an act of desperation. Both told me that each had separately concluded
all signs pointed to the likelihood of surprise attack of some kind.
They stressed that large elements of Japanese naval strength had been
on radio silence. They cited among other supporting facts suspicious
behavior on the part of some Japanese residents whom Intelligence kept
under close surveillance.
General Short said as I was taking my leave from his quarters to board
the flight to San Francisco, "You could well save the day, perhaps
you could well be the last hope. If I had my say, my command would be
on Red Alert now."
When I returned to the Munitions Building from my home, Colonel Smith
told me of the surprise attack. I then knew, of course, the urgent messages
I carried had become of no avail. Before I later saw the Chief of Staff,
I had talked by telephone to Colonel Fielder at Fort Shafter. He was
then Assistant Chief of Staff G-2 (Intelligence) of the Hawaiian Department
which General Short commanded. He had been at the dinner the evening
of December 5. I telephoned him because it was my duty to relate some
important instructions concerning enemy aliens.
When he came on the line and I had delivered these instructions, I
then asked, "Do you know whether General Short would wish me to
present the messages from him (and Admiral Kimmel) to the Chief of Staff
in view of what has already happened? I said that in my opinion, there
would inevitably be great outcries and endless Congressional investigations
as to why our Fleet was concentrated at Pearl Harbor and why there was
no early warning, let alone interception of approaching enemy naval
and carrier-borne air forces. General Short can well either wish me
to report or ask that I not do so. The messages are potentially hot."
He replied to me, "When I was with General Short about twenty
minutes ago, he said to me ĎIt would probably be just as well if Bendetsen
did not deliver the messages from us although I would not attempt to
intercept him. The messages will not do any good now and would probably
add to General Marshallís already crushing burdens if they are delivered.í"
I answered, "Bedell Smith knows I have messages from General Short
to convey to the Chief of Staff. I will tell him these messages would
now be of no practical use. However, when and if I see the Chief of
Staff and if I am asked to report, necessarily and obviously I will
have no choice but to convey them."
Colonel Fielder said, "Of course, you will have no choice."
Several hours intervened until I was directed to report immediately
to the Chief of Staff.
He said, "I have been informed that your assigned missions were
each accomplished. If anything, you were dispatched on your journey
when it was far later than we thought. I understand you were with General
Short and Admiral Kimmel the evening of December 5. Tell me very briefly
the essence of what they said to you that evening and then tell me the
essence of what General MacArthur said to you on the prime topic."
I replied, "General Short and Admiral Kimmel told me that they
expected a sneak attack at any
time and stated their reasons (which
I stated) and that they were gravely concerned that the major elements
of the U.S. Pacific Fleet were at maximum risk while concentrated in
Pearl Harbor by Presidential order; and that Red Alert status or second
best, Orange Alert, was urgently needed. Each requested for himself
respectively that I carry a personal message to the Chief of Naval Operations
from Admiral Kimmel."
I continued: "General MacArthur told me that he had received assurances
of support which he appreciated; that he had received some badly needed
reinforcements, especially B-l7 s; that preparations for defense were
proceeding but not ostentatiously (as directed by Washington) and that
the order to conduct such activities under cover was naturally a handicap.
He added that although he believed an attack on the Philippines to be
inevitable, he was convinced it would not come before the spring of
1942." I added, "He did not elaborate his reasons for this
conclusion. The setting was such as to
cause me to decide that I was
not in an appropriate position to ask, and my decision was reinforced
by my belief that had he felt I should know, he would have made this
HESS: All right, Mr. Bendetsen, when you were in the Philippines and
in the Hawaiian Islands, what else did you discuss with General MacArthur
and General Short?
BENDETSEN: I met with both General MacArthur and General Short and
their general and certain special staff officers, to discuss with them,
among other subjects, the arrangements which were to be carried into
effect, if war came concerning compliance with the Geneva Convention
as it applied to prisoners of war and an Information Bureau. We profoundly
hoped if war came, as seemed ever more probable, the Japanese would
respect the treaty. The Secretaries of War, Navy and State desired that
the United States forces scrupulously abide by the Geneva Convention
in the hope that our example would be emulated by our adversaries. As
you know, as it turned out, the
Japanese disregarded it except for diplomats.
The Germans complied both as to diplomats and military prisoners.
We also discussed at length the arrangements which were to be placed
into effect concerning enemy aliens within their respective jurisdictions
who, for reasons established by intelligence sources, were presumed
to be dangerous, or potentially dangerous, in a wartime situation.
These two subjects were among the principal purposes of my trip
and the details were important, somewhat complex and required more than
the transmittal of orders to each Commanding General. There were aspects
which necessarily had to be highly confidential. In the light
of history, everyone knows what happened. The purposes for which I was
sent were sensitive at that time in what proved to be a delicate prewar
situation. As we know, war was much more imminent at the time of my
visits than any of us involved then assumed.
HESS: As you spoke with both General MacArthur and General
before the attack, was it discussed as to how imminent the attack might
be, or when the attack might come?
BENDETSEN: The subject of the very tenuous relationships between the
United States Government and the Japanese Government, and the growing
probability that these might deteriorate into a war situation in the
Pacific area, were discussed at length, both in the Philippines with
General MacArthur and staff, and in the Hawaiian territory with General
Short and staff. When you speak of "the attack," I would wish
to make clear that "the attack" in the terms in which it actually
happened was not discussed "outbound" with General Short--only
on my brief stopover at Fort Shafter on my return trip.
In the case of the discussions at General Mac Arthurís headquarters
our discussions did embrace the possibilities of a heavy Japanese attack
on the Philippines at several points with landings in force. An air
attack was not expected; carriers were not considered. Taiwan was beyond
their available round
trip capacity. However, no one I encountered there
gave any slightest indication that he even conjectured that there would
be an air attack on Pearl Harbor. It was on my return trip stopover
at Pearl Harbor that both Short and Kimmel had then become convinced
that an attack had become a distinct probability. As I have stated,
the "mind-set" to which I have referred had yielded to the
recognition of what aircraft carriers could make feasible.
