General counsel, U.S. Department of Defense, 1947-51.
Numbers appearing in square brackets (ex. ) within the transcript indicate the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview.
See also Felix E. Larkin Papers finding aid
Opened February, 1985
Oral History Interview with
September 18, 1972
by Jerry N. Hess
HESS: Mr. Larkin, of primary interest in our interview is your relationship with President Truman and the Truman administration. What was that relationship and when did it begin?
LARKIN: I joined Forrestal's office about September 25th, or four or five days after he became Secretary of Defense. Marx Leva and I and Bill McNeil and John Ohly were the first five people in the office actually. That was in 1947.
Now, I did a job for Forrestal in '46, when he was Secretary of the Navy.
HESS: What job did you do for him?
LARXIN: Well, I did a review of Navy court-martials. What happened was that after World War II finished in 1945, in the next year there was a tremendous hue and cry about the sentences of all the fellows who were convicted while in the service, and were still in prison. The Army appointed Justice Roberts, who had retired from the Supreme Court, as head of an Army review board and that had been going on for a while. Forrestal then decided he better get a Navy review board going, because there were some 5,000 Navy personnel still serving in prison. According to one of the magazines, I think the Saturday Evening Post, in an article, "A Million Years in Prison," the sentences totaled a million years. So Forrestal recruited Arthur John Keefe, a law professor at Cornell, to come down and be the head of a Navy Review Board. They started to have a review in about March or April 1946, and they seemed to be getting nowhere. They had reviewed only 25 or 30 cases, in two or three months.
So, Professor Keefe then got the bright idea that be would ask Judge Jacob Gould Schurman of the Court of General Sessions in New York, if he might
not help him get somebody who knew something about criminal law. He had asked Judge Schurman because his father had been president of Cornell years before. I happened to be working as the law assistant to Judge Wallace, another Judge of the Court of General Sessions, and I knew Judge Schurman well. He told Professor Keefe the one man in New York who could really help you is Felix Larkin. So Keefe and Forrestal invited me to help them with this job.
In June when the court recessed I took a leave of absence from Judge Wallace and went to Washington for three months to try to help them. I joined the Board and proceeded to organize the whole project. Then within seven or eight months we reviewed the sentences of the 5,000 who were still in prison. We recommended to Forrestal the reduction of those sentences, by applying civilian standards to crimes of a civilian nature, such as rape, burglary, larceny, so forth, but not to military crimes like desertion. We recommended that if, for instance, a man had committed a crime in New York State for which be most likely would have gotten a seven years sentence, based on my experience working in
the civilian courts, we recommended that his sentence be reduced to seven years instead of the 55 year sentence he was serving. Forrestal took the recommendations on all but one or two, of 5,000, So, I got to know Forrestal very well that way.
HESS: Did he follow this as you were working on it, or did he only pay attention to it after you had made your recommendations at the end?
LARKIN: I think it went on continually. We kept turning in recommendations on specific cases maybe ten a week, something like that.
HESS: So, he was working in this matter with you?
LARKIN: That's my recollection. It turned out that the Judge Advocate General and the Bureau of Navy Personnel recommended that he not adopt recommendations in one or two cases, but he adopted virtually all of them. Then we wrote, with his permission, a critique of the Navy court martial systems which we gave to him. I think Forrestal felt that I was a very reasonable, prudent force compared to the
rabble-rousing attitudes of some of the other civilians on the Board and as a result I got to know him reasonably well and I got to know Marx Leva very well,
HESS: Is that when you met Mr. Leva?
LARKIN: That's when I met Marx, because he was then Forrestal's assistant. Forrestal was still Secretary of the Navy. This was in '46. The unification hearings were going on in Congress. The recommendations were finally adopted and passed Into law in August 1947, and Forrestal became the first Secretary in September 17th, 1947. When Forrestal became Secretary, he asked me to come to Washington to be assistant general counsel under Marx, who was the general counsel. I finally decided I'd do it for a year or two; I stayed four years.
HESS: We'll have many questions on both Mr. Leva and Mr. Forrestal later. What's your earliest recollections of Mr. Truman?
LARKIN: My earliest recollections of him were reading
in the press about his activities as chairman of the Senate Investigating Committee. It became known as the Truman Committee. That was, of course, during the war. That was probably 1942 or '43.
HESS: That committee was established in 1941 and he headed it until August of 1944.
LARKIN: I had read about him on a number of occasions in that connection. Then of course, I, like any other person following public affairs in a reasonable fashion followed his career as Vice President, read about him and so forth. Then, of course, he came dramatically to everybody's attention when Roosevelt died and he became President.
HESS: What was your view when he was selected by the Democrats in Chicago in 1944 as the vice-presidential running mate?
LARKIN: I thought it was an interesting selection. I thought be had done a very good job as chairman of the committee, so he was, in my view, a man of substance and principle. I recognized that be was relatively unknown and that he had come from
relatively humble beginnings. Although his opponents kidded about the fact that he had been a haberdasher he seemed to me to have demonstrated some stature in that senatorial committee job, and, so, I thought it was an interesting and probably quite a good selection. I didn't know what was behind the selection.
Who were the ones contending against him? Was it Wallace?
HESS; Henry Wallace.
LARKIN: He was dropped, that's right. Part of my feeling about the Truman selection as being pretty sensible was because I happen to be a Democrat. I am perhaps one of the few in the whole corporate hierarchy of the United States. Nevertheless, I always felt that Henry Wallace was well meaning, but too far to the left, for me, Democratic though I was; and Jimmy Byrnes of course, was too far to the right. I've always followed just what I regard as a fairly middle approach on most of those things.
HESS: Middle of the road.
LARKIN: Middle of the road, I suppose. I don't know what liberal means anymore, or conservative. But I'd like to feel I am perhaps somewhat progressive. I don't care what you call it, in party labels.
HESS: Did you attend the convention in Chicago?
LARKIN: No, I did not. I have never attended one in my life. I've never been in politics per se. When I was drafted to this job by Forrestal--the court-martial thing for the Navy--some of the judges in the court where I worked, Judge Wallace and Judge Sherman, had said to me many times, "We'd like to see you on the bench here. Why don't you go around to the Democratic Club every week and get into politics. Then you can manage it; you can become a judge."
And I said, "Thank you, no. I have no interest in that kind of a career. I think the difference between the efforts you put in and the rewards you are likely to get are too sketchy and, so, I'd rather do something else." So I didn't; I've never been in politics as such.
HESS: And then on April 12, 1945, Mr. Roosevelt died.
Where were you when you heard the news and what were your thoughts and impressions?
LARKIN: I'm sure I was here in New York City--I've been here most of my life. I was not tremendously surprised. I had never really been a great admirer personally of Roosevelt. I thought he was quite an overweening kind of a fellow, but I had a tremendous admiration for the things he did. In other words, I was a staunch supporter of things like the SEC, the Federal Deposit Insurance, Social Security; I thought they were all very necessary, and they were well done and a highly enlightened approach. I never knew him of course; it's just what I read in the paper. I was very highly in favor of many of those things he did, but I thought the fourth term was just too much. I understood (how, I don't know, perhaps from reading), that he was in very poor health, so I wasn't tremendously surprised when I read that be had died. I thought to myself, "Boy this is going to be some challenge for Harry Truman." The war was still on, if I remember correctly.
HESS: That's quite right.
LARKIN: I kind of felt sorry; "Oh, boy, I'm glad it's him and not me.''
HESS: We were still fighting on both fronts at that time.
LARKIN: That's right, we were.
HESS: V-E Day was May the 8th, only a month later.
LARKIN: And V-J Day was...
HESS: Well into August.
LARKIN: Yes, late July or August.
HESS: Then you were brought into the Defense Department and we have mentioned that just a little bit. Now, the National Military Establishment was established, as we said, in 1947. What do you recall about Mr. Forrestal's views concerning the unification of the armed services?
LARKIN: You mean prior to me joining Forrestal?
LARKIN: Well, I don't think it impressed me tremendously.
I knew there was a long serious debate going on, in terms of unification. I knew Forrestal was in the forefront of it; he was doing a lot of work on it. He was still Secretary of the Navy and the war was over, but I must say I don't think I was tremendously conscious of the pros and cons of the subject at the time. Mr. Forrestal came to my attention during the war to the extent that I remembered very well when he was Under Secretary of the Navy. I knew be had this tremendous logistic job as Under Secretary, building the entire fleet and the entire air arm of the Navy, under, I guess it was, Knox. Wasn't he the Secretary? Then be became Secretary in the last year or two and, oh, I knew he was a banker from Dillon-Read.
HESS: Did you ever meet him here in town when be worked for Dillon-Read?
LARKIN: No, I never did.
HESS: Some historians have said that his views on unification were negative. If that be the case, why, in your opinion, would Mr. Truman have selected
him to be the first Secretary of Defense?
LARKIN: I don't believe they were negative. I don't know where that comes from. He carried the administration's load, as I understood it, in getting unification through. And he used Forrest Sherman, who was the CNO of the Navy, who was a very brilliant fellow. He used Larry Norstad of the Air Force, who was assistant chief of staff, as I recall it, at the time. I think Al Gruenther; I'm not sure about that. But they all worked together and he kind of worked out the different compromises in that unification act between the Navy and the Army. I think he was convinced that unification was an efficient way to run the military establishment of the United States, based on his experience during the war with the Navy itself. He never said this to me, in words to that effect. We were so busy that we didn't have much time to sit around and philosophize, but clearly my impression was that he spent a great deal of time on this, and without his effort you wouldn't have had unification, in my opinion. Jim Forrestal, though, was a wonderful fellow. I went to the Hill with him many times when I became assistant
general counsel, and I took charge of all the legislation, even when I became general counsel and Marx moved up as Assistant Secretary. Jim Forrestal was a fellow who would level with you. He was very straightforward. He would not try to answer a question if he didn't know the answer. The result was that he had a tremendous amount of currency in Congress. I've gone up with him a number of times and they'd say, "Well, Mr. Secretary, what about this, how are we going to solve this?"
And he'd say, "Well, I don't know, Do you have any ideas? I'm open to ideas." With his forthrightness, his honesty, his directness, he could get virtually anything he recommended in Congress, because they had such a high regard for him. In my opinion, it was that currency that he had in Congress that was largely responsible for unification going through--because Forrestal was for it.
Now, I don't know where this other theory comes from, but once he became Secretary of Defense be certainly proceeded with great vigor
to make it work, and to put it together, and it was awfully difficult in the beginning. I guess it's still not completely jelled to this day.
HESS: Well, you know, the first two years under the National Military Establishment, the Secretary of Defense had less authority than he has now. The Secretary of the Air Force had just been established, the Secretary of the Navy and the Secretary of the Army were also considered of Cabinet status at that time.
LARKIN: That's right, I remember very well. I was as responsible as anybody for getting the Secretary of Defense the authority.
HESS: The increase in authority.
LARKIN: Yes, sir.
HESS: Tell me about that, but first, perhaps, what did you see that needed to be changed? Why did you think that he needed more authority, and then how did you set about trying to do that?
