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
November 9, 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
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Harry S. Truman Library
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Oral History Interview with
Karl R. Bendetson
New York City, New York
November 9, 1972
by Jerry N. Hess
HESS: Mr. Bendetsen, continuing on from our first interview, you mentioned
that you were called back from England to assist in the matter of the
Japanese citizens who were being relocated. Why was it felt necessary
to call you back from your task?
BENDETSEN: As I indicated to you earlier in our interview, I was ordered
to duty in London, England, as a member of the staff of the Combined Supreme
Allied Headquarters, to participate in planning the cross-channel invasion,
which was then known by the code word, "Overlord." I reached
my station at Norfolk House in St. James Square, London, England, in April
of 1943. Approximately four months later, I received orders to proceed
to the War Department, Washington, D.C., on temporary duty with instructions
to report first to the Chief of Staff of the Army, General Marshall, and
thereafter to the Honorable John J. McCloy, Assistant Secretary of War.
There were a number of conferences held in the course of the first day,
with senior officials of the War Department General Staff, and of the
War Relocation Authority. I will usually refer to the War Relocation Authority
hereafter as the WRA. You will recall that the War Relocation Authority
was a civilian agency having no relationship at any time in its history
to the United States Army or the War Department. Its first director (prior
to the time when it became activated, in full measure) was Milton Eisenhower.
He established his office in San Francisco on the third floor of the Whitcomb
Hotel, just one floor below the offices the WCCA occupied. Our consultations
were regular and frequent and I kept him thoroughly advised and informed
of our progress and our plans. As you already know, it was intended from
the beginning that when the evacuation had been completed and after the
evacuees who had not already resettled had been transferred from assembly
centers to the relocation centers, the War Relocation Authority which
was established to assume the residual responsibilities
do so, wholly relieving the War Department and the Army from any further
Before the Army phase had been completed, Mr. Eisenhower left the WRA
to accept another assignment as Deputy Director of the War Information
Agency, a post which he vastly preferred. I believe he remained there
for the rest of World War II.
There followed a period in which the WRA had no active officer in charge.
It had no functions other than preparation for a future role. During this
interval the WRA "lost" whatever institutional memory it may
have had during Dr. Eisenhower’s tenure. It was not more than two months
prior to the time when I transferred responsibility to the WRA that a
new director replacing Dr. Eisenhower was assigned to it. His name was
Dillon Myer. He had previously spent many years in the Department of Agriculture,
as had Dr. Milton Eisenhower. As Mr. Myer delayed his departure from Washington,
our "overlap" in San Francisco was necessarily brief and quite
inadequate. My staff and I did the best
we could to bridge for him the
vital history of the events which preceded our meeting. In retrospect,
it later became clear to me that Mr. Myer failed to grasp the central
fact that it had never been intended that the evacuees in the relocation
centers remain there, incarcerated, so to speak. This commitment and the
essential actions embodied by the declared policy was to aid the "evacuees"
and their families to resettle as rapidly as possible. There was an active
and successful effort of this nature under way before Mr. Myer took over.
Thereafter, it was simply moribund.
Toward the end of March 1943, I transferred responsibility to him. By
then all of the evacuees who had not been resettled, either from assembly
centers, or directly on their own recognizance with their families, had
been moved to the ten relocation centers. Operations were under way successfully
and routinely. There were no problems. We had established health care,
education programs for the young people, useful work programs for all
who cared to participate,
libraries and recreational activities. We had
advisory committees of evacuees advising the management of each center.
We had trained and schooled the center managers and their staffs. We provided
means within the limitation of wartime rationing to suit the palates of
the evacuees and their families. Daily, a number of evacuee families were
resettled to accept private employment as new members of various communities.
These were the conditions of relocation center affairs when I left for
my next assignment.
When I returned on temporary duty, to my amazement, I learned that in
every one of the ten centers there were grave problems. It seems that
during the intervening months in each of the ten centers many militant
activists had surfaced. Agitation was rife. There were fires; there were
pitched battles. WRA had to provide heavy guard forces. All was in turmoil.
No evacuees had been resettled at all since the time when the WRA assumed
responsibility. I was informed that my temporary duty assignment was
restore peace, order, calm and equanimity.
I established and staffed an office at the Headquarters of the Ninth
Service Command of the United States Army then located at Salt Lake City,
Utah. It was composed of a small cadre of officers and a few civilians.
We determined who the militants were in each center. We took a head count.
The number of those who were apparently beyond any early rehabilitation
was large. They and their families would fill a large relocation center.
I then concluded after extensive analyses and consultations that the relocation
center at Tule Lake, California, was of the size and had the right facilities
to accommodate all of the identified militants and their families.
HESS: But the camp had not been originally set up to house militants,
is that correct?
BENDETSEN: It is certainly correct that neither Tule Lake nor any other
relocation center was ever established for such a purpose! We had no militants
during the Army phase. The selection of Tule Lake
as the place to receive
all of the identified militants and their families was based on the findings
mentioned above and its size which corresponded to the numbers to be accommodated
in isolation from all the others. This was based on a careful analysis
not only of the family composition of the militants but also of the complex
logistics entailed. We carefully planned the needed actions, developed
the requirements and made all the necessary arrangements.
The mission was accomplished without incident. It was not a simple
task. There was no empty center to use. The peaceful residents of Tule
Lake, aggregating over 95 percent of those then there, had to be moved
in serials to nine other designated centers while militants were moved
to Tule Lake as capacity for them opened. The railroad train scheduling
was unusually complex.
We replaced some center management. We conducted orientation programs
for all management. The manager and staff chosen to preside over Tule
Lake were selected with great care and were extensively instructed with
high-density methods as time was of
the essence. Four special programs
of discussion were held with the leadership of the militants and order
was established at Tule Lake as well. The remaining nine centers were
then relatively placid and remained so.
I think I should introduce at this point for the first time some reference
to the establishment of the famous regimental combat team of Japanese-Americans.
This idea was born during discussions which I had initiated and held with
Mr. McCloy, and he in turn with General Marshall long before I left for
England. I had a very deep conviction that the Army should make use of
the opportunity to find individuals who wished to give a good account
of themselves not only as interpreters for the forces in the Pacific.
This was already underway. I was convinced however that an opportunity
should be extended to volunteers among the Japanese-American evacuees
(the Nisei), to join one of more organized combat units to take part in
the campaign in Europe.
HESS: Did that plan meet very much opposition initially?
BENDETSEN: No, I do not believe that it encountered any significant opposition.
It was carefully considered. Many problems could have arisen if the selection
process had been faulty or inept.
A regimental combat team composed of such volunteers had already been
recruited and organized and was undergoing intensive training before I
returned from England. Nevertheless, while I was at Tule Lake, I conferred
with the leaders of the militants and advised them that if they wished
for a chance to prove themselves and volunteer for special service if
another combat team were to be organized, I would recommend them for consideration.
A second group was not organized but some of the militants did serve as
interpreters overseas and as instructors at the Army Language School successfully.
HESS: What was their reaction?
BENDETSEN: Very good.
HESS: When the units were first proposed, what was the reception of the
Japanese at that time, the men who ultimately became members of those
BENDETSEN: Well, it varied. However, those who ultimately went through
the process were very enthusiastic about the opportunity from the beginning.
HESS: They saw it as an opportunity to prove their citizenship.
BENDETSEN: Yes. Your comment inclines me to introduce another aspect,
which you may consider pertinent to our discussion.
During my primary and secondary assignments (the first I described in
our first interview and during the second one, we have now been reviewing),
I made a special effort to meet many of the individual Japanese of all
ages. It was out of these discussions that I was able to formulate the
kind of program of self-discipline for them that made it possible for
us to handle the assembly centers and the relocation centers, while we
had responsibility, without incident. All aspects--transportation, the
collection preceding assembly, the assembly center phase, the transfer
to the relocation centers
went smoothly. There were no incidents, no demonstrations.
As I said earlier in my transcript, we developed a set of clear rules.
There were no exceptions ever made to any rule. In my discussions with
leaders, I asked that they organize to assist us in administration, self-policing,
etc. They did.
There was mutual respect for fair discipline. Many of these Japanese
understood why this evacuation was necessary, if for nothing else, their
own safety and protection. This is definitely not to say that any of them
liked it. No one did. Certainly I did not. None of these aspects have
been adequately covered in any of the main publications written by self-appointed
authorities that have proliferated since World War II. These are revisionist
histories created to suit the preconceptions of the authors about what
happened in contrast to the Official Report which does give an
accurate account of what happened.
When I went to Tule Lake on the occasion of my return for the temporary
assignment I have
described, I knew some of the individual militants.
We could talk. We reestablished a colloquy. This sort of communication
had not been undertaken by the War Relocation Authority.
HESS: What did you find that seemed to be the basis of their militancy?
BENDETSEN: They believed strongly that they had been demeaned. They felt
they had cooperated in a necessary but unpleasant situation. They had
been assured that they would be given assistance to resettle from the
centers. They saw that during the Army phase this assurance was an ongoing
reality. No sooner had the WRA assumed responsibility than resettlement
stopped. Overlaid on this was an environment in which the rules were not
uniformly applied. They saw favoritism at work.