HESS: I was really asking if the possibility that war might break out
in the Pacific was discussed.
BENDETSEN: I take it that your question seeks to pin down whether the
imminence of war was discussed.
HESS: Thatís right.
BENDETSEN: The answer is very definitely yes and I believe I have clearly
HESS: But you feel that information is still classified, correct?
BENDETSEN: Well, Mr. Hess, I have no current knowledge concerning the
question what, if any, aspects remain
classified today. There are no
classifications applicable to anything that I have thus far stated.
I do not feel that in the absence of definite knowledge of total declassification
of all pertinent aspects of who knew what and when he knew it, I should
now continue further. To repeat, the short answer is that both in the
Philippines and Hawaii the subject that war in the Pacific might well
be imminent was extensively discussed and on my return stopover at Fort
Shafter I was asked to convey to General Marshall a message that he
secure approval to authorize very urgent measures for placing all forces
on Full Alert--an around-the-clock all out defense posture for which
authority had been denied by Presidential direction.
HESS: All right.
BENDETSEN: For the reason stated of lack of definite knowledge, I regret
that I do not now feel at liberty to report fully on the conversation
of December 7, 1941 between the Chief of Staff and me during our brief
conference. In order to fully cooperate, I will however carefully check
the status of classifications and if I find that I can do so, I will
enlarge upon the conversations between the Chief of Staff and me.
BENDETSEN: Inasmuch as all applicable classifications have expired,
I find that I am free to expand on my meeting with General Marshall
on December 7, 1941. In order to provide both setting and context to
a suitable degree, there will be some repetition.
On my way westbound through Pearl Harbor, I did not see Admiral Kimmel.
I did, however, see General Short and some members of his staff, including
Colonel Fielder, his Chief of Intelligence (G-2). I received the impression
then that General Short and Colonel Fielder were uncomfortable about
the situation but had not reached the point where I could say that their
remarks indicated to me whether either had reason to believe that an
attack by the Japanese was imminent. However, it was quite clear that
although it would not be General Shortís responsibility to interdict
a naval warship and carrier-borne surprise attack, he did command Army
Air Corps forces which could, if alerted, inflict heavy damage on an
attempt. Certainly the subject had a great deal to do with the defense
of the Islands. He was profoundly disturbed by the very inviting target
of U.S. Navy warships in Pearl Harbor provided. I
believe you will find that the record will show that there were 94 American
warships, including aircraft carriers and eight battleships, anchored
there. I know you realize that battleships were then considered to be
the queens of the sea.
As a matter of fact, General Short was not alone in his concern. Admiral
John O. Richardson, who once commanded the Fleet, has written a very
revealing book on the subject which is in my possession. Its title is
On the Treadmill to Pearl Harbor. General Short was profoundly
disturbed. He told me that he had exerted great effort through channels
to urge that the President be persuaded to authorize the dispersal of
the main strength of the U.S. Fleet from Pearl Harbor. As I indicated
to you, our naval strength had been concentrated there on orders of
the Commander in Chief, Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
I do not believe that President Roosevelt was motivated in this regard
by any sinister purpose. Some military (Army and Navy) officers were
of the view that the President believed that the Japanese would be provoked
more certainly if the Pacific Fleet were on patrol on the high seas.
Furthermore, there was a
very deeply engraved "mind-set" in
those days among many senior military officers of the Army and the Navy.
This "mind-set" was so antiquated that very probably almost
no senior officer, military or political, had any concept that Japanese
Air could reach Pearl Harbor, let alone Manila. What is amazing is that
both the U.S. and Japan had aircraft carriers. I am sure you do not
fully realize unless you have encountered this in your deep studies
of the records of the time that both the War and the Navy Departments
separately estimated that Japanese air could not reach Manila from Taiwan,
reflecting an almost unbelievable mind-set. What about carrier-borne
General MacArthur on the other hand clearly believed that a full-fledged
Japanese attack was imminent in the spring of 1942 and stated so to
me. However, he had concluded that it could not come before April of
1942. I have no idea on what basis he reached that conclusion. I later
learned that this appraisal had been previously shared by General Marshall.
For myself, I was then at a loss to understand the basis for any of
these various estimates. I remain so today.
There had finally been a reversal in the War Department of a
longstanding position (which is no longer secret but certainly
was then highly classified)
that the Philippines would
not be defended and that if any U.S. forces were
there at the time of a Japanese attack, these forces would take refuge
in the Bataan Peninsula, a rugged wilderness. That longstanding position
was stubbornly adhered to by the senior officials of the War Department
until as late as the spring or early summer of 1941. MacArthur had finally
convinced General Marshall that the Philippines must be defended and
should be reinforced as soon as possible with ground, naval and air
When I arrived in Manila, General MacArthur had already received some
B-l7 bombers with which to attack Japanese warships, should they approach,
and of course, for other purposes. B-l7s could inflict great damage
on Japanese positions elsewhere in the Western Pacific. The War Department
also promised additional troops and some few had begun to arrive. It
is my recollection that at the time of Pearl Harbor, MacArthur probably
had a total U.S. ground force of around six to seven
thousand. The plans
were to augment these ground forces with additional artillery, mortars,
other heavy infantry weapons, more modern rifles than outdated Enfields,
and large stocks of ammunition.
General MacArthur, it is reported, had been sympathetic toward General
"Billy" Mitchell and it is also reported that he voted for
acquittal on the charges which had been brought against General Mitchell
but no one knows for certain. I say this because this would indicate
that General MacArthur had some advance and sympathetic concepts of
air power, but he was by no means a full convert. For that matter, no
one of importance either in the Navy or at the top levels of conventional
Army forces had fully subscribed to the claims of air power advocates.