LARKIN: Well, let's start at the beginning of this subject. The Unification Act, of course,
set up the Secretary of Defense and gave him certain limited, general authorities. They were spelled out in the act. They provided for the creation of the Air Force, as a separate department. It previously had been the Army Air Corps, as you have indicated. Marx Leva and I, and a lawyer named Ted Tannenwald, a friend of Marx Leva's who is now on the tax court, was brought in. Ted helped transfer all the authorities necessary to make the Air Force an autonomous department, and, as you say, the three Secretaries under the Secretary of Defense were essentially all Cabinet officers in rank. Then we were confronted with the problem that each department tried to get each year, some new, or some additional authority. As an example the Navy in the first year wanted authority to do fourteen more things or fifty-four more things, whatever it happened to be, and the Air Force wanted the same, and the Army wanted the same. It so happened that the Navy had been so much better organized, and had virtually all the authority they needed anyway, or had so many more authorities than the Army had ever had, and certainly more than the Air Force, that they
were always way ahead of the game. But it became chaotic to have each of these three departments under the Secretary of Defense with their own Independent, individual, and different new programs. The Navy was already a jump ahead of the other departments. Then the others were trying to catch up. So it became an administrative monstrosity. We couldn't continue that way.
It was chaotic in this whole legislative area where each of them were proposing to send to Congress requests for new authorities and new departments and new sub-departments. All of it, presumably, clearing through the Office of the Secretary of Defense, who was the head of the whole establishment, or the titular one anyway. There was much overlap, and each one of the Services would come in with about 150 proposed bills. So the legislative program consisted of four to six hundred bills, which were impossible to digest or understand. So, in an organized business fashion, why, I guess I took the lead and created what we called at the time, a legislative council. As a matter of fact when I left the Defense Department I got the civilian medal of appreciation, which
was the highest civilian award, and on the citation it mentioned this legislative council that I had cooked up. I can show you a copy of the citation sometime.
HESS: I knew that you had received that award.
LARXIN: Yes, I did.
HESS: This is one of the reasons for your receiving the award?
LARKIN: Well, it was cited among a number of other reasons and for just the general service, I suppose, that I performed. So what I did--I was the chairman by Forrestal's appointment of this legislative council--I organized the structure and I required the Army, Navy and Air Force to send me all the bills they proposed to ask permission to submit to Congress. I and my staff would go over the whole lot of them and weed out the overlaps and so forth and then study the substance of the bills and why they needed them. And then I would meet with repre-sentatives of the Army, Navy and Air Force, their legislative people, their judge advocates, their
legal departments, and their policy people, and we would hammer out one single, official legislative program for the whole Department of Defense. We eliminated numerous Air Force, Navy, and Army requests. The Department of Defense, on behalf of the three services, went up to Congress with an official list of requests for authority, having eliminated duplication and overlap. I insisted as a lawyer (as I was at the time) for the sake of good order and for the sake of management, that all authorities be granted to the Secretary of Defense in each case and not to the Secretary of Army, Navy and Air Force. This with the understanding that he, of course, in turn, could delegate this authority of his, to the Navy, the Air Force, and the Army as needed. So we quickly built up (over the first two or three years of that legislative process), a tremendous number of authorities for the Secretary of Defense, specifically in his name, and not in the others; because he had to be the boss, he was the top man, and he in my opinion should have the authority and we got it for him
HESS: Was it difficult to convince the various services, that they should not receive everything that they had been asking for?
LARKIN: Oh, yes it was. This was a real fight. This was one of the first battlegrounds of unification. But we fought it out and then we'd go to Forrestal, and then he'd get an appeal from Secretaries Royall, Symington or Sullivan, and then we'd have a big meeting of the four of us. But Forrestal stuck with us pretty well; and we accomplished what we had to do.
HESS: Did you get involved in the discussion on the budgets?
LARKIN: Much less. No, very much less. Because the budgets were handled by the fiscal people, and they went up and they appeared individually in Congress, before the appropriations committees. And my general counsel's office, my congressional liaison office, didn't handle the appropriations at all, so I didn't touch that; but we usually had about 150 bills in this combined, coordinated, singled legislative program. And it took a tremendous amount
of testimony. I testified on a number of individual bills myself every session. I'd go up with Forrestal. I'd go up with representatives of the Army, Navy and Air Force frequently during the session, and support these bills, after we had finally put our imprimatur on as a Department of Defense bill. See? But this was really the genesis of where the Secretary got the basic authority he needed. And it had to be; it was ridiculous. Without it you couldn't manage the Defense Department.
HESS: In 1949, when the Department of Defense was founded, the Secretary of Defense was given much greater powers.
LARKIN: No, it was founded in '47.
HESS: Well that was when the National Military Establishment came in.
HESS: That was not really the Department of Defense,
LARKIN; Yes, it was.
HESS: Was it?
LARKIN: Oh, sure. It was the National Military Establishment and quote, unquote, the Department of Defense, I'm positive of that.
HESS: But there was another change in 1949, when the service Secretaries were no longer regarded as Cabinet level and the Secretary of Defense did receive more authority,
LARKIN: Yes, that's right. That was a specific bill that referred to the whole establishment itself. There was an amendment, I think of the Unification Act, which amended the National Military Establishment Act.
HESS: That was 1946,
LARKIN: There were several amendments as we went along. And I think finally there was quite a substantial amendment, and I guess that the Army, Navy and Air were reduced to a sub Cabinet level. Yes--I can't remember at the moment--there could have been a more global authority given to the Secretary of Defense; but we had been giving him the authority in each of these individual bills, naming him by name, rather
than the Secretary of Navy, or Secretary of Air Force, or Secretary of Defense, with the understanding that he could delegate it. But he had the residual authority, that we were giving to him bill, after bill, after bill.
HESS: Do you recall Secretary Forrestal commenting on the need for the Secretary of Defense to have more authority; for a concentration of authority in the office of the Secretary of Defense, during this two-year period '47 to '48?
LARKIN: I dare say we talked about it many times, because as I pointed out before, we on the staff, Marx Leva, myself, and several others, were actually putting that authority in these individual bills. We felt the need of it for management purposes. Forrestal himself (and I can't quote a specific one way or the other) had confidence that he could work out unification with the other Secretaries. He was a little diffident about coming out straight-away and trying to get further aggrandizement of his own position, really. We were the fellows doing a lot of the relations work, and
the Services were telling us, "Forget it, we won't do it." We saw the need, ultimately, that the boss had to have the muscle. That's all there is to it in the last analysis.
HESS: Now that we have mentioned Mr. Royall, Mr. Sullivan, and Mr. Symington, could you tell me a little bit about your working with those three men. How difficult they may have been; how helpful they were?
LARKIN: Yes, I'll be glad to tell you what my feelings were about each of them. Maybe we can sanitize this a little bit later.
HESS: We can clean it up a little bit.
LARKIN: Clean it up a little bit. Mr. Royall, I found to be a pretty superior, stiff fellow. He had been, of course, as you know, a very excellent trial lawyer in his younger days. I was quite a young fellow, I guess, in that period of time, so I had to treat him, as all the others, with considerable diffidence. I really didn't have too much to do with him. Where I really came in contact with him, or at least in confrontation with him, was
as a result of the work on the uniform code of military justice. None of the services were keen about this uniform code. They wanted to retain their own military justice systems. They didn't like this standardization, and they didn't like this civilian approach that was being put on it, by me and Professor Morgan and a few others. And so, when we finished the study, the Army objected to 15 or so of the provisions of the new code. Forrestal, In his usual fashion, got Royall in and the other Secretaries in and heard them out. I was present and I argued the other way, and virtually all of them lost. Forrestal bought almost everything we wanted to do or thought should be done. I can't think of a single thing be didn't buy, but I'm sure he didn't buy one or two little things. Royall was very strong supporting the Army and the Army Judge Advocate and the Army brass in that connection, and we were kind of opposed to him to a certain degree. But he was a substantial man of substantial talents, there's no question about it, though I always thought he was quite captive to the Army hierarchy. I shouldn't say captive, I think be
sincerely felt the way they felt.
Gordon Gray I also knew. Gordon Gray, actually, was the man who represented the Army on the uniform code study. He's a fine gentleman and a very able man. He and I differed on a few substantive things. There again, I think he was representing the Army.
Frank Pace I knew well. Frank Pace had been, prior to his service as Secretary of the Army, the director of the Bureau of the Budget, if you remember. So I had occasion to see a good deal of him in that role; and then I had a good occasion to see quite a lot of him in the role of the Assistant Secretary of the Army. We had no real problems one way or the other.
John Sullivan I seemed to have a very good rapport with, and got along fine with him. He was a lawyer, of course, from Washington.
Frank Matthews I knew very well indeed. He came to the Secretaryship of the Navy from Omaha, after John Sullivan. He had never been in a rowboat, let alone anything else nautical and he had never been in Washington. And I just had the opportunity, I guess, to help him prepare for a
couple of legislative appearances, and do a few things that were completely new and strange to him, and, so, he developed a great fondness for me. So, having been fond of me, why I became fond of him, obviously. He was a very fine gentleman, He became Ambassador to Ireland after that, which was one of his real ambitions.
Dan Kimball I knew as the assistant to Sullivan and used to see him from time to time. He had been borrowed from Aerojet, as you remember, and I knew him quite well.
Stuart Symington was an interesting fellow. He was at greater odds, I think, with the office of the Secretary of Defense than anybody else, of the three.
HESS: Could you give me a few examples to point that out?
LARKIN: Let me see. You're taking me back a long time. Well, he wanted his own independence and to run the Air Force the way be wanted to do it without any cross-checking or supervision. For instance, a lot of little things: If he had a request from
any Congressman to fly home over the weekend, he'd put them on an Air Force plane to take them home, and so forth. He was building his own credentials in Congress, ex-Mr. Forrestal. He was building some strength of his own. And so he would do all that, and our financial people would catch up with that. We'd go and raise hell and say, listen stop that; and then I would promulgate some policies that that's not permitted, unless the chairman of the committee, Mr. Carl Vinson certified that it was on committee business. But we were in a continual kind of a battle with Symington on many of these administrative things. Symington, as I remember, wanted that prototype plane financed. After the war, of course, with all the reduction in appropriations, Boeing, Lockheed, Douglas and all were on the verge of bankruptcy; there was no business. And they couldn't afford the research money to build new advanced planes. And there was a prototype plane that was talked about, that would be a convertible plane; it would be an airliner on the one hand, convertible to military use. This would be the justification for the Air Force spending
75 million or 100 million or whatever it was, to do the design work on this. Symington became a great sponsor of that idea, and so did Sonny Whitney, who was an Assistant Secretary of the Air Force at that time. Our budget was so tight in the Department of Defense that we didn't feel that it was a sensible thing to do. We didn't think we were going to get our money's worth out of it, and we were against it. So we had a heck of a fight, and it would get into the Congress, you know, with Symington fighting us.