The Advisory Committees were no longer recognized by the WRA. All the
Advisory Committees ever sought was to have a hearing, a fair hearing.
If a fair hearing was held on some proposal or some grievance and it became
evident to them that careful consideration
was always given to what was
said by the Advisory Committees, it was not necessary that we agree with
them. It was necessary to show good faith, mutual respect and uniform
application of rules, all things considered. After a hearing, rules could
be and were modified, but individual exceptions could never be
made without inviting trouble. In the Japanese society, rules must be
uniformly applied. The problems of the WRA seemed to me to arise from
a case of bureaucratic insensibility, based on rootless social "theory,"
a lack of understanding, and no familiarity with these sorts of problems.
This was coupled with no knowledge of Japanese mores and customs. There
was nothing deliberate about it. Rather, it was inept, careless management
and administration. Certainly I had no previous experience in dealing
with evacuees either. Who had? To be quite frank, all that would have
been required was common sense. This was apparently not shown to have
been available in any abundance.
HESS: By the War Relocation Authority?
BENDETSEN: Right. I did what I could to help them through training and
indoctrination. Thereafter, out of this experience, to their eternal credit,
they learned a great deal and had a much better time of it. The same episode
did not repeat itself. However, as I said earlier, every aspect I have
just mentioned was exhaustively discussed with WRA officials before the
transfer. To repeat, there was no institutional memory.
HESS: At the conclusion of our first interview, did you mention that
you had spoken with Senator Truman upon your return from England?
BENDETSEN: Yes, I did.
HESS: Can you tell me about that occasion?
BENDETSEN: As I have already related during our preceding interview,
Senator Truman had been deeply interested in the evacuation and in what
effect it might have on the war effort. I had previously conferred with
him before Executive Order 9066 had been signed by
When I returned from London on temporary duty, I suggested to Mr. McCloy
that as a courtesy, perhaps I should call on then Senator Truman. Mr.
Senator Truman saw me almost at once. I gave him an account of my findings
and how I had arrived at them and what I intended to do about the situation.
He asked many questions. In conclusion, he indicated his complete agreement
with the approach and proposed solution to the problems. He always greatly
impressed me with his high capacity for quick understanding of any subject.
In our relatively brief interview he expressed an interest in the transportation
resources which would be required to carry into effect the plan I had
outlined to him for bringing peace to the relocation centers. He was concerned
that an undue burden might be placed on the already overstrained transportation
resources of the nation in support of the war effort. After our discussion,
during which I went into some detail about the logistics which would be
involved, and the number of train
crews, rail cars and locomotives required,
he was completely satisfied that the disruption would not be serious.
Before concluding this aspect, it occurs to me that for this record I
should supplement those broad aspects of how the Army carried out the
evacuation and resettlement efforts which have already been described.
It is pertinent in any case but more particularly at this point because
Senator Truman questioned me in some depth about both resettlement and
On the subject of resettlement, he felt as I did that the evacuees were
industrious and able and would make an important contribution not only
to the war effort itself but to the general economy if the circumstances
were right and conducive. In the case of transportation, he was on the
one hand acutely aware that the war effort strained our transportation
national resources to the limit and on the other, quite fascinated by
what he regarded as unique and innovative measures I had introduced
effective train management.
First, allow me to narrate a number of additional aspects about resettlement.
What had the Wartime Civil Control Administration done in an intensive
effort to assure results?
For the first phase of direct resettlement wherein families and individuals
were urged and encouraged to resettle without passing through either an
assembly or a relocation center, the highlights of the arrangements were
Following the initial Salt Lake Conference of Governors and their aids
the WCCA placed agents in numerous communities of southern Idaho, northern
Oregon, Utah, Colorado, Iowa, Nebraska and Arkansas. These agents organized
local citizen reception committees to aid toward finding jobs,
housing, schools, farm and other agricultural situations--and generally
to aid in assimilation. The agents continually reported opportunities
and these were posted locally on Assembly Center bulletin boards. In addition,
in these evacuation zones with pending
evacuation schedules, local volunteer
Japanese monitors were appointed to pass the word. Many families who had
their own automobiles responded, as already indicated.
Each volunteer family was given a highway route to follow and instructed
to follow that route. WCCA arranged special gasoline allotments. Each
family unit was also provided with instructions to check in at pre designated
waypoints upon arrival at each one. The WCCA had an agent in a temporary
office at each waypoint. He could and did direct "units" to
overnight motels or other housing where no untoward treatment would be
encountered. These agents were in a position to seek and obtain local
help such as reliable car repairs, medical aid, etc.
As the early re settlers were given routes and route maps, they passed
through "exit" gateways, so to speak. There, check points were
WCCA manned and at these points, permits, which protected them, while
driving within the sea-frontier territory were no longer needed. These
were collected and
the next waypoint agent was notified of how many in
each party. At times convoys were formed of up to 20 cars and state highway
police aided such convoys to stay together and reach exit gateways more
easily. The large convoys were thus expected at overnight waypoints and
the WCCA agent could make suitable arrangements in advance. Convoy or
single party monitors (Japanese) had full information and telephone numbers
of way point stations along their prescribed routes.
The important details I have highlighted throughout this narrative were
all covered in a long "concept and action letter" I earlier
mentioned that I had prepared for General DeWitt and for the Honorable
John J. McCloy. Following my surprise assignment to the task, there were
a thousand and one other important details that I catalogued over five
18-hour days immediately following my sudden assignment to the unprecedented
Follow-on resettlements either from assembly or relocation centers were
similarly aided. As would be expected, reception committees and agent
services became more effective and more communities were added in the
mentioned states. Several reception committees were organized in communities
of additional states.
What I have briefly sketched here about resettlement, I had related to
Senator Truman in much greater detail. I sent him a copy of my long action
"letter." He said he was impressed and was highly complimentary.
We both shared great regret and some even more "colorful" reactions
about the mystery of why and how the WRA had allowed these arrangements
to wither so that resettlement virtually halted altogether.
The highlights of rail transportation which fascinated Senator Truman
were essentially these. We resorted to innovative practices as will be
At peak, there were six "trains" in continuous service for
distances involving overnight (one or two nights) routes. While we varied
train length, these variations entailed passenger cars only. Each was
standardized with (1) a command and administrative
car with special radio
communications, paramedical and other services, (2) a baggage car for
food preparation using Army equipment, and (3) a baggage car for special
gear needed at destination and a space for conferences with appointed
"volunteer" Japanese train sanitation and service monitors.
Daytime trains numbered at peak, four. These were similar except that
no food preparation car was needed. Box lunches were used.
In the cases of both overnight and daytime service, except for locomotive
change-out, trains went through in all cases and remained intact.
This required innovative interline railroad accounting never before attempted.
It also required interline cooperation never before accomplished. These
methods were adapted and standardized by the Army for all domestic rail
troop movements. Also, obviously necessary was a very highly coordinated
crew change procedure.
In consultation with railroad and troop movement schedulers the WCCA
specified routes. WCCA agents were posted at railway points to assure
priority railroad equipment services as needed and supplies for evacuees.
Certain recreation stops for the long trips were scheduled where sidings
were available in rural rather than urban areas.
Bus transportation and truck transportation at "railheads"
proximate both to assembly and relocation centers were specially contracted
Evacuee volunteers appointed as monitors, food preparers, sanitation
inspectors and aides were very effective. Volunteer entertainment was
organized in advance from among those to be aboard each train movement
and proved to be most useful for both children and adults. Portable musical
instruments were not permitted. They were also furnished by WCCA for each
Incidentally, each assembly and relocation center had a newspaper named
and edited by evacuees. These were mimeographed. When the WRA encountered
explosive conditions, the newspapers were temporarily out of control.
The WRA closed them down.
Evacuees volunteered as school teachers. All centers conducted regular
school classes for children and young adults. Textbooks and other materials
were provided. School authorities in the states concerned were consulted
and provided indispensable counsel.
Before concluding, there are two additional subjects concerning which
then Senator Truman made inquiry of me. Neither has thus far been mentioned
during the course of our interview. Mr. Truman knew these subjects were
included among my duties while I served under the command of General John
L. DeWitt (the Commanding General of the Fourth U.S. Army and the Western
The first of these related to German and Italian enemy aliens. By delegation
to me from the President through the Secretary of War and redelegation
by General DeWitt, enemy aliens (German and Italian) within the Western
Defense Command (WDC) were also my responsibility. I had the full support
of all intelligence services. Those who were considered dangerous or potentially
so were to be interned.
You will recall during 1941 (pre-Pearl Harbor)
I had dealt extensively with the preliminaries and with preparations should
war come. I had selected sites and directed the construction of internment
facilities. Those aliens in WDC ordered interned were sent to these facilities.
Under my direction, hearing boards were appointed and hearing procedures
established whereby enemy aliens believed to be potentially dangerous
could have counsel, appear before a hearing board, call character witnesses,
etc. The review panel considered each recommendation of each hearing board
together with the transcript. Counsel for each alien and WCCA counsel
prepared summaries for me with copies for General DeWitt. There were twenty-five
traveling hearing boards. Hearing board members had access to intelligence
reports. Hearings usually lasted from one to three hours. Transcripts
were completed by the end of the second day, reviews completed not later
than five days after hearings. I do not have statistics at hand but my
recollection is that one-third of the potentially dangerous aliens
cleared; the balance were interned. There were special internment facilities,
which housed husbands, wives and minor children if that was the desire
of the internee and his family. A large one of this type was near San
Antonio, Texas, for example.