As late as 1941, the concepts obtained that wars were to be fought
as they had been fought in the past. Some of the lessons of World War
I were still painfully accepted. Early in World War I, General Haig
of Britain thought the machine gun was vastly overrated and that the
tank was a toy. Incredible but true!
We cannot forget the Maginot line in France. It was based upon refusing
to believe that if World War II came it would be a war of mobility.
I am anxious to say, however, that the top level officers of the War
Department, and certainly General MacArthur, believed then that in any
"next war," ground warfare would necessarily entail mobility.
But this did not greatly influence the thinking behind the notion that
94 men-of-war would be safe in Pearl Harbor. So thought the President
of the United States and many others--but certainly not Admiral Richardson.
General MacArthur believed that if he was to be reinforced, as he then
thought the reversal of the War Department plans for the defense of
the Philippines had promised, he could defend the Philippines. He had
in mind highly mobile small torpedo boats to harass the enemyís men-of-war
and shipping support. He had in mind making the landing beaches untenable
which would not be hard to do if the enemy had no air cover.
At least by the time of my return trip through
Pearl Harbor, General
Short and Admiral Kimmel, each for himself, had liberated themselves
from the old mind-set. They realized that carrier-borne attack aircraft
could be brought within striking distance of Pearl Harbor.
So, when I returned to Pearl Harbor, General Short and Admiral Kimmel
made clear that each was deeply disturbed by the concentration of U.S.
Pacific Fleet sea power in Pearl Harbor for the reasons already stated.
Both knew that the Islands could not be defended without sea power deployed
for battle action. Both realized that with a sneak approach of naval
carriers an air attack could be launched, as I have already indicated.
Both of them were highly nervous about the situation. They indicated
to me that each not only believed that an attack could come any time
and that therefore they believed it imperative to place all forces under
their respective commands on Red Alert and to deploy the Pacific Fleet
I did not learn until after I had returned to the Munitions Building
that at the end of November
or within a day or two prior to the end
of November, the War Department had cabled MacArthur with information
copies to Short and Kimmel that negotiations between Japan and the United
States had then broken down. The cable stated that the outlook for resumption
was bleak. That some sort of a surprise Japanese attack somewhere might
well be imminent was not specifically mentioned.
No one in authority except Short and Kimmel had concluded that an
attack could come before spring. Each of them had developed strong hunches
that a naval attack on Pearl Harbor could come at any time. When that
cable was sent, the Japanese fleet was already in force with carrier-borne
aircraft on the high seas in radio silence steaming for its attack upon
Pearl Harbor, the Philippines and Singapore.
No one needs to be reminded that the main purpose of the attack on
Pearl Harbor was to disable a substantial part of the U.S. Pacific Fleet.
This in itself indicates that the mind-set of the Japanese as well as
of the U.S. military authorities was that
World War II would be very
much the same in many respects as previous wars. The lesson that this
war would not be the same as the last previous one did not fully
dawn upon the Japanese until after Midway, as we now know. As one
authority some years ago observed to me, Yamamoto did not seem to realize
that the air power he used against the US. Fleet in Pearl Harbor could
also be used against his men-of-war as it was so ingeniously and effectively
It was undoubtedly this secret cable which so substantially stimulated
the concerns of General Short and Admiral Kimmel. There is no doubt
that I was in Manila when this secret cable arrived, although I then
had no knowledge of it.
Activity was however intense on the part of MacArthurís general staff
when I arrived. I cannot say that I observed any marked change in degree
between the time when I first arrived and when I left. In contrast to
Short and Kimmel, I repeat that MacArthur still thought that if an attack
it would not come before spring. Certainly his staff, including
his Chief of Staff General Sutherland, were not yet brought forward
into the air age and although MacArthur ordered the dispersal of his
air power, limited though it was, his Chief of Staff delayed for
three days in carrying General MacArthurís orders into effect. The delay
of three days was fateful. As a result, most of MacArthurís air power
was destroyed on the ground by Japanese air forces.
I hope the foregoing background which I have inserted will prove useful
to the reader.
I will now cover my audience with General Marshall on December 7, 1941
in greater detail.
Approximately two hours after I had returned to the Munitions Building,
the Chief of Staff sent for me.
As soon as I had taken my place in his office he said, "Bendetsen,
I know you have been without sleep for over 48 hours. Remarkably, you
do not show it. Now that we have been forced into a war of vast dimensions,
your unusual endurance will stand you in good stead."
He went on: "I have learned from Smith that you had dinner with
Short and Kimmel the evening of December 5. Tell me briefly the substance
of what was said to you and of any important messages you were asked
personally to convey."
I replied that each had expressed deep concern about the continued
concentration of the Pacific Fleet in Pearl Harbor by Presidential order
and by the continuing hold on authorizations to place their respective
forces on Red Alert, or at least Orange Alert. Their concerns had been
heightened by official word several days earlier that U.S.-Japanese
negotiations had broken down. I was requested to carry personal messages
appealing for action they considered of prime urgency to bring about
authorizations from the Commander in Chief to assume Red Alert and naval
orders immediately to deploy the Fleet in battle array.
General Marshall then told me that he knew we shared an extraordinary
degree of regret that I had not been at Fort Shafter the evening of
December 4 rather than December 5. He continued: "For your
only, at 8 oíclock the morning of December 4, Washington, D.C. time,
I sent messages to MacArthur and to Short directing that all forces
and facilities be immediately placed on full Red Alert (war footing
against surprise attack by seaborne carrier air). At that same time
the Chief of Naval Operations was authorized to send similar messages
to Naval Commanders in the Pacific area. Kimmel was directed by that
message immediately to deploy the Fleet, assuming battle stations."