The interesting thing was, for some reason that I can't explain, I always was able to deal on a man-to-man basis with Symington much better than any of our other fellows. As a result, every time we got into a conflict with the Air Force, all of the others would say, ''Hey, you go down, Felix, and talk to Symington because at least you have some currency with him and we don't have any." As far as he was concerned and they were concerned, the animosity showed, As far as I was concerned, I was often completely against what he was talking about, but, and I don't know why, we were always
able to talk about it on a business basis. I liked Stuart; he was difficult, he gave us problems. He said to me on one occasion, "You know I could run the Air Force and I can run any business in the world, if I have a good financial man and a good lawyer, and you're a good lawyer, and I'd take you." That kind of a thing. But he was much more troublesome than the rest of the Secretaries at that stage of the life of the Department of Defense. Some of the people kind of resented him more, on the theory that he really was giving Forrestal more trouble than Forrestal was entitled to have. He wasn't a team member. And as Forrestal's health started to deteriorate, we could see it. Then everybody was saying, "Well, this job is so tough and this guy is making it that much tougher;'' and they disliked him twice as much. That kind of a thing.
HESS: Then he was replaced by Mr. Finletter in 1950.
LARKIN: Yes. I knew Tom Finletter quite well, because one of the first jobs I got when I went to the Department of Defense in September of '47, was that I was assigned to be the liaison man with the President's Air Policy Commission, which had been created just
prior to that, of which Finletter was the chairman, if you'll remember. And on that commission was John McCone, who was the commission's liaison man with the Defense Department. So, John McCone represented the commission and I represented the Department of Defense, and he and I worked out the material that they wanted. I worked up Forrestal's appearance before them and his testimony before them. They were trying to get the status of the whole aviation industry at that time; of the military, and, of course, they wanted to have a great deal of Joint Chiefs of Staff plans and strategies to factor into their deliberations and that obviously represented a very serious security problem. So, John McCone, on behalf of the commission, and I, worked that all out with General Al Gruenther, who was then the chief of the joint staff. The joint staff, was a group of 90 officers who did the homework for the chiefs of staff. I became acquainted with Finletter in that way. On the committee was George Baker of Harvard, remember, the transportation expert man; the man of the Denver Post, Palmer Hoyt; and old
George Whitehead of Dun and Bradstreet. They were the five members of the President's Air Policy Commission at that time. That's when I first met Finletter. So I knew him quite well when he became Secretary of the Air Force and John McCone became Under Secretary at the same time. He brought John along, and I have a high regard for both of those men, very talented and very bright fellows.
HESS: One of the things that Mr. Symington tried to promote was the 70 group Air Force.
LARKIN: That's right. I'd forgotten that.
HESS: Do you recall that?
LARKIN: Yes, I do. And I think that the office of Secretary of Defense was against that for fiscal reasons essentially.
HESS: That's right.
LARKIN: I really didn't get much in that fight, particularly; that was more the fiscal boys. I only got in the legislative fights. I did happen to get into a few like that prototype aircraft proposal and a
few others. Yes, I remember that very well. Of course, Forrestal was in a great dilemma on these issues. Forrestal deplored, as you probably know, the fact that we had demobilized so extensively. And it was natural enough that we should after the war; everybody wanted to go home, But we did demobilize so extensively that we had no military strength at all, and he was deeply concerned as you know about the Russians--about the Communists. He didn't trust them. He was deeply concerned about the creation of Israel, as you probably know, and not for the reasons of anti-Semitism at all. This guy Walter Winchell did him a terrible injustice, and the other fellow, Drew Pearson.
HESS: What were his views on the Palestine-Israeli dispute?
LARKIN: It caused such tremendous disruption with the Arab world, who had control of the tremendous resource of oil. Forrestal was great for balance of power and natural resources, and he was afraid that this disrupted the Middle East so badly that it gave the Russians a great opportunity to move in.
He felt that if they did in fact move in and control Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and so forth, why, the military potential of the United States was tremendously reduced. And this was the beginning and end of his concern. It had nothing to do with anti-Semitism. After all, Marx Leva's Jewish, and he had a tremendous regard for Marx. And anyway, I never met a man, frankly, who had less prejudices of ethnic or religious or natural origin, than Forrestal did. But he was accused of being anti-Semitic because of that, which was wrong, frankly.
HESS: You mentioned a few moments ago about Mr. Forrestal's mental difficulties. When did you first notice that there was something going wrong? What were the first indications that you had?
LARKIN: The first indications--I'm trying to focus on the time for you--essentially, I think about six months before he left as Secretary. And the first evidence that something was wrong, from my viewpoint, was a curious and sudden lack of decisiveness. Forrestal had always, prior to that time, been quite
decisive. He didn't agonize over decisions; he was temperate; he'd want to hear the pros and cons and he'd quietly make a decision and that was it. He didn't talk about it anymore, and so forth. He suddenly started to be very indecisive. We couldn't get a decision out of him or it became more difficult. He also suddenly started to worry tremendously about decisions he had made in the past, which was, again, completely uncharacteristic. We would go in and talk about some program we had, or something in Congress we had to do, whatever we wanted approval for, but we couldn't get a decision. And he'd start to say, you know, I wonder if we made the right decision last year when we did so and so, and so and so. I was dumbfounded because this was a completely different Forrestal.
HESS: Now, the date of his suicide was May the 22nd of 1949. The election of 1948 was early in November the previous year--I think it was the 3rd.
LARKIN: That's when Truman beat Dewey.
HESS: That's when he beat Dewey, and it was really the
only time that he was elected.
LARKIN: That's right.
HESS: Was it about election time?
LARKIN: A little after.
HESS: A little after election time.
LARKIN: I would say a little after election time. I would say that fall, November, December, that I started to notice it. You know what I attributed it to, frankly? I didn't realize it was a mental breakdown coming, although he was operating differently. I felt it was a combination of two things at that time, that it was a physical breakdown coming. I had felt that having gone through the war, worked so hard, stayed on and went through this very, very difficult unification struggle, for a year, year and a half; and then taking on the job of Secretary of Defense, a very difficult unification job, which we all had--but we were much younger, of course--this was a continuation of his hard, hard, hard work. Forrestal was a man who felt his responsibilities very heavily. He felt that the
people of the United States had looked to him for the defense of the country.
Second Oral History Interview with Felix E. Larkin, October 23, 1972, New York, New York. By Jerry N. Hess, Harry S. Truman Library.
HESS: Mr. Larkin, to begin this afternoon I would like to start with a question regarding the resignation of James Forrestal and just what brought it about. There are historians who say that Mr. Forrestal's lack of support of Mr. Truman in the 1948 campaign played a major role in his resignation. I am going to read excerpts from two books by the same author, Carl W. Borkiund. The first is The Department of Defense [page 120, 2d printing, 1969] which was published in 1968:
More significantly, Forrestal began to lose the support of the President about halfway through his tour as Secretary of Defense. There were many reasons, probably the most important being his constant objections that the President's Defense budget was too small, By the spring of 1949, Forrestal had lost White House backing almost entirely and was asked to resign. Two months later on May 22, 1949, apparently recuperating at Bethesda Naval Center after a mental breakdown, he committed suicide. His death was caused partly by his conviction that he had been a failure as Secretary of Defense--although even his opposition in the Pentagon conceded that nearly all the plans, policies, and programs he pioneered should be pursued.
The second book by the same author Is Men of the Pentagon  and this is on page 59:
Forrestal's "member-of-the-team" image had suffered in mid-1948 when he was frequently suggested as a possible Presidential candidate in place of Truman. Although he contributed large sums privately to the Democratic campaign fund, he had refused to let the Pentagon be drawn publicly into politics. With Truman needing all the help he could get, that closed Defense door had antagonized a great many professional Democrats. Finally, just prior to the November balloting, Forrestal had briefed Republican candidate Thomas Dewey on the state of U.S. national security. Although such briefings became a fairly standard (and certainly wise) procedure a few years later, at the time Forrestal's action was viewed as an attempt to curry favor with, and indirectly endorse, the favored Republican candidate for the Presidency.
What do you recall about that episode?
LARKIN: I would say that both of those statements are vastly exaggerated and I don't go along with them as they are stated. My view of Forrestal's resignation and leaving the Secretary of Defense office is that it was due to a progressive and rather lengthy--by lengthy I mean three to six months--deterioration in his health and to a change in his mental condition. In my opinion, he was thoroughly exhausted. He had worked far too hard for too many years, not only during the war as Assistant Secretary of the Navy and Secretary of the Navy, but through the days of the Unification Act and then the start
of the Department of Defense; and he had no change of pace; he had no rest. This I always felt was largely responsible. I think there were minor aspects of the political campaign. He consciously stayed out of it on the theory that Defense should be nonpartisan: the old story that you hear many times, that "politics stops at the shoreline of the United States." And he did work very well with [Arthur H.] Vandenberg on the Republican side, and everybody else; and so he really felt that Defense matters were a common cause in the United States and not a matter of partisan politics. And so, I think that was the reason he stayed out of the campaign, particularly. There was some minor criticism, and I think some people tried "to make hay" against him for staying out. It was a very tough campaign. The curious thing, you'll remember, is that Truman had a very difficult time getting anybody to raise funds, to be his campaign treasurer, and he finally got Louis Johnson. And Louis Johnson did quite a good job under the most adverse circumstances. The money was just not forthcoming. Truman was deemed to
have lost completely, So Louis Johnson by taking on that unpleasant and difficult job, became the great hero when Truman won. Truman owed him quite a political debt and Mr. Johnson was not above trying to collect it either. I think I knew Louis Johnson well, and worked for him, and had a considerable amount of respect for him, but I dare say there was some element of push on his part to get the reward for the work he did in the campaign.
HESS: Had you ever heard anything about a possible agreement between Mr. Truman and Louis Johnson that if he took that job he would be rewarded?
LARKIN: No, I never heard that; but what I did hear, as a matter of fact, from a lot of my associates and people who worked with Forrestal, when he did in fact resign and when Louis Johnson was named Secretary of Defense right after him--and here is the circumstantial inference that is drawn all the time--was that this was the payoff. He forced the payoff, and Truman was cold blooded enough to bounce Forrestal and pay off Johnson for the work he did in raising the money for him. Quite a few people
were, therefore, very annoyed at Mr. Johnson when he came in, and there was a certain amount of hostility to him among the staff, because they felt he had kind of gotten Forrestal, you see. There is no question there was that element about it and that background of politics; however, I think it was minor, frankly. Forrestal perhaps wasn't the most popular fellow in the White House for the other reason that is mentioned in the book, that he was pushing for more money. The military budget was small. Forrestal was as I think I've said before, deeply concerned about the strength of the Russians, the Soviets. He did not trust them. He thought Yalta was a disaster. And he was like George Marshall later. When Marshall, for instance, became Ambassador to Moscow people would say to him, "Now George when you get over there, give them hell." And he said, "Yes. What with, three divisions?" This was the position Forrestal was in, and he was deeply concerned about it and unhappy. There was an economy drive on, and when Louis Johnson came on board he went into a deep economy drive and he cut the Defense budget to, I recall, something like twelve or thirteen
billion dollars. So, there was this White House push and Forrestal was completely against that. He wanted the budget higher and bigger. There was that friction. However, I think that Forrestal's ineffectiveness; his failing health; his failing decisiveness; and the fact he was a different person, finally gave Truman no option but to remove him--or for him to resign. He recognized his own...