The second subject of then Senator Truman’ s interest was Alaska Travel
Alaska was a part of the Western Sea Frontier. It was a vital multiple
military base area with enormous and unprecedented construction requirements.
Alaska was a sensitive region. By Presidential order it became a closed
area into which no one could enter without a permit. All travel
was strictly controlled.
By delegation, the entire problem was assigned to me. I established Alaska
Travel Control and designed the entire permit granting and monitoring
procedures. ATC offices were opened and staffed in New York City, Boston,
Atlanta, Houston, Chicago, Salt Lake City, Great Falls, Spokane, Seattle,
Portland, San Francisco and also at Vancouver, B.C.,
and Winnipeg, Canada. These processed applications and issued travel permits.
It was not a simple exercise. The demand for construction workers was
immense. I told Mr. Truman, "You might look upon the problem like
this. Twenty-five thousand workers were required on the job. Conditions
were rugged. Job ‘rotation’ was extraordinarily high. We had in effect
one crew (of 25,000) on deck, one on the way out and another on the way
in. We made it work."
He laughed and said, "You have to be some kind of a magician."
As stated, in cooperation with the Corps of Engineers the major prime
contractors, Alaska Travel Control established field employment application
offices at places already listed where ATC agents received permit applications
The Engineers and major contractors agreed to the list of "gateway
cities" recited above.
I set up in ATC what was probably the first mechanical, keypunch, electrified
storage and retrieval system. We were connected to the FBI
and other intelligence sources by teletype over leased lines. The nighttime
hours carried the peak traffic. Our teletype system also was connected
to major contractors and Army Engineer offices. Permits were issued at
the gateway offices. Applicants were directed to the appropriate gateway
where their permits were ready by teletype. A photograph of each permittee
was taken and printed in five minutes. It was affixed to the permit. Each
gateway office had a battery of cameras and fast printout facilities.
These offices were large and fully staffed. An applicant would come in,
present himself to an attendant at a long counter, have his photograph
taken, bring it to the attendant where his permit awaited him and be on
his way in less than fifteen minutes in most cases.
I will now resume my account of my overseas duties, which began in London.
When I had completed my task, I returned to St. James Square as a member
of the C.O.S.S.A.C.
General Staff. The Chief of Staff’s name was Lieutenant General Sir Frederick
Morgan. However, there was as yet no Supreme Allied Commander. General
Eisenhower was so designated after the Cairo Conference.
My duties there were intensive and challenging. About three months before
D-Day, my assignment was changed. I was designated as the chief liaison
officer of the First U.S. Army, under General Bradley, to General Montgomery,
whose headquarters was at St. Paul’s School. He commanded the British
forces, which ultimately became designated the 21st British Army Group.
About a month before the invasion, I was assigned to the Forward Echelon
of the U.S. Communications Zone as Deputy Chief of Staff. This involved
planning for, and ultimately carrying into effect, the initial organization
of the Omaha and Utah beaches; the operation of the artificial harbor
known as Mulberries; the evacuation of sick and wounded, the input
of reinforcements and additional
supplies of all classes ashore, and provision
of heavy message traffic facilities, both radio telephone and radio code.
The Forward Echelon and its associated units took off from Torquay in
South England the night before D-Day.
After the lodgment was complete at Saint-Lo in Normandy, I was assigned
to General Bradley’s 12th U.S. Army Group as Chief Combat Liaison Officer.
The Army Group had been organized after the First U.S. Army forces reached
Saint-Lo and the Third U.S. Army, under General Patton, came ashore to
form the 12th U.S. Army Group. General Hodges commanded the First Army,
General Patton the Third Army. Both were under the command of General
In my assignment I had probably the broadest view of the campaign across
Europe that most any officer could have. I was on a roving assignment
to the two Armies, the component Army corps and divisions as well as their
major field units during the entire campaign. My assignment was to "short
cut," where it seemed appropriate in my discretion, more lengthy
command channels and use my special communications equipment to communicate
directly to General Bradley to recommend quick
reinforcement support to
exploit developing "breakthroughs." At the conclusion of the
campaign in Europe, I was assigned to be chief of the Control Division,
European Theater Headquarters.
HESS: Before we move on too far, would you give me a thumbnail sketch
or some characterization of a few of the men that you met and worked with
in Europe at that time? I have in mind General Omar Bradley, General Patton,
BENDETSEN: Certainly, in such degree as you desire. I had known General
Eisenhower for many years before World War II, and when he became Chief
of the Operations Division of the War Department General Staff. He had
this assignment shortly after December 7, 1941.
It was from this assignment that he was sent to command the forces in
Africa. I had many interesting conferences with General Eisenhower in
England after he came from Africa to become the Allied Commander, and
very briefly I was the Secretary of the General Staff of the Supreme Allied
Headquarters. I liked this assignment and it was very interesting and
very challenging; it was right at the center of everything. I liked General
Eisenhower very much and
also General Bedell Smith, his Chief of Staff,
whom I had come to know earlier. (We were briefly together in the Secretariat
of the War Department General Staff when he was a Major and later a Lt.
Colonel and I was a Captain.) When the position of Deputy Chief of Staff
of the Forward Echelon of the Communications Zone opened, they were very
nice to me and said perhaps I would like to take advantage of this opportunity
to get in on the cross-channel invasion right from the start. I said,
"I certainly would." And so, I left this assignment.
HESS: To get in on the ground floor.
BENDETSEN: Yes. I met General Bradley only after I had come to England.
I met him while I was still on the C.O.S.S.A.C. Staff because in the planning
phases of "Overlord" there were many communications between
the staff officers of C.O.S.S.A.C. and the First U.S. Army and its headquarters
officers. Later, while I was at St. Paul’s School temporarily as liaison
officer to General Montgomery’s headquarters, I frequently and necessarily
saw General Bradley and his general staff officers, including his Chief
of Staff, General Levan Allen. At St. Paul’s School I came to know (as
as any U.S. type could) General Montgomery and his senior staff officers.
I had known General Jacob L. Devers in London, England. When I first
arrived at Norfolk House, he was the European Theater Commander (ETOUSA).
He went to Africa to assume command when General Eisenhower came from
Africa to become Supreme Allied Commander. Devers took over command of
the U.S. forces on the Mediterranean littoral. From there he led the 6th
U.S. Army ashore in the south of France when it started its drive to link
up with the forces of General Bradley.
While in London, General Devers (when he was European Theater Commander),
and his general staff had many direct communications with the C.O.S.S.A.C.
staff. I came to know most of his staff officers and General Devers very
well. I developed much esteem and affection for General Devers before
he left London. He was exceptionally helpful and considerate. Our relationship
HESS: In speaking of General Bradley and General Patton, can you think
of a particular incident, anecdote, or
a circumstance that might characterize
them as the men that you know them to be?
BENDETSEN: Well, it is difficult to select one in the case of General
Bradley, not because such incidents are hard to find, but because they
were so numerous. He was such a splendid man of great capacity and humility.
His humility is really inspirational. I have continued my close association
with him because I am now Chairman of the Bradley Foundation which aims
to complete his vast oral history, the full account of General Bradley’s
life, his associates, his Army service, his civilian service and all his
achievements and all he stood for. The Foundation will build a Bradley
Library and Museum and Research Center at the Army War College at Carlisle
Barracks, Pennsylvania and present it to the U.S. Army as part of the
Army Historical Center.
HESS: How about General Patton?
BENDETSEN: General Patton was a unique man and if you have
the movie "General Patton"…
HESS: I have.
BENDETSEN: ...I can tell you it is a very accurate portrayal both of
General Patton and of General Bradley, although the man who played General
Bradley looks less like General Bradley actually looks than [George C.]
Scott looks like Patton actually looked.
One incident that you may wish to have on the tape involving General
Patton followed immediately upon the heels of the "Ardennes breakthrough"
when the German forces facing France after retreating across the Meuse
River organized a major counterattack, which wreaked havoc.
HESS: The Battle of the Bulge.
BENDETSEN: Yes, exactly, the Battle of the Bulge in which Hitler’s armies
made their final desperate attempt to break the allied drive. They did
achieve some element of surprise and greatly disrupted our forces. They
caused great U.S. loss of life and many wounded.
I myself had been at a conference at Brussels at 21st Army Group early
in the morning of what turned out to be the Ardennes breakthrough date.
I drove in darkness that night over the back roads with my Sergeant through
the Ardennes Forest enroute to Luxembourg. I had not gotten word of the
counterattack. Thus I did not know that the two of us were under attack.
We were fired upon, my faithful Sergeant was killed, our jeep ditched
in the snow. I was thrown out on my back and my spine struck a small rock.
