Oral History Interview with
Robert G. Nixon
News correspondent with the International News Service,
1930-58; served as editor of the service for a time. He first came to
Washington, D.C., in 1938 where he served as their State Department and
foreign relations correspondent. He was a war correspondent, attached
to the British army in France and Belgium, 1940, during invasion of the
low countries; evacuated from Dunkirk but later returned to France; evacuated
with remnants of the British army from Brest, June 20, 1940; covered London
Blitz, 1940-41; war correspondent, attached to United States forces in
European theater of operations, 1942-1943; correspondent in Northern Ireland,
United Kingdom, and Mediterranean theater, participating in North African
invasion and campaign. Covered Casablanca conference, 1943; Quebec conference,
1944; and Potsdam, 1945. Washington correspondent covering the White House
beginning in 1944.
October 16, 1970
by Jerry N. Hess
[Notices and Restrictions | Interview
Transcript | Additional Nixon Oral History Transcripts]
This is a transcript of a tape-recorded interview conducted for the Harry
S. Truman Library. A draft of this transcript was edited by the interviewee
but only minor emendations were made; therefore, the reader should remember
that this is essentially a transcript of the spoken, rather than the written
Numbers appearing in square brackets (ex. ) within the transcript indicate the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview.
This oral history transcript may be read, quoted from, cited, and reproduced
for purposes of research. It may not be published in full except by permission
of the Harry S. Truman Library.
Opened December, 1978
Harry S. Truman Library
[Top of the Page | Notices
and Restrictions | Interview Transcript
| Additional Nixon Oral History Transcripts]
Oral History Interview with Robert G. Nixon
October 16, 1970
by Jerry N. Hess
HESS: All right, Mr. Nixon, let's finish up what we have to say about
Mr. Roosevelt, and then go on to Mr. Truman. What do you recall about
the inauguration of Mr. Roosevelt on January the 20th, 1945? I believe
they held that on the South Portico of the White House?
HESS: Were you there that day?
NIXON: I was there. It was snowing. It was a rather cold, bitter gray
winter day. Mr. Roosevelt stood out on the South Portico and was sworn
in. Of course, the public wasn't there.
HESS: What appeared to be his state of health at that time?
NIXON: He was failing. Perhaps that was the main reason why he didn't
go through this agonizing public inaugural on the steps of the Capitol.
There were just a few reporters there. I remember I had a direct telephone
connection with my office and stood immediately below the portico and
dictated a running story into my office. There were a few members of the
administration there, the White House police, and that was about all.
It was a formality, rather than a public ceremony.
My recollection is that the excuse given by the White House for this
inaugural was that the war was on and the President's time was occupied.
Nothing was said about health.
HESS: Did you see Mr. Roosevelt again before he came back from Yalta?
You mentioned last time that you had gone, but Stalin would not allow
the newsmen in.
NIXON: I got as far as Algiers. On the President's return, I boarded
the cruiser Omaha there at Algiers.
HESS: Did Samuel I. Rosenman get on at Algiers too?
NIXON: Yes, he did. I particularly remember Sam being there, because
one day while we were waiting to know whether we would be permitted to
go to Yalta, Rosenman arranged a tour of the Casbah, the old pirate stronghold
which is the ancient section of the city. He invited me to go with him
on this conducted tour of the Casbah. So, that's why I remember that he
was there. Also, we had a luncheon one day outside of Algiers in one of
the beautiful residences being used by the U.S. Navy commander, and I
remember Sam was there at the table.
It seems to me that Steve Early was also there. I can't recall whether
he went to Yalta
or not, but my recollection is that he flew in from Washington
to Algiers to see the President when the cruiser stopped there. Then he
flew up to Paris to Eisenhower's headquarters. He was a close friend of
General Eisenhower's and went up there to see him and take him a case
of whiskey. So, I know that's the way it was.
You asked me the last time we were together why Roosevelt was put through
this grueling campaign trip in New York, and was it because there was
fear of Dewey winning. And you asked me if I thought Dewey had really
had a chance. And my answer was no. No with the reservation that when
there are two candidates for the Presidency, there's always a chance.
There are only two of them running. No matter how much of a shutout it
looks like it is, there still is always that strange chance.
HESS: Such as Mr. Truman proved in '48.
NIXON: Yes, and look what happened to Winston Churchill at the very height
of his greatness and power. I tried to tell Truman on the way to Potsdam
that Churchill wasn't going to make it. But he wouldn't listen to me.
HESS: Why did you think that Churchill was going to be defeated?
NIXON: To me it was very simple. I had lived with the British people
under very severe circumstances and conditions for the first two years
of the war. I had been closely associated with them. Remember there were
few Americans left in England. You could count them on your fingers, literally.
I had almost become a Britain myself because of this severity of conditions
under that long period of bombing. I simply knew the British mind. I was
confident of that, just as I knew the way my own
people back here thought.
After five years or six years of war, I just felt in my bones that the
British people were fed to the teeth. They
had undergone such hardships, and like our people when they elected Roosevelt,
they wanted a New Deal. It wasn't anything against Churchill. It was only
that Churchill epitomized all of the difficulties of the times that they
had gone through. So, I just felt that regardless of his tremendous
greatness--and he was a very, very great man--the British were
going to turn on him and throw him out. The war was over with, and they
wanted a chance to better their economy. I felt that they thought the
Labor Government could do it, or would do it, rather than the Conservative.
HESS: Did you ever have a conversation with Mr. Churchill?
NIXON: Oh, yes.
HESS: What was the occasion, or occasions?