HESS: Was his resignation requested?
LARKIN: I haven't thought about that for so long I would need something to refresh my recollection.
HESS: In Borklund's book he says:
The following month, in December, Forrestal was notified that Johnson would be coming over there eventually and for Forrestal to show him the ropes.
LARKIN: When did Forrestal resign? Do you know the date?
HESS: Yes. It was March 28th. He was supposed to resign three days later, on March 31, but it came about three days early, on March 28, 1949.
LARKIN: Well, I have a recollection that Johnson and his people started coming over about the end of February, at least some of them; or we got word "through the grapevine" that Forrestal was going out.
HESS: But not before the end of February.
HESS: Did you hear anything in December or January?
LARKIN: No. It could have been, but I didn't know it; I saw nothing of that. But I and several of my associates, particularly Marx Leva were quite deeply distressed by what we saw as a material deterioration in Forrestal, a fellow we had tremendous respect for. It had been going on for more than some few months and, so, I was deeply concerned. Of course, you know when he left after he did resign, he went to Florida. He slashed his wrists down there and they flew down and got him. He was in a deep depression by that time, deep melancholy. Then they brought him back to Bethesda, and then there were all kinds of wild stories about
Bethesda--a priest finally giving him the last rites and all that business. Most of which I think was made up. He was just mentally broken at that point, poor man. So, I do not believe that his lack of support of Truman was the effective cause at all. I think there were underlying problems of his budget. There were underlying problems of a payoff. But I believe that the main reason why he finally made a deal to leave, was pushed or actually voluntarily retired, was this rapidly deteriorating physical and mental condition.
HESS: To sum up on Mr. Forrestal, what would be your evaluation of his effectiveness in handling the Defense Department?
LARKIN: I think it was very good, indeed. He had the concept of what it was meant to be; what the objectives were. He was a very objective person. He was decisive. He had courage. He would listen. He would weigh the arguments pro and con. He treated everybody as a dignified person. I remember we'd all sit in meetings with the Joint Chiefs and with the Secretaries, and everybody would argue violently;
and he'd be quiet and listen and listen and ask a few questions and look everybody directly in the eye and say, "Thank you gentlemen, I'll let you know." The following morning the decision would come out and that was the end of it. It was efficiently done. He worked very hard at it.
HESS: Now those are all strengths. Did he have any weaknesses?
LARKIN: He had a serious handicap that obviously preoccupied his mind and diluted, I think, his concentration. He had a serious family problem as you and everybody else knows, I'm sure. He really didn't play very much.
HESS: Yes. Did you ever hear him comment on it?
LARKIN: No. This was a remarkable thing. This was a burden that he bore with great patience and with great privacy. We all knew about it, knew much about it. We knew the problems of getting escorts and so forth and so on, because he was never available. He was working too hard. This is one of his weaknesses, he did work himself to a point of exhaustion
so frequently that he became less effective, I think. He would go occasionally at 4 o'clock to play some golf, nine holes of golf. But he did it as a duty, it wasn't relaxation. That was supposed to be a good thing to do.
HESS: Just like medicine.
LARKIN: So he went and worked at it just because theoretically it was good. I recall in terms of the family situation, why we'd be knee deep in a very important conference and a call would come through and then we understood it was his wife. He would pick it up and with great quietness and courtesy say, "Yes," or "No," and so forth, and hang up. He would take the call--things of that kind. It was a tremendous burden which he bore very, very quietly. So that was a handicap he labored under. Though others have thought he had psychological handicaps that stemmed from that situation. I really was in no position to evaluate that. He had been a Roman Catholic, When he married he was married outside the church, His wife was a divorcee at the time, which in those strict Catholic
days made it difficult. Lots of the chaplains who I knew had a tremendous regard for him and would say, "Nothing will happen to Jim Forrestal. He's such a fine guy." But they felt towards the end of his life that he was wishing he could find a way to come back to the church. He missed it. He was worried about it. And there was no way under those circumstances. Finally when he became physically tired it became an added psychological problem that speeded this depression. I think it's quite likely.
HESS: Now you mentioned last time that you did not attend any of the political conventions, is that right?
LARKIN: I did not.
HESS: Now, Mr. Truman had an interesting one in 1948 in Philadelphia, but you didn't go down, is that right?
LARKIN: No, sir.
HESS: Did you think Mr. Truman was going to win in
1948? He had a tough row to hoe as you remember.
LARKIN: Yes, I remember it very well and I was hoping he was going to win and, therefore, I guess I decided he was going to win. I knew Mr. Dewey slightly. I knew quite a lot about him. I had worked here in New York in the courts and I knew of his record as Governor and I hoped he was never going to be President. I felt he was an able, strong man .
HESS: What weaknesses did you see in Mr. Dewey here in New York that made you have the views that you did?
LARKIN: I thought he was pretty ruthless. He was a man with whom the ends justified the means. I saw that in some of his cases even though it was to a very good end. He got Louie Lepke and a couple of those gangsters, but he did it by pretty rough procedural means. But beyond that my net of Mr. Dewey was in examining any proposition he had a priority for basing his decisions: one, what was good for Mr. Dewey; two, what was good for the United States.
HESS: Mr. Dewey first.
LARKIN: That's right.
HESS: Now we've mentioned Louis Johnson coming in. What changes did he seek to implement when he first came in, either in routine or in structure?
LARKIN: Well, Mr. Johnson had considerable familiarity with the military establishment. He had been Assistant Secretary of War under [Harry Hines] Woodring, as you know. I gather he didn't get along .
HESS: Didn't get along too well with him.
LARKIN: No. He didn't get along too well with anybody. I got to be very close to Mr. Johnson, because I defended him in Congress. I was the General Counsel at that point in time. During that "revolt of the admirals" I handled that case for him for the Defense Department. He was a very arrogant fellow. He knew a lot about the War Department. He was a capable, intelligent man. I got to know him so well. He was accused, you know, of being bribed by Floyd Odium of Consolidated Vultee in that case. I insisted on getting all the information on that
and we showed that was a false charge. He was exonerated. So I became quite a popular young man in his staff as a result of that, He thought I had done him a great job in defending him and in getting him off.
Well, one afternoon when he invited me in for a cocktail he said, "Well, how do you like it here and what do you think of the way things are going?"
I said, "Mr. Johnson, I hope you don't mind if I am frank; you asked me the question and I have nothing to gain and no malice, but my observation is this that you are right a very large percentage of the time in your decisions, and I think that is very hard to do in this Department. And I think that's very impressive. But I have never seen a man who, I think, had a reasonably high percentage of being right as you have, who handled the thing so badly and got himself more obloquy and got himself more criticism and got in more 'hot water' for being right than you have." And he almost fell off the chair. That's exactly Mr. Johnson. He was a hard-fisted kind of a fellow whose relations with people were very poor indeed.
HESS: Wasn't very diplomatic was he?
LARKIN: Oh, he was terrible in that respect. He got into more trouble with Congress, because he'd go up there and he'd just insult them. He's so different than Forrestal. Forrestal had tremendous credibility. They thought he was great. He'd level with them. He was honest. Louis Johnson would just go up and tell them what he wanted done and that didn't go.
HESS: That doesn't do too well.
LARKIN: No. And so the difference was, he was more dictatorial than Forrestal. He wouldn't listen as much as Forrestal would. He was an able man but, it's too had, he wasn't very successful.
HESS: Now on the subject of the reduction of the Armed Forces. Mr. Johnson catches it from several historians on that. We've mentioned the budget and Mr. Truman wanting to hold down the budget. Did you feel that Johnson carried Mr. Truman's wishes further than even Mr. Truman wanted them carried? In other words was he just following
orders or did be want to cut it back more than Truman did?
LARKIN: I can't answer that because I don't know that I knew exactly what Mr. Truman wanted done. I knew that he was going on an austerity campaign, but I don't know that I remembered the benchmarks or the amounts. And whether
HESS: It was fifteen billion.
LARKIN: Fifteen. Well...
HESS: And Forrestal wanted to present about an eighteen point five billion and see if Mr. Truman would buy It. And, as I recall correctly, the services all came together and what they could come up with was about twenty-three point five.
LARKIN: That's probably right. And Louis Johnson came through about twelve, am I right?
HESS: Thirteen, I believe.
LARKIN: Thirteen, yes; well, right about there. I'll tell you the man who could tell you that story
better than I could, Wilfred J. McNeil. You've probably heard of him.
HESS: I talked to him on my last trip up here.
LARKIN: Oh, did you?
LARKIN: Mac was the Budget Director at the time and he ought to have a lot of files on that subject.
HESS: What's your personal view of Mr. Truman having an austerity campaign at this time?
LARKIN: Just to answer our other question, perhaps a bit, is that Louis Johnson was just going to be a greater hero. You know, he was going to be "more Catholic than the Pope." That was his idea.
HESS: Did you think that Mr. Truman wanted to hold down the budget so he could balance the overall budget for political purposes since the election was coming up at this time?
LARKIN: Not really, no. I didn't think that, The budget had been so huge, of course, during the
war, obviously. Then after it, why, this was, I thought, the extreme swing to the other side. We had virtually demobilized everything, and then they were trying to cut the fat out of it. And we got down to really cutting bone and muscle, too, with that twelve billion dollars, with the new weapons systems in the offing, and so forth. My department was one of the few that virtually didn't get cut drastically, the General Counsel's office; because I just went in and told Johnson I can't do the job, if I can't have this number of lawyers. So he didn't cut me the way everybody else was cut. My job, of course, was a very big one at the time in the sense that it was not only the entire General Counsel department, but the entire legislative as well. So, I just couldn't handle both of them without a minimum. I had about twenty-eight lawyers, I think.
HESS: You needed every one of them,
LARKIN: I needed more. As a matter of fact my successor became General Counsel only, and they split out the legislative liaison and had a tremendous department just to handle that. I had been handling two, you see.
HESS: One of the first things that Mr. Johnson did when he came in was cancel the super carrier the U.S.S. United States.
LARKIN: I remember that very well, indeed.
HESS: At the time that Mr. Sullivan left. What do you recall about that?
LARKIN: Yes. I was right in the middle of that because I built up most of the case and defended Mr. Johnson in the subsequent hearing before Vinson in the House Armed Services. Carl Vinson was the Chairman at the time.
HESS: What was the idea behind the cancellation of the carrier?
LARKIN: That was really economy. That was all.
HESS: Just economy.
LARKIN: The unfortunate part of it was that it was, as I recall, the James Forrestal carrier that was cancelled. Not the U.S.S. United States.
HESS: Could be wrong on that. I thought it was the
U.S.S. United States.