I would not let the Army medics "fix" it, because I did not
believe I would ever get out of their hands. I later learned that a vertebrae
had been fractured. I lay still until I was reasonably certain that no
enemy units or patrols were nearby. I managed to right the jeep with a
log as a lever. I lifted Sergeant Mills into the jeep and we finally made
it back to my headquarters--General Bradley’s headquarters rather--at
Luxembourg. I was bedraggled by the time I reached EAGLE FORWARD at Luxembourg.
(EAGLE was General Bradley’s
codename.) I went into the situation room
and there were General Bradley and several other officers. They looked
at me and General Bradley said, "Bendetsen, where have you been?"
I said, "I am not exactly sure, sir, but somebody just told me I
could not have been where I was because I came across the Ardennes Forest."
He said, "Show me on the map where you think you were."
I said, "Yes, sir."
He said, "Well you were in enemy territory most of the night."
I said, "I am now beginning to realize that." We had quite
a good time over that as it came out all right. It touched everybody’s
sense of humor that I did not know I had been in enemy territory.
HESS: What seemed to be their attitude when you came in at that time?
BENDETSEN: Well, they were remarkably calm and cool, but very intense
and very determined to get on top of the situation which they did with
Within a few hours, I was sent to General Patton’s headquarters to see
if I could be of any assistance. General Patton was holding a general
staff conference and I was admitted. He welcomed me and said, "Sit
down and listen in, maybe you can help." He was required to undertake
a military maneuver of great complexity. His Third Army was a very large
and powerful force of three Army Corps of three divisions each. These
were based upon Army supply areas that were on the axis of the attack,
which the Third Army had been following. Patton faced the task of turning
90 degrees and attacking at right angles to the axis of attack his forces
had been pursuing. This is complex and difficult at best and in battle
conditions it is vastly more so with only a limited road net available.
He wanted to be sure of his supplies of P.O.L. (petroleum, oil and lubricants),
ammunication, ordnance, transport, replacements, rations, etc. He then
said, "Bendetsen, there’s something you can do for me and I believe
you can do it if you really want to."
I said, "Sir, anything you request is an order. I will give it all
He said, "I need a freight train. I’m not going to be satisfied
unless the Third Army can have its own freight train for this temporary
period." He said, "You know where more supplies and equipment
and transportation gear are located in France than anybody else I know.
In the past you’ve always seemed to be able to come up with something
that didn’t seem to be available." He added, "I do not know
whether there are any freight trains immediately available; nevertheless
I want one, and I call upon you to provide it by any means, fair or foul."
To make a long story short, I managed to steal a freight train for him
and survived the operation. It probably made some contribution toward
providing the vital supply and support required for the critically important
success of the Third Army in turning back the last major lunge of Nazi
I believe this responds to your request that I
add a few parenthetical
comments about some of the principal commanding generals.
HESS: That is very good, very good. What was your next assignment?
BENDETSEN: At the end of the campaign in Europe and the great V-E Day
achievement of the allied armies, I was sent to Paris immediately to become
chief of the Control Division of Headquarters ETOUSA, which stands for
European Theater of Operations, United States Army. My task was a complex
You may recall the "point system." It was famous after V-E
Day. Every GI was his own computer. The point system determined whether
and when an individual was entitled to be released from active service.
The point system provided the basis for preparation of orders both for
units and individuals then in ETOUSA to join General MacArthur’ s forces
being prepared for operation OLYMPIC, the final effort against
Japan as well as for units and individuals
required for organizing occupation
forces in Europe. It was my assignment to apply the point system to all
individuals and units then ashore in Europe. This analysis would determine,
which individuals would be immediately released; which units would go
directly from Europe to Japan to participate in operation OLYMPIC; which
units would go to the Far Pacific via the United States to participate
in OLYMPIC; which units would be reformed in Europe for the Army of Occupation,
and from where the filler replacements would be obtained. These diverse
requirements needed to be folded into a schedule of logistics which would
handle the equipment, the people, the units, and get everything where
it was supposed to be on time, etc. That was my assignment. Needless to
add, I suppose, is that it required a large facility, very able people,
keypunch systems for storage and retrieval of much more than a million
HESS: One question before we move on: Shortly before V-E Day, President
Roosevelt died. V-E Day, of course,
was May 8, 1945; President Roosevelt
had died just about a month before that on April 12, 1945. Where were
you when you heard the news of President Roosevelt’s death and what were
your thoughts about how the new President might function in office? What
kind of a President did you think President Truman would make? First,
where were you when you heard of the news?
BENDETSEN: When I first heard the news I was in the Majestic Hotel, Paris,
France, at the headquarters of the European Theater of Operation. I had
flown there from Luxembourg for a conference with the Assistant Chief
of Staff, G-4 of the European Theater staff. G-4 is the logistics general
staff officer. We were to discuss and settle some supply problems for
the support of certain elements of the 12th U.S. Army Group of General
Bradley, some of whose elements had long since crossed the Rhine. Word
came when I was in his office that the President had died. It was 9 or
10 o’clock in the morning, and because most of us had been so deeply engaged
conduct of the campaign in Europe, we had no impressions whatsoever
about President Roosevelt’s health. I am not sure whether we might have
had, had we been in the United States. It was a great shock. And from
what I could observe, it was for everyone.
HESS: As you had met Mr. Truman previously to this time, what kind of
a President did you think he would make?
BENDETSEN: I thought that Senator Truman, who was then Vice President
Truman, was an exceedingly capable man of great capacity. I was deeply
concerned for him because it was my impression that as Vice President
he perhaps had not been (not through his doing, but nevertheless under
the circumstances) as close to the high level aspects of the Allied effort
as it would have been advantageous for him to have been. So I had deep
sympathy for him. I knew he had the quiet courage, humility, stamina and
ability. I felt that given the extensive background and knowledge that
Mr. Truman had developed while a Senator, the
unique qualities of his
basic wisdom, judgment and common sense would equip him for the enormous
task. Nevertheless, I felt a great sadness for him under the circumstances,
more for him even than for the family of Mr. Roosevelt. Does this respond?
HESS: Yes, it does.
BENDETSEN: I completed my duty at headquarters ETOUSA in mid-July, and
was ordered to duty as a member of the War Department General Staff, Washington,
D.C. My assignment was to the office of the Chief of Staff. Once again,
I served under then Major General Wilton B. Persons. Once having served
as liaison with the Congress and still knowing many members of Congress,
my assignment was no surprise to me. There were pressing problems on the
Hill and I was not accorded the 45 days of rest and rehabilitation leave
that all others who returned from overseas duty were uniformly given.
I had enough points by far to leave military service altogether. I was
urged to remain. I agreed to do
what I could. It proved to be a very active
The War Department had many problems. At that moment it was not clear
when the war in Asia would be concluded. However, as you will recall,
V-J Day came within a relatively short time after I returned and then
the full impact of the postwar phase of World War II sprang full panoply
in all its various pressures, complexities and configurations. In addition
to my chief duties, I also had my assignment as the secretary of a board
of general officers who were planning the postwar Army.
There was a heavy burden of coordination with the members of Congress
and the respective committees of the two houses on military affairs. President
Truman was interested deeply in universal military training and in unification.
There was an obvious relationship between Congressional liaison and postwar
planning. It was one of our missions to support, with objective data and
materials, an effort in the Congress to enact a universal military
law. Another mission was actively to further the War Department objective
of generating legislation leading to unification of the War and Navy Departments
into a single department.
It was during this phase and because of this aspect of my complex assignments
that I met Secretary of the Navy, Mr. Forrestal. Mr. Forrestal was opposed
to unification. As you undoubtedly know, he was a man of great intellectual
attainments. Despite his lofty position as Secretary, nevertheless, although
I was just another commissioned officer of the Army, we had many frank
discussions about unification. We developed a very warm and cordial relationship
notwithstanding our rather spirited disagreements concerning unification.
HESS: How would you describe his views; why was he opposed to unification?
BENDETSEN: This ought to be an easy one to answer. It certainly is not,
however. He said that unification would be a terrible risk for the nation
because the Chief of Staff and the Secretary, the Cabinet Secretary
presided over unified armed services would be too powerful; that one of
them would become "a man on horseback" and threaten the very
foundations of our freedom. This he said frequently. Frankly, I thought
it was hogwash. I still think so. I am certain he was nevertheless personally
HESS: Did he express the view that the United States Navy might somehow
be downgraded, might lose various functions to either the new Air Force
or to the Army, if there was unification?
BENDETSEN: Ad infinitum he expressed this view, over and over, and I
said, naturally that, "Mr. Secretary, you are completely right. It
not only would, but should lead to a reorganization. It
might even change some of the tradition-encrusted aspects of the Navy
Department and of the Army. If so, it would improve the United States
Navy and Marine Corps and the Army. Unification would serve the nation
more adequately. It would bring needed change. So what difference would
it make if the old order long overdue for change is changed?"
HESS: You used two interesting words there, "tradition encrusted."
Speaking as an Army officer, do you think that the Navy is tradition encrusted
more than the Army ?
BENDETSEN: Yes, much more so at that time; much less today. That tradition
has since ameliorated. I mean this in the sense that the Navy has become
less tradition encrusted.
HESS: Why is that so? Why does the Navy seem to be more bound by tradition
than the Army?
BENDETSEN: You are asking a good question. I have given a great deal
of study and thought to this. There would be many you encounter who will
sharply disagree, with a considerable amount of heat rather than light,
about the answer I will give you.