NIXON: In the early part of the war. When he came to power in May '40,
I was one of the handful of American correspondents in London representing
the American press. We all know how Mr. Churchill felt. He made it very
clear that England's only salvation was the United States. He also knew
the temper of the times back here at home--the America Firsters, the tremendous
German propaganda machine that was operating in the country, and the attitude
of the thirties with that dreadful neutrality act. He knew also that Roosevelt
was having to say to the American people, as he did at Boston, that he
would never send American boys into a foreign war. All of this
led to Mr. Churchill making use of every possible media
and means that
he could, to present the plight of the British people, and the British
nation, to this country, to try to bring out a change of viewpoint and
opinion. In these severe days, no matter how much American opinion sympathized
with the British and the French, the preponderant opinion of this country
was, "Don't get involved in that war."
Because of the news service I represented, which had a great deal of
influence, I occasionally was invited to little intimate talks and luncheons
with Mr. Churchill. When he would walk during the mornings through the
bombed areas of London waving his V for victory sign to bolster the moral
of the people, I would go along because he was the Prime Minister. I would
usually be tipped off ahead of time that he was going to do these things.
HESS: What effect did he have on the British people
when he made a walk like that?
NIXON: The British were such staunch people that they didn't need any
bolstering of their morale. For instance, after a night of severe bombing,
someone would come to his little store the next day to open up and find
it just completely gutted. Undismayed, they'd make these big signs: "Blast!"
This was their humor. It was their defiance of Hitler.
They never needed bolstering. Sometimes when I would be out of London
for a day or two with the British army down on the south coast where the
defenses were being put up, I would be driven back into London in an Army
car. You could see the people queued up at a bus stop. You could see in
their faces, the strain and the effect of the bombing, but that was unusual.
Usually they would be chatting
and joshing one another just as though
it was a time of peace.
HESS: I understand that Mr. Churchill had a combination communications
center and bomb shelter down under London. Were you ever in his bomb shelter,
or was that constructed later?
NIXON: I am trying to remember. I was taken, on one occasion, to one
of these huge underground communications centers. Whether it was the one
he did use during the bombing, I don't know, because I didn't even
know where I was taken. I was taken under blackout conditions. The car
I was driven in had the curtains drawn. It was one of these big Bentley's
that the British Government used.
HESS: And you ever speak to Churchill after the war--perhaps on his visits
to the United States?
NIXON: Yes, I could only just say, "Hello." I remember, particularly,
when he came over here (he was out of office at that time) to go to Fulton,
Missouri where he made that famous Iron Curtain speech. He came to the
White House, and he and Truman went out to Fulton. We all went out on
the train with them to Westminster College to an inside athletic auditorium.
It was apparently the only large place they had to put an audience. Truman
made a speech, but it was completely overshadowed by Churchill's Iron
HESS: That's General Vaughan's old school, among others.
NIXON: Yes, as a matter of fact, Vaughan persuaded the President to ask
Churchill to come over. But when Churchill spoke, no matter whoever else
was present, he always overshadowed them.
As we all know, he had a masterful
gift of speech and use of the English language, more so than perhaps anyone
in this century.
Of course, the times make for this greatness. The times made the impact
of his very graphic phraseology, such as that very famous wartime talk
when he told the British people the only thing he had to offer them was,
"Blood, sweat, toil, and tears." And later, the one in which he said that
if the Germans did invade England that they would "fight on the beaches,
the landing grounds and..."
HESS: If you'll recall at the time of the Fulton speech, there was some
discussion as to whether Mr. Truman approved the phrase "the Iron Curtain"
or whether the speech was given with Mr. Truman's approval?
NIXON: That angle I have completely forgotten.
HESS: Were there any other times that you talked with Mr. Churchill?
I think he came over a couple of times in 1952.
NIXON: Yes, for instance, at the Quebec Conference. I have a dollar bill,
I think I mentioned this to you before, with three signatures on it: Franklin
Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, and Winston S. Churchill. So if he was nice
enough to autograph this thing, he knew me.
But on his trips over here he was completely surrounded. He was with
the President all, or most of the time, with Secret Service guards and
British security people all around. I would be close to him on occasion
after occasion. He would pick me out of a group and he would say hello.
But that was the limit. The rest of the time I was always with other people.
HESS: On the trip back from Yalta I believe that
"Pa" [General Edwin
M.] Watson died on that trip. Is that right?
NIXON: Yes, he did. This was quite a blow to Roosevelt. Pa was a very
close intimate of the President's. He, of course, officially was his military
"Pa" was a nickname that he probably got at West Point, and everybody
who knew him well called him Pa, or more formally, General. But he had
been the President's military aide throughout the war.
Pa and Roosevelt's son, James (both were big men, tall, heavyset), were
the ones who enabled Roosevelt to stand and to walk on the occasions when
he did. Roosevelt had to wear steel braces. It must have been torture
to him. The only way he could stand erect was to snap those braces together
at the knee. It gave him a straight support for his legs. Pa
on those occasions would support him on his left arm. He would hold onto
them, rather gracefully, too. It was never obtrusive.
I think we were about one or two days out of Gibralter when he had a
heart attack and died. His body was brought back on the cruiser, and he
was buried in Arlington. The President went to his funeral and burial
a day or so after we got back. This seemed to be a really bad jolt for
HESS: What do you recall about his appearance at the Joint Session of
Congress shortly after he got back; his report on the Yalta mission?
NIXON: These appearances before a Joint Session of Congress are uniformly
very much alike. The same people are there--all the members of the House
and Senate, and the Supreme Court, and the Cabinet. The same people over
preside. The diplomatic galleries are filled and so forth. "Fishbait"
Miller, the doorkeeper, appears at noon, or whatever time is set for the
president to arrive, and stands at the door of the House chamber, facing
the podium, and barks out in a very loud voice, "Mr. Speaker, the President
of the United States." Then the President comes down the aisle to the
rostrum, to make his address.
The thing that made this different was that the President did not walk
in, he came in in a wheelchair. He said to the assemblage, "I hope you
won't mind, but I would like on this occasion to make my report to you
seated here in this chair." Which he did. That reflected his physical
state. There were always excuses for these things. He had been to this
conference and Stalin was a very adamant opponent. Roosevelt was tired.