LARKIN: I think it was the James Forrestal they were going to call it Forrestal, which made all this emotion even worse, But it was essentially an economy measure. It was a big expenditure, of course. Within that very lean budget of Johnson's he had to make some choices and he chose the B-36. And this is where the big fight came, the revolt of the admirals. John Sullivan, who I knew well and had worked with all along, quit in protest, This was the highhanded way that Louis Johnson did those things. He didn't call up John Sullivan and talk to him and tell him what he wanted to do. He just called the press first. Then his own Secretary of the Navy, reporting to him, would get it that way. That was the kind of awkwardness that Louis Johnson had. But, as a result of supporting the B-36, for which Consolidated Vultee had the Air Force contract at the time, the Navy people then came forward with all these accusations that Steptoe and Johnson had been the counsel for Consolidated Vultee, of which Floyd Odium was the biggest shareholder, and they had paid him unconscionable legal
fees, and as a result, he gave them the contract and cancelled the Forrestal. It wasn't true at all, but it caused one of the roughest congressional hearings--you probably have all that stuff.
HESS: On the revolt of the admirals.
LARKIN: That was the time that I concluded and was positive that Eisenhower was going to run for President.
HESS: What gave you that view?
LARKIN: Because I went up to Columbia University where he was the president, and reviewed with him at length for two or three days a lot of the background on the appropriations for the carrier and the B-36, and so forth and so on. All to refresh his recollection because he was being called to testify. And he in private was very incensed at the revolt of the admirals. He was a straight down the line military man who believed in discipline and things of that kind. So he was incensed at this. He virtually thought it was treason. [Omar N.] Bradley testified, as you remember, with some
rough language about these "fancy Dans"
HESS: That's exactly what he called them.
LARKIN: …and so forth and so on.
HESS: The "fancy Dan" admirals.
LARKIN: You know, the "weak sisters." Eisenhower was very outraged at all of it and incensed. So we went through this for two or three days. Then two weeks later when he finally gave his testimony he wouldn't criticize anybody on either side of it. I thought to myself "good night shirt" this guy is not going to antagonize a soul. He's running for the Presidency of the United States. There had been rumors that [Thomas J.] Watson and those people were trying to build him up at the time and, so, this confirmed it to me. I was right.
HESS: We have mentioned Marx Leva and Wilfred McNeil and a third gentleman, Paul Griffith, who came in with those two in August, 1949. They were appointed to the position of Assistant Secretary of Defense. I probably mentioned Marx Leva several times. Are
there any other areas where you worked with Marx Leva, which might show both the operation of your office and the operation of his?
LARKIN: You see he started out as the first General Counsel, September 1947, when the office was instituted, when Forrestal took over. He became General Counsel and I think I was special legal consultant for two or three months, and then I became Assistant General Counsel. Then there was another fellow, John Noble, who became Assistant General Counsel. The two of us, as I recall it. Then Marx moved up to Assistant Secretary of Defense with McNeil and, I guess, Paul Griffith--Paul Griffith was a Johnson man--and I became General Counsel. But Marx had general supervision of the whole area even as Assistant Secretary of Defense, I mean of legal affairs. He and I worked together so well, though, that I was almost completely autonomous and I just ran my part of it; but I still came under his general umbrella, so to speak. He started doing other political things for the Secretary, other administrative things as well. For instance, I handled
personally the Louis Johnson affair. Then when General Marshall came in he wanted to make Anna Rosenberg the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Manpower. And that turned into a tremendous congressional investigation when she was accused of being a Communist, and that was a wild, wild thing. As General Counsel I handled that; and, as a matter of fact, Marx Leva, because he was Jewish and she was Jewish, stayed out of it completely. So I was in absolute control of that case myself, you see, even though I was under Marx's general section. Then he finally left and another fellow became Assistant Secretary of Defense--a fellow named [Daniel K.] Edwards, I think--for a short time. But I stayed right through as General Counsel until I resigned in 1951.
HESS: Did you work closely with Wilfred McNeil?
LARKIN: Oh, yes, quite closely. You know, I hired Wilfred McNeil years later, and brought him here and made him the president of the Grace Line. He worked with us for five or six years as president of the Grace Line until he retired, as he did three
or four years ago. Yes, I worked quite closely with Mac during those days. Not as closely as with Leva. Leva and I were in one section and Mac was in another--financial.
HESS: You must have thought that Mr. McNeil was very good at the job to hire him and bring him in here?
LARKIN: Yes, I did. I thought he was a very able, skillful budget officer. He was very hardworking; he was knowledgeable; he had great skill in presenting the budget to Congress. He was a very political animal in that respect. When I hired him as president of the Grace Line it was with some trepidation because he had no real steamship experience. Now, he had been a reserve admiral of the Navy, which he loved dearly, and he had come out of the Navy and then moved into the Department of Defense. He was always regarded as an advocate of the Navy and I always used to kid him about it, of course. He had set up MSTS, however; and he had set up the military transport thing and had tried to have these profit center things in the Department of Defense, and have these operations more or less be
financially self-sustaining. So, he had a pretty good business-commercial sense, and prior to World War II he had been in business; but he specifically had not great steamship experience. So I had some concerns about that; but still I thought he was a capable, able man and he was--and still is.
HESS: Did you work closely with Paul Griffith?
LARKIN: No, not really.
HESS: What were his duties?
LARKIN: His duties were as kind of a special assistant to Louie Johnson. He had been, as I recall it, a past commander of the American Legion.
HESS: They both had been.
LARKIN: …and Louie Johnson had been too, and Paul spent more time as appointments secretary for Louie Johnson, or making arrangements for speeches to some chapter of the American Legion, or thus and so, than he did anything else. He really did very little of a substantive nature in the Department of Defense.
HESS: What is your evaluation of the strengths and the degree of preparedness of the armed services at the time you became General Counsel in 1947? Just how strong were the Armed Forces at that time?
LARKIN: I think the entire military establishment was very weak.
HESS: Was there an awareness on the part of the Pentagon, the people in high places, that the Communists might test our strength at some part of the world?
LARKIN: Oh, I think there was. Yes. The Joint Chiefs of Staff and General [Alfred M.] Gruenther, who was in charge of the Joint Staff, which was the homework group, so to speak, for the Joint Chiefs, were doing all kinds of strategic studies at that point in time. We used to have briefings on it. Forrestal would invite over the chairmen of the different committees of Congress, and have them come into the secret briefing rooms; and Gruenther and others would get up with these maps of the world and say, "Now one of the things we really have to do if the Communists
move east into West Berlin and so forth, is we're going to have to hold Spain; we're going to have to do this; we're going to have to do that" and so forth and so on. They were continually making those kind of strategic studies of what our lines of retreat ought to be; and then they were translating that into the equipment and size of the Armed Forces that was necessary to hold those different plans. And that's how they kept coming up with twenty-two or twenty-three billion, because we just had too little to implement any of these strategic plans.
HESS: Do you recall that most of the plans were regarding Europe rather than Asia?
LARKIN: Oh, yes. Almost entirely they were Europe. Virtually nothing in South America; virtually nothing in Asia. No, the confrontation was Europe. And this is, of course--I'm trying to think of the dates of the Marshall Plan, of Greek-Turkey aid, the Berlin Airlift.
HESS: There was a good deal of activity in Europe at
this time, but was there any thinking of an attack coming in Korea? Was it pretty remote?
LARKIN: Yes, very remote.
HESS: It was so remote, as you may recall, that Secretary of State Dean Acheson at the National Press Club, I believe in January or February, made a talk in which he drew a line of our defense perimeter down from Japan over to Formosa, leaving out Korea.
LARKIN: Yes, I'd forgotten that. But that's right. There was no thought of Korea at all, really.
HESS: There are those that point to that speech that say that at this time the Communists said, "Well, aha, now we can attack Korea. They've said what they will protect and what they will not protect." And Korea wasn't within that line and so they attacked. Do you think there is anything to that?
LARKIN: That could be, because we were you know, very strong on containment in those days. George Kennan and his theories and Acheson too.
HESS: All right, fine. That's my next question and
that's the logical question at this time. What influence on your thinking and on the thinking of others in the Defense Department did George Kennan and his policy of containment have?
LARKIN: Oh, I think his policies or his position, why, was very seriously studied and probably was a very important determinant in policy.
Now, in terms of mine, I really wasn't engaged in that many strategic problems to be that concerned about it. I had such a full desk every day with my legal responsibilities. However, from time to time I worked with the State Department on different issues. The last job I did was defending General Marshall in the MacArthur hearings, and there I did get into all the Chinese white papers and every other darn thing; but prior to that I wasn't…
HESS: Everything came to a head at that time, did it not?
LARKIN: It certainly did.
HESS: Now back on containment. That was the assumption,
of course, that the United States should protect countries that did not have Communist governments from falling to communism and to set a line and say you should go this far and no further. If you agree that that was the common assumption, the common way that people were thinking at that time, were we wrong to hold those assumptions? Was containment wrong?
LARKIN: No, I don't think it was wrong. I think that too few people were conscious of the world domina-tion aspirations of the Soviets at the time. Forrestal, I think, was one of them who was very conscious of it. This worried him tremendously and it was part of his nightmare every night. Because, I think I said before, he looked upon his job as Secretary of Defense as one of great responsibility. He thought the people of the United States, since he was serving them in that capacity, had a right to expect that he was doing everything possible for the safety of the United States. He was frustrated because he couldn't do everything possible, and he saw a greater danger than many
other people saw. So that I think most people, finally, were surprised. They never did think that the Communists, starting with Eisenhower in Berlin when they moved in and grabbed everything, would continue with an objective of a world push. They were highly successful in extending their influence and dominance you know, all through the satellite countries, and so forth and so on. People never expected that, I don't think. So that this policy of containment came up and we said we better do this or else this thing is not going to stop. I think it probably helped a great deal.
HESS: There are a number of historians writing at the present time that believe during the Truman years we should not have tried a policy of containment but one of greater accommodation with the Communists.
LARKIN: Well, from the limited vantage point I had, I think that would have been about as successful as our attempts for the last four years to do something with Hanoi. They just were intransigent. They weren't open to reason or anything else. They were
going to do as they darn pleased and no accommodation was going to help, in my opinion.
HESS: Where were you when you first heard of the invasion late in June, 1950, of Korea?
LARKIN: I was in the Pentagon. I was working there, sure.
HESS: Were you surprised when the word came out?
LARKIN: Not really. I guess we were quite conscious of the position that Truman was building up vis-a-vis the United Nations and everything else on this Korean thing, and that he was going to be very forthright about it. The way he was about so many things. So, I guess, it was not unexpected as far as I was concerned when be announced that on behalf of the United Nations we were going in there and we were going to stop it. Of course, I regarded Truman as an outstanding President, a remarkable man, frankly. Part of it is prejudice, I think, because I've been a Democrat all of my life, anyway. But more than that, as a man who started out and was accused always of such humble beginnings and lack of education,
why, I think he was a greater statesman than anybody of this century almost and he certainly had the courage of his convictions. His decisions in my opinion were made for what he regarded as the benefit of the United States first, and not nearly as much for Harry Truman. Quite the opposite of his opponent.
