Harry S. Truman Presidential Library & Museum

Oral History Interview with
George M. Elsey

Commander, U.S. Naval Reserve, and duty officer, White House Map Room, 1941-46; Assistant to the Special Counsel to the President, 1947-49; Administrative Assistant to the President, 1949-51; Assistant to the Director, Mutual Security Agency, 1951-53.

April 9, 1970
Jerry N. Hess

[Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | Additional Elsey Oral History Transcripts | List of Subjects Discussed]

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, rather than the written word.

Numbers appearing in square brackets (ex. [45]) within the transcript indicate the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview.

This oral history transcript may be read, quoted from, cited, and reproduced for purposes of research. It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.

Opened 1974
Harry S. Truman Library
Independence, Missouri

[Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | Additional Elsey Oral History Transcripts | List of Subjects Discussed]

Oral History Interview with
George M. Elsey

Washington, DC
April 9, 1970
Jerry N. Hess


ELSEY: Jerry, I believe the papers in box one speak for themselves. They are clearly identified by folder, and unless you have questions on any of them, I don't believe any explanatory statement is necessary. If at a later date, someone at the Truman Library wishes further explanations as to the material, of course, I'll be glad to provide it.

HESS: I have no questions on that. My first question comes up in box number two. So, let's just shift boxes here. And box number two is mostly on Roosevelt.

Just to hit them lightly, I found a couple of things of interest in this large manila envelope in box number two and the folder is entitled, "Conference Agreements." The second question I had dealt with Palestine, "see memo on Jews to Palestine in Palestine folder," and this one mentions that on February 14, 1947 in a conversation with Ibn-Saud, President Roosevelt remarked that he would do nothing to assist the Jews against the Arabs, and he would make no move hostile to the Arab


people. And it speaks that he would not want to move the Jewish people into the Arab lands without the agreement of the Arabs. Was this well known at the time as Mr. Roosevelt's stand?

ELSEY: No, I'm sure none of this was well known at the time. These were all highly classified statements. Incidentally, you mentioned--used the date 1947, I'm sure that was in error, you meant 1945.

HESS: '45, yes.

ELSEY: This memorandum was a summary of papers, highly classified papers, in the White House files and I am sure that everything, at least those items subsequent to April 12, '45 which are referred to here, would all now be in the Truman Library at Independence. Some of them might still be in that highly personal collection of papers of the President.

HESS: Yes, Mr. Truman's private papers.


HESS: Did you write this memo?


ELSEY: Yes, and I gather that at the date, it was completed on April 2, 1945, since that date appears in longhand here. And here is a transmittal note that I sent it to Admiral Leahy on October 2, '45. This would have-apparently was prepared at Admiral Leahy's request.

HESS: Here is a document on FDR and De Gaulle. It is still marked "Top Secret" and it's by you on President Roosevelt's policy towards De Gaulle. And it says that the President stated his views about De Gaulle very clearly. What do you recall about Roosevelt's statements about De Gaulle?

ELSEY: Well, I think it's best to refer to the memorandum because they are all summarized, paraphrased, or excerpted in this memorandum, and rather than my trying to quote from memory, I think I would simply cite the memorandum itself and as the opening sentence, or sentences, the material here does come from exchanges of messages between FDR and Churchill, most of this does. This is one of the many background papers prepared in preparation for the Potsdam Conference. This is one of the many, all done under Admiral Leahy's direction, or at his request, so


that Admiral Leahy would have reference material at hand, and so that Admiral Leahy could discuss with President Truman prior to, and enroute to Potsdam, these-some of the more significant political issues that would be coming up at that conference.

HESS: What other political issues do you recall . . .

ELSEY: Here you see is an example. This all started the 7th of June with a note from Frank Pinney, Jr. who was Admiral Leahy's aide. "The Admiral would like a resume of our relations with De Gaulle as revealed in presidential messages." So, this was in compliance with that request and that's typical of the kind of requests, the kind of matters that Leahy was having summarized for the new President's use.

HESS: Well, the other thing that I had on my list and I can't find right now, dealt with Mr. Roosevelt's acceptance of the [Henry, Jr.] Morgenthau plan, and was that well known at the time?

ELSEY: Back to (excuse me, but I'll interrupt), back to the Palestine papers that you asked about. You'll see here


this longhand note that the documents cited were returned to Miss [Rose] Conway on October 13, 1945, so these various secret memoranda, minutes of conversation, and so on, were borrowed from Miss Conway and put together in this brief five-page synopsis used by Leahy in conversations with the President, and then returned by Leahy to me, and the back-up papers I handed to Miss Conway.

HESS: Are these Leahy's initials?

ELSEY: That's WDL, that's Admiral Leahy. Leahy had-this is again Admiral Leahy's initials.

HESS: What do you recall about the President's views on the Morgenthau plan?

ELSEY: Are you citing a particular memorandum in here?

HESS: Well, yes. It's supposed to be in box two, in a large folder and it's supposed to be "Conference Agreements." Do you see anything in here entitled "Conference Agreements?" We do have folder number two?

ELSEY: "Conference Agreements," yes.


HESS: Yes, Quebec was where this was brought up of course.

There are several things still marked "Top Secret" here.

ELSEY: Here on page 8 of a memorandum which I sent to Admiral Leahy on May 23, 1945, you'll find a synopsis of what is popularly, and publicly called the Morgenthau plan. The President did agree to it, and this is an excerpt from the minutes of the meeting:

    And the President and the Prime Minister agreed on a policy towards Germany.

and here is really the key sentence of what was popularly called the Morgenthau plan:

    This program for eliminating the warmaking industries in the Ruhr and the Saar is looking forward to converting Germany into a country primarily agricultural and pastoral in its character. The Prime Minister and the President were in agreement on this program.

HESS: If they were in agreement at that time, why wasn't that carried out, or carried further than it was? Was that sort of impractical in a country that had so much iron and coal and a history of steel making?

ELSEY: Yes. And I think the basic reason why it was not carried out was the fact that within a matter of, oh,


months after the second Quebec conference, the United States began to be much more concerned about the political aspirations of the Soviet Union on the continent of Europe, and the recognition that if Germany were completely demilitarized and turned into a pastoral country, the whole of Europe would be wide open to takeover by the Soviet Union. That was the principal reason why the Morgenthau plan was not ever carried into effect by the United States and Britain.

HESS: The remainder of the box consists of six manila envelopes, all with Roosevelt labels. Anything else in this box?

ELSEY: In many of those as you recognize are magazines, newspapers contemporary public statements which I saved for, not knowing what future use might be made of them or might be required of them. There--Admiral [Wilson] Brown who was Roosevelt's Naval Aide most of the war, was very much concerned about having adequate records maintained for President Roosevelt's own use in writing about the war. Of course, this all ended with Roosevelt's death, but I saved all sorts of things for


that purpose, not having any idea what the ultimate use might be.

We're wasting all of your tape there, Jerry.

HESS: Oh, don't worry about that, tape's cheap.

That's all the specific questions that I have out of box two. Let's get on to box three.

ELSEY: I might make a comment about those memoranda that are in there that were prepared at Leahy's, primarily at Leahy's request, some at Harry Hopkins' request, for President Truman. Many, I'm sure will be found to be incomplete in many respects. Their value lies not so much that they were total and complete stories, but they reveal exactly what information was in the White House at that time. I had total access, unrestricted access, to the files of Admiral Leahy, Harry Hopkins, the Map Room papers of President Roosevelt that were retained in the White House for a very long period after FDR's death, and the papers, the personal papers, of President Truman. So, when I prepared for Leahy, for example some of those files, reports, we were just looking at, briefing papers in preparation for the Potsdam conference, that--


those do contain accurate, as accurate as I could make them, summaries of everything that was available in the White House. Now, if a scholar finds that they are greatly deficient in key respects, which a scholar may or may not find, I don't know that he will, but if he does, the significance of that would be that that data just simply was not available in the White House to the new administration. That, I think is the principal virtue to having these papers now available. You can check to see whether . . .