The reason why this is the case goes back into British naval history.
The First Sea Lord, in British terms, was a full Admiral. He was accountable
to no one but the King, There was no Navy Department, so to speak; he
was the Commander in Chief of the Fleet, subject to the orders only of
the King, The fleet was provisioned by a ministry of supply rather beneath
his notice. As he would bring the fleet into harbors and come ashore on
leave, he would simply order that the fleet be provisioned, but he brooked
no interference by anyone with his authority and power over the Navy forces.
The most powerful governing influence in shaping the attitudes and traditions
of the professional U.S. Navy springs directly from the British Navy.
Our U.S. Navy Department never did adopt or permit a system whereby the
Secretary of the Navy was really in command of the Navy as the
President’s alter ego. He was and is an administrative officer.
The U.S. Navy never has had a Chief of Staff; it has always had a Chief
of Naval Operations. He is in command. He is not the Chief of Staff
of the staff of the Secretary of the Navy as is the case in the Army.
The War Department General Staff is the staff of the Secretary! The authority
is vested in him. The Chief of Staff’s authority is derived from the authority
of the President, transmitted now through the Secretary of Defense, and
before that through the Secretary of War. Until let us say, not long before
World War II, the Chief of Naval Operations did not even occupy an office
in the Navy Department. His office was on a battleship moored on the Potomac
The Secretary of the Navy was and is engulfed in paper work. He signed
all the transfers of the civilians, even the lowest civilian, as well
as promotions and retirements. The Navy staff saw to it that each such
"minute" order was personally signed by the Secretary of the
Navy. The professional Navy was a power unto itself and its commissioned
personnel would brook no interference. They treated the Secretary of the
Navy wonderfully, in a ceremonial manner.
HESS: Just as long as he kept out of the way?
BENDETSEN: He had no time to do anything else. But he really did not
know what buttons to press if he had decided to try his hand.
HESS: He was busy signing papers. I believe Frank Knox was Secretary
of the Navy at that time, was he not?
BENDETSEN: No, not then. He was Secretary preceding Forrestal, who was
Under Secretary for Knox.
HESS: That’s right.
BENDETSEN: The Chief of Staff of the Army is the Chief of the Secretary’s
staff. The Chief has no inherent command authority. He can issue
orders in the Secretary’s name only. The War Department went through
many phases. Elihu Root introduced the general staff system first when
he was Secretary of War. General Pershing furthered it when he returned
from France. At the headquarters of the Allied Expeditionary Forces, the
French general staff command system was copied. The Army has always had
many more people who have had some service in it than the Navy. There
is not any "mystique" about the Army. In the minds of most of
such people, however briefly they served and at however lowly their rank,
they somehow believed they know all about the Army. Every member of Congress,
nearly, has done squads right, squads left, and the manual of arms, and
so they all know all about the Army, so they think. Only naval
officers and sailors
have ever known until recent times much about the
Congress did not appropriate in the case of the Navy for so many bayonets,
canteens, knapsacks and bags of sugar. They appropriate for a battleship
complete with auxiliaries and support vessels. For these reasons, in the
case of the Navy, the British influence and tradition held through most
of our history.
Now, I have only begun to touch on this subject, but perhaps I have given
you something of an answer. Have I?
HESS: I think so.
One further question on that: Were there times in the Second World War
when you were in Europe that you found where there was lack of cooperation
between services which hampered the war efforts before unification?
BENDETSEN: No, I do not think I observed anything like that at all at
any time during World War II in the
field. In war, the farther forward
one goes in the field toward the battlefront, the more the cooperation
between elements within each service and between the services increases.
All basically face the same hazards. The farther back, up the line of
supply one goes toward the "zone of the interior," the more
likely that inter-service as well as intra-service rivalry would appear
and cause problems. I think this is a fair summary of it. Men, even though
badly organized who are good men, will get any job done where everyone
has a common cause to serve.. I cannot say that I ever witnessed any great
problems in the field of the type that I assume you have in mind.
HESS: Fine. Now before we go on, you were discussing unification. Were
these matters that you dealt with before you went back to California?
BENDETSEN: All of them, yes.
HESS: All right. Have we covered everything while you were still associated
with the service?
BENDETSEN: I was in uniform as a Colonel, U.S. Army, the entire time
following my return from the European Theater until I resigned at the
end of December 1945.
HESS: Approximately what time in 1945 did you return to your civilian
BENDETSEN: At the end of December 1945 when I returned to the West Coast.
HESS: You then returned to California?
HESS: And your first postwar role there was as management counselor.
BENDETSEN: Yes, I joined a firm of management consultants. Army management
methods had become highly regarded by U.S. business and industry. The
five section general staff: personnel; intelligence; operations;
logistics and plans could readily be adapted to industry
and large business. My management of the difficult evacuation of Japanese
was widely known. I could and did make some recognized
Additionally, it would provide me with a useful "space filler."
Much of what had happened in the U.S.A. while I was overseas was virtually
"blank space" in my head. The Stars and Stripes was not
exactly a full coverage newspaper. There was no business section. Most
of its reporting related to "ETOUSA" events (European
Theater of Operations of the United States
HESS: You could make more money there than you did in the Army.
BENDETSEN: I was not really thinking about money. I had had an intensive
and uniquely varied period of service in the Army. I believed that I could
apply some rather effective management and control procedures which I
was forced to develop because they did not exist and bring them to bear
very usefully in industry and business. It turned out to be the case.
I had an opportunity to make some contributions that my clients thought
were unique. I also
learned much from them. And I did fill in some of
I had one interesting assignment that was unanticipated. I was asked
to analyze the trade barriers against margarine. As you know, until sometime
in the early ‘50s, the Federal Government, by act of Congress and most
of the 48 states by legislative action, would not permit margarine to
be colored to look like butter. Margarine, nevertheless, made of the right
components of polyunsaturated oils and skimmed milk was a very healthy
table spread and cooking aid. I agreed to undertake the study and make
recommendations which might lead to the repeal of most of these trade
barriers. I made clear that I would not be available to carry any approved
program into execution. I said I had up to twelve months and no more when
I wanted to return to the practice of law.
I made this study by first doing a statistical analysis, congressional
district by congressional district, county by county, in each of the 48
states of what the streams of income were, identifying by
source the composition of the gross product of each county and each congressional
district. I determined which areas were primarily interested in dairy
farming and substantially dependent on income from whole milk and butterfat.
I found that 14 states were of this category.
Then I analyzed the impact of these trade barriers adversely for other
"pocketbook" interests. In 40 of the 48 states, this impact
was adverse, significantly so. Strangely however, this adverse impact
was not realized. I talked to the Farm Bureau Federation and the National
Grange, presenting a thorough analysis, which conclusively proved that
the trade barriers against margarine were heavily adverse to the pocketbook
interests of their members. They were astonished. The situation was just
opposite of what they had thought. As examples, consider cash crops such
as soybean oil, cottonseed oil, corn oil and peanut oil. These oils were
all ideal for margarine as a butterfat substitute, both cheaper and healthier.
There were many other aspects; for example, labor unions.
supported the dairy industry (whole milk and butter) because largely involved
was home delivery of both. However, all other unions, industrial unions,
had failed to recognize that their members were paying over 75$ per pound
for butter when margarine could be available at 40$ to 50$. The supermarkets
began to realize that they could become a substitute for the home delivery
market at lower cost to the customer and higher volume to them. I need
not pursue these illustrations further in order to convey the nature of
the analysis and the consequent recommendations.
I recommended a detailed plan of organization and grass roots effort
on a merit basis and they adopted my recommendations. I told them I thought
that if they started such an effort in late ‘48, they could expect to
have Congress adopt legislation at the Federal level by the end of 1950,
repealing the barriers so far as they are related to interstate commerce;
so far as they were related to purchases by the armed services, or by
Health Service or by any part of the Federal Government. I
was "wrong" about that. Congress repealed the trade barrier
laws by June of 1950 instead of December. Margarine has advanced to the
forefront ever since. The non-dairy states rapidly followed suit.
HESS: All right, in 1948 you were asked to be consultant and special
assistant to the Secretary of Defense, is that correct?
BENDETSEN: Yes, sir.
HESS: What were your duties, and why were you selected to perform these
BENDETSEN: I will respond to the second question first, if I may. Mr.
Forrestal phoned me in San Francisco where I was practicing law and said
that an emergency was in the making, the Berlin crisis storm was gathering,
the probabilities were high that the Defense Establishment, as it was
then known, would be required...
HESS: The National Military Establishment.
BENDETSEN: Right you are. The National Military Establishment was created
by the National Defense Act of 1947.
BENDETSEN: This crisis would require the submission of a unified supplemental
budget request to the Congress far sooner than any sort of a unified budget
had been contemplated. Inasmuch as I had been intensively involved in
the unification process and inasmuch as he believed from our earlier meetings
that I knew enough about unification to know how a unified budget should
be coordinate for three armed services and the Marines, he asked me to
My duties were general; I was really a special assistant. I knew many
officers of the Army, the Air Force, and the Navy; I knew many of the
civilians in the three departments of Army, Navy and Air and had a working
knowledge of the budget process. I also knew many members of the House
So I busied myself with coordinating and administration chores helping
in every way I could. I also prepared, in concert with others, Mr. Forrestal’s
draft testimony to be presented in support of a unified supplemental budget.