HESS: Of Tom Dewey.
LARKIN: Yes, that's right. So, I think his decisions on the Marshall Plan; on Greek-Turkey aid; the Berlin Airlift--even Hiroshima--were difficult and very necessary decisions. They were extremely important, at any length, in the history of the United States.
HESS: What were a few of the very first problems that the invasion in Korea caused you?
LARKIN: It stepped up my activity tremendously in the sense that a great procurement effort then became necessary. I had to go up to Congress very much more frequently and much more urgently to get all kinds of additional authorities to help us mount
this big effort. As I recall it, we started to resurrect a lot of the wartime powers that had been in vogue in World War II which had been gradually expiring and which we were trying to get rid of. Then we started to pull them all off the shelf again and started thinking which ones we needed to mount this effort. Then I got into other problems. They were mostly administrative problems. There was a tremendous amount of military equipment that had to be moved from east to west to be put on ships to send to Korea. You would run into practical problems. Is there enough rail cars available and the cost of freight? So I had to start dickering with the railroads, and I got the Department of Justice in it, to get exemptions and discounts and rebates for the Department of Defense for this huge amount of war material that we were shipping across the country. The railroads would have just as soon postponed it a little bit, and that went into hundreds of millions of dollars. Those kind of problems, the logistic problems, needed support. That increased my tempo tremendously.
HESS: What is your opinion of the manner in which President Truman acted to meet the problems that arose with the invasion of Korea?
LARKIN: Well, specifically what do you mean by that? His basic decision to defend it?
HESS: Basic decisions. Now, one thing on that, Jacob Malik I believe was the representative to the United Nations at that time and he was boycotting the United Nations. That was one of the reasons why the United States could get the cooperation of the United Nations so quickly, because the Russians were not there with their veto. Do you think that if the Russians had been here (this is hypothetical).
HESS: …if the Russians had been here; if they could have vetoed United Nations participation, do you think that the United States would have gone into Korea on our own, unilaterally?
LARKIN: I think so. Yes, I think so. I think Truman was convinced that this was a very necessary thing
for the survival of the Pacific. I guess perhaps it was the beginning of the domino theory as well as the containment theory. I can't remember in point of time when they were proposed. Mr. Truman, as you know, is a pretty strong-minded, tough fellow and if he decided something was necessary for the United States I don't think he was going to be thwarted by the niceties of what was happening in the United Nations. Now it just so happened that it fell in anyway, so he didn't have to, but my guess would have been he would have done it. After all we bore the brunt of the whole thing; it was a U.S. show, It never really was a United Nations show. I guess there were a few Australians there.
HESS: Some of the other countries had a company or battalion there.
LARKIN: Token. But it was really a U.S. show, entirely.
HESS: What's your opinion of Secretary of Defense Johnson's handling of matters at that time? He wasn't around there very long; this was the last of June and then his resignation was in September. So be was only there for a couple of months. But
just how well did he handle matters in that two-month period July and August?
LARKIN: I don't really have a distinct recollection of anything unusual one way or the other. As I say the tempo of the office speeded up. My section; the finance section; certainly the jobs of the secretaries of the different departments; the Joint Chiefs; the whole military establishment was activated quickly. But I don't recall anything unusual or bizarre that was good or bad particularly. The direction was a more professional effort, in my opinion, when General Marshall came in.
HESS: Why did Louis Johnson resign?
LARKIN: I think he was fired.
HESS: By the President?
LARKIN: Because be was becoming a candidate to be the Presidential candidate for the next time.
HESS: Was that obvious around the Pentagon?
LARKIN: Yes, it was. Yes, it was.
HESS: Can you give me an illustration?
LARKIN: We all thought so. Now let me see why I thought so. I guess it was the number of and kinds of places where he was picking to speak, or which Paul Griffith picked for him to speak at; and he was building himself up tremendously--he was trying to. It would seem to us he was doing that. That was one thing I kind of deplored. He was, I think, seeing a lot more political people in different states. The Democratic leaders and so forth and so on. He was handling himself with great confidence and cutting a wide swath. I understood at the time that the President was aware of this embryonic and emerging ambition of his to be the next candidate.
HESS: Did the political flavor of his handling of the job continue even after the Korean invasion?
LARKIN: I think so. I don't recall any difference, frankly. Yes.
HESS: He had another gentleman around, Paul Renfrow. What do you recall of Mr. Renfrow?
LARKIN: He was a general or, perhaps, a reserve general, I can't remember.
HESS: The same consensus.
LARKIN: Yes, he was of the same ilk, more or less, as Paul Griffith in the sense he really did nothing of any substance. I think he probably fraternized with the reserves and things of that kind. He'd set up meetings for Johnson. At any rate he was a perfectly nice guy like Paul Griffith and, in both cases, had virtually nothing to do with the substantive character of the management of the Defense Department.
HESS: Did Louis Johnson's lack of rapport with Secretary of State Dean Acheson have anything to do with his resignation?
LARKIN: It could have, but I'm not sure.
HESS: Did you see any evidences of that around the Pentagon?
LARKIN: Well, the only evidence is that Louis was such a outrageously dictatorial man who was so sure that he was the only one that was right, that I'm sure he rubbed Acheson the wrong way all the time, particularly over in the White House. He was trying to be the dominant member of the Cabinet.
HESS: Louis Johnson had a Deputy Secretary of Defense, Stephen Early.
LARKIN: Yes. I remember him very well.
HESS: Stephen Early had been President Roosevelt's press secretary.
LARKIN: That's right.
HESS: What was in his background that led Louis Johnson to believe that he would make a good Deputy Secretary of Defense?
LARKIN: Well, I don't really know, He was a cooney fellow. He was a political animal, Steve Early. He was a cagey kind of a gent who was very good in a tight spot. He was a nice . .
HESS: Good at the game of politics.
LARKIN: That's right, that's right. I suspect that Steve Early was part of Louis Johnson's scheme to build himself up to the next candidate for the Democratic Party, in part. Now Steve Early knew little or nothing about the Defense Department or any of the substantive problems. He was a good conduit for us to Johnson. He could get Johnson to do things that we kind of wanted him to do that we were having difficulty getting ourselves. I'll cite an example. In the B-36 inquiry, as I said, Johnson was being accused of having been bribed by Consolidated Vultee and his law firm having accepted these huge fees, and Johnson in his arrogant fashion said, "This is ridiculous. I won't even dignify that by answering it or considering it."
I said, "Mr. Secretary, I'm your lawyer in this thing and that's not the way we are going to do it." And I had to see a lot of his papers.
He said, "It's ridiculous. I told you I won't dignify it."
I said, "Well, then you get yourself another
lawyer because I am not going to go into any House investigation not knowing what the facts are."
"Well, that's my last word."
So, I said, "Okay," and then I left and went around to see Steve Early. He was in the next office.
I said, "Steve, the boss says thus and so, and this is what I say. Why don't you go in and tell him that he will have to get himself a new lawyer because I'm not going to handle this. This is ridiculous."
HESS: A lawyer has to know the facts of the case.
LARKIN: Particularly for your own client. So Steve went in and he came back and said, "Okay, you win." He could help us occasionally like that. But he was not very substantive and I think that he really was there for other reasons,
An interesting thing is that he was playing golf one Saturday and he got a call that (on the sixth green or something like that, he must have been at Burning Tree) Tony Leviero of the New York Times had come out with an article saying that Johnson
was going to be fired, And Steve Early came running off the golf course and said, "If Tony Leviero of the New York Times says it it must be true." He was concerned as could be, because I remember seeing him a day or so after that, and be was very concerned. He was trying to find out whether this was true at the White House, and about two weeks later Johnson was fired.
HESS: That was an inside leak.
LARKIN: That's right. But the New York Times in those days, and today, gets more information than anybody else.
HESS: That's right.
LARKIN: They're awful good.
HESS: What would be your general appraisal of Louis Johnson's handling of the Department of Defense during the time that he was Secretary?
LARKIN: I thought substantively, by and large, it was quite good. He was capable--quite good. He got himself into so much trouble that he--that's the
big problem--he created more problems than he solved, net. But substantively it wasn't too bad. Here's what he used to do all the time. It was hopeless. He wanted some legislation or we wanted jointly with the Atomic Energy Commission some appropriation. (I've forgotten what it was.) So he went up and appeared before the Joint Atomic Energy Committee. That was a joint group with Brien McMahon of Connecticut and a bunch of others all on a joint House and Senate Atomic Energy Committee. So, he went up and said, "Now we want this money, gentlemen," and so forth.
Brien McMahon said, "Well, Mr. Secretary, we'd like to know a little more about it. What it's going to be used for?"
He said, "Well this is super-secret I can't tell you."
McMahon said, "Well, we on this committee have been cleared for "Q" clearance and Atomic Energy things, and we're accustomed to receiving this material."
He said, "Well, this is too secret. I can't tell you."
They said, "Well, you're putting us in a very difficult position. We really feel we have to know before we can appropriate this kind of money."
He said, "Listen, you either vote for it on my say so or forget it. Are you a patriot or are you not?" Well, you know you just don't talk that way to Senators. And this was, unfortunately, Louis Johnson, and this was why he ultimately was a failure and it couldn't work. But other than that, why, he was quite an effective administrator.
HESS: Do you recall what he wanted the money for?
LARKIN: No, I don't. I don't remember that specifically.
HESS: That sounds pretty super-secret, doesn't it.
LARKIN: Yes. But to tell Brien McMahon and the people on the committee that they weren't entitled to be told was wrong. And, in the second place, this was Louis Johnson; he was getting too big, too tough; and that's why the boss had to let him go, and appointed Marshall, of course. And Truman had tremendous respect for Marshall, as you know.
HESS: Why was General Marshall asked to come, sir?
Why was he chosen?
LARKIN: Well, I think because the Korean war was on. We were now in a military posture again, even though it was a relatively localized one. And he had to have somebody to take Johnson's place rather quickly; and, of course, Truman had an absolutely unbounded admiration for Marshall. He thought he was the greatest American, as you know. He had been Secretary of State so he felt that he could do the job and so he was brought in.
HESS: As you recall, there had to be a special act of Congress to allow a military man to serve as head of the Department of Defense.
LARKIN: That's right. I went up there and got it.
HESS: Did you?
LARKIN: Yes. I was called over to the White House one night and a bunch of people were around, and then they told me that the President wanted to appoint General Marshall and they had problems of this kind.
And so I, with a couple of the fellows in the White House--I can't remember who they were--got out some of the laws and we checked them through. Then we drafted a little resolution under which there was an exemption. So I was in on that from the very beginning. I administered the oath of office to Marshall.
HESS: Is that right?