HESS: What was missing and what wasn't.

ELSEY: What was missing.

HESS: Decisions had to be made actually….

ELSEY: Decisions had to be made on what was there, present, and that is as accurate as it was possible to make them to reveal what was in the White House at that time.

HESS: Before we go further into that, my eye lands on the file relating to the Yalta Conference and in the latest Saturday Review of Literature, there is an article by a doctor who examined Roosevelt in 1944. Have you seen


that article yet?

ELSEY: Howard Bruenn. I have not seen the article, I saw news stories about that.

HESS: What is your view of Mr. Roosevelt's health in the last year of his life?

ELSEY: I certainly wouldn't attempt to make any medical evaluation, that's obviously out of the question. I had great respect for Bruenn and I know that everyone else around there held him in extremely high regard. I would simply have to accept anything that Dr. Bruenn says, from the medical point of view, as being accurate. I would also say that I would place a higher degree of reliability on what Bruenn writes than on the "quickie" book published in Admiral Ross McIntire's name, oh, fairly soon after FDR's death. McIntire's book I found then gravely deficient, sloppy and full of errors. It was ghostwritten by someone who didn't know the situation very well and I think Ross McIntire did himself and FDR an injustice by painting much too rosy a picture. If you compare McIntire and Bruenn I'm sure you will find wide discrepancies and my chips are on Bruenn, not on


Ross McIntire.

HESS: It mentioned in the article that I read this morning that they had sort of left it up to McIntire to tell the President about his enlarged heart and his failing health and they are not so sure if he did tell him. They thought that perhaps since he had been giving glowing reports over the years, he just didn't want to.

ELSEY: Whether McIntire did or not, of course, I have no way of knowing.

HESS: All right, the first one in the next box is on the Berlin Conference. I don't have any particular questions on this. It seems to be photographs and some newspapers . . .

ELSEY: Press clippings . . .

HESS: Press clippings . . .

ELSEY: …copies of releases.

HESS: Press releases and things of that nature. The surrender of Japan. Anything important there?

ELSEY: I don't think anything here that is not self-explanatory.


HESS: Now, the next two folders deal with Clark Clifford's Russian report, which I noticed Arthur Krock quotes in total, I believe, in the appendix of his new book.

ELSEY: Right.

HESS: Is that right?

ELSEY: That's right.

HESS: Can you tell me about the writing of that report? Did you assist Mr. Clifford in the writing of that report?

ELSEY: I think you'll find the whole story of that in here including every draft all the way through from my longhand and other typings right on through to the tail end.

HESS: Your longhand. Did you write it?

ELSEY: All you have to do is look at the draft to get the answer to that.

HESS: Well, that looks like it's all in your hand doesn't it? I think you wrote it.

ELSEY: And various memoranda on chapters. But Mr. Clifford


worked on it. You'll find some of the drafts with his handwriting where he edited it.

HESS: Is this his handwriting?

ELSEY: Yes, that is his handwriting.

HESS: Rather small and precise type of handwriting.

ELSEY: Yes. His changes are shown in here.

I also have, in some of the drafts of the various chapters, points where he questioned, asked further questions or questioned, as I have noted here, one draft of the introduction, the advisability of some of these statements that had appeared in my earliest version. He was out of the country when much of it was written.

There is a sheet listing all of the various editions and versions of it.

You will see that the report was based on data which came both partly from the various departments and agencies in response to a request from Clifford, and partly on documents already in our possession at the White House, in the FDR files or in the files that had accumulated subsequent to Mr. Truman's becoming President in April;


papers that were in Admiral Leahy's or Harry Hopkins' office. I had access to all of those.

HESS: Do you think that your views . . .

ELSEY: I might give you the background of how all this started.

HESS: All right.

ELSEY: The President, in July, talked with Clifford and said he was concerned at the fact that the Russians couldn't be trusted and didn't keep agreements that they had made, and he wanted a list of the agreements that the Russians had violated or broken. Clifford asked if I could obtain or work up such a list and, of course, the answer was in the affirmative, yes.

We talked about it a good deal and I said that I thought that that was entirely too narrow a question, that the President seemed to be basing too much of his attitude towards the Russians at that point, on this rather narrow point of whether they did or did not adhere to agreements. I thought the whole question of our relations with the Soviet Union at that point was a much


more comprehensive, much broader, matter than this technicality of agreement breaking or agreement keeping, that there were far more fundamental issues involved, that the nature of these issues didn't seem to be clearly understood in large parts of the executive branch (witness the fiasco of Henry Wallace) , I recommended, and Clifford did then agree, that it would be much better if he, Clifford, would do a report on the totality, if you will, of U.S.-Soviet relations, and if the President found that report acceptable, it could be used, judiciously, because it would necessarily be highly classified, it could be used judiciously by the President, giving copies to individuals in the executive branch or elsewhere, using it as a basis for discussion with people so that we wouldn't have any more Henry Wallace kind of blowups.

That was the reason why this--that was the genesis of the origin, and the rationale behind this report. I tackled it with a real zeal because I felt very deeply the necessity of this kind of thing. So, I went to work on it and did spend the latter few days of July, all of August, and well into September in assembling material from the departments, in writing the report and going over drafts with Clifford, and then I had the report


printed by the graphic unit of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in a limited, very limited, number of copies.

HESS: It's dated September 24, 1946. That is in the same month that--wasn't Wallace's speech at Madison Square Garden in September of '46?

ELSEY: My recollection is that his speech had been a number of weeks earlier than that.

To carry it another step further, when the report was presented by Clifford to the President in September, the President felt that it was much too explosive a document because it covered so comprehensively, so many issues, and he told Clifford he did not think it advisable to give copies to members of his Cabinet, or to have any distribution of it. So, the President retained a limited number. I do not now recall how many, perhaps two or three, of the printed copies himself, and Admiral Leahy retained one, and Clifford, I guess, retained one. Obviously Krock had access to one someplace. But there was no other distribution to the best of my knowledge. I do not know whether the President handed one or two copies to anyone else, but certainly there was no distribution from Clifford's office or from me as you


can see.

HESS: Do you think that your report to the President helped shape his views on our attitude and what we should--on our relations to Russia?

ELSEY: Oh, in the first place, it was not my report, it was Clifford's report to the President.

I think it's conceivable that having a synopsis like this, a summary, available to him may have been useful to the President.

You see, it's important not to overemphasize the significance of this. This was a consolidation, a summary of facts, data, opinions, material already available to the President, most of which have had at one time or another been called to his attention by the Secretary of State, or the Secretary of War, or the Secretary of the Navy, or other officials, or Admiral Leahy or Harry Hopkins, in the months before he left the White House, but it's different to have things come to you piecemeal over a period of time, or having them all presented in a consistent form. The impact of having it all drawn together may have had some influence on the President. Again, I don't think one can--you never


know and neither the President or anyone else is ever able to say exactly what all the influences are that help him make up his mind. The President is getting data all the time orally or in written form from a wide variety of people. As I say, the report had its origin in this fact that I thought--and felt so keenly that the President's concern with the--that he was judging Russia on too narrow a basis and that he had ought to look at the total picture, and Clifford agreed with that.