So there was
the excuse of tiredness. I remember he did look dreadful--there's
no doubt about it.
But, as I have said before, in just a few weeks time, we were making
that very fatiguing campaign in the cold, blustery rain in New York. I
now remember that the New York Daily News had a head photograph
of Roosevelt in his battered old gray felt hat, with his glasses on, taken
in the rain, and the raindrops were spattered over his spectacles. He
looked fit and grand. So, there were these terrific contrasts. You thought
at times that the man was failing, but then he would spring back
just like a grasshopper.
HESS: Regarding the agreements that were made at Yalta, Mr. Roosevelt
has been often condemned for giving away too many concessions to the Soviets.
What is your opinion?
NIXON: Well, there are certainly two ways of looking at these things.
From an objective point of view, this probably was so. But let us not
forget the circumstances and the times. As Roosevelt pointed out to me,
coming back from Yalta, the Russians were our allies. Granted, they were
a Communist nation, but they were our allies. As Roosevelt said, "They
have some rights too," which is certainly valid.
Remember this is when they were fighting for their lives and fighting
for our lives. Not by their own choice fighting for us, but that's
the way it worked out. They also had to fight Germany and keep an eye
on Japan. So, they asked for certain things.
It's all written down. There was so much of it that I've forgotten a
great deal. Remember, however, that one of the things they wanted was
the Sakhalin Islands. They wanted,
I believe, free access to the port
of Vladivostok. It seems to me that Roosevelt didn't raise any objection
to this. He saw the validity of their needing a warm water port in the
Pacific area because they were a nation that sprawled over two continents.
Sure he conceded certain things. But let us not forget that all of these
understandings that were made at these conferences were not permanent
arrangements (although the Russians took them to be, later). Everything
that was done about the postwar world was subject to agreements being
reached after the war was over.
Roosevelt also recognized that Russia had been bled white. Our loses
were miniscule compared to the Russians. The Russians lost millions. Not
only millions of their soldiers, but millions of their population were
and ravaged by the Germans. An area perhaps as large as the
United States or larger, had been utterly devastated.
I think that Roosevelt felt that the Russians had earned some
rights. We tend to forget that other people have rights too, and we try
to dictate everything. We say it ought to be this way, and if we think
it ought to be this way, that's the way it should be. As I say, that's
a common human fault, but sometimes we tend to take a little more authority
than we actually have.
HESS: I believe one of the provisions that came out of the Yalta Conference
that some people found fault with, was the fact that Russia had three
votes in the United Nations General Assembly and we had one. Do you recall
NIXON: Yes, I do. I'm trying to recollect what
Roosevelt said about that
coming home from the Yalta Conference.
HESS: I believe that one of the reasons for that was that Britain was
pushing hard at that time for a vote for India, even though India was
still in the British Commonwealth at that time, and Stalin did not like
the idea of India having a vote; it looked like Britain had two.
NIXON: Roosevelt explained this. I just don't recall exactly.
HESS: What comes to mind about Mr. Roosevelt after his appearance
at Congress. How often did you see him during the period of time before
he left town for, first, Hyde park and then Warm Springs? Did you go to
the White House correspondent's dinner which I understand was held in
March of '45?
NIXON: Oh, yes. You know, we have those things every year. For a moment
I was about to confuse this in my mind with his campaign speech to the
HESS: Yes, the Fala speech. Were you there the night he gave his Fala
NIXON: Yes, indeed! And you never saw a man more full of bounce. This
was the speech in which he referred to his little dog, Fala. Something
to the extent that, "Now they're" (referring to the Republicans), "even
attacking my little dog, Fala," which brought the house down.
HESS: How long after that was it before he left town? Did he go to Hyde
Park first, before he went to Warm Springs in '45?
NIXON: It's difficult for me to remember precisely.
HESS: The White House correspondent's dinner, I
believe, was in March,
and Roosevelt died in Warm Springs on April the 12th. I believe that when
he left Washington he went to Hyde Park for a few days and then down to
NIXON: I think that's the way it was. But in any event, I was with him.
HESS: What are your memories of Warm Springs at that particular time?
NIXON: It was early April, and the dogwood and red Judas trees that grow
in abundance were in bloom.
HESS: Did you feel like you were going home again, to go back to your
own home state?
NIXON: Oh, heavens no!
HESS: You have been gone from Atlanta for quite a while.
NIXON: For a long, long while. .Anyway, as I say it was
early spring, the weather was pleasant. I think we had some rainfall,
but in the main it was just spring like weather. You see Roosevelt would
go to Warm Springs, or Hyde Park, or Shangri-La. These were retreats.
He explained it in a letter to Churchill at one time. He was admonishing
Churchill to take care of his health. He said, "I take about four days
off a week now in which I just don't let anything, unless it's of primary
importance, be brought to me." So, when he went on these retreats, which
he did more and more, it was to get away from all the burdens of office
that he possibly could leave. ,And you can't leave them all. Week after
week we would leave Washington on Thursday, go to Hyde Park, and not come
back to Washington until Tuesday. This became increasingly so, as he failed
more and more in health.
HESS: What did he seem to enjoy doing at Hyde Park?
NIXON: He was a stamp collector. He had a very fine stamp collection,
and he liked to fiddle with his stamps. .Also, he liked to take automobile
rides in an open car, in the afternoons, usually. He would just be driven
around that beautiful Hudson Valley countryside. That was about it.
Of course, he liked company. He liked to talk with people. That's the
way he kept informed. While he was at Hyde Park he would have some visitors,
not many, but a few.
The amusing thing about Morgenthau that I just remembered was that as
much money as he had, he would mooch a ride on the presidential train
up to Hyde Park. He had a home there. I believe it was across the river
from Roosevelt's. So, every week when he went up to Hyde Park, Morgenthau
would mooch a ride and
tag along on the presidential train, for free.
I'm sure he had other reasons too; he wanted to be close.
