Oral History Interview with
Chief Liaison and Legislative Officer, Selective Service System, 1946-48; Assistant Military Aide in the White House, 1947-49; Special Assistant to the Secretary, Department of Defense, 1949-50; and Deputy Director, Selective Service System, 1950-57.
[Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | Appendix | List of Subjects Discussed]
As an electronic publication of the Truman Library, users should note that features of the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview, such as pagination and indexing, could not be replicated for this online version of the Renfrow transcript.
Opened May, 1972
Oral History Interview with
March 12, 1971
Jerry N. Hess
HESS: To begin, General, we've had quite a lengthy discussion here this morning about your background, and one of the things we need to state is the fact that you have a manuscript ready to be sent to the publishers, of a book, and I think the best thing to do is to send that to the publishers and then later deposit that manuscript...
RENFROW: And the book.
HESS: ...and the book, in the Truman Library. And if you have any other papers you might like to deposit them in the Library also, and they would complement your book and researchers could use them, and they would be able to use them along with what we produce here today in oral history.
RENFROW: The pictures too?
HESS: The pictures, too. Anything that you have.
RENFROW: I've got all the pictures.
HESS: Anything that you have, any correspondence that you may have had from your career, any newspaper clippings that you may have kept, anything that might represent your personal papers.
RENFROW: I've kept all of that, all of those things, letters, correspondence, memoranda, are all down at Cape Girardeau, Missouri, where our sons live. I sent all of those things down there, newspaper clippings, everything.
HESS: Do you think you could talk them out of those?
RENFROW: No, I don't think so. I don't think they'd let them go.
HESS: All right, but if that situation changes, keep in mind that there's a home for them at the Truman Library.
RENFROW: Yes, but I'm sure that they won't.
HESS: To begin this morning, sir, I always like to start off with this question: Would you relate a little of your personal background? Now, people can pick up the Who's Who and they can find it there, but I have found that it helps the researcher if a little bit about the
speaker's personal background is down in the first page or two of the interview. Where were you born?
RENFROW: Well, why don't you take a copy of this list that I have regarding my past jobs and things, and insert that in the record at this point, when it's finished. I'm going to have this mimeographed and I'll send you a mimeographed copy, when the time comes, which will be in another week or so. [See Appendix]
HESS: That's fine.
RENFROW: That will cover everything, where I was born, when I was born, names of my family, and everything else. This covers everything you want to know about me--it's in this.
HESS: Good, then we will put that in as an appendix. We'll footnote it at this point.
RENFROW: That's right, because I'll have it mimeographed.
HESS: All right, sir. When did you first meet Mr. Truman?
RENFROW: I met him in 1919 right after he came home from the service. He was a Reserve officer, and I was a Reserve officer, and we used to meet, General Vaughan, Colonel John Snyder, and President Truman and I used
to meet, at the Reserve Contact Camps around the state. See, John Snyder was a Colonel in the Reserve, and General Vaughan was, of course, then was a Major, and I was a Captain, and we used to meet around at the Contact Camps, and we all became very good friends.
HESS: Where were you living at that time?
RENFROW: St. Louis. They had Contact Camps at Columbia, Kansas City and other places in the state, so we would always go to those.
HESS: Do you recall anything of interest about Mr. Truman at that time? What was your impression of Mr. Truman at that time when you met him?
RENFROW: Well, of course, I was always very fond of him, because he was such a real, down to the earth individual, I mean, there was no pretense about him at all. At that time he was commissioner of roads of Kansas City. He supervised the construction of all of the roads in and around Kansas City, and spent millions of dollars doing it, and when he was running for President, the press tried to find something wrong with his record, and they never could find, not one scintilla
of evidence of anything improper or wrong in the handling of any of the business that he handled. While he was doing that, he decided that he'd like to run for Senator; and at that time Tom Pendergast in Kansas City was the head of the political organization of the State of Missouri, so he went to see Tom, and asked him about running for Collector.
And Tom said, "Harry, I'm sorry. I'm sorry, I promised that job to somebody else, but you can be Senator."
And President Truman said, "Oh, no, I can't, because I've already promised to support "Tuck" [Jacob L.] Milligan."
He said, "Well, you tell Tuck that you're not going to support him; you're going to run, because Tuck isn't going to be elected anyhow."
So he did tell Tuck and ran for Senator.
Now, what you don't know about Harry Vaughan, I'm sure you don't know, I'm sure he wouldn't tell you, but I'll tell you, that the warm friendship between General Vaughan and President Truman came during that first campaign for Senator, when Harry Vaughan mortgaged his home to get money enough to buy stamps to send
letters out supporting Truman for Senator.