HESS: Okay. I see some very important folder titles. I don't have any specific questions about the material that's in them, on "Atomic Energy," on "National Defense," "Strategic Bombing Survey Reports," "Atomic Bomb Tests." As a general question, when did you first become aware of the atomic bomb? Can you recall?

ELSEY: I can't really say. It would have been at least as early as 1943 because of the exchanges of messages between President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill on the subject.

HESS: At the time that you were working in the Map Room.

ELSEY: In the Map Room at the White House, yes. So . . .


HESS: Do you see anything of interest . . .

ELSEY: Well, back in the war, two years as a minimum before the test on July 16th at Alamogordo, New Mexico.

HESS: Okay. Now, there are several folders on Korea, we've skipped a few folders here--several folders on Korea.

ELSEY: Including a number of items which are day by day events in June '50 when the war broke out, memoranda of conferences, records of individual meetings, notes of comments that President Truman made to me.

HESS: Where were you at the time that you first heard about the invasion?

ELSEY: The President was out in Missouri at that time. I was here in Washington. Actually--yes, I was here in Washington that day.

HESS: Did you see him--he came back on Sunday evening

ELSEY: He came back on Sunday evening. I did not see him until Monday morning.

HESS: At a staff conference?


ELSEY: At a staff conference.

HESS: What was his attitude at the staff conference?

ELSEY: I would hesitate to try and say at this point. I would just have to be imagining what it must have been. I have no specific recollection of attitude at that conference, but these folders are almost hour by hour of those early events, phone calls, messages, what the President was doing on an hour by hour basis through Saturday, June 24, Sunday the 25th, Monday the 26th; messages that were coming back and forth between the White House and the State Department, a minute by minute chronology. Even the dinner that the President had on Sunday evening with Acheson and Louis Johnson, Webb, Pace, etc.; copies of memoranda of conversations that was prepared in the Department of State subsequent to that too, are here.

Then there are a number of folders on messages that went to Congress on the Korean situation, radio addresses to the public, of course they were radio in those days, not TV, drafts in toto and here's one, his first major message to Congress on July 19th. It starts from the beginning and works right on through from the very first


pencil scrawled notes of some of us on the staff. That I can recognize right away as being David Bell's handwriting, in that version.

HESS: Do you think that it was a tough decision for Mr. Truman to make to go into Korea?

ELSEY: No. Any decision to commit American men to a military action is, of course, a tough decision, but the point of view of his advisers was unanimous.

HESS: Now this folder is "Truman-MacArthur-Matthews Statements August 1950," and this was the speech that Mr. Truman made on September 1, 1950 and on the top of the draft it says: "On Matthews see page 5. On MacArthur see page 5." So, on page five, about MacArthur it mentions, "Fifth: We do not want Formosa or any part of Asia for ourselves." This was something that I believe that MacArthur gave the President a good deal of trouble about.

ELSEY: Right. And I have marked here on the carbon, "Reply to MacArthur." MacArthur had been making statements about Formosa, other parts of Asia, and this was the President's


effort to make it very clear that this was not United States Government policy, Secretary of the Navy, and a little farther down on that page there's the longhand annotation "Reply to Secretary Matthews." Of course, this was not publicly identified by Truman as being a reply to MacArthur or to [Francis P.] Matthews but it was. Secretary Matthews had spoken about the possibility of preventive war, he had talked about the atom bomb, and Truman was making it very clear here that that was not government policy. He was disowning the Secretary of the Navy.

HESS: Not long after that Mr. Matthews left for--to be Ambassador to Ireland. Is that correct?

ELSEY: That is correct.

HESS: Was this statement his exit ticket? Was that why he was moved to Ireland?

ELSEY: That was part of it. He was not the most effective Secretary of the Navy.

This folder has a number of clippings and various other annotations about the White House reaction to both


the MacArthur and Matthews statements. This really was the beginning of the period of extreme tension, vis-a-vis General MacArthur, which culminated in the General's dismissal the following spring. Some of these news clippings you may wonder why they're here but--this is an interesting one here; the Doris Fleeson story in the Evening Star of April 30, 1950. The interesting part I think for--it is my comment in the margin. "This is a full and accurate story based on much research," that is much research by Doris Fleeson, "and on interviews with Steven Early," who was a Deputy Secretary of Defense, "and Charles Ross," who was, of course, still the President's Press Secretary, this was an effort to try and get the Formosa-MacArthur statement put in its proper perspective. And it was because these situations were so tense, and so fraught with potential trouble, that I was keeping clippings, I was annotating them. I was talking myself with correspondents when directed and when approved.

HESS: At this time General MacArthur was writing several articles for magazines, he wrote several Congressmen, with his views on what should be done and not directly


sending his communications to the Pentagon. Do you think he had a political motive in mind?

ELSEY: I would hesitate to answer. I would not attempt to assess the General's motivations.

HESS: All right.

ELSEY: Here's a memorandum of October 2, 1950, that explains the genesis of one of the Truman messages to MacArthur; why it was sent, how it was sent.

HESS: We have several more questions on MacArthur, but they come from a different folder. Now, to keep things in chronological order, which -you have done very nicely here, in September Louis Johnson was replaced as Secretary of Defense by General Marshall and that is the next folder "Johnson's Resignation." What do you recall about that and why did President Truman replace Louis Johnson?

ELSEY: I think it's better to let the notes and memoranda in here speak for themselves. There are numerous contemporary memoranda for this period, that is 1950, reporting the Johnson point of view, the Johnson comments on other


men in the administration. The opinion . . .

HESS: Principally Acheson?

ELSEY: Acheson and the State Department, right.

There is a memorandum here that I dictated on September 13, 1950, of a lengthy report that Charles Ross gave me as to the circumstances as he understood them.

HESS: Another article by Doris Fleeson.

ELSEY: And you will note that the memoranda of my conversation (or Charlie Ross' really monologued me), on the circumstances, a copy was given to the President. Then here on September 16th is my memorandum for the files of President Truman's reaction to, and his okay, of this memorandum with a verbatim quote of some of the President's language about Johnson.

HESS: The difficulty that he had had right at the time of the resignation. He says, "Maybe if I get time I'll write down the whole story." So, Johnson took it rather hard. Why was General Marshall selected at this time?

ELSEY: Well, I think that story is pretty well a matter of


public knowledge and record. The President had an enormous respect for General Marshall, had had for many, many years.

HESS: All right, this folder is "Hawaii-Wake-San Francisco, October 1950." Now ' I believe that you went to San Francisco during this time, is that correct?

ELSEY: I went to Hawaii. I did not go on to Wake Island. I went out in advance of the presidential party, a day or so, with a contingent of Secret Service men and others to make arrangements with Admiral [Arthur W.] Radford who was Commander in Chief of the Pacific fleet, and with his staff, for the presidential party, for the stopover at Hawaii and for the conferences which the President was to have with Radford and others in Hawaii. I remained in Honolulu that day that the President flew out to Wake and back and then I flew in the President's-with the White House party to San Francisco and worked enroute as the notes and files will show, enroute from Hawaii to San Francisco on the speech that the President made in San Francisco about the Wake Island conference.

HESS: When did you first find out that there was going to be a meeting between President Truman and General



ELSEY: Well, my recollection is that this was decided on a weekend cruise on the Williamsburg with a number of White House staff members on the cruise. It was very shortly before, perhaps not more than a week before the trip took place.

HESS: The meeting was on the 15th, October the 15th.

ELSEY: Yes, and here's a note which I drafted for Charles Murphy to send to the President and which Charlie did on October 9 and you see the opening sentence, "It appears to me highly desirable the following steps should be taken as soon as possible if the President meets the schedule as discussed on the Williamsburg." We had been spending that weekend, preceding weekend, on the Williamsburg talking about this and here are the recommended Procedures to be followed. At this point, you see, General MacArthur hadn't even been consulted yet.