The Chief of Staff added that he had not learned until immediately
after the attack that neither of these messages had been delivered.
He said, "These messages were enciphered with topmost security
classification. Each was sent through the same security communications
channel with highest priority. There was an unprecedented failure of
the sophisticated enciphering and deciphering equipment. None of the
Army or Naval Commanders to whom they were addressed received then.
You may not yet know that MacArthurís aircraft had not been adequately
dispersed and that he lost much of his air power,
"Singapore was also attacked with heavy losses. The U.S. Pacific
Fleet had been disabled. The concentration of sea power in Pearl Harbor
became a major disaster. The President had ordered the concentration
to avoid what he thought might be a provocation to the Japanese if the
Fleet had been deployed.
"If you had been able to be with General Short and Admiral Kimmel
the evening of December 4, you would have reported to me the morning
of December 6 with the messages you were carrying. This would have informed
us that my top priority directives as well as those sent to the Naval
Commanders in the Pacific had not been transmitted. There would then
have remained adequate time greatly to diminish the crushing impact
of the day. By travelling straight through you did your utmost as it
What a superbly remarkable man General Marshall was! I hold a deep
sense of profound respect and admiration for him. In the light of the
burdens he bore I was literally overwhelmed that he would take
even a few minutes for such extraordinary consideration of a junior
As I left the office of the Chief of Staff, I bore a heavy burden which
I could not share with anyone else. I felt deep sympathy for General
Marshall whose vital messages of December 4 were not delivered. This
knowledge, imparted by the Chief to me for my ears alone, I could not
reveal to anyone. There was no escape from a searing sense of guilt
that somehow, some way I could have arrived at Pearl Harbor two days
earlier on the next previously scheduled Clipper flight and at Washington
on the morning of December 6. Lives might not have been lost. Our naval
and military resources might not have been so cruelly decimated.
Beyond these painful thoughts there was overlaid an abiding concern
born of the onslaught of the revelations to me during the outbound
stopover at Shafter and during my temporary duty at Manila. How was
it possible that so many officers could harbor
and hold such mind-sets?
Both we and the Japanese had developed aircraft carriers. How could
it escape so many professionals that carrier-borne aircraft could attack
Clarke Field in the Philippines? And Pearl Harbor? What did this portend
for our forces and our nation?
I have never before related to anyone any of the foregoing, either
orally or in writing.
This is the end of the INSERT.
HESS: After your return to the United States, on that Sunday, you have
stated you went back to the War Department. What was the attitude around
the War Department at this time? Was there shock and surprise that the
Japanese had attacked in Pearl Harbor on that December the 7th?
BENDETSEN: Yes, there was. Without exception the news struck with stunning
force. Word of the devastating degree of destruction spread quickly.
When it was further fully realized that there was virtually no warning
because the garrisons had not been on any degree of alert but instead
were on "weekend" status,
there was also a sense of disbelief
and shame. The added awareness that a major portion of the Fleet had
been destroyed because it had been concentrated as a ready-made target
was also a source of anger.
HESS: What were a few of your first duties after war ensued? What were
a few of the first problems that you had to deal with?
BENDETSEN: They were widely varied. Their essence was to activate the
detailed plans which I have heretofore mentioned: The organization and
launching of the military government school; full activation of the
Corps of Military Police; full activation of the functions of the Provost
Marshall Generalís Department, including a military police training
center; the establishment of the Prisoner of War Information Bureau;
the carrying into effect of the measures regarding potentially or actually
dangerous aliens within our boundaries including Hawaii and Alaska.
These steps were all promptly taken in parallel. The enemy alien reception
immediately placed in operation with skeleton manning.
One of these was established at a hotel. This was for diplomats of enemy
nations. The War Department had no authority over enemy aliens anywhere
except following the issuance of Executive Order 9066 on February 19,
1942. This applied to enemy aliens within the Western Defense Command
Placing the Prisoner of War Information Bureau in active status required
meticulous compliance with the considerably complex provisions of the
applicable Geneva Convention. A host of important details required crystal
clear explanation and dissemination so that grievous mistakes were not
made which might penalize our own nationals in enemy hands. Effective
instruction in compliance with the Geneva Convention was essential.
HESS: The evacuation of the Japanese from the West Coast was carried
out under the authority of Executive Order 9066 of February 19, 1942
and the War Relocation Authority was established by Executive Order
9102 of March 18, 1942. Lieutenant General John
DeWitt was Commanding
General of the Western Defense Command.
BENDETSEN: And Fourth Army.
HESS: ...and Fourth Army. And he was the military man in charge of
carrying out the relocation, correct?
BENDETSEN: No, he was delegated by the President to carry out the evacuation
ordered by Executive Order 9066 dated February 19, 1942. The later Executive
Order 9102 dated March 18, 1942 covered relocation only. It had nothing
to do with evacuation. The War Relocation Authority was a civilian agency.
It was not at any time a part of the War Department or the Army. It
took over after the evacuation phase. The military phase was usually
termed evacuation (from the sea frontiers). General DeWitt delegated
the entire evacuation task to me. No one could possibly have been more
surprised than I to find myself in this position.
HESS: Thatís right.
BENDETSEN: The War Relocation Authority was not established until sometime
after Executive Order 9066 was issued. It did not do any relocating
HESS: This is from the 1942 volume of the Papers of Franklin Delano
Roosevelt. It is the note to item 37. Item 37 is the "Establishment
of the War Relocation Authority, Executive Order 9102, March the 18th
of 1942" and the note was by the editor, Samuel I. Rosenman. Just
to give some background so that people will know what we are looking
at at the present time.