LARKIN: Yes. I have a wonderful picture of myself administering the oath. Finally he was approved by the Senate and he showed up for work the next day, whenever it was, with Bob Lovett. He had already picked Bob Lovett. Bob Lovett had worked with him in the State Department. And somebody came running in to me and said, "General Marshall wants to be sworn in." I said, "So what." I thought he was going to be sworn in by Chief Justice Vinson. As a matter of fact, Louis Johnson was. This is what annoyed everybody. Louie Johnson had the word sent out and he was sworn in in the middle of the Pentagon in the big yard. And they had stands there and everybody was commandeered to come out and sit there and watch this Roman spectacle
and the Chief Justice came over and did. And Marshall, completely to the opposite. They said, "No, no, he wants to be sworn in right now. He doesn't want anybody there."
HESS: So he can get to work.
LARKIN: Yes, And he wasn't going through all this--Marshall was a very simple, straightforward man. No adverbs, adjectives; direct declarative sentences, clean, concise, kind of thinking and speaking. So, I said, "All right, I've got to find an oath of office." I didn't have it committed to memory or anything and I came scatting around asking what's the oath of office. Then I started to think, now wait a minute, let's do this sure-footedly. So, I went into Lovett I guess, he had just come on the scene, too. And I said, "Are you going to have a photographer there?"
He said, "I don't know."
I said, "Well, listen, you know this is a public act. Somebody may challenge whether he's the proper Secretary of Defense or not. I think we ought to have a witness here. I think we ought
to have a photograph of this thing, I think we ought to record and have some historical documentation that in fact he took the office, in case it was ever challenged." Because doing this in camera this way, in his office or non-publicly, I started to worry a little bit. My legal concerns were functioning.
HESS: You wanted it well-documented.
LARKIN: So, they said, "Yes, I guess that's right. Okay." So they got a photographer from the Signal Corps, as I remember it. Then he had his aide, Major [Clarence] George, hold the Bible and Lovett was a witness--and this photographer. Then I administered the oath. I have a wonderful picture of myself with him doing that. Then I administered the oath to Lovett and the whole bunch of them. Because then everybody had to fall in and have this nonpublic administration of oath. So that was kind of a nice thing for me, as a young fellow.
HESS: In the following month on October 15 President Truman went to Wake Island to confer with General
MacArthur. Do you recall anything in particular about that?
LARKIN: No. I'm trying to remember whether Marshall went with him or not?
LARKIN: He did not.
HESS: General Bradley did.
LARKIN: General Bradley, yes. No I don't remember anything unusual. We were starting to worry early in the game there about MacArthur, of course.
HESS: General Bradley at this time was Chief of Staff.
HESS: Did you work closely with General Bradley?
LARKIN: Oh, yes, yes. I knew him well.
HESS: How was he to work with?
LARKIN: Excellent. Very sensible, balanced, pragmatic kind of a fellow. He'd listen to you and he was a good man, I thought.
HESS: How early in the conflict did difficulties with General MacArthur arise?
LARKIN: Oh, they arose quite early. I'm trying to think. The first time he was pushed back, I guess. Where was it, in Inchon?
HESS: The Pusan perimeter.
LARKIN: Pusan, yes. Then, whenever that was.
HESS: That was earlier. That was about in August, and then they had pushed back out of there.
LARKIN: Yes, they moved up.
HESS: In September they had the Inchon invasion. I think it was September 15, something like that. He had the Inchon invasion where they came across and then the push out from the Pusan perimeter where they had a pincers movement coming up.
LARKIN: Was that when all the Marines got caught up there?
HESS: That's a little later at Chosen Reservoir, after the Chinese came in.
HESS: On October the 15th, when MacArthur met with Truman in Wake Island, someone raised the issue about the danger of the Chinese coming in and General MacArthur said that they would not. But one month later, in November, then they were in.
LARKIN: Well, on one of those push backs--I can't quite remember at this moment which--why, MacArthur became terrified-it wasn't generally known at all-and he called to be rescued and taken off.
HESS: He did?
LARKIN: Yes, sir. He became terrified.
I think you'll find this in the testimony that General Marshall and I gave in the Joint Armed Services Committee. What happened was, Admiral [Arthur] Davis sanitized the testimony every day. A lot of it was made public, but he censored it and eliminated some things. I don't know whether that was eliminated or not. It might have been. Then MacArthur, of course, had this long fight about, what is it, the 48th parallel. He wanted to bomb over there and
wanted to go over there.
HESS: The Yalu River.
LARKIN: Yalu River, yes.
HESS: He wanted to go over the Yalu River.
LARKIN: At that point in time the Joint Chiefs of Staff were really quite definite in their decision. They didn't want that. They thought that would enlarge the war a great deal. They would get an atomic war out of it and a lot of other things. That became the tremendous conflict with MacArthur at the time. But he was too old. He was ineffective at the time, without any question; and he was too stubborn. And there was a tremendous interchange of secret cables between him and the Joint Chiefs continually during that whole period. And that was part of the basis of the big hearing, and they were the ones we presented. A lot of it was censored out and lot of it was released, and so forth.
HESS: His dismissal came in April of 1951,
HESS: Did you think that his dismissal was necessary?
LARKIN: Oh, yes. We were all very concerned. Early in the game I was not too conscious of it; that wasn't something that I was working on.
HESS: That wasn't in your shop.
LARKIN: Wasn't in my shop. But I could tell from what was going on there that things were...
HESS: Trouble was brewing.
LARKIN: Oh, yes. Marshall was following it very much more closely than Louis Johnson had. He was in the middle of it longer. Marshall was interesting. He got a briefing every morning about 8:30 when he came to the office. The whole group of generals and all would troop in and take out the map and show where everybody was and where MacArthur was and what he was saying and what his cables were saying. Toward the end there I happened to be in a couple of those and I started getting the real feel that they were having a murderous time with him. They sent "Lightning Joe" [S. Lawton] Collins, as I
remember. He was the Chief of Staff of the Army wasn't he? They sent him over to assess the thing two or three times and to try to talk to MacArthur and see why he was so concerned, and why he was so upset, and why he wasn't following things, and what he was doing? And Marshall, of course, I can remember him. He was really tough on these military people.
He would say, "How many men in that unit there, in that division?"
They said, "Well, about...
"Never mind about--how many?"
HESS: He didn't want these inconclusive answers.
LARKIN: Boy, oh, boy, no approximations, he wanted facts. It was amazing how tough he was on the military in that respect. He was a very human guy in other respects. He'd send them cables on their birthday and all that kind of stuff, you know. but by the same token bow different he was with the civilians.
I finally got the job of going up with him and doing all the testimony in Congress against MacArthur. He did it all, but I was his counsel
and I prepared the whole thing for him, with a whole big team of people. And what I said was law, really. He delegated it to me to do and that was it. But he wouldn't delegate lot of the other things to the military people. He wanted to know firsthand. Very interesting.
HESS: Now Marshall's views on MacArthur are well-documented.
LARKIN: I'm sure they are.
HESS: But did you ever hear him in the quiet of the afternoon when it was off-the-record, did you ever hear General Marshall give his opinion of General MacArthur?
LARKIN: Yes. Quite a bit and in various aspects too. He would reminisce--of course he was 71 or 2 by that time and he did some reminiscing from time to time as all men of that age do, I guess--and in my presence, alone, I got to know General Marshall very well, again like I did Louis Johnson, because in preparing this case I sat with him by the hour and showed him documents. And then I went up
with him in the Congress and I've got, again, some wonderful pictures of executive sessions with the House and Senate Armed Forces Committee and Foreign Affairs Committee all together, and Marshall and I in the middle of the caucus room alone with the Senate typist, and me handing him papers and so forth and so on. Yes, he used to talk about MacArthur. About how Admiral [Ernest J.] King bitterly criticized MacArthur, and used to come in to see him, Marshall, frequently during the war, yelling and screaming that MacArthur was impossible, they couldn't work with him. He was taking all the credit for the entire Pacific war, when in fact the Navy was taking him around and doing all the work. Marshall would say, "The Lord knows I have enough reason to have it in for MacArthur. He held up my becoming a brigadier general for quite some period of time. He was Chief of Staff." You see, Marshall was a major under [John J.] Pershing. He became his aide in World War I. But MacArthur had a big jump on him. His father had been Chief of Staff before and head of West Point; the Philippines. So, he was the boy wonder, and he got all the top jobs
immediately and way ahead of Marshall, even though they were essentially contemporaries; and then in fact when Marshall came up for brigadier general he killed it. Of course Marshall was VMI; he wasn't West Point, and so forth. And Marshall said from time to time, "Lord knows, I had enough reason to dislike Douglas MacArthur; but I told King from time to time I don't care who likes me or dislikes me or who I dislike, I've got to win this war and I want the best men in the best places. Douglas MacArthur is the best general I have in the Pacific and he's going to stay whether you like it, Admiral King, or not." So, he would tell us those things from time to time. This was a great measure of Marshall. He was a fantastic person. Truman was completely right about him, in my opinion.
HESS: Did you ever hear him say anything about Mr. Truman?
LARKIN: Yes, He did to me one night during the course of these hearings when we were working so long and hard. About 4 o'clock in the afternoon he'd go home.
He was getting fatigued. You know he had one kidney and things of that kind. He sent for me and I had come in and he said to me, "Larkin,"--he always called me by my last name, although he had kind of an affection for me--he said, "What would you like? Let's have a drink and let's talk a minute?"
So, I said, "Well, I'll have an old-fashioned."
And then he'd say, "Tell me this, do you think I should talk to the President about"--this was the time when Harry Vaughan, mink coats, refrigerators, a...
HESS: The so-called scandal, "the mess in Washington," was coming up.
LARKIN: Yes. And it was all peanuts, trivia, little rubbish, you see, nothing; but it was a good political scandal tidbit. He said to me, "I have a great respect for Mr. Truman, for the President." And he said, "I was just wondering if I should talk to him or what. I might talk to Mrs. Truman, and tell them I am distressed that he is being pilloried by these second-grade people around him, who are
getting into this trouble and kind of besmirching his name. It's all out of perspective, it's ridiculous, he's a great man, and I am unhappy to see it, I'm just wondering if it would do any good? What do you think Larkin? Should I talk to him and so forth?"
I said, "I don't know General. I think maybe no one would thank you for doing that, I think maybe if I were you I wouldn't do it. I wouldn't talk to Mrs. Truman. I wouldn't talk to the President. He can handle these things. He has to."
He said, "Well, I guess maybe you are right, but this distresses me. I wish I could do something." You know, he talked like that about whether he might do something.
The other thing, though, in terms of MacArthur--when MacArthur came back and turned his dismissal essentially into a triumph, as you remember; and he fixed it so that he always arrived at 11 or 12 o'clock at night at Los Angeles and Washington. If you wanted to see him you had to stay up and go out and see him, see. He was a great showman.
HESS: A flair for the dramatic.
LARKIN: Oh, fantastic. Well, of course, Marshall went out to meet him. Marshall usually went to bed about half past 9 or 10 o'clock, so this was quite an event. So, the next morning I saw him and I said, "General, how was your affair with meeting the General last night?"
He said, "Oh, he did exactly what I thought he would do."
I said, "What was that?"