HESS: Marshall?

ELSEY: He didn't even know about it. Well, no, MacArthur--


MacArthur didn't even know, you see. Secretary of Defense General Marshall and Acheson were to send a telegram, I was recommending, and Murphy recommended, to the President that the telegram be sent to MacArthur expressing the President's desire to meet MacArthur in Hawaii on Saturday the 14th, but MacArthur, as we know from later, in other reports, didn't want to go as far as Hawaii, didn't like to fly at night, only wanted to go fly as far as Wake because he could make a daytime journey.

HESS: Under your item number one it says:

    If the President has not already told Secretary Acheson and General Marshall of his intention to leave Washington at the end of this week for Hawaii.....

Does that mean that these men did not know about President Truman's intention of meeting with MacArthur?

ELSEY: That's right. This was a White House staff conference and a White House staff discussion on the Williamsburg. And when I wrote this for Charlie I suspect that you will find that that's probably a Monday, October 9 is probably Monday, that on a Monday morning when my appointment was, if we didn't--if he


hadn't told them then that he had ought to do so right away.

HESS: Do you recall their reactions?

ELSEY: I do not.

HESS: Okay. Now, also under number four you mention who the President should take, or let's see, "The President should indicate to Marshall and Acheson that he wished to be accompanied by a very small number of advisers and that he has in mind the following persons as principal members. Averell Harriman," who did go; "'Frank Pace," who did go; "Dean Rusk," who did go. And then the recommendation for "the Joint Chiefs of Staff." They did not go. Was this debated that the Joint Chiefs of Staff should go?

ELSEY: I have no recollection now. I simply can't remember at this point.

HESS: I thought that was an interesting point. And these are your initials on the last page of the memo, correct?

ELSEY: Right.


HESS: All right.

Okay now, getting on a little further, after the time of the replacement of General MacArthur, on April 21, 1951, Anthony Leviero, writing in the New York Times has an article in which he has quoted several documents. Do you know where he got those documents?

ELSEY: Excuse me just a moment, I'm looking through some of the other items in the file here.

HESS: The photographs.

ELSEY: The photographs.

HESS: Is this the Ambassador?

ELSEY: That's the Governor of Hawaii, Governor [Ingram M.] Stainback.


ELSEY: Admiral Radford had not been scheduled to go. You see, Bradley was chairman of the Joint Chiefs. Admiral Radford had not been scheduled to go on to Wake Island. I personally felt, I guess that was my Navy prejudice showing through, that it was unfortunate if the Commander


in Chief of the Pacific were not to accompany the President, since the President was there in Hawaii, and was going on to Wake, which was a Dart of the jurisdiction of Admiral Radford, and that it would be better in all respects; military relationships and everything else, if the President were to include Admiral Radford in the party. Almost from the moment that the presidential party did arrive in Hawaii (you recall I said I had gotten out there early, I began lobbying, if you will, with Harriman and Murphy, and probably others saying, "Shouldn't the President invite Admiral Radford to accompany him?" he did and I was gratified in that. I think it helped some in the relationships with the military, with the Navy in particular, but that's just a minor footnote. It does not have much significance.

HESS: Now, the article about Mr. Leviero. I believe he won a Pulitzer Prize for that article on April 21, 1950-'51.

ELSEY: Yes, it had to be '51, it was several months later. It was after the dismissal by the President of . . .

HESS: Where did he receive the information to use in that


article? Come on now.

ELSEY: I don't think I have any comment on that.

HESS: All right. One other thing that I did notice of interest . . .

ELSEY: Turn that off.

HESS: All right.

ELSEY: Ask your question again.

HESS: All right. Where did Mr. Anthony Leviero receive his information and the documents that he used in his article of April 21, 1951?

ELSEY: I can't be precise on the exact time sequence here, but within a few days prior to the publication, perhaps three or four days prior to the publication, I returned to my apartment one evening and found messages, two or three messages, which were reported to be urgent, that I call Anthony Leviero. These had been taken by the apartment house switchboard. This was a little unusual. White House correspondents did not normally call me. They certainly did not call me at home very often, nor did they allege that the purpose of their call was urgent.


I went ahead and returned the call to Leviero and Leviero said that the purpose of the call was--had been overtaken by events because he, in not being able to reach me had talked with John Steelman. Leviero said he was doing a story for the Times on Wake Island and all the background and circumstances of General MacArthur's relief from command by President Truman and he was particularly trying to get the full story of what had actually happened at Wake since there were so many conflicting versions of what MacArthur had said, the promises that MacArthur was alleged to have made to President Truman and so on and so forth, but Leviero repeated he had talked with Steelman on the subject, and that ended it so far as I was concerned.

The next morning I attended, as usual, the President's morning staff conference. And as we were going in, John Steelman said he would like me to remain behind, with him, to talk briefly with the President after the conference was over. And I said, "Does this have anything to do with the call that I got from Tony Leviero last night?"

And Steelman said, "Yes, that's it," or words to


that effect. Of course, I can't quote and don't mean to be quoting as though this is the exact phraseology.

So, as the morning staff conference broke up, Dr. Steelman said to the President that he had a matter to take up and held like me to remain behind. This was common. Various staff members would frequently ask for the opportunity of staying behind and talking with the President on a matter that would not necessarily involve the total staff. And of course, the President assented. Steelman told the President that Leviero was at work on this subject, this story, appeared to have talked to a great many people, already knew a lot, and was exceedingly eager to consult or see the--whatever written memorandum or record there was of the Wake Island conference. And the President thought this over briefly, and asked Steelman if Steelman had the record of the conference and Steelman said no he didn't but that I either had, or had access to things of that sort. The President asked if I had a copy in my files. I said I did, and the President said, "Okay, go ahead and tell Tony he can have it." So, this is what happened. I did thereupon talk to Leviero and say he should come to my office later that


morning and he could have access to the Wake Island minutes. That's all there is to the story.

HESS: Sometime after that you were transferred to the Mutual Security Agency, do you think that this had any part in that?

ELSEY: No. I went to Mutual Security when the--actually it was Office of the Director for Mutual Security, Averell Harriman. That was many, many months later and I had….

HESS: When was that, early November?

ELSEY: Oh, I guess so, November of '51 and I had been working closely with Harriman from the time that Harriman returned to Washington from his Marshall plan job at the end of June 1950. Harriman came back to be on the President's staff with the outbreak of the Korean war, and so Harriman had already been back in Washington close to a year by then, by now, and I had been working with Harriman throughout that period. No, I do not attribute a cause and effect, a causal relationship here to carrying out a presidential directive. Needless to say, I did not reveal at that time, and do not think--Jerry, I think I


better make a specific request here that this portion of the transcript of the interview regarding the access to the Wake Island . . .

HESS: The Anthony Leviero . . .

ELSEY: The Anthony Leviero episode, I think that I have to request that it be sealed and not made available to scholars in Truman's lifetime.

HESS: All right.

ELSEY: I think the access to the--the turning over of the minutes to Anthony Leviero was as a direct order or instruction from the President to me. So far as I know he has never--this has never been ascribed to him. It's been assumed that there was a leak some place in Washington and I would not want to put the finger on President Truman for this. So, for his lifetime, any interview or any of my comments on this ought to remain under seal. After President Truman's death I see no need for any restriction.

HESS: Okay. No problem at all.


One general question: Do you think that the dismissal of General MacArthur was handled in the correct manner?