HESS: Present the image of being extra chummy with the president?
NIXON: Yes. And Morgenthau would sometimes come over and visit Roosevelt
at his invitation. A number of times Churchill was a visitor up there.
I believe one of the times was after the Quebec Conference.
The same thing applied at Hyde Park. He literally was just resting, doing
It was along about this period, before we went to Warm Springs for the
last time, that he had the flu or a bad cold, which he couldn't really
shake off. It was the same thing as when we went down to Hobcaw Barony
in South Carolina--to Baruch's place.
We, of course, were going to San Francisco soon. Roosevelt was to make
the opening address to the United Nations organizational meeting in San
Francisco. But first we were going to Warm Springs for a couple of weeks
to give him some sun and rest before we went on out to San Francisco by
Roosevelt had this little white cottage that they called the "Little
White House," up on Pine Mountain above the Warm Springs Foundation that
he had had so much to do with founding earlier. There were these natural
warm springs there, and the treatment of polio is aided by swimming.
HESS: Did he like to go down and swim in the warm water?
NIXON: Oh, indeed; That was primarily what it was all about. But mainly
when he got there
he would go up to the lodge on Pine Mountain and hole
up. We would rarely see him unless we bumped into him on one of these
afternoon drives. He had a Ford automobile, an open job, rigged up so
he could drive it. It had hand controls so he didn't have to use his legs.
He would drive and drive around the area. Sometimes he would go over to
the home of a textile manufacturer not far from Warm Springs. It was a
beautiful place, with an outdoor fish pond.
After his arrival at Warm Springs, I talked to him only once before he
died. This was the week before he died. He invited us over to the cottage
early in the afternoon. The President of the Philippines was visiting
him, and he invited the three of us over to a press conference at the
The main burden of the conference was that he had been conferring with
Quezon [y Molina] about rehabilitation of the Philippines.
(The Japanese had just ravaged the countryside wherever they went.) Roosevelt
told us what would be done to give independence to the Philippines. We
still owned the Philippines, and I believe Roosevelt set the date for
their independence, which I don't recollect at the moment.
HESS: Their independence day was July the 4th of '46.
NIXON: This was the first time that I heard of that, so, this made some
news. Then there was the necessity of providing large sums of money to
restore the Philippines, and he talked a little about the forthcoming
United Nations meeting in San Francisco.
Roosevelt seemed to be in fair voice. He had gotten a little color
in his face. You
know he was a chainsmoker. I remember him lighting a
cigarette, and his hands were shaking a little, but this had been going
on for some time. In the last year he was beginning to lose his hearing, too.
At some of his news conferences in the Oval Office people would ask him
questions, and he just didn't hear them. He would answer on a totally
different subject, with no reference to the question asked. I used to
stand right in front so I could keep my eyes on him all the time; he would
turn his head to listen to these questions.
Incidentally, Admiral McIntire wasn't at Warm Springs. Steve Early wasn't
down there either. Now, if a man is really ailing, why isn't his doctor
there? Why isn't his Press Secretary? Of course, Steve detested Warm Springs.
HESS: Did he?
NIXON: Yes. I can't blame him. It was very depressing to me. I don't
like illness, and I don't think many people do.
Warm Springs was an institution, filled with poor victims of polio. Polio
is a dreadful thing. It paralizes you, and here were all these
little children, unable to walk.
HESS: You know Jonathan Daniels was officially the Press Secretary at
this time. Steve Early, on the death of General Watson, was made Administrative
Assistant, and then Jonathan Daniels was made the Press Secretary, but
he wasn't there either?
NIXON: That is quite so.
Dr. Howard Bruenn was there, but the top people were not there. These
were the second
string. So, good Lord, an assistant White House Press
Secretary--second echelon or third echelon people. If a man is on his
way out, why aren't the head people around? So, you just try to rationalize
these things. So they put us off.
We had just seen Roosevelt once there. It was the week before at this
press conference. We had all sorts of devices for getting at the President,
that we used at various times. So, we cooked up an old-time Georgia barbecue
with some of the local people. The manager of the little Warm Springs
hotel, where we were staying, had a cottage up on Pine Mountain not far
from the Little White House, and through him, we arranged to get some
old-time Georgia fiddlers, and gave a barbecue and invited the President
to come to it. This was to get access to him. He accepted and said he
would drive over there
and have a drink or two with us.
We had all gone up there where the barbecue was being prepared, and time
went by--and no President. We assumed that something had come up, something
from Washington. We felt he had just been delayed. We weren't going anywhere,
and the President can be as late as he wants to. We'll still be there.
Time went on, and as I say, no President. So, we got on the telephone
and called down to the Secret Service at the cottage, and asked where
the President was. The Secret Service man on duty there said he wasn't
ready to leave yet. We got a noncommittal answer. He, of course, couldn't
say. He couldn't tell us about the comings and the goings of the doctors.
Another thing, Dr. Bruenn was in the swimming pool having a swim when
Roosevelt had his stroke. So despite all of the signs of failing
a period of time, this was a totally unexpected thing.
A little later, after we got this noncommittal reply from the Secret
Service, the phone rang and rang in the cottage and the head White House
telephone operator who was there at Warm Springs (she handled the direct
line to the White House while the President was there), Miss [Louise L.]
Hachmeister, in a very excited voice said, "Where have you boys been?
Get down here immediately."
This seemed a reasonable pattern, the way things go. The normal assumption
was that something had come up in Washington that had to be brought to
the President's attention, and it delayed him, and now he can't get by
here; so Hassett now wants us down to fill us in on what has been going
Well, intuition is a strange thing. I
guess it's based on one's lifetime
experience. That's the only way to explain it.
We jumped into one of the White House cars driven by the major who was
in charge of the Signal Corps detachment at the White House and went racing
down the mountainside to Bill Hassett's cottage.
During the drive, none of us said a word because we were all thinking.