BENDETSEN: Paragraphs 1 and 2 of your citation do not accurately describe
the function and role of the War Relocation Authority. It performed
no duties whatever until the evacuation phase had been completed and
the persons of Japanese ancestry who still then remained in custody
had been placed in ten Relocation Centers established by the Army inland
to hold the evacuees until they could be absorbed into the economies
of inland states. Only when all of them had been placed there, after
Centers had been staffed and manned in all respects,
did the War Relocation Authority take over any operating functions
of any kind. As I will later add in my account, it seriously mishandled
HESS: It was all done by the Army up until that time, right?
BENDETSEN: Yes, by an agency of the Western Defense Command and Fourth
Army known as the WCCA, the Wartime Civil Control Administration. I
was the Commanding Officer, an assignment I most certainly did not seek.
I refer you to a volume on file in the Library of Congress in which
General DeWitt reports on the carrying into effect of Executive Order
9066 to the Chief of Staff and the Secretary of War in a complete and
totally documented factual way.
General DeWitt made a complete delegation to me of the provisions of
Executive Order 9066 which had been delegated to him. I had the responsibility
for carrying out the entire program which I will
describe to you in
a few moments. The delegation by the President of the United States
to the Secretary of War of the provisions of Executive Order 9066 of
February 19, 1942 was in turn by the Secretary of War, delegated to
the Chief of Staff of the United States Army, General Marshall. In turn
by Marshall, there was a complete and total delegation to General DeWitt,
and finally by General DeWitt there was a complete and final delegation
to me with the approval of the Secretary of War. I will describe all
this in the course of my narrative.
Starting at the beginning, and viewed in the perspective of the months
following December 7, 1941, and especially the winter and spring of
1942, you will recall through other oral histories, and from your general
knowledge, that the tides of war in the Pacific were running most adversely
to the United States. Our naval forces had been crippled, we had suffered
many reverses; the Japanese had successfully shelled the West Coast
of the United States with submarine-mounted cannon; had bombed military
bases in the Aleutian Islands as far east
as Cold Harbor and Kodiak;
had occupied the Aleutian Islands of Attu and Kiska.
You will also recall that the preponderance of all persons of Japanese
ancestry residing on the West Coast of the United States, west of the
Sierra Nevadas, the Cascades, and in the southern halves of Arizona
and New Mexico, had largely concentrated themselves into specific and
readily identifiable clusters.
They carried on their own culture; their own educational system. Their
Shinto religious beliefs predominated and these beliefs coupled with
the isolation which arose out of the legal restrictions of the applicable
laws of the U.S. and California, Oregon and Washington states then in
force, combined in influence to generate a separate way of life. You
will recall also that the Alien Exclusion Acts (which I always felt
embodied very bad policy with which I was never in sympathy) nevertheless
were in force over many decades. The fact was that under these Acts,
people of Japanese ancestry (who migrated to the United States from
Japan) were not permitted to intermarry with U.S. citizens, were not
to own land or to take legal title to land and could not become
citizens. And so, over the years there was very little real assimilation
either of the migrant or of the first generation Japanese born of the
many thousands of native Japanese who had migrated to the United States.
The U.S.-born are Nisei; the migrants Kibei.
The Justice Department and the FBI had great concerns about national
security on the Pacific Sea Frontier, west of the mountain ranges, and
in the southern halves of Arizona and New Mexico where there were extensive
but unmonitored boundaries, with Mexico to the south, for traffic into
the United States. It is still going on.
HESS: They canít stop it now.
BENDETSEN: General DeWitt, as Commanding General, was responsible for
the defense of the Western Sea Frontier, including Alaska. The tides
of war there were almost totally adverse, with one disaster after another.
Our first victory was the Battle
of Midway. It gave us a slender margin
of hope. General DeWitt was vitally concerned. The War Department became
vitally concerned, the FBI and the Justice Department became vitally
concerned, and so did the President himself. An Assistant Attorney General,
Mr. James Henry Rowe, Jr., was the principal Justice Department action
officer responsible in this field. Mr. Tom Clark (later the Attorney
General of the United States and Justice of the Supreme Court) was the
Special Representative of the Department of Justice on the West Coast
in Los Angeles. His duties then concerned only this subject.
Unscrupulous persons were imposing on the Japanese and this led to
many false reports that they lost all their properties. This was not
so. Doubtless a few of them were exploited. Nothing was ever confiscated.
To the contrary, extraordinary measures were taken to preserve their
You will recall that units of U.S. Marine Reserves and of the National
Guard from Arizona, California, Oregon and Washington had been stationed
in the Philippines prior to December 7, 1941. These units had been decimated
by the Japanese who treated them brutally as prisoners of war, a subject
which had become widely known. Anti-Japanese feeling was intense.
The situation which arose from these reports created a powder keg.
Violence was near at hand. General DeWitt, after conferring with various
people, communicated with General Marshall that he felt he could not
provide for the security of the sea frontier, its sensitive installations,
the vital manufacturing establishments, and the harbor facilities; and
that he could not deal with inchoate civil violence unless effective
means of bringing the deteriorating situation under control could be
I was sent out to the headquarters of General DeWitt to confer with
him as a representative of the War Department. I made many such trips
in December and January. I became a "commuter."
My assignment was to gather facts and convey General DeWittís analyses
to his superiors in
Washington. Each time I returned from the Presidio
I would brief General Gullion, the Provost Marshal General, the Chief
of Staff, the Assistant Secretary of War (Mr. McCloy), Mr. James Rowe
of Justice and others.
It never occurred to me that I would be assigned to General DeWittís
command with duties related to an evacuation of persons of Japanese
ancestry from the West Coast. I did not recommend such action. I was
never asked my opinion. Certainly I did not seek such an assignment
and would not have desired it. I did my best as a staff officer, accurately
to reflect the concerns of General DeWitt and his staff, of the FBI,
of Mr. Clark, of the Naval Commander (Admiral Greenslade) and faithfully
to convey these concerns to the authorities in the War Department, Justice
Department and the White House staff. I also went to Capitol Hill and
reported to certain members of the House and Senate. At his request,
I reported the concerns of all of these officials to Senator Truman.