ELSEY: No, I think that, thought then, and I've always thought, that the administration could have avoided a lot of the emotionalism that arose over the dismissal of General MacArthur by giving a greater attention to the details of the handling. I think that it--it looked like panic on the part of the White House and the Pentagon and I think that was unfortunate. It gave instead of--it was not handled in a dignified manner as was befitting the action of the President and Commander in Chief.

There was a degree of panic, there was some concern that MacArthur might get some wind of this and might make some grandstand gesture of his own. There were rumors flying around that he was going on a world-wide broadcast, network, and there was some suspicion that maybe he was going to resign with a grandstand announcement. And in effect, the White House was I'm afraid, I'm sorry to say it, was panicked by fear that MacArthur might get the jump.


HESS: Wasn't there a rumor . . .

ELSEY: It still, I think, was badly handled and there is such a concern on the part of Joe Short (the Press Secretary), to give a lot of documents out to the newspapers, that--and it just took hours to transcribe documents, and to mimeograph them, actually to release them to the press. The press could have been so informed some hours earlier if Joe Short hadn't been so concerned about handing out a lot of documents and a lot of papers. This meant that the press was called into the White House sometime after midnight. I've now forgotten, what, 1 a.m. or something like that, and so they accurately said that MacArthur was fired in the dead of night. Well, it was in the dead of night in Washington, of course, it was the middle of the afternoon out there in Tokyo, but there were just--it was something of a panic reaction which chagrined me at the time and has always embarrassed me, subsequently, that the White House sort of lost control of itself at that point.

HESS: Even though it was handled rather poorly, do you think it was necessary?


ELSEY: Oh, no question but what it was necessary. Oh, I'm only addressing the - just the mechanics of it. As to the wisdom of the decision, or the necessity for the decision, absolutely no question in my mind. I think that President Truman's stature as President was enhanced. It was necessary. He had to do it. No President could tolerate that kind of behavior on the part of a subordinate military commander.

No, my criticism is only of just the mechanics and the faulty mechanics were those of the press office, more than anything else.

HESS: Now, the last things in there are newspapers and I think most of them have to do with--this of course is just about the time that he was thinking of . . .

ELSEY: Wake Island.

HESS: Yes, Wake Island.

ELSEY: I don't know why those were--quite frankly I don't (quickly glancing at them) , I don't see why those were saved.

HESS: Maybe background.


ELSEY: Probably background for the climate prevailing at the time of the Wake Island matter.

HESS: Well, that finishes the box number three. What time are you going to have to leave?

ELSEY: Oh, a half an hour from now.

HESS: Okay.

ELSEY: We can always get together again.

HESS: Good. Now, I don't have anything specific in box four as I noticed. What does our list show for box four?

ELSEY: Box four is a pretty important time period. It's the Korean crisis, I call it that, from November to December 1950, that's the time when the Chinese came in and a great many important actions had to be taken, military decisions had to be taken, and because of the greatly stepped-up pace of weapons procurement, armament, and so on we had the whole problem of inflation and the questions relating to wage, price controls, other economic measures of that sort, and at the President's specific direction--and I tried to keep very careful


records and minutes of these meetings. I have minutes of the meetings he held with Congressmen, with members of committees and congressional leaders, with other officials of the executive branch, and drafts of the radio addresses, the messages to Congress and so on, that took place during this November-December period. It was also at this time that Eisenhower had a long session with the President. Here is the full minutes of the session, some fifteen pages, sixteen pages, of minutes of an Eisenhower presidential meeting. Churchill came over, there are notes here on the Churchill conference.

HESS: What do you recall about President Truman's reaction when the Chinese entered the war and crossed the Yalu river? Anything in particular?

ELSEY: I would think here again, Jerry, I would hesitate to try this many years after the event to remember a reaction. We'll have to rely on contemporary documents to say how he felt. I think we can imagine what the reaction was, but I'm afraid if I tried now, it would be imagination rather than positive memory.

Here are the questions of the National Emergency


Proclamation and speech of December 15, 1950. All of this brought about, as a result of a crisis produced by the sudden entry of the Chinese into the war.

These drafts--these folders on the speeches, are - may be of some interest simply in showing how presidential statements on that subject were, in those days, were being put together, who did it, what the genesis of ideas was. This one relates to MacArthur.

HESS: Do you recall who worked on that speech?

ELSEY: Oh, I think the folder will show the longhand notes. Here it is. DDL is David D. Lloyd.

HESS: David D. Lloyd.

ELSEY: Here is draft three by Elsey and Lloyd. These are all annotated, I think you will find.

There's a DB, David Bell. You'll find the drafts annotated and I think the handwriting will be readily identifiable to anyone who is familiar with that period.

Here's one for example, I can recognize, as you can, right away, with Clifford comments on that one.

HESS: How good were David Lloyd and David Bell as speechwriters?


ELSEY: Excellent! They were by all odds the best that had come on the scene up to that point, bar none.

HESS: Were the also involved in policy decisions?

ELSEY: Well, it's a little hard to say what is a policy decision and what is not. If you're asking if they were involved in decision making at the highest level of the President, no. In those days they were not seeing the President, except perhaps in large staff conferences, but insofar as their thinking was absorbed or would prevail on Charlie Murphy, and Charlie in turn could affect a presidential decision, yes. They were in the decision making line, in the machinery, in the staff discussions and talks and conferences that went on.

There are here, as you have noted, a couple of Beverly Smith folders. Folders labeled "Beverly Smith." Beverly Smith was the Washington editor of the Saturday Evening Post and the stories here torn out, were very accurate, as accurate as it was possible to make them. I assisted, at the President's direction, Beverly Smith in preparing, in assembling the material.

HESS: For these articles.


ELSEY: For these articles. I made arrangements for Smith to see the President, and for Smith to see the senior officials at State and Defense. I would personally call the Secretary of State or the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and say that Beverly Smith is doing this, and that the President requested that an interview be granted to Smith. So, these were authorized Government stories, as accurate as it was possible to make them in those days. Because Beverly Smith did not have all the top secret clearances, naturally, I did not turn over to him the documents, but I would read or would cite facts in messages and memorandas for him. Then the articles, the draft of his articles, were cleared for security to make sure that there were no inadvertent security violations affecting military matters.

HESS: The other day when I was going through the speech at the time that he dismissed MacArthur, I noticed that in the speech he had not mentioned Matthew Ridgway, the man who was going to take over the job. I believe that you put that in at the last minute. Do you recall that?

ELSEY: I do not recall that, Jerry. If you find an annotation to that effect, that undoubtedly is what happened,


but I do not at this stage of the game recall that.

HESS: I'm positive that it's in here but you know it's like a needle in the haystack as thick as they are.

ELSEY: No, I have no recollection now, Jerry as to--I think we'll simply have to let the file and the drafts speak for themselves.

HESS: They can find it very easily because I'm quite sure that it is there, but right now my eye doesn't land on it. I believe that that was right here.

Okay, that pretty well goes through box four? I'll get box five.

ELSEY: I think these memoranda, these minutes of meetings, will be fairly interesting and fairly significant, because I would doubt that these are going to be available anyplace else.

HESS: May and June, this was just after the dismissal. During the time of the MacArthur hearings up on the Hill, was there any special effort by the White House staff to build the White House's case?

ELSEY: This was done. The burden was carried by State and


Defense, not by the White House staff.

HESS: All right, box number five.

ELSEY: Well, now we're going back to a different time period, aren't we?

HESS: We sure are.

ELSEY: We are now going more to domestic matters.

HESS: Yes, and the first one is the Truman Doctrine speech.

ELSEY: Yes, well this is March 12, 1947 with (I'm afraid that it's been sort of scrambled up because various people have looked at it from time to time), various drafts and versions of the speech, drafts as they come over from the State Department and the changes that were made at the White House with annotations, I guess, in the margin pretty clearly as to who made what changes and why.