Oddly enough the possibility of Roosevelt having died came right into
my mind, I decided that it was either one of two things: either Roosevelt
had died, or the war with Germany had ended. And, as you know, less than
a month later, May 8, the Germans did surrender. So, as I say, it was
the one or the other.
I jumped out of the car at the side of Bill Hassett's cottage, and raced
up the steps to the porch. As I did, I saw Grace
Tully, the President's
secretary, sitting on a sofa on the porch, crying. So, I knew what had
happened, Roosevelt was dead. It was just that simple.
We then went inside into the living room and Bill Hassett told us. He
said, "It is my sad duty to tell you that the President has had a stroke
and is dead."
Then he told us some of the things that had occurred and how it had happened.
Roosevelt had been sitting in the living room of the cottage at the folding
bridge table that he used as a desk when he was at Warm Springs and was
going over some papers, when at 1:15, he reached up to his head and said,
"I have a terrible headache," and then collapsed. He was taken into his
bedroom, and the doctor was summoned. He died then at about 2:30.
Now, oddly enough, we were not told that
he was sitting for a
portrait with Madam [Elizabeth] Shoumatoff. She was making the sketches
for a portrait painting.
These artists make pencil sketches of a person's head and torso in various
positions, and then they have a photographer along to take photographs
of their subject too. Believe me this is one that really threw us off,
because we learned later that evening that there had been an unnamed man,
a photographer, who had raced into the Warm Springs hotel that afternoon,
packed his gear, and left there almost in terror. We were told nothing
about this or nothing about Madam Shoumatoff being there. Nor were we
told that a very longtime friend of the Roosevelts, Miss Lucy Rutherford
It has been since rumored...
HESS: Jonathan Daniels in his book, Washington
NIXON: Yes, an early romance of Roosevelt's, one which almost led to
a divorce from Eleanor.
Mrs. Rutherford had commissioned Madam Shoumatoff to make this portrait.
I think this was the one that they called the unfinished portrait. She
was there visiting at the Little White House, and the Secret Service,
I guess it was--somebody in authority would have to do it--bundled Madam
Shoumatoff and Mrs. Rutherford into their automobile, and they lit out
over the countryside for parts unknown.
Frankly, when a President dies, complete frankness is the way to do it.
To do it any other way is doing a disservice to the man who has died,
to his family, to the Nation, and to history. Because it's going to come
out, and when it comes out, it may come out with the worst possible inflection.
Anyway, that was
kept from us, and I've never been able to get an explanation
from Bill Hassett.
Bill was a man of high principle. He wasn't due me any explanation of
course, but it would have been nice if he had come clean. The only thing
that excuses Bill is his remark that afternoon, when he said, "I am no
longer Assistant Press Secretary. I have no authority whatsoever. My authority
ceased upon the death of the President. My commission expired automatically."
He was highly principled. His feeling was that the moment the President
died, there was no President, and all the responsibility passed from the
White House staff to the family, and the family wasn't there. And nobody
had taken charge. I was thinking about these little things that should
have been told, and I remembered what the former Mrs. Gault had done in concealing
Woodrow Wilson's stroke and illness in the last month in the
White House. Well, these things happen and that's the way it went.
HESS: Had you seen Mrs. Rutherford around very much? What did you know
NIXON: The only thing I knew about Mrs. Rutherford at the time was that
on one of the trips to Hyde Park, the train went through New Jersey. The
Rutherfords had a large country home in New Jersey, and on one of these
trips the train pulled into a siding in New Jersey, out in the country,
and Roosevelt got off the train and into a car. The Secret Service wouldn't
let us go with him. We learned that he was visiting the Rutherfords. Of
course, he was going up to see Miss Lucy. I said, "Well, who are the Rutherfords?"
And all I could get was that they were
old friends of the President,
and we would rather you just not say anything about his stopping over
here. And that was it.
HESS: Did you ever see her in the White House?
NIXON: I am just sure that I didn't, but you know that's very simple.
The White House is a large place, and the Executive offices are in the
West Wing, considerably removed from the White House proper where the
living quarters are. You don't have to come in the Pennsylvania entrance.
People that they don't want to be in evidence, drive in the rear grounds
and enter through what used to be the old Diplomatic Reception Room, under
the South Portico.
HESS: The Lower Oval Room.
So much for the Rutherfords. This is stuff
that Jonathan Daniels wrote
about later. He was on the White House staff, you see. He was on the other
side of the desk, and he had access to such information, which a reporter
doesn't always have. There are intimate things that are of a high degree
of interest that you just don't necessarily get. Access is always a limited
The lady that I remember best, was Princess Martha of Norway, a really
beautiful, beautiful lady--tall, slender, white hair. And Roosevelt had
an eye for beauty, which is a fine attribute. God help anybody who doesn't.
Princess Martha and her consort were brought over here by the President
when the Germans invaded Norway. The royal family was taken out by a British
destroyer, I believe it was, to England. They were then brought to Washington.
I am sure it was
All these countries during the war had governments in exile, this government
paid their freight throughout the war. They established them in a mansion
out here in northwest Washington.
Roosevelt liked Princess Martha. She was a frequent visitor at the White
House. On occasions when I would go into the East Room for some function,
I always noticed beautiful Princess Martha. She was a tall, slender lady
with white hair, but she looked quite young. She was quite young. She
had the appearance of youth. She looked like a princess is supposed to
look. Hollywood couldn't cast anybody better than nature cast her, in
In Bill Hassett's cottage that very dreadful afternoon, we had him bring
Howard Bruenn in. From him we got the sad details
that the President had
suffered a massive cerebral hemorrhage. And I asked just exactly what
that meant. He said, "Well, your brain just blows up." He explained that
this was a rupture of a major artery in the rear of the brain, and he
gave us the other grim details. Then I phoned Washington to give them
HESS: Did you come back on the train with the body?