HESS: What did he say?
BENDETSEN: He concluded that it was a grave and serious situation
and stated the case clearly. He paid me a compliment. He said, "I
think the staff work is in good hands. You are objective. It takes objectivity
to gather the facts and be the go-between in a situation of this gravity."
Finally, as he was preparing a "signal" that our conference
was over, Senator Truman asked me to tell him in confidence whether
I would be inclined to recommend that Japanese residents be evacuated
from the West Coast. I told him that I had thus far studiously avoided
reaching my own conclusion and hoped I would continue to refrain. I
explained that I considered it my duty to report the locations of the
principal concentrations of Japanese, and the concerns of the civil
and military authorities on the West Coast and to present their views
regarding what they considered to be the alternatives and options available
for dealing with the major wartime problems posed. I added that if I
had reached a conclusion
I could not remain objective. He congratulated
me on my answer.
Ultimately, an Executive Order was prepared in the Justice Department,
not in the War Department. No such order could have been presented to
the President of the United States without the full approval of the
Attorney General of the United States, Mr. Francis Biddle. That Executive
Order was No. 9066. It preceded the Executive Order which created the
War Relocation Authority to which I have already alluded.
Shortly after the Executive Order was issued, I was again sent to the
Headquarters of the Western Defense Command at the Presidio of San Francisco.
While I was there, the Honorable John J. McCloy, the Assistant Secretary
of War, and the Chief of Staff of the Army (General Marshall) were conferring
with General DeWitt.
I had completed my special assignment which I had been sent to do.
I had paid my departure respects to General DeWittís Chief of Staff,
[Allison J.] Barnett, and left for the San Francisco airport,
to board a United Airlines flight for Washington, D.C. And as I was
walking up the steps to enter the aircraft, an aide of General DeWitt
drove out on the field in a military car and stopped the car right at
the bottom of the companionway. He said, "Bendetsen, youíre wanted
at the Presidio."
I asked, "What in the world has happened?"
He replied, "I donít know what has happened, but General DeWitt
and Mr. McCloy are together and they are waiting for you. My orders
were to come out and get you. I told the airline that General DeWitt
had asked that the flight be held, if necessary."
Off we went to the Presidio; I was ushered into the august presence
of Mr. McCloy, Generals Marshall and DeWitt. To my surprise, General
DeWitt said, "Bendetsen, as you know, the President has signed
Executive Order 9066, providing for the evacuation from the Sea Frontier
of all persons of Japanese
ancestry. Mr. McCloy, General Marshall and
I feel that you are the best choice to be in charge of this whole program."
HESS: Did they tell you why they selected you?
BENDETSEN: Well, they did in ways that were complimentary and so on,
but it was an order, so they did not have to explain it.
HESS: You had been working with the problem for quite awhile anyway,
BENDETSEN: During nearly all of the last three weeks of January, and
a good deal of time in February.
I had been asked by Mr. McCloy about ten days before to write out for
him how such an evacuation might be carried into effect. I then wrote
him two letters, a relatively short letter and a very long one. I gave
him both. The deadline he gave me for this assignment was the next day,
24 hours later. I had used the entire period to compose them. He referred
to these letters in the course
of the conversation at the Presidio.
He stated that he regarded them as remarkable in their concepts as well
as their details of how to proceed if such a decision were to be made.
He said, "Those letters are what hung you, Bendetsen. The Secretary
of War and I did not have any choice but to say to General DeWitt that
weíre going to send Bendetsen out here to be under your command and
to take full charge."
General DeWitt then said, "There is no time to lose. You will
be designated as an Assistant Chief of Staff of the Fourth Army and
Western Defense Command. I will create the Wartime Civil Control Administration
which you yourself mentioned in your letter should be the main vehicle.
You will be the commanding officer of the WCCA. You will then be authorized
as an Assistant Chief of Staff of my general staff to issue orders in
my name to yourself as commanding officer of the WCCA. You will thus
have full power and authority to act." He then called in his sergeant
(clerk) who operated the
stenotype and dictated his order:
I hereby delegate to you all and in full my powers and authority
under Executive Order 9066, which in turn have been delegated by the
President to the Secretary of War, by the Secretary of War to the Chief
of Staff, and by the Chief of Staff to the Commanding General of the
Western Defense Command and Fourth Army. All rules and regulations of
the Fourth Army over which I have any control or authority, you have
authority to suspend, as in your judgment may be necessary. You will
take this action forthrightly, you will establish a separate headquarters,
you will have full authority to call upon all Federal civilian agencies
as provided in the Executive Order and to call for assistance and cooperation
of the State authorities as the President has in turn asked the Governors
of the states concerned to provide. You will do this with a minimum
disruption of the logistics of military training, operations and preparedness,
and with a minimum of military personnel, and with due regard for the
protection, education, health and welfare of all of the Japanese persons
concerned. You will, to the maximum, take measures to induce them to
relocate voluntarily under your authority, in areas east of the Cascades,
Sierra Nevada, and north of the southern half of Arizona and New Mexico,
so that the burden upon them will be at a minimum. You will make known
that the Army has no wish to retain them at any time for more than temporary
custody. It would be contrary to the philosophy and desires of the Army
to do otherwise. These measures are for the protection of the nation
in a cruel and biter war, and for the protection of the Japanese people
themselves. You will use all measures to protect the personal property
of Japanese, including crops.
The following morning I was promoted to the grade of full Colonel with
rank from February 1, 1942 which
made me the youngest in that grade
at that time.
HESS: That sounds almost verbatim. Was that just about what it was?