Such miscellaneous items as an article by a newspaper or magazine writer, oh, many years later, 1964, Mr. [John Jay] Iselin, went through and wrote a draft or a piece on the origin of the message.


HESS: I see he turned that in as a Ph.D. dissertation at Harvard.

ELSEY: Really?

HESS: Yes.

ELSEY: I had no record of what he did with his article.

HESS: And I've been trying to get ahold of it, but I haven't been able to, but that was his Ph.D. dissertation at Harvard.

ELSEY: I have a minor gripe about scholars and others who come in to look through papers. You never heard from them again, they never say "thank you," and you never know whether they ever do anything with the interview or with all the pawing through of your papers that they've done.

HESS: Well, now you know, you've helped this young man through Harvard.

ELSEY: You might put that in large letters emblazed in gold in the reading room out there at the Independence library.

HESS: Show a little appreciation.

ELSEY: Show a little appreciation. For God's sake tell the


people who go out of their way to help what you do with your . . .

HESS: Did you help in the writing of the Truman Doctrine?

ELSEY: Oh, yes, certainly. And Iselin, I think Iselin was the writer who spotted these interesting sentences or what he thought were interesting. The credo--the "I believe it must be." This is where this appeared, it was not in what came over from the State Department. It was what I did here in my, you know, Sunday the 9th of March where I broke it down into short sentences and put in three "I believes" because I thought it would have much more impact and much more meaning. Also, it would be more helpful to the President.

For example, look Jerry, this matter of style. Now, I know Joe [Joseph M.] Jones who then was of the State Department, wrote a book later mostly for which he patted himself on the back for the great speech he had written, and for his fine style that he thought the White House staff had messed up. But look at his beautiful prose. Here's a sentence:

    It is essential to our security that we assist free peoples to work out their own destiny in


    their own way and our help must be primarily in the form of that economic and financial aid which is essential to economic stability and orderly political processes.

Now, I submit, is that the kind of a sentence that President Truman could have delivered effectively, and with force, to the Congress? No, it simply is not his style, it's not a good sentence for anybody, not even a Dean Acheson could have done well with a sentence like that.

HESS: By the time you get to the end you've forgot what was at the beginning.

ELSEY: If you can ever get to the end without collapsing. That's the sort of thing that I would take on many occasions, and in this instance did, and break down into short, sharp sentences with a degree of punch to them and you can see how I rewrote it in that draft.

Well, this is the--these are the drafts of what was done at the White House on that one.

HESS: Now, the background of the 1949 inaugural address.

ELSEY: The same sort of thing. I'm afraid this has been pawed through by so many people so many times that it's sort of a hopeless jumble, but I'm sure…


HESS: I think we pretty well covered that in our interview when we were talking about speeches.

ELSEY: I think we did. I think we've done so.

HESS: Now, the next thing is this.

ELSEY: That's some more material on the '48 State of the Union, actually all of these are out of chronological sequence.

HESS: All right, the next thing is the Jefferson speech at the Library of Congress on May 17, of 1950. Tell me about the background of that speech.

ELSEY: Well, we'd been out on the West Coast on a speaking tour, and my recollection is that when we got back, just about the day we got back, Charlie Ross called me over to the West Wing to his office, and told me the President would be going up the next day to the Library of Congress to a ceremony to accept Volume I of the Papers of Thomas Jefferson which were being published by Princeton University, under the editorship of Julian Boyd. Would I please think up some remarks for the President to make on the occasion.


I had been vaguely aware of the fact that the President would be going up, but I must say that I had forgotten all about it because of the press of that trip out to the West. Yes, here's the letter from Dr. [Harold W.] Dodds and the President to me, written a number of months earlier, so I was aware of it, but I had forgotten about it or hadn't been giving much thought to it.

Well, this was sort of grim, I was tired, everybody else was, Charlie Ross' request was grim. The thought of having to do a speech. But I went to work and as you can see from these absolutely illegible longhand notes, did a short, ten minutes at most, kind of remarks that I thought would be appropriate for the President on that occasion. I did not know whether he would want to read a text or just use the outline of the notes I'd given him for background for off-the-cuff.

I saw Charlie and the President the first thing the next morning, the day he was to go up, and outlined what I had in mind and it sounded okay to them. We transcribed it, Ross decided that he would--the President decided he would -read it and Ross decided that he would turn it out as a full advance text. At first he said he would speak


briefly from notes, and then later Ross changed his mind and gave out the full story.

The remarks about the National Historical Publications Commission, and the request the President was making to the National Historical Publications Commission to look into the matter of collecting and publishing the writings of a wide variety of men and women who had made contributions to our society, that was one of those spur of the moment things when you're grasping for straws trying to get some substance into a speech. And that struck me as being necessary and useful and I had only time to--I was unable to reach Wayne Grover, who was then the Archivist, until the speech was already being transcribed before I got to Wayne and read it to him, and he made some suggestions, and we thought those up, or incorporated those, his suggestions. And so it went.

HESS: Now, is this your writing down at the bottom, "The whole proposal was..."

ELSEY: "G. M. E."

HESS: G.M.E."...thought up in bed on the night of the 16th..."


ELSEY: "...and cleared orally with the President at 0900 on the morning of the 17th, while the speech was still in pencil draft."

HESS: Now, what did Dr. Grover think of the idea of saying something about the National Historical Publications Commission, was he all for it?

ELSEY: Thought it was a great idea. The National Historical Publications was dormant and had been doing practically nothing in those days and he was completely in support, and as you undoubtedly know, this turned into a major activity. It was a rejuvenation of the National Historical Publications Commission, and the commission has done a superb job in this area in the two decades since then.

HESS: What made you think of the National Historical Publications Commission? What brought this to mind?

ELSEY: Well, I of course, knew Wayne Grover well. We had talked over the years on many aspects of papers and presidential archives, so I was vaguely aware that there was such a thing as the National Historical Publications Commission, and I suppose at some prior time, Dr. Grover


must have mentioned its existence to me, and the fact that it wasn't amounting to very much, and that someday, somebody had ought to do something about it, and so this was a good occasion to do something about it.

HESS: You later served on the commission.

ELSEY: I served on the commission for a year, as it was getting reorganized to be sure it started down this direction. I had a great deal of kidding from my colleagues in the White House staff who knew that I had had historical training and graduate work, and they accused me of this being "Elsey's boondoggle." Bell and Lloyd and Ken Hechler, Steve Spingarn, Roger Tubby and the others had a lot of fun teasing me that this was a WPA for historians, thought up by Elsey. This was a good gag, and I went along with this kidding.

HESS: Something for historians, by a historian.

ELSEY: Something for historians, by a historian. So, they teased me for a long time, and that was just fine with me because I believed in what we were doing.

I didn't want to serve more than the one year just


to sort of help be sure that the thing got started, and I was named to a one year term, and when the year was coming to an end, the President said he would reappoint me and I asked not to be reappointed and recommended instead a former professor of mine at Harvard, Arthur M. Schlesinger, Sr. Dr. Schlesinger was appointed to a full three year term which was fine.

HESS: How do you think that the National Historical Publications Commission has worked out to this time?

ELSEY: Great! I think it's doing exactly--it's doing all I hoped and a heck of a lot more than I had hoped would be possible. I don't think that there's anything further to say on that, unless you have some question.

HESS: No. That was it on this.