NIXON: Yes. I tried to get Bill Hassett to let us see the President;
he refused. Again he said he did not have authority. I had an objective
reason for this. I don't like to see anyone in death, but I was taking
somebody else's word. I was taking their word that he had died of a stroke
and had not been assassinated. And all I knew was what I had been told.
I had nothing to justify this information, other than
the faith that I
had to have, and reposed, in someone else. Maybe that was not a fair thing
to ask, but it was the thing that had to be asked. I'm just as glad as
not that this was declined.
Steve Early and Mrs. Roosevelt flew down from Washington around midnight
that night, landed on the airfield at Columbus, and were driven up to
Warm Springs, which was roughly forty or fifty miles away. Meanwhile,
the arrangements were made with Patterson Funeral Home in Atlanta for
a casket (which, incidentally, they charged a frightful price for). It
was a bronze casket, but $5,000 for a casket is rather unreasonable. It
also seems to me that, later, someone in authority raised objection to
this price, and I believe it was moderated.
HESS: Mrs. Roosevelt was coming down that night, is that right? Did you
see her when she came
NIXON: No, I did not. I just did not feel that I could intrude upon anyone
in that sad hour. I saw Steve Early and talked with him. As a matter of
fact, I don't think anyone saw Mrs. Roosevelt, except that intimate little
circle. She, of course, was taken in a closed car up to the Little White
House where the President was.
The next morning there was a funeral cortege that went from the cottage,
through the Foundation grounds, up the road to the little train station
in Warm Springs, which is just a crossroads town. The President's body
in the casket was brought out and put in a hearse. The members of the
party, including myself, were going to return to Washington by train.
We were in White House limousines, I suppose. We were driven slowly from
the cottage down the
mountainside, past the main administration building
of the Foundation, where a colored singer, a man, was strumming a guitar
and singing, in a very mournful voice, [Anton] Dvorak's "Going Home."
HESS: From the New World Symphony?
NIXON: Yes. Yes, very mournful. Soldiers had been brought up from Fort
Benning and Columbus. They lined the road on both sides going up to the
station, standing at attention facing the casket. One I remember fainted.
It was a very warm day.
The casket was placed in the rear of the Ferdinand Magellan on
a bier, with Army, Marine, and Navy guard, perhaps Air Force, too. They
stood guard for the whole trip back to Washington.
We pulled out of Warm Springs sometime
after 9:30 or 10 in the morning
and the train went very slowly. It was a funeral train, but I think it
was also in deference to the President. In all of our train trips the
train rarely went more than twenty or twenty-five miles an hour.
You know how a train rocks if it is going fast, again this was in deference
to the President's infirmity. He couldn't brace himself in a chair without
effort, if the train was going fast.
The main thing that I remember about the return trip (incidentally, it
took us all that day, all night, and we arrived in Washington early the
next morning) that gripped me so was that, as we left Warm Springs to
go up toward Atlanta, the colored people came out into the fields bordering
on the railroad tracks (I guess every darkie that lived in that part of
Georgia) and knelt in the fields, bareheaded--
many crying. It was very touching.
We went up to Atlanta and stopped there in the railroad yards, where
Steve Early gave us the text of the speech that the President had been
going to make at the opening session of the United Nations in San Francisco.
I wrote a story and got it off by telegraph to Washington. All the way
to Washington, wherever this train passed, there were just hundreds and
thousands of people along the right of way.
Steve Early took me into the rear car where the casket was on the bier,
covered with an American flag, and the four men from the armed services
were on duty. Then on arrival in Washington, all the dignitaries were
down at the Union Station. There was a cortege through Washington from
the station to the White House. There were services there. The body was
reposed first in the East Room and then I believe
the body was taken up
to the Capitol in the rotunda. (That's subject to checking, but I'm almost
I was pretty dead, beat at that point. Remember I had no sleep for two
days and two nights. The previous night--the day he died--I was up all
night long, writing--never took my clothes off. Then on the train I had
to be active and awake all night long. I was covering a story, you see.
That is why I don't quite remember whether the body was taken up to the
Capitol or not, but I believe it was.
I had to just fade out of the picture for a few hours to get some sleep,
because I was going on up to Hyde Park for the burial. This would have
been Saturday that I just had to peel off, because Sunday morning we left
on the presidential train for Hyde Park for the burial in the Rose Garden
of the Roosevelt home. The
details of that funeral are readily available.
I wrote a long detailed story about it myself, as did many others.
This was the first time I saw Truman. I may have seen him on the train,
but I'm not sure. He and Bess were among the important people who attended
Incidentally, I mentioned Truman's obscurity before. When we were told
in Warm Springs that Roosevelt had died, to save me, for a while, I couldn't
remember who was now President. In that connection, Roosevelt really treated
Truman, as it turned out, quite shoddily. Since then this has been changed,
and Truman was the first President to change it.
After the '44 election, Truman was invited to the White House only once.
He was invited down for breakfast with Roosevelt in the garden. This was
the first time in my life that I ever laid eyes on Truman. I never recalled having
seen him up on Capitol Hill, for instance. I never attended any
of those committee meetings of which he was head.
I saw him, after this breakfast meeting with Roosevelt, on the front
portico of the White House as he was leaving and chatted with him briefly.
I've forgotten completely what he said about his meeting with the President.
I believe it had something to do with politics or legislation on the Hill.
This was really a courtesy visit.
When I say that Roosevelt treated Truman very shoddily, please let me
explain what I mean. I dislike the word shoddily, but boy, that's what
it was. It had nothing to do with personality or Roosevelt's feeling one
way or another about Truman. The shoddiness of it was that Roosevelt permitted
Truman to become President totally and completely without any
of what had been going on in the world. Truman wasn't on the Foreign Relations
Committee of the Senate. The only committees that he was on, outside of
this war investigating thing, were of a purely domestic nature. He was
as unprepared to become President as almost anyone else in Washington.