He said, "Well, you know I'm quite a formal person and no one calls me George." And he said, "As a matter of fact, President Roosevelt used to call me George. He was kind of such an offhand extrovert. And I told him, please, Mr. President, don't call me George. The only people who call me George are my wife and several personal friends and I don't regard you in that category; so, I would appreciate it if you don't call me George."
HESS: He told President Roosevelt.
LARKIN: Yes, sure. He was a funny fellow. So, he said,
"Of course MacArthur and I knew each other so very well for years." he said, "I knew it. You know what he did the minute he came down off the plane? He came down and he said, 'George, how are you?" And he said, "I dislike anybody calling me George." And of course, MacArthur obviously knew it, so he was needling him. But the final thing on this issue, I don't know if I mentioned it before, was that MacArthur came and did that fantastic speech at Congress. He had written that speech five or six years before that and had kept polishing it, year after year after year and it was letter perfect. I recall I went down to the Signal Corps to hear it on the radio, and when I heard it thought boy, oh, boy, I have some job cut out for me. How am I going to counter something like this; this is unbelievably good.
So, MacArthur testified for an entire week.
Then Marshall was scheduled to come up and testify for the administration side of it, I had been preparing all our rebuttal with a huge, huge staff of people, and a fellow named Frank Nash, He was in the Defense Department and he was working
on State liaison, and so he did a lot, he was a brilliant fellow, he was a tax lawyer in Washington and a professor at Georgetown Law School. He's dead now. So, anyway, Frank and I really prepared Marshall's opening statement.
We all convened in Marshall's office at 10 o'clock Sunday morning, the day before he was going to start on Monday, And we had twenty-five people there: General Gruenther, Lovett, everybody. And everybody was saying, "From what I hear, General, what you ought to say is this. I think your statement ought to rebut MacArthur on this thing. I think--" and we went on like that for about an hour and a half--a committee trying to write a speech. So, I just sat there shaking my head like this, you know.
Marshall said to me, "What's the matter Larkin?" I said, "General, we're never going to get anywhere doing this."
He said, "You're right. You're in charge of this; you go write the speech, Anybody you want to help you you can have. Good morning, gentlemen. Goodbye. Call me at 8 o'clock tonight Larkin. See
what you have."
That's the way he did. But, anyway, we wrote the speech--Nash and I. I met Marshall at 8 o'clock the following morning and I gave him what we thought he should say. He read it over and read it over and he said, "This is excellent. This is very good, indeed." He struck out an adjective or an adverb here or there because he disliked it, and he said, "Fine. This is good. All right we'll use this." He said, "Now, I want to start this opening speech with something of my own."
So then we went up to the Hill to the Joint Committee and be said, "I have an opening statement to make and I have it here and I'd like to read it and put it in the record." And this is what we had prepared for him. But he said, "Before I start formally in that fashion I'd like to say this, gentlemen." He said, "I find myself in a most unpleasant and most difficult position." He said, "I am in opposition to General Douglas MacArthur, who I regard as one of the outstanding generals of the United States and for many generations an outstanding patriot of this
country, Now, he and I for many years have had many differences of opinion, and I think they are well-known, between us, personally. But it is very unpleasant, nevertheless, to me to be in confrontation with a. brother officer of the stature of General MacArthur and a man as patriotic to the United States as he was," and then he went on.
Now, this was a tremendous thing for a man like Marshall to say. He had been victimized, so to speak, by MacArthur for years and years, or persecuted, so to speak. But he was so objective, Marshall. He saw the contributions that MacArthur had made, even though he thought he was wrong. I'm sure he and the Joint Chiefs were very major in Truman's decision to remove him; because they couldn't work with him anymore. That was a statement that MacArthur would never make about Marshall. That's the difference in the man. Very interesting. He added that himself, you see, to the statement we prepared, So, they were the personal things I heard him talk about in connection with MacArthur,
HESS: What is your general opinion of General Marshall's handling of the Department of Defense?
LARKIN: Well, it was during the Korean times. He was a skillful professional soldier so he could appraise the consequences of the military action obviously. He had limited physical capabilities at that time and, therefore, he was not as vigorous or active as Louis Johnson had been in direct control of things or Forrestal had been. Forrestal had to pioneer the thing, to build it and try to put it together. So Marshall just didn't pay much attention to many, many things of the normal administrative kind. Of course, Bob Loyett was a skillful man and a very intelligent fellow, and he handled many things that backed up Marshall. But Marshall's physical condition was limited, really, at the time.
HESS: Do you think that Mr. Truman could have settled the Korean war on the same basis that General Eisenhower settled it shortly after he came in?
LARKIN: I don't know. I think it was a question of time. There was no great feat to settle the war when Eisenhower came in. The war was over. It was ridiculous, the kind of credit he got for it. It was done; it was finished. Everybody was tired
and weary and it was stalemate and it wasn't anything great, in my opinion, to do, I doubt that it could have been done much sooner. I think this present Vietnam thing is somewhat like it. Everybody's finally getting so worn out that it's going to finish.
HESS: General Harry Vaughan was Mr. Truman's military aide. Did you have any working relationship with him at all?
LARKIN: No, virtually none. I used to see him once or twice--infrequently. He was an amiable, genial, gentleman who carried no weight of any kind or any consequence. He was more like Paul Griffith was to our friend Louis Johnson. He was a friend who had been around for a long time. Kind of a subordinate who would carry his bag for him, play bridge with him, or poker or something.
HESS: You resigned from the Department of Defense in August of '51, right?
LARKIN: That's right.
HESS: Why did you leave? Why did you retire?
LARKIN: Well, you know I had overstayed my leave tremendously. I had gone down there with the expectation of spending a year, maybe, to help organize the Department of Defense. I think I had told you that I had worked for the Navy and with Forrestal and with Marx Leva on the Navy court-martial system and things of that kind. I was finding myself with the old situation that nothing is so permanent as a temporary job in Washington. When Forrestal left I offered my resignation to Louis Johnson; I thought it was appropriate. I thought I ought to be moving back to New York and I was kind of ignored for the first month or two, and I didn't know what was going to happen--I really didn't care. I was starting to think about getting back home. Suddenly the B-36 blew up and I was stuck with a big job. So, all right, I stayed on and I became a favorite of Johnson's. He was grateful to me, so to speak.
Then when Marshall came in I did the same thing. I sent my resignation in. I didn't know
the General from "a hole in the ground;" and Bob Lovett, I didn't know him either; but he had been already selected, and he called me up a couple times and invited me out to dinner. He wanted me to brief him on all the personalities in the Defense Department; what I thought of all the Joint Chiefs and all the other people in the Pentagon. So, I got quite friendly with him and he said, "Now we want you to stay. Now don't you be foolish here; this will be fine. You stay."
I said, "Well, really, look, I have to get back to New York. I have to earn some money. I have potential; I can do a lot better than here. I've done my stint, I think."
Then the Anna Rosenberg thing broke about three weeks later. I was "knee-deep" in that and got so involved. I finally got to the point that--well, a couple of companies had come after me and offered me jobs, and I thought to myself, well, I guess it's about time--I was then forty-one years of age. I have quite a lot of talents, I guess, I can sell in the market place, I might as well sell them.
HESS: It's time to go make some money.
LARKIN: Time to make a little money, that's right. But I thoroughly enjoyed my stay there. I learned a great deal. I felt part of things that were important when they were going on. But that was the reason I finally decided to leave and go back. I had the thought, maybe, I might go back to Government, you know, at the end of my business career again. But I don't think so now. I think it's too late,
HESS: I think we touched on this a while ago, but just what are a few, in your opinion, of Mr. Truman's major accomplishments and what are just one or two of his major weaknesses?
LARKIN: Well, his major characteristics I think were his courage and his undivided loyalty or belief in doing what he thought was best for the United States. His accomplishments, I think, clearly were Greek-Turkey aid, the Marshall plan, the Berlin Airlift, as I've said. Those things were tremendous decisions, properly made, with great courage.
He was of course, a very political animal, as I guess you have to be. I am trying to think of what you might call some of his deficiencies. I never did know, frankly, what the situation was in his relations with the Pendergast group in Kansas City. This that and the other thing; I didn't know. It might have been typical, practical politics. I am trying to think of what might be some poor decisions he made as President, I'm sure there were some but they just don't come to mind at the moment.
HESS: What's your estimation of his place in history?
LARKIN: Very high, very good.
HESS: Do you have anything else to add on Mr. Truman or your service in Washington, D.C. during those years?
LARKIN: No, I don't think so. I said, I guess, as much as I know about Mr. Truman. I wasn't that close to him obviously. There were a lot of other things that went on in the Department of Defense, We had a lot of other typical problems, you know; we had the problem of whether we were going to try
to finance the prototype aircraft and a number of projects of that kind, in which there were disputes and differences of opinion. These were in the general routine of our daily work. It was a difficult job to try to make the Department jell, and from what I read, why, it still hasn't completely jelled to this day. There is still old service loyalties. But it was a tremendous effort in which you needed a man with the fortitude and again, the courage, too, of Forrestal to get it started. And the respect, because Forrestal could have gone back to Dillon-Reed or any place else and made lots of money. I had a great respect for Forrestal and for Lovett and men of that kind who were willing to work very, very hard, indeed, just on a completely public service basis when they didn't have to--they didn't need it. They were making really a contribution. That's what they were doing because they could have made--well, they were either very wealthy like Lovett was, or they had become wealthy like Forrestal, and there was nothing down there except public service in my opinion. Of course, when you are in those public jobs you are under a microscope, and you are
getting criticized, and you get badgered, and you have to have a lot of patience while some second-grade Congressman or something, is badgering you. This is what, unfortunately, many businessmen are not very good at doing when they go down there. They are accustomed to having people do what they tell them and quick. They are not accustomed to being cross-examined the way--but, I guess, we have hit many of the highlights.
HESS: Thank you very much.
List of Subjects Discussed
Acheson, Dean, 65, 76, 77
Davis, Arthur, 89
Forrestal, James V., Secretary of, 1-5, 10-13, 19, 22, 24, 29, 32-47, 51
Johnson, Louis A., Secretary of, 41, 43, 49-56, 62, 73-82, 84-85
Marshall, George C., Secretary of, 82-87, 89, 91-103
Presidential election, 1948, non-partisan stance in, 37-39
Dewey, Thomas E., 34, 38, 48, 70
Hoyt, Palmer, 30
MacArthur, Douglas, 87-95, 97-102
Nash, Frank, 99-100, 101
Symington, Stuart, 19, 23, 26-29, 31
Dewey, Thomas E., defeats, 1948, 34-35
evaluation of as President, 69-70, 107-108
Forrestal, James V., loss of confidence in, 37-38, 42
Johnson, Louis A., appoints Secretary of Defense, 40
Johnson, Louis A., dismisses as Secretary of Defense, 74, 82
Korean War, decision to intervene in, 72-73
Marshall, George C., appoints Secretary of Defense, 82-83
Marshall, George C., relationship with, 96-97
Truman Committee, as chairman of, 6-7
Vice Presidential nominee, 1944, selection as, 6-7
Yalta Conference, 41