ELSEY: "Speech Clearance." There was a period, especially in the White House (changing now subjects rather drastically), after the problems of Louis Johnson, Secretary of the Navy Matthews, MacArthur and so on, there was a period when we were requiring departments and agencies to submit speeches that had anything to do with foreign or military policy, to the White House for clearance. That's what this


folder on "Speech Clearance" is. A number of speeches to be given, or proposed to be given, by various people came over and they usually ended up on my desk for clearance.

I must say (backing up now a bit to MacArthur's dismissal), the actual technicality on which he was dismissed was his violation of a presidential order, edict, that speeches relating to foreign policy be cleared in Washington. That was something that--that little memorandum, and I'm sure you will find that in the files there someplace was a directive that was concocted in Charlie Murphy's office at the White House and my recollection is early in December 1950, shortly after the Chinese had come in and there were all these multiple crises.

Ed Barrett (Edward W. Barrett), was then the Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs. Barrett and I had worked closely on many, many things and we were much concerned about the shooting off of the mouth by so many people in the Government on the implications of the Chinese entry into the war, what our foreign policy and military developments were likely to be. So, Ed and I prepared, drafted, and it was very


quickly cleared, all in a matter of an hour or more, a directive from the White House which required clearances on speeches dealing with military and foreign policy. It was primarily intended to keep the military from talking about foreign policy, but so that it wouldn't appear to be aimed solely at the military, we double-barreled it and said that diplomatic and State Department people couldn't talk about military events without Pentagon clearance, and military people couldn't talk about foreign matters without State Department clearance. The aim was solely at the military, but so that it wouldn't appear to be so critical of them, we as I say, we tried to balance it.

Months later when people were trying to find something to accuse MacArthur of violating, that was the only piece of paper that you could show that he actually violated, a presidential order. It might be interesting to try and track that down in my December '50 papers.

HESS: What about the meeting between Truman and Eisenhower after the election of 1952? It's in the folder "Truman and Eisenhower Meeting November 18, 1952." Do you recall offhand very much about the meeting? Was it cordial,



ELSEY: No, I do not really recall very much about that at all.

HESS: Do you recall what aides Eisenhower brought?

ELSEY: I'm sorry to say I do not now recall. I can't, no. This folder actually has a few other things in it too, it's the transition and most of what I see in here really relates to--or much of it I see in here relates to Harriman's turning over the responsibility for the Mutual Security Program to Governor [Harold] Stassen.

I do have--well, you'll find here a draft of a memorandum on notes of the meeting of the President and General Eisenhower, which were dictated by Averell Harriman and then I see changes in the draft both in Harriman's handwriting and in my handwriting. I don't have a final draft of it, and other -papers relating to it such as the press -release which came out.

HESS: How did the transition go? Did it go smoothly in the Mutual Security Agency?

ELSEY: In the Mutual Security Agency it went very smoothly.


Harriman phoned Stassen within minutes after Stassen's appointment was announced from General Eisenhower's office in NewYork; pledged all support to him. Governor Stassen came down quite early, Harriman introduced him to all the senior members of his staff. I was designated to be the liaison with Governor Stassen and we prepared briefing books for Stassen. He came down quite often from Philadelphia. (He was then president of the University of Pennsylvania). He spent a lot of time with us and went at his work very seriously and very diligently. There were very cordial relationships between Harriman and Stassen and they would dine together in the evening. It was Harriman's intent to make every scrap of information available to Governor Stassen that he was interested in seeing and also making all people available to him. This was a model, I think, of transition. It was rare because, you see, this really was the first time in our modern history that there had been any serious effort at transition preparation. Now, it's a well-accepted practice, but it was not then, and I think Harriman's pioneering efforts with Stassen were about--were among the best.


HESS: It's getting pretty close to twelve and we're about to run out of tape.

ELSEY: Clippings and speeches, that's all. I think the rest of this particular box number . . .

HESS: Five.

ELSEY: . . . five, is largely public material, unclassified material, which I doubt if it has any great significance that can't be readily--isn't readily apparent just by looking at the folders of material itself.

Okay Jerry, will that do it for now?

HESS: We have boxes six and seven that look fairly self-explanatory. Want me to drag them out?

ELSEY: No, I don't think it's necessary. Box six--I think these are all self-explanatory.

There was this very serious question which was in the minds of lawyers and FDR's family and the U.S. Government in 1945, at the time of his death, all kinds of matters had to be taken up regarding the transfer of his papers to the FDR Library. There were legal questions about whether they were the property of the FDR estate, or the property of the United States Government. There were questions about access to them, security, and so


on and so forth, and these manila envelopes which are labeled by me "Roosevelt, FDR Library," have memoranda, letters, notes of conversations on those topics.

There is this whole question of figuring out what kind of regulations would be promulgated by the Government for the use of presidential papers, this had not been done before. You will recall that by the time we got around to this, when the papers were up there at Hyde Park, we were already in a hot political climate. The 80th Congress was controlled by the opposition party; there was concern on the part of some people that the Republicans might engage in "fishing expeditions" in the Roosevelt Library to see what they could dig out that would be embarrassing to the Democratic administration. All these facts and factors came into play in the drafting of regulations.

In the Archives the professional staff of the Archives was, of course, very concerned that everything be done in a professional manner and that they, that the Archives, which had responsibility for these papers, not be caught in the middle of partisan political fights and feuds. They regarded themselves as scholars


and archivists, librarians, and they wanted to treat these papers with the highest of professional standards. So, this was terribly important and this, incidentally, was the way that Harry, President Truman, felt. He was very keen on this matter that he wanted to make sure that neither FDR's nor any other President's or political figure's papers that came into the possession of the Government were treated with any other than a professional manner with the highest ethical and archival and historical standards.

HESS: After Mr. Truman left office did he think that the Republicans were going to go into a "fishing expedition" in his papers if they were opened forthwith?

ELSEY: I'm not conscious of that feeling on his part. I think we recognized in the regulation both drafted by Justice and published in the Federal Register that those regulations regarding FDR papers, would very likely set a precedent and there had been no effort by the Republicans or others to raid the FDR Library. There was a recognition by responsible people on the Hill that these papers were official U.S. Government records and ought to be treated as such, and I think by the time


President Truman left office, this kind of fear had pretty much subsided all the way around. I'm not conscious of any worry on his part.

There are other folders here, background on various questions of responses, requests of congressional committees, and others, regarding not only papers of FDR, but of the Truman administration. I think you'll find those self-explanatory.

Do you have any questions regarding Forrestal? Why I happened to have some--a folder on James Forrestal?

HESS: What was your involvement there?

ELSEY: Forrestal, you know, left office a pretty distraught man at the beginning of 1949. He had no confidence in Louis Johnson, his successor as Secretary of Defense, and was particularly concerned at the prospect of Secretary Johnson's having access to Forrestall's most personal and private memoranda of conversations, personal papers and so on. So, Forrestal sent one four or five drawer file safe with his "diary," which was not really a diary, but it was called that, over to the office of the Naval Aide to the President, Rear Admiral [Robert L.]


Dennison, for safekeeping. This was frankly to prevent any fishing expedition by Louis Johnson in his personal papers. He didn't take them with him to his home because much of the material was very highly classified, and he did not want to run any security risks by taking that material out of the hands of the Government.

Then, as we recall, Forrestal died very suddenly and totally unexpectedly in, I think it was, mid-April 1949. So, the papers remained in the Naval Aide's office at the White House for some time thereafter while Mrs. Forrestal and Forrestal's attorneys considered what to do with them.

Quite a while later, and I would have to look at the file to refresh my memory on the dates, Mrs. Forrestal and the estate arranged for the publication of the so called Forrestal Diary. This meant that they wanted access, or they wanted the writer to have access, to, among other things, the material there at the White House. Because of the concern for security matters, it was agreed that before we released these papers to Walter Millis, who was to be the editor, they would be reviewed by a representative of the Department of


Defense and by a representative of the White House. I think by this time Louis Johnson was gone and General Marshall was the Secretary of Defense. Marshall designated Mr. Marx Leva to be his representative, and I was designated to be the White House representative.