I followed through with him in the course of these hearings. I accompanied
him to the Hill. I conferred with certain Senators and Representatives
on these committees.
HESS: What particular duties did you have in connection with the Berlin
blockade and the Berlin airlift?
BENDETSEN: No direct duties. My duties were in general support functions.
I had no direct military assignments. I was not in uniform at this time.
I served as a civilian.
HESS: A management consultant.
BENDETSEN: No, as a special assistant to the Secretary of Defense.
HESS: As we have mentioned unification, let’s go a little deeper into
that subject. The unification
of the armed forces had taken place by this
time, and you mentioned previously that Mr. Forrestal was opposed to unification.
If he was opposed, just in your opinion, why was he selected as the first
Secretary of Defense?
BENDETSEN: Well, I think that President Truman used great sagacity and
wisdom in choosing such a man as Forrestal. He had great capacity and
ability. And Mr. Forrestal being a man of integrity, if he accepted, it
meant that he would fulfill his duties in good faith. Moreover, as it
was widely recognized that he was above reproach, the Army and the Air
Force had to realize that he could not afford to be biased against them
while the Navy had to know he would be neutral but fair toward them. I
think that is the answer to your question.
HESS: Quite clear. Do you think that the Army would have liked
to have taken over functions from the Navy, such as the Marine Corps?
Would the Army like to have taken over the Marine Corps?
BENDETSEN: The Army never made such proposals. However, the Army believed
the Marines unnecessary. I will relate to you an episode which may throw
some light upon the subject.
After one of my conferences in the Navy Department, I discussed a proposal
with General Marshall. I said, "General Marshall, there is absolutely
no chance that Mr. Forrestal is going to be convinced that he should support
true unification. His reasons are sufficient unto him. In my humble opinion,
they are not all rational; they are somewhat emotional. They are mixed.
He believes deeply and holds these convictions deeply." I said, "General
Marshall, the Navy Department obviously in and of itself is already a
Department of Defense. It has land, sea and air forces. You yourself as
a great soldier-statesman have made it clear to me that you believe deeply
in unification and that you would go to any reasonable length to bring
it about. I think I know how that might be done." He expressed deep
I said, "I suggest that you go to the Secretary of War, and the
Secretary of War and you go to President Truman and make a proposal to
him. The proposal I suggest is that the Navy Department become the Department
of Defense and that it take over the armed forces of the United States.
I think then it might be possible to have unification instead of triplification,
which is the most we are going to get in my opinion."
General Marshall, to my surprise, said, "I want to think this over
overnight. Be at my office at 8 o’clock tomorrow."
I was there. He said, "I think you have a sound idea." He said,
"Obviously, it will never completely take this form, but even if
it did, I could not in good faith oppose it in view of my commitment to
unification. As soon as the Secretary of War comes in, I will take you
in with me."
I said, "Oh, I think you should do this alone."
"No, I want you to come," so I went.
Mr. Stimson thought it over overnight and said, "Let’s go to the
President." So they did.
When they returned I was told: "The
President was very interested in this and he asked me, ‘General Marshall,
where did this idea originate?’ I told him that this had come from you,.
and of course the President knows you." He said, "He’s somewhat
troubled at this point as to what the next step might be to bring this
about. The Secretary and I are also in doubt."
I said, "May I make a suggestion?"
I said, "Suppose I go to Mr. Forrestal in a day or two and tell
him that I have had an idea that I want to try out on him. Then no one
at the level of either you or the Secretary of War or the President needs
to be involved at all, and see what kind of reaction I get." And
that is what happened, and I did.
HESS: What was Mr. Forrestal’s reaction?
BENDETSEN: He said, "I’m against it; it would create a man on horseback."
But I have answered your first question, have I not?
>HESS: Yes, you have. Did General Marshall think it was feasible to have
the Navy Department absorb the War Department?
BENDETSEN: General Marshall thought that if the germ of my idea were
to be put into a draft piece of legislation, the Congress would consider
such a proposal as disestablishing the War Department, renaming the Navy
Department as the Department of Defense and placing the officers and men
of the various armed services under the direction of the Secretary of
Defense. He was of the view that there would not have been anything fundamentally
wrong with the idea and that it could have been worked out by changing
the superstructure of the Navy Department.
HESS: But they decided not to do it.
BENDETSEN: Well, Forrestal said he was opposed to it. I cannot tell you
that President Truman would have finally gone to this length, but he did
think it was an interesting idea. He wanted it to be further
What led to my suggestion in the first place was that Forrestal might
have ceased to oppose a single department of defense if that department
was the Navy. But when it appeared that Mr. Forrestal held these strong
convictions about "a man on horseback" as deeply as he did,
we would not have solved very much by coming forward with legislation
embracing the proposal so far as he was concerned.
With particular regard to the problems of unification, I told you that
the Army had no ambitions to take over the Navy Department and I think
I fully exemplified this in relating the episode regarding my suggestion
that the Navy Department become the nucleus of the Department of Defense
under appropriate legislation. However, the United States Army has always
thought, or at least thought for the last fifty years or so, that the
Marine Corps was an unnecessary appendage to the armed forces and really
had no further justification whatever. Considered to be expensive, a duplication,
and out of the experiences in World War II wholly unnecessary!
no doubt about that. The Navy Department staunchly and successfully defended
the retention by the Marine Corps of its close support aviation forces.
On the other hand, with further reference to the problem, you are undoubtedly
aware that the Army Air Corps wanted to own and operate anything that
flew, from balloons to aircraft, to transports, to close-in combat aircraft,
strategic air and so forth. And the Army properly was opposed to this.
So there were basic problems.
The Air Corps had the best support from its lobby, second only to the
Navy Department. So the Navy got what it wanted, the Army Air Corps got
what it wanted. The Army gave up most of all, and still supported unification
nevertheless. This is what happened.
HESS: All right, I have one further question on unification and that
deals with a change of attitude that Mr. Forrestal may have undergone
under the National Military Establishment from 1947 until 1949. There
are historians who say that the way
that it was set up in 1947 was more
of a confederation than a unification, because the Secretary of the Army,
the Secretary of the Navy and the Secretary of the Air Force all had Cabinet
status. And the Secretary of Defense, Mr. Forrestal, had a rather small
In the Department of Defense reorganization two years later, the staffs
for the Department of Defense and of the Secretary of Defense were enlarged
and the Cabinet status was dropped for the Secretary of the Army, Secretary
of the Navy and the Secretary of the Air Force. Did you feel, or didn’t
you feel, that during that two-year period, Mr. Forrestal’s views about
the necessity for unification changed somewhat and that he saw that there
needed to be greater unification or greater control from the top?
BENDETSEN: I am firmly convinced, in fact it is within my certain knowledge,
that Mr. Forrestal underwent major changes of perspective. I believe he
would not have preferred to go back to the separate
departments of War
and Navy, which pre-existed the creation of the National Military Establishment.
But he came to realize that the National Military Establishment was an
unworkable monstrosity and that the triplification, which resulted impaired
any real progress toward the original concepts of unification.
HESS: Was that discussed?
BENDETSEN: Once he said, "I grow nostalgic for the old days. The
two separate departments with Cabinet rank were better than this--no one
is in charge now."
There is no question but what he realized for such an assignment and
such an office, it was utterly impossible to fulfill his accountability
with the limited authority and resources which the original National Security
Act of 1947 provided. This is beyond any shadow of a doubt. He said so
to me, several times, not once. I could not restrain myself in view of
our previous conversations from asking him from time to time how he felt
about this subject, so we did discuss it. I did not go as far
as to remind
him that the National Security Act of 1947 which created the monstrosity
(it still is) was virtually the precise work of Forrestal and Ferdinand
HESS: Did he say why he had changed his mind? Did he mention any difficulties
he may have had?
BENDETSEN: He certainly did. He had all sorts of difficulties; he could
hardly get anything done at all. If Mr. Symington did not want to agree
with Mr. Forrestal’s program, Symington just jolly well followed his own
HESS: All right, it is interesting that you have mentioned Mr. Symington.
Let’s discuss the Service Secretaries for just a minute. The Secretary
of the Army, the first Secretary of the Army, was Kenneth C. Royall.
BENDETSEN: Yes, I knew him well and intimately.
HESS: The Secretary of the Navy, who took over at the time that Mr. Forrestal
was made Secretary of Defense, was John L. Sullivan.
BENDETSEN: I know him very well; he still lives in Washington.
HESS: He and I have had some very interesting interviews. And the Secretary
of the Air Force was Mr. Stuart Symington.
BENDETSEN: I know Mr. Symington well--now Senator Symington. I see him
from time to time, and I was "present at the creation."
HESS: You were "present at the creation." You didn’t by chance
suggest that to Mr. Dean Acheson as the title of his book though, did
BENDETSEN: No, I borrowed his title in making this comment.