He had no knowledge of our foreign policy, other than what a reasonably
informed Senator would be acquainted with. He was completely away from
the governing of this country, from the conduct of the war, from foreign
policy, from almost everything. Why did Roosevelt do this?
I suppose he never even gave it a thought. As Vice President Alben Barkley
used to say, kiddingly, "A Vice President never says anything. The only
thing he ever does is ask himself in the morning, 'How is the President's
health today?"' Barkley was quite a kidder,
always had some wonderful,
colorful story to tell.
But entering into this was Roosevelt's personality, his deep-set conviction
that he was the whole cheese. He was, let us face it.
This bolsters what I said previously, that I don't believe that it ever
occurred to Roosevelt that he would die. He had been in the White House
twelve years, and I suppose he figured he would have a fifth term. It
never occurred to him that anybody else would be President.
HESS: Did you think he felt pretty secure in the job?
NIXON: Oh, indeed he did!
He was one of the most cordial men in public life that I have ever known. He was
charming to everyone. Well, there were people that he had
no use for, but he was charming by nature. He would reach out this big
hand of his that was as large as a ham almost, and with this wonderful
smile on his face, he would shake your hand, and he would make you feel
like somebody. But at the same time he was a very imperious man. You got
the feeling that he knew that he had been born to be President,
and he was President, believe me!
Now, the shoddiness of his treatment of Truman was, of course, the same
treatment that every President had given Vice Presidents. To Presidents,
Vice Presidents were nonentities who were selected, like Roosevelt selected
Truman, to balance out the ticket and to not have any strike on them that
would hurt the ticket. For instance, Dick Nixon. He was on the first ticket
with Eisenhower and this business came out about his $18,000 a year slush fund.
Eisenhower almost had to get rid of him.
HESS: Did it come down to a pretty close thing?
NIXON: One of Ike's quotations was that everybody in his administration
had to be, "as clean as a hound's tooth." The thing that saved Nixon was
this highly Hollywood speech that he made on TV in justification. Nixon
said, "My wife had a cloth coat, not a mink coat." Well, he was good entertainment.
That's what political parties and Presidents wanted in a Vice President.
Once the election was over with, the Vice President retired to the Senate.
That's where he had his office, and he presides over the meetings of the
Senate. That's the last you're ever supposed to hear of a Vice President.
At least that is the way it was then. Latterly it's changed.
It never occurred to anyone around Roosevelt that he wouldn't always
I spoke earlier about this strange structure that was built
up around the President. It was sort of like the court of Louis XV or
XVI. The President can do no wrong. He's all powerful, and as long as
he's President we keep our jobs.
Roosevelt should have had Truman at every meeting of the War Council;
he should have had Truman at every Cabinet meeting. He should have had
Truman sit in with, whatever was then the equivalent of the National Security
Council. He should have been in on everything that had to do with
the conduct of foreign affairs and with the conduct of the war. Roosevelt
should have had Truman boning up on many of our secret papers. He might
even have let him see that secret paper that was found in his safe after
his death; the one having to do with those Yalta agreements with Stalin.
have insisted upon Truman being ready to take over the Government,
but none of these things were done.
Later when Truman was leaving office, he invited Eisenhower to send his
own men into the White House to acquaint them with the world situation
and the domestic situation as they existed then, in order that there would
be an orderly transition from one administration to another. I believe
that this is the first time that this had ever been done. Truman had learned
enough by that time to see that it should be done.
Incidentally, in that connection, Truman told me that Eisenhower (and
the two didn't get along very well together, latterly) had bucked at this.
He had been suspicious of it. He thought that Truman was trying to put
some thing over on him and trying to continue policies
under the new Eisenhower
administration. It was only, Truman said, with the greatest difficulty,
that he persuaded Eisenhower to accept this offer and not come in completely
with all new people who were unprepared for what had been going on.
I believe later when Eisenhower went out of office that he accorded the
same help to the incoming Kennedy administration.
HESS: What do you recall as the basis for the misunderstanding between
Mr. Truman and Mr. Eisenhower?
NIXON: It was a gradual development. To begin with Truman had a very
high regard for Eisenhower when he was general. He had been in office
less than four months when we were down in Germany, around Frankfort.
Eisenhower had a villa, up in the hills. His headquarters was at that
huge German building in Frankfort that
our Air Force had spared so it
could be used as headquarters.
We flew down one day from Potsdam during the conference. This was the
day in which Stalin had a diplomatic illness and the conference wasn't
held for a couple of days. We went up there in the hills to a luncheon
at this villa. To illustrate the sort of hero worship that Truman had
of Eisenhower--Truman told Eisenhower that if he wanted to be President
in 1948, he would have Truman's support. Later, when Truman had to fight
for the nomination in 1948, he is supposed to have said that he would
step aside for Eisenhower.
HESS: Where did you come by the information that he had made this offer
in Germany in '45?
NIXON: Mr. Truman told me himself.
HESS: When did he tell you?
NIXON: In 1945. And it was something like this, "And I told Ike that
if he wanted to be President, I'd help him be."
HESS: Did he say what Eisenhower's response was at that time?
NIXON: No. Remember Ike had never been in politics, and he never could
make up his mind whether he was a Democrat or a Republican. He just wasn't
HESS: He was a soldier.
NIXON: I mean he was a soldier in the Army, and you're not supposed to
delve into politics if you're a soldier.
Later, when the President tried to get him as the Democratic candidate,
Ike didn't want any part of the Democrats. There were about four years
in which the Democratic
administration was in pretty bad repute, and all
of Eisenhower's tendencies were toward the Republican Party anyway.
HESS: Aren't most military people pretty conservative?
NIXON: Yes, they are.
Eisenhower was a man who liked well-to-do people. That's what Republicans
are supposed to be. The Democrats are poor folks. To Eisenhower poor folks
were just privates. The only thing a general has to do with privates is
to send them into battle and get them killed.