In company with Walter Millis and Eugene Duffield who had worked in the Pentagon with Forrestal and who was I think by now an attorney in private practice representing the estate, Duffield and Millis, Leva and I went through the Forrestal papers that were at the White House. Leva's and my concern were solely security. We felt that we had no basis for making any judgments other than on a security basis. The propriety of personal comments and so on, this was not in our concern. Marx found some papers, which in his judgment, to release would clearly endanger national security, and there was no argument on any of those. There were a few papers I found that had foreign policy implications, or that affected, or where President Truman was quoted by Forrestal in memoranda or letters he wrote as having certain views and I thought and expressed the opinions that some of these would be prejudicial to the President


if they were to be printed and published at that time.

It all boiled down to a very, very few cases where perhaps, not more than eight or ten, where there was some question amongst the group of us as to the propriety of releasing. These issues were all resolved amicably after a thorough discussion. The result was the printing of the book Forrestal Diary which did no harm to national security, caused no embarrassment to the President in his relations with foreign nations or others. But that's just the background of why the devil I had anything to do with the Forrestal papers.

HESS: One general question concerning Secretary Forrestal. Before his suicide did you see any evidence of mental degeneration on his part?

ELSEY: I think the last time I saw him was early January '49 when I participated in a meeting regarding the proposed amendments to the National Security Act. I'm not conscious of having noted then any change in his manner or behavior. A book has been written, I think, by a psychiatrist on Forrestal. Lots of other people have


made comments about it, but I was not aware the last time I saw him of any significant change in his--well, delete the word "significant"--of any change in his manner or conduct. Others who were intimately associated with him almost on an around the clock basis, have had different views and have written them and so on. I don't deny that they may be accurate, I just say I don't have any information of that sort.

HESS: Do you know why he was picked as the first Secretary of Defense?

ELSEY: Oh, yes. His views on the "merger" of the Army and the Navy (as a word that was widely used), were well known. He was a strong opponent of any thought of merging the Army and the Navy to have a single unified armed force as some people were advocating. Secretary of War Patterson felt that a "merged" military force was the answer. (We're now back at the closing months of World War II, in the first few months of peace, '45, '46.)

Forrestal was quick to admit that there had been many inadequacies in the coordination of Army and Navy


during the war, and more particularly coordination of the military effort with the State Department with foreign policy objectives. He was very quick to recognize that and admit it, but his remedy was not a merger of the Army and Navy but rather devising much more effective and sophisticated machinery than the informal working committees. SWNCC was one of them (State, War, and Navy Coordinating Committee).

Forrestal thought devices like this were utterly inadequate and that we needed what in due course was to be called the National Security Council. We also needed something that ultimately became the NSRB (National Security Resources Board), so that all the civilian aspects of our economy which are necessary to support the armed forces were organized in a coordinated fashion.

Forrestal's views, in other words, rose above the mere question of how the Army and Navy got along, to the much more important question of how the military effort was related to the rest of the United States Government. And so, because Forrestal had negative reactions to actual "merger," but very positive and constructive attitudes on other issues, he was naturally thought


about by the President as a strong possibility.

Furthermore, if you will, perhaps he was "bought off" in his opposition to any kind of unification because the President said in effect, "You come along with our plan for reorganization of the armed forces and I'll make you the first Secretary of Defense." Forrestal certainly couldn't object to that, nor could Forrestal have any views that the Navy would be sabotaged or done away with

HESS: Not while he was there.

ELSEY:. . . or that it would lose the Marine Corps to the Army, or lose Naval Aviation to the newly proposed United States Air Force as long as he were Secretary of Defense. This was a case of everybody's interests being served. He could see to it that the Navy and the Marine Corps and the Naval Air Forces, to which he was passionately devoted, and for which he had unbounded admiration, he could ensure that their attributes and assets were properly recognized and properly protected. At the same time he could work for these other things in which he so strongly believed. I can't think of another man who would


have been a better choice, or nearly as good a choice, as Forrestal for the first Secretary of Defense. And when I say his opposition was "bought off" by the offer of the job, I don't mean that to sound that there was any--I don't mean it to imply that there was anything cheap or sinister about this. Not at all. The whole thing was a positive, constructive approach to the situation by President Truman and by Forrestal.

HESS: Did there seem to be, during the Truman administration, an undue rivalry between the State Department and the Department of Defense as to who would be the President's prime adviser?

ELSEY: Well, there never was in President Truman's mind! To President Truman, the Secretary of State was number one. The State Department was the senior department. There may have been in Louis Johnson's mind, or a few other people's minds, but there sure was never any doubt in President Truman's mind on that score.

And President Truman and Johnson and just anybody who had anything to do with the Government knew that the State Department had been sadly neglected, badly left out of things in especially the latter part of World War II,


that President Roosevelt by leaving Cordell Hull there, a tired, elderly man. By downgrading State, by not having State participants in most of his most important conferences, the State Department suffered in prestige and influence and, I think, the United States Government suffered because many decisions were made without foreign policy consideration having come into play. And I think that was very short-sighted and damned unfortunate, and Truman believed this.

I might mention (this is an incidental footnote), that Admiral William D. Leahy, who was as crusty an old sailor as ever existed, and was President Roosevelt's chief of staff from July 1942 on, personally believed this very strongly. Instead of being an anti-State Department man, as some people assumed that an old sailor automatically would be, Admiral Leahy was the one man around the White House who kept constantly saying, "But the State Department ought to be consulted." As the war went further and further along and as decisions began to be more and more political and less and less military, it was Leahy who insisted that there be a relationship with the State Department. It was Leahy who arranged to have "Chip" Bohlen (Charles E. Bohlen),


named as his, Leahy's, personal liaison with the State Department. So, in the last year of the Roosevelt administration, Bohlen would come over to the White House every day to see Admiral Leahy and Leahv would bring Bohlen up to date on the Roosevelt-Churchill, Roosevelt-Stalin messages, what the thinking of the Joint Chiefs of Staff were. This was invaluable.

We're off the point of what you were talking about, Jerry, but I feel very keenly that this is an aspect of things that is not widely recognized, perhaps not recognized at all, and anyone--and occasionally I have seen or been conscious of, or had questions asked, "Wasn't Leahy detrimental? Didn't he exaggerate the military influence?" And my answer is, of course, precisely the reverse, "Not at all." Admiral Leahy was perhaps the one strong man in the White House during the war who was trying to keep political and foreign policy matters in some sort of perspective with President Roosevelt.

HESS: Very good. Box number seven.

ELSEY: Junk.

HESS: Oh, now!


ELSEY: Some of it purely incidental, personal correspondence, or so on, that . . .

HESS: Files on individuals.

ELSEY: General files on individuals. I think mostly personal correspondence. I don't know that there's much there of great value to anybody. There are a couple of folders on "White House Social Seasons, '45, '46, '47," somebody might find some tidbits of information.

HESS: And four loose-leaf notebooks.

ELSEY: Well, those four loose-leaf notebooks of President Truman's messages to Congress, were steady working documents and working files for me at the time. There was no publication, as there is now, of the weekly presidential documents. There was no ready or convenient access to the President's messages of even a few months earlier, and so those were constant working papers on my part. They have no Special value now because, of course, the Archives has very admirably edited the Truman papers.

HESS: Is that all for one morning?


ELSEY: That's all I have.

HESS: Thank you very much.

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