HESS: Let’s discuss those three gentlemen just a moment: Mr. Royall,
Mr. Sullivan and Mr. Symington. What I’m really aiming for here is during
this two-year period, from ‘47 to ‘49, where these three men had Cabinet
status, which of those three men gave Mr. Forrestal, the Secretary of
Defense, less cooperation and more trouble?
BENDETSEN: This is confidential and will have to be regarded under the
procedure for closing.
HESS: All right.
BENDETSEN: Well, I think...
HESS: Would you like to close this for five years after the death of
the person referred to as we discussed or would you prefer a different
length of time?
BENDETSEN: Three years.
HESS: Three years, all right, fine.
BENDETSEN: I should say that number one by several lengths was Mr. Symington.
HESS: Can you give me an illustration, something to illustrate that?
A "for instance" in other words?
BENDETSEN: For instance the "70 group air force," which had
a very distressing habit of becoming larger and larger while still being
called 70 groups, by the simple expedient of adding numerous wings to
HESS: All right, what about the other two men; tell me a little bit about
Kenneth Royall. What kind of a man was Kenneth Royall?
BENDETSEN: Kenneth Royall was a man of great sagacity, an astute politician
and an able lawyer. He was (this will also have to be closed, I guess
for four years after his death, because we are in the third year now)
an exceedingly stubborn man once he made up his mind. Some people caused
him to become more stubborn than others, because they approached him in
a way that apparently stimulated his inclinations to become stubborn about
certain things. He was diligent; he made a very important contribution
during World War II. He was a very diligent Under Secretary and Secretary
of War. He was hard on the senior commissioned officers. He was not a
man of humility. He loyally carried into effect the orders of the President,
including Mr. Truman. He gave his own Army a bad time, but it did not
suffer any irreparable damage. They thought they were being abused by
the Secretary because of his rather overweening manner. This was
because he declined to listen (sometimes) to the ideas of the general
staff. This is not to argue that all of its ideas were always worth listening
to! On the other hand, he was cooperative in the fullest sense of the
word in doing what he could to advance the purposes of unification and
to seek "more bang for the buck" as the saying has become.
I hasten to add that I held Mr. Royall in high esteem and great affection,
and I had an exceedingly close relationship with him, which lasted until
shortly before his death. Whenever I came to Washington I would see him;
whenever he was in New York as head of the law firm that he joined, Royall,
Koegel, Wells and Rogers, I would call on him and after I came here to
live in New York five years ago, I saw him from time to time. He always
treated me very well. I think at an early stage I somehow perceived the
ways in which he liked to approach problems and discussions.
HESS: What were those ways? What were his methods of administration?
BENDETSEN: I would say that the key to getting him to listen, aside from
questions of administration, was usually to say, "Mr. Secretary,
there are several options here on this question. There are several ways
to go. There is indeed no crystal clear choice necessarily and there well
may be disadvantages in any choice. Here are the options." By doing
that, if he happened to hold, at that moment, one of these options as
his predilection he would listen very carefully to...
HESS: To the others.
BENDETSEN: He would listen very carefully to the others. But if you approached
him and said, "I’ve studied this problem and this is the way it seems
to me it has to be solved," the chances are that if you did not happen
to hit the jackpot and just happen to be on his wavelength, he somehow
felt, I believe, that you must have failed to take into account that he
had any ideas of his own. Something like that.
HESS: You mentioned awhile ago about the Chief of Naval
the Navy and the Secretary of the Navy not having adequate control over
the Navy. Did you feel at this time that Secretary Royall had more administrative
control over the Army than the Secretaries of the Navy did over the Navy?
BENDETSEN: Infinitely more, and so did Mr. Stimpson.
HESS: How about John Sullivan? He took over as Secretary of the Navy
after Forrestal. Did he have less control of the Navy than Royall did
of the Army?
BENDETSEN: Yes, much less.
HESS: Less control.
BENDETSEN: Less control.
HESS: Tell me about Mr. Sullivan, what kind of a man is he?
BENDETSEN: Mr. Sullivan is a very engaging, very charming man, knowledgeable,
an excellent persuasive lawyer, well versed--not only in his field, but
in many another. He is quite widely read, he is an advocate,
and I mean
that in this sense: Mr. Royall was also an advocate in that he is a lawyer,
and had a very successful practice--as did Mr. Sullivan. But Mr. Sullivan,
by nature, was so disposed that he considered it his duty, as Secretary
of the Navy, to advance the advocacy of what the Navy felt it should have
and ought to do. And he did that well. In fact, he did it so well that
he resigned when the Navy did not get the super carriers it wished. He
got himself so far out on that limb that he did not have much choice other
than to follow up on his "If I don’t get it I will resign,"
sort of threat. Well, that is--that’s carrying advocacy beyond the point
of effectiveness. I do not think it produced anything.
HESS: That was at the time that Louis Johnson had taken over after Mr.
Forrestal had left.
BENDETSEN: Yes, I think perhaps these comments about John L. Sullivan
ought to be closed for two years after his demise.
BENDETSEN: I will try to be very frank with you for the purposes of history.
Have I answered your question?
HESS: Yes. And then Mr. Symington as Secretary of the Air Force. Do you
recall anything in particular where Mr. Symington--that might point out
any lack of cooperation with the new Secretary of Defense?
BENDETSEN: My statements regarding Mr. Symington are closed under the
usual procedure and understanding.
Well, it was very rarely that I can recall when he was ever exactly cooperative.
He is a very charming man and we got along fine. (There was a brief period
when we did not. But this was based on his misunderstanding of something
concerning my course of action at a certain point which has no bearing
on this oral history.)
When he recognized his mistake, he acknowledged it and we have been very
good friends ever since. I like him. But when it came to the Air Force,
anything and everything the then fledgling Air Force
wanted, he was for.
Whenever the Air Force wanted to take something away from the Army, which
was frequently, he would press hard for it and go straight to the President.
Whenever the Army wanted to have a few light aircraft for fast logistics
transportation in the field under battle conditions from one headquarters
to another, he strenuously opposed and insisted that anything and everything
that flew was Air Force business. He was absolutely adamant on all these
questions. So, when you talk about cooperation, I assume you are asking
me to comment on whether he was willing to yield and compromise in order
to advance the work of unification. He was very rarely, if ever, willing
to do that in the course of my experience and my observation. There may
be others who may have seen it. I did not.
HESS: All right, we may have questions on all three of those men that
will come up in the future, but I want to ask a question about Mr. Forrestal
before we move on.
What do you recall about the unfortunate mental breakdown that overtook
Mr. Forrestal? When did that first become evident to you that there may
have been something wrong?
BENDETSEN: In retrospect, there were periods when it seemed to me he
became rather severely depressed and disheartened. And I say in retrospect,
because I relate them to what later happened to him in this tragic and
unfortunate breakdown that he suffered and which led to his death.
HESS: Do you recall when you first may have noticed something of that
nature? We should mention that the day of his death was May 22, 1949.
He retired as Secretary of Defense on March 28, 1949. The 1948 election
had come before this particular time, about six months before his death.
Did you notice the periods of depression before or after the election?
BENDETSEN: After I left the role of special assistant to him in, I believe,
July of ‘48, I saw him a number of times, called on him when I came to
for one reason or another, and I saw him after the election
of Mr. Truman. And on these occasions, I encountered him twice before
the election and once afterwards in what I would regard moods of depression,
and they troubled me. That is about all I can say.
HESS: Do you have any recollections at all concerning Mr. Forrestal’s
support, or lack of support, of Mr. Truman in 1948?
BENDETSEN: I think he was quite inactive in that regard but I believe
it was--I believed then, and I have no way of knowing whether I am right
or wrong--that it was because of the tradition that the Secretary of State
and Treasury--or less so Treasury--War, Navy and Defense do not participate
actively in political campaigns. I associated it with that.
HESS: Some historians speculate that his lack of support, if indeed there
was a lack of support, may have had some relationship to his resignation.
What do you say to that?
BENDETSEN: I am aware of these contentions. I am also
aware of the contention
that because Mr. Truman thought that we ought to as a matter of national
policy give some support to Israel, there are those who say this caused
a severe disruption in the relationship between Truman and Forrestal.
I have no knowledge that would lead me to lend any credence to that. I
did know that Mr. Forrestal felt that we might be facing an energy crisis
in the United States a number of years in the future and that we would
have a need to do the sound things required to secure our lines of supply,
but the Israel question I know nothing about. I did not associate his
lack of support so far as my own observations are concerned with anything
except that which I have already mentioned.
HESS: In general, and to conclude this subject, what would be your evaluation
of Mr. Forrestal’s administrative ability, effectiveness and of his handling
of the Defense Establishment?
BENDETSEN: I will endeavor to respond to your question in three parts.
First, his administrative ability.
I would say Mr. Forrestal had considerable
administrative ability. He was not an experienced manager because that
was not his profession, but he had a natural capacity for being able to
deal with concurrent considerations. Some people have no capacity for
that. He did have. As to his effectiveness...
HESS: Which would really tie in with his handling of the Department--effective
BENDETSEN: He was not very effective, measured objectively. I would not,
however, attribute his lack of effectiveness to his own lack of capacity.
I think he could have been infinitely more effective than he actually
was, had he been given authority commensurate with the task assigned.