BENDETSEN: That is right, exactly as it was. It would be hard to disremember.
HESS: Did you have a hand in the selection of the ten relocation centers?
BENDETSEN: There were 24 temporary Assembly Centers which I selected
and established along the West Coast. I also selected the sites for
the ten Relocation Centers to which those Japanese persons who had not
already relocated in the interior could be moved pending their absorption
into the economies of the interior states. The whole program was carried
out under my direction. I not only had a hand in it, I selected
HESS: You selected those ten places.
BENDETSEN: Yes, as well as temporary Assembly Centers (24).
Relocation Authority had absolutely nothing to do with any of that.
HESS: Thatís right.
BENDETSEN: The essential structure of this was to designate evacuation
zone control areas--we had the demographic data. I called upon all
of the Federal agencies for assistance, including the Federal Reserve
and the banks in the Federal Reserve System. I used agencies of the
Departments of Agriculture and Interior.
I briefed the members of the press in meetings held at principal cities
along the West Coast such as Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, the Los
Angeles area and San Diego. I also converged similar briefings of the
A.P., the U.P. and the I.N.S. in Spokane, Boise, Great Falls, Salt Lake
City, Denver, Phoenix and Des Moines. I told them "This is a wartime
situation. Please remember that our nationals now in the hands of the
Japanese could be grievously tortured and cruelly handled. I will not
impose any orders tantamount to censorship. You will be
of what we do. I ask instead that you be your own censors. I ask you
to avoid publication of sensational photographs. Those that you do not
use, send in to us. I ask you not to foment what would be the natural
antagonistic feelings of these people in the face of this regrettable
necessity, many of whom probably are patriotic. We cannot yet tell one
from the other. This is the unprecedented tragedy of this wartime situation.
To their eternal credit, full cooperation of every newspaper in the
western area, for that matter in the United States, was voluntarily
extended. Not once was there any problem. The press formed review committees
in each major city. No news stories were ever submitted to us in advance
for approval. I had emphasized that I wanted nothing even approaching
such an arrangement. We never objected to a single article, a single
press release, or a single photograph. It was an admirable job.
You will recall that my orders directed in very specific words that
"You will protect their crops, and harvest them and see that they
are paid for their
produce." We harvested all crops, we
sold them, we deposited the money to their respective accounts. We kept
As I have already indicated, we established twenty-four interim family
Assembly Centers and ten Relocation Centers. We built the relocation
centers and furnished them with residential equipment, bedding, beds,
dressers, tables, chairs, schoolrooms and teaching equipment as well
as infirmaries. We moved them first to assembly centers. (Approximately
four thousand of them moved to the interior on their own recognizance.)
The families were not separated. We made special arrangements
aboard the trains for their protection and for their reasonable comfort
and health. Step by step, we evacuated people from designated evacuation
zones into assembly centers--24 of them--which were equipped to house
them. And we managed this first phase in 90 days.
We constructed ten relocation centers in record time. We fully equipped
one in advance and successively
moved the evacuees, who had not relocated
themselves, into the first one, which had been fully prepared.
When all those who had not resettled themselves had been moved to relocation
centers and all arrangements had been made for training of personnel
for full staffing of these centers, the Army then turned over the centers,
lock, stock and barrel, to the War Relocation Authority. It was headed
by a man named Dillon Myer. My task was completed and my assignment
terminated. General DeWitt was most complimentary.
At his recommendation I was awarded an oak leaf cluster to the Distinguished
Service Medal (my second award) and later with the Legion of Merit.
He asked me what I would wish as my next assignment. I made known my
preference only after much urging for I had resolved never to ask for
any assignment. He gave me command of a regimental combat team. I was
delighted at the opportunity!
This lasted four weeks. General DeWitt was assigned to establish the
first Joint Army-Navy
Staff College in Washington. As his first act
he sent for me to be his executive officer. That lasted eight weeks.
I was assigned to C.O.S.S.A.C. (Chief of Staff to the
Supreme Allied Commander) to be a member of the
combined staff planning the Normandy invasion. My station then became
Norfolk House, St. James Square, London.
Before concluding this interview, perhaps a summary would be in order.
The brief summation I have in mind is, I believe, historically important.
It may serve as a bridge between where we now are and that which I will
relate having to do with my sudden and surprising return to the continental
I was temporarily detached from duty in London to deal with a severe
problem which had developed in the Relocation Centers following the
assumption by the War Relocation Authority of responsibility for supervision
of the centers and for accountability for the Japanese themselves. The
summary will serve, I would hope, to clarify a widely held misimpression
and refute numerous unfounded assertions concerning the entire episode
sometimes described as the Japanese Evacuation.
First, about their assets, their lands (Nisei could own land),
their possessions, their bank accounts and other assets, their household
goods, their growing crops--nothing was confiscated. Their accounts
were left intact. Their household goods were inventoried and stored.
Warehouse receipts were issued to the owners. Much of it was later shipped
to them at Government expense, particularly in the case of those families
who relocated themselves in the interior, accepted employment and established
Lands were farmed, crops harvested, accounts kept of sales at market
and proceeds deposited to the respective accounts of the owners.
Whenever desired, Shinto and other religious shrines were moved to
Second, it was never intended by Executive Order 9066 and certainly
not by the Army that the Japanese themselves be held in Relocation Centers.
The sole objective was to bring relocation anywhere in the interior--east
of the Cascades and Sierras
Nevada and north of the southern halves
of Arizona and New Mexico. Japanese were urged to relocate voluntarily
on their own recognizance and extensive steps were taken to this end.
The desire was to relocate them so that they could usefully and gainfully
continue raising their families and educate their children while heads
of families and young adults became gainfully employed. They were to
be free to lease or buy land, raise and harvest crops, go into businesses.