If you had seen the fat cats that were members of the Eisenhower staff--all
of them ready-made colonels--many were the swivel chair type--and some
brigadiers. But if you had seen them there in Grosvenor Square at
headquarters in London, you would know what I mean.
For instance, Ira Eaker was the same way. He was chief of the Eighth
Air Force for a while. People like "Jock" Whitney, who was on Ike's staff.
Why were they there? Were they there for their ability or were they there
to polish up generals, by association? You only travel with the best.
A lot of this went on during the war, and of course, it was very simple.
All they had to do was ask for these people, and they got them. The staffs
were loaded down. I don't mean the operational staff, the professional
military people, but, all the rest of them came out of what is known as
high society. So, by that time Ike had decided that he wanted no part
of these disreputable Democrats.
HESS: Do you recall anything about the events in
1948 when Jacob Arvey
of Chicago and also the Americans for Democratic Action were trying to
get Mr. Eisenhower to run on the Democratic ticket? What were his thoughts
at that time?
NIXON: He didn't want any part of it. He was being urged very strenuously.
And at this time, as I say, poor Mr. Truman was in very bad
disrepute in his own party. I just know that Jake Arvey was one
of those urging Ike to run. Of course, all of this took place without
public exposure so it was difficult to keep up with it. It was all this
closed door stuff.
To go on about this sort of adulation that Truman had for Eisenhower,
after the war was over, Truman brought Ike back to Washington and made
him Chief of Staff of the Army. That of course, was absolutely natural.
I think at that time that he had asked Marshall to undertake a special
mission to China, then later he made
him Secretary of State.
Incidentally, Truman really admired George Marshall. During one of the
last walks that I had with him in Independence Marshall's name came up
some way and Truman remarked: "He is the greatest American alive today."
It was in '48 or after that that Eisenhower got out of the Pentagon and
went up to Columbia University to become president. As it turned out,
this was a move, apparently motivated by the Republicans, to set Eisenhower
up with a background to be their candidate for President in '52.
I'm trying to recall what began to put them apart. Really it wasn't until
the '52 campaign. Many times in campaigns things are said that the other
candidate shouldn't take too seriously. All's fair in those various things
like love, war, and politics. But
Eisenhower, took some of the things
that Truman said about him seriously, rather than otherwise. That began
to sort of freeze the water on Eisenhower's side. Then Eisenhower, in
Detroit made this demagogic speech: "I shall go to Korea." People were
pretty unhappy about that Korean conflict, and the implication of this
statement by Ike was that by going to Korea he would end the Korean war.
My recollection is that when this came out, we were somewhere in Ohio,
or Indiana, and Truman made a speech...
HESS: Were you with the President at that time on the train?
NIXON: Oh, yes. I went on every campaign trip he ever made, while he
Truman made a speech that hit back at Ike for his demagogic
statement that he had made.
Of course, some speechwriter had slipped that
into his speech. My recollection was that Truman was pretty bitter about
this in his speech. Of course, Ike didn't like that, and Truman began
to not have much use for Ike because of this speech in Detroit.
Truman had already withdrawn from the race. He announced at the Jefferson-Jackson
Day dinner in March, that he would not run again. Adlai Stevenson was
the Democratic nominee. The reason Truman was out on the campaign trail
was that he was making speeches all over the country in support of Adlai
Ike, of course, was elected. When the day came for the incoming President
to go with the outgoing President by car from the White House up to Capitol
Hill for the inaugural ceremony, they were both very cool to each
When they got in the car to go up to the Hill (from what Truman told me
afterwards), Eisenhower was very reserved, and had very little, if anything,
to say. Truman told him, on the drive up, that he had brought Eisenhower's
son, John, back from Korea so he could attend the inauguration of his father.
Eisenhower was furious. Truman said to me later, "I felt that
anyone who was being inaugurated President should be able to have his
son with him." For whatever his reasons, and they may have been a soldier's
reasons, Truman said afterwards that he was furious. But from then on,
they never got along. And later Eisenhower was in Kansas City on one occasion,
and Truman was in Independence.
HESS: Were you out there at the time?
NIXON: No, I wasn't there. Truman had left the
White House. Why I wasn't
with Eisenhower on this trip, I don't know. Anyway, I'm sure I wasn't
on this one.
But Truman made it known to Eisenhower (who was staying at the Muehlebach),
through a member of our staff, that he would like to see Ike. Being former
President and Ike visiting his home state--this was a courtesy thing.
I'm sure he had no particular reason other than a courtesy visit. And
by George, Eisenhower wouldn't see him, which is a somewhat surprising
thing. It was a lack of courtesy, which really demeaned Eisenhower I'm afraid.
So, that is about what I remember of this longtime thing. I have an impression
too, that Truman felt that because of Eisenhower's actions, and all of
the things that Truman had really done for Eisenhower, the natural response
is to feel that you have not been
treated fairly or rightly. Eisenhower,
as a general, could be a very difficult adversary. He had all that authority,
but at the same time, he could be very pleasant with that big smile of
his. But he had a very low boiling point. Sometimes in his press conferences
someone would ask him a question, and you could see the gorge actually
rise into his face. He would get very red-faced, which is not very good
for you if you are subject to heart attacks and strokes. Poor fellow had
a minor stroke later, and couldn't put words together. Everything came
HESS: How difficult did that make it for the reporters during a press
NIXON: When he was having difficulty with his speech he didn't have press
conferences. He couldn't.
HESS: Didn't he have a lingering bit of that affliction when he did
start to have press conferences? Weren't there times during the press
conferences when it was felt that he was struggling to make a point and
was having difficulty?
NIXON: I just don't remember. I attended every one of his press conferences.
I just don't remember things about him as intimately and closely as I
remembered about Roosevelt and Truman. Particularly, in a sense, because
Roosevelt was a very great man to me. He was not mobile, and everything
he did was new and different to me. It's a little different now. Presidents
have become a dime a dozen, and you don't necessarily remember every little
detail, especially over eight years.
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