He handled people fairly well. But he was not patience itself. Ordinarily
he was engaging; he had considerable but by no means infinite patience.
I think he had many, many personal problems which could not help but
diminish even the limited effectiveness with which the National Security
imposed upon him. He had terrible problems at home; they bore heavily
on him. I would see him late at night in the Pentagon. During this period,
I worked 18 hours a day. He would return frequently late at night, lonely;
he wanted to talk. So I would have to sum up by saying that...
HESS: Did he talk about his personal problems?
BENDETSEN: Once or twice. I would rather not discuss this aspect. So
I would sum up by saying that the severe limitations in the Act itself,
coincident with his severe personal problems, made him less effective
than he might have been. If he had been free of these personal problems,
I think he could have been a remarkable man in that position. However,
General Marshall (who followed Louis Johnson) and Robert Lovett, who followed
General Marshall as Secretaries of Defense, were effective despite the
stultifying inadequacies of the National Security Act of 1947. But then,
it was wartime--the Korean war.
HESS: All right, and during this time, as I have mentioned previously,
was the 1948 election. Mr. Truman’ s upset election. Did you think that
Mr. Truman was going to win in 1948?
BENDETSEN: I thought so by the end of October of that year, but I did
not think so at any time before that.
HESS: What did you see by the end of October that made you change your
BENDETSEN: I began to sense a change of feeling of people I encountered.
I began to sense that Dewey did not seem to be following up as actively
as he should have, and he seemed to be overconfident. sensed that Mr.
Truman was engaging the people and that Dewey had lost them. I was convinced
that many of Dewey’ s supporters in the field, some of whom I knew, were
overconfident and it just meant to me, cumulatively, that this is almost
a sure-fire formula for what would be called an upset.
HESS: Were you back in California at this time?
HESS: Mr. Truman went through California. Did you hear him speak?
HESS: Tell me about that, tell me about the occasion.
BENDETSEN: Well, now which place was it? . . . San Francisco or Los Angeles?
HESS: I don’t have my itineraries here today, but the usual procedure
was to go through the northwest, go up through Idaho, Washington, Oregon
and then down through California, then out through Arizona.
BENDETSEN: Right. I am trying to remember whether I heard him in San
Francisco or Los Angeles, because I was shuttling back and forth, but
I think it was San Francisco. I cannot quite remember the date.
HESS: Was he speaking to a particular group at that time or was it a
BENDETSEN: It was a large group. I was not active in
the campaign. There
were advance men to arrange to get people out. They succeeded very well.
He made a very forceful talk before a substantial audience and he carried
the crowd with him with great enthusiasm. He hammered away at the "do-nothing
HESS: The do-nothing 80th Congress.
BENDETSEN: That is right. That was his campaign theme. There was not
anything new or different in what he said, but it was firsthand and there
he was giving it all he had.
HESS: A little off the record, but that phrase came up in a press conference
in August of 1948 in which an unnamed reporter said something to the effect,
"Mr. President, do you think they could be called a do nothing 80th
Congress?" and Mr. Truman jumped on it. And after that, it
was mentioned many times, but that unnamed, maybe unknown reporter, came
up with a new phrase, for the political dictionary, the "do-nothing
All right, were you associated with the Department of Defense in 1949,
in any way?
HESS: What were your duties then?
BENDETSEN: Well, I will tell you what happened. I went back on request
during the fall of ‘48 to do a special study for Mr. Gordon Gray whom
I had met when I was working for Mr. Forrestal. Gray was then Army Secretary.
This study related to the Alamogordo, New Mexico bombing range. The Army,
the Air Force and the Navy were having a terrible battle as to who was
going to own what in these ranges. My assignment was to study the situation,
analyze the conflicting claims and propose a solution that would work.
HESS: What was your plan, briefly?
BENDETSEN: The New Mexico range was to be "joint Army-Air Force."
The Army had certain areas which would be used for its artillery and its
short-range missiles and the Air Force had the long-range part of it for
strategic missile development. The
commands would be joint, and that was
accepted. It was later changed. The Air Force took all of it.
The Navy kept its dry lake range in southern California, which it still
has, for bombing and missile development, and the Air Force, until the
space agency came along, had the Banana River range, which became ultimately
Cape Kennedy--you remember all that history. I made these studies.
Well, then Mr. Gray asked me to come back to be Assistant Secretary of
the Army and I came. I think it was in September, and my name went up
HESS: Mr. Gray was Secretary of the Army from June 20, 1949 until April
13, 1950 and you came in September of 1949. He left in April ‘50.
BENDETSEN: When did he become Secretary of the Army?
HESS: I have it here that he was sworn in on June 20, 1949. That was
two days after Kenneth Royall’s resignation.
BENDETSEN: Right. He was sworn in in June of ‘49 and he left in April
of ‘50 to become Assistant to President Truman. (He studied "the
dollar gap" problem as it was then called.) Frank Pace then became
Army Secretary. I had asked that he release me as soon as convenient.
The Korean conflict overtook.
When the Honorable Gordon Gray became Secretary of the Army, he asked
me to become his Assistant Secretary of the Army. I accepted and left
San Francisco.. We kept our house; and we took an apartment in Washington,
and my name was sent to the White House to go to the Senate. And a fellow
who later became a friend of mine, Donald Dawson, President Truman’ s
White House personnel assistant.
HESS: Donald Dawson, personnel man for the White House.
BENDETSEN: Yes "personnel" man for the White House. He did
not let my name go to President Truman because I was a Republican. After
some months had passed Gordon Gray went to the President. I had been made
special assistant to Gray, and while I was doing all
of this I had a wide
range of assignments. I was very busily engaged in the Pentagon.
HESS: You had the tasks but not the title.
BENDETSEN: That is right. During this period I also recommended the creation
of the office of general counsel which Gray approved. I was, though I
am not sure it is so recorded in the official record--the First General
Counsel. It was just before I became Assistant Secretary.
HESS: In January of ‘50.
BENDETSEN: Well, the reason I did not think it was January of ‘50 was
that I was performing the role of Assistant Secretary for so long that
the date when I was confirmed ceased to be clear in my mind. But finally,
Gordon went to the President and was unhappy about this. Mr. Truman did
not know about it. And so as soon as he learned of it, he said, "Well,
I remember Bendetsen," and apparently told Mr. Gray that his recollections
were favorable and he did not
see any reason why I should not be appointed.
So he sent my name up and I was appointed. The Senate committee took about
three minutes because they all knew me. That is the story.
HESS: Have you ever talked with Mr. Dawson about that in years since?
BENDETSEN: I see him once in awhile in Washington and I kid him about
HESS: There were many Republicans in the Department of Defense--you would
have been just one more. I wonder why he held yours up.
BENDETSEN: I just never asked--I will some day.
HESS: All right.
BENDETSEN: When I kid him he looks rather sheepish about it. But no,
we have never had any unkind words. I was so busy I did not really pay
any attention to it. Gordon Gray was really more exercised about it than
I was, by far.
HESS: All right. Now let’s make one point here, because
during this period
of time, in March of ‘49, was when Mr. Louis Johnson succeeded Mr. Forrestal
as Secretary of Defense. Was that a period of time when you were in San
BENDETSEN: Yes, I came back in the summer of ‘49. Louis Johnson was still
HESS: That’s right.
BENDETSEN: And I knew him well.
HESS: All right, would you compare the methods of operation between Louis
Johnson and Forrestal? In other words, what changes, either in operation,
routine or structure, did Louis Johnson make when he came in?
BENDETSEN: In answering your question, I think I should lay down a little
foundation. First, during most of Forrestal’s service as Secretary of
Defense he had an "inclining" situation. He had the Berlin blockade;
he had to go for supplemental appropriations. He was not really engaged
in reducing the level of expenditures to the degree that Louis Johnson
made it his
business to do (probably because Mr. Truman undoubtedly wanted
him to). But Mr. Johnson was in there to cut the budget severely and he
did. He virtually emasculated the Army and the Navy.
HESS: In your opinion, did he cut the budget more than Mr. Truman had
requested? Was he just following the orders of the President, or was he
going on beyond what the President had requested?
BENDETSEN: I do not believe I could fairly say that I know.
HESS: One other point: Why was he selected? In your opinion why was he
made the Secretary of Defense?
BENDETSEN: Well, it would be difficult to say what the precise reasons
for his selection may have been in Mr. Truman’s mind. Quite obviously,
he had considerable experience in the sense that he was Assistant Secretary
of War prior to World War II.
HESS: With Harry Woodring.
BENDETSEN: With Harry Woodring, yes. He was Chairman of the then Munitions
Board. So undoubtedly, Mr.
Truman had these previous experiences in mind.
Second, Mr. Johnson had considerable grass roots support and a Cabinet
officer should have a certain amount of grass roots support if he can
manage it. He acquired that through making a great deal out of his service
as National Commander of the American Legion.
HESS: The National Commander of the American Legion.
BENDETSEN: That is right. And he was a very active National Commander
of the American Legion. He also very much wanted to be the Secretary of
Defense. In summary, all of these considerations probably, plus his political
clout, led to his appointment by President Truman. It is fair to say,
I believe, that he wanted intensely to be Secretary of Defense and perhaps
had political aspiration for still higher office in the future.
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