Harry S. Truman Presidential Library & Museum

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.

Bethesda, Maryland
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 word.

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

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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.

Opened December, 1978
Harry S. Truman Library
Independence, Missouri

[Top of the Page | Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | Additional Nixon Oral History Transcripts]

Oral History Interview with Robert G. Nixon

Bethesda, Maryland
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 Curtain speech.

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 aide.

"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


and James, 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 Roosevelt.

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 the years


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 slaughtered


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 that?

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 Teamsters.

HESS: Yes, the Fala speech. Were you there the night he gave his Fala speech?

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 Georgia.

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 nothing.

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 train.

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 cottage.

The main burden of the conference was that he had been conferring with [Manuel Luis]


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


over 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 on.

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 was there.

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 about her?

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 thing.

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 that role.

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 the story.

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 positive.)

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 this funeral.

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


knowledge 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 be President.


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. He should


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 anything.

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


the 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 was President.

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 Stevenson.

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


other. 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 out backwards.

HESS: How difficult did that make it for the reporters during a press conference?

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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