They were not to be restricted for the "duration" so long
as they did not seek to remain or seek to return to the war "frontier"
In furtherance, from the very beginning I initiated diligent measures
to urge the Japanese families to leave with the help and funding (whenever
needed) of the WCCA (Wartime Civil Control Administration) on their
own recognizance and resettle east of the mountains. To this end, I
conferred with the Governors of the seven contiguous states east of
the mountains. I called a Governorsí
Conference at Salt Lake City. I
invited them to urge attendance by members of their cabinets, by members
of their legislatures and by the mayors of their communities. It was
a large and successful conference. I advised them in full, sought their
full cooperation, asked them to inform their citizens and to welcome
and help the evacuees to feel welcome without restrictions, to become
members of their inland communities and schools and to help them find
employment and housing. I told them that these people would become a
most constructive segment of their respective populations. These who
resettled certainly did. Where needed I told them that the WCCA would
provide financial support for a limited period.
Further to this end, I conferred with the elders of each major Japanese
community along the Pacific Coast, wherever they were and, as well,
in Arizona and New Mexico. I carefully explained all this to them. I
urged them to persuade their fellow Japanese to leave before
the evacuation to assembly centers
began and while it was proceeding.
I assured them that the WCCA would provide escort, if requested, by
those who felt insecure. We organized convoys and shipped to those,
who had resettled, their stored possessions.
This phase of resettlement from the temporary assembly centers came
to a regrettable and necessary halt. Hostility toward the Japanese,
at first, either nonexistent or minimal, developed quite suddenly and
intensively in the western states of the interior, east of the Sierras
and the Cascades.
The protection of the evacuees mandated that such a measure be instituted.
I visited each assembly center and discussed the reasons for this with
leaders among the evacuees. They fully understood. Assurances were given
that unremitting efforts would be taken with state and city officials
and with community leaders to deal with and to defuse these attitudes.
Further assurances were given that resettlement from the ten Relocation
resume in due course. Fortunately, within ninety days
or so, these hostile feelings were substantially diminished due to the
good offices of officials, community leaders and the press of these
interior states. As the process of relocation from the Assembly Centers
to the Relocation Centers progressed, so also did the WCCA resume its
actions to foster relocation or more properly "resettlement"
directly from the Relocation Centers.
All of these promises were fulfilled except for one; a very
important one was not. That this became so is for me an eternal mystery.
Over four thousand took advantage of the opportunity to leave on their
own recognizance with WCCA help.
What promise was unfulfilled? The War Relocation Authority did nothing
whatever to release or to resettle those who had reached the Relocation
Centers over which the WRA accepted supervision. This led to smoldering
resentment within the centers and later to defiance by organized groups
within the centers. The WRA was unable to deal with
the problem. I was
ordered back from London temporarily to restore tractable conditions.
HESS: It was intended to be a straight relocation.
BENDETSEN: Exactly. Internment was never intended. The intention and
purpose was to resettle these persons east of the mountain ranges of
the Cascades and Sierra Nevada, away from the sea frontier and away
from the relatively open boundaries between Mexico and the states of
Arizona and New Mexico.
Some readers may find it useful for reference purposes to here describe
the coverage of the official Report dated June 5, 1943 which I prepared
for General DeWitt.
The Library of Congress card catalogue reference under the letter "U"
is officially titled:
United States Army, Western Defense Command and Fourth Army, Japanese
Evacuation from the West Coast
The letter of transmittal to the Chief of Staff of the Army consisted
of ten paragraphs, in itself a brief summary.
The Report is in nine
parts consisting of 28 chapters with extensive reference materials and
special reports appended. These reference materials included the reports
of many Federal civilian agencies which had been placed under General
DeWittís direction by order of the President. In addition, various primary
source materials were selected and bound together. Two of these special
reports, for example, were from the Farm Security Administration of
the Department of Agriculture and the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco,
a part of the Federal Reserve System. The Special Reports numbered twelve
The official Report, together with all of its appended and supplemental
materials, was filed in the Library of Congress and remains there. Other
sets were filed in the War Department, in the custody of the Adjutant
General (now the Department of Army).
General DeWitt recommended that his Report and all of its supplements
be declassified and published immediately. His recommendation was adopted.
At the same time, he also recommended that the type
which had been set
for the printing of the Report, special reports and appendixes remain
intact for additional printings, so that distribution of the Report
and its associated material could be quickly made available to Federal
and state agencies, public libraries, colleges and universities. This
In the concluding paragraphs of, the Report, General DeWitt states
that the agencies under his Command, military and civilian alike, as
well as the efforts of the cooperating Federal agencies which have been
placed under his direction "responded to the difficult assignment
devolving upon them with unselfish devotion to duty." The paragraph
(8) goes on to state: "To the Japanese themselves great credit
is due for the manner in which they * * * responded to and complied
with the orders of exclusion."
Executive Order No. 9066 did not relate exclusively to persons of Japanese
ancestry. It established wartime civil control over the Western Sea
Frontier on a broad basis. The Western Sea Frontier here described consisted
of the Pacific Coastal regions
lying west of the Cascade and Sierra
Nevada Mountains as well as of Alaska. The Executive Order dealt with
German and Italian aliens, as well as with persons of Japanese ancestry.
The Executive Order also provided for the designation of "military
areas" from which all persons would be excluded other than
those expressly authorized to enter. The principal "military area"
so designated was Alaska. An agency entitled "Alaska Travel Control"
governed all travel to and from Alaska.
Chapter Two of the Report discusses the need for military control and
for evacuation. Chapter Three discusses the establishment of wartime
civil control under Executive Order 9066. Chapter Four discusses the
emergence of controlled evacuation. Chapter Five discusses the separation
of jurisdiction over the evacuation on the one hand and the relocation
on the other.
Subsequent chapters discuss the evacuation methods, the organization
and functions of the cooperating Federal agencies.
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