HESS: This was in '34, the first time.
RENFROW: That's right, the first campaign, and any man that would do that will always get the loyal support of the man he does it for, at least I hope he would, and he did in this instance. And President Truman, of course, was nominated and elected and came to Washington and brought Vaughan with him. Vaughan was in his office. Then when the Truman Committee was organized, Vaughan went over to work on the Truman Committee. Then when the war came he went on active duty and wound up in Australia and New Zealand where he was the Provost Marshal of New Zealand. Then he was injured down there in an airplane accident and they treated him down there and he got an infection of his heel, where his accident had occurred, where he was hurt, and he came home to have it treated. Of course, the next time Truman ran, why, Vaughan worked for his election again.
There never can be any doubt in anyone's mind that Harry Vaughan is one of the finest Christian gentlemen that I've ever known, and one of the most honest.
HESS: Moving into your background again, sir, you were graduated as a dentist from Washington University.
RENFROW: From Washington University in 1917.
HESS: And then you practiced dentistry until...
RENFROW: No, not at all, I went in the service. I went into the service prior to the time of my graduation. I went to Jefferson Barracks and enlisted, and when they found out that I was going to graduate in June, they held up the enlistment, because when I graduated they were going to give me a commission, which they did. Then I went into the service, and served in World War I. I was in the 15th Division, 43rd and 57th Infantries; I had a special course at Camp Greenleaf, Georgia on oral surgery and military training. Then when the war was over I went back to St. Louis in 1919 , although I had served in a Regular Army division, and the colonel wanted me to go to the Philippines with him, where my regiment was going, but I didn't lose anything in the Philippines, so I didn't go with them.
Then when I got home, why, I started practicing. I guess I have about all the honors any one dentist could ever accumulate. I'm a fellow of the American
College of Dentists; I'm a fellow of the International College of Dentists; I am a past president of the International College of Dentists; I'm a master of the International College of Dentists; I'm past president and member of the Pierre Fauchard Academy and I received a gold medal from that Academy. I have the Omicron Kappa Upsilon Key from Washington University, the highest scholastic key that a dentist can obtain, and I have about all the honors that any one dentist can accumulate.
HESS: And did you practice dentistry until the time of the Second World War?
RENFROW: Until 1941 when I came back into the service.
HESS: Where did you serve in the Second World War?
RENFROW: Well, I was due to go to Fort Leonard Wood, as oral surgeon at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, but the commanding general of the Dental Corps at that time was General Leigh Fairbank, and he said, "You're not going to Fort Leonard Wood. You're coming to Washington. I've got a job for you there that I want you to do."
And I was assigned to the Selective Service in 1941, and served in Selective Service in the Medical Division,
until '44, and I was made chief Legislative-Liaison Officer of Selective Service for four years. Then I went to the White House in '47 as Assistant Military Aide to the President, and was there until '49. I went from there to the Pentagon to be an assistant to Colonel Louis Johnson, Secretary of Defense. I served there until September 1950 , and then the President said, "I've got another job that I want you to do." And he made me Deputy Director of Selective Service where I was for seven more years, until I retired in 1957.
HESS: As we have mentioned earlier, a good many of the subjects that we would ordinarily take up are in your book.
RENFROW: That's right.
HESS: But just a brief question about General [Lewis B.] Hershey before we move on to the period of time that you were in the White House. Just what kind of a man is General Hershey? How would you characterize General Hershey?
RENFROW: I never had a better experience in my life than I had in Washington under General Hershey, President
Truman, and Louis Johnson. They were three of the finest men I have ever had anything to do with. General Hershey was the greatest authority on military manpower in this country, and no one knows as much as he does about it. He did, I think, one of the finest jobs as Director of Selective Service than anybody could have done. He inducted over twenty million men, and you never heard a breath of scandal in the whole system.
HESS: He served in that position for a good many years.
RENFROW: He served there from 1941 until he retired just a year ago, when he was made an adviser to President Nixon on military manpower, and a four-star general.
HESS: Will you tell me about why or how you were selected for the job at the White House?
RENFROW: I guess, primarily, I was selected because I was a friend of the President's and a friend of General Vaughan, and they wanted me to come over there and handle two things: Veteran's affairs, and liaison to the Hill, because I had been, for four years, chief Legislative Officer of the Selective Service. I knew
all the Congressmen and Senators, and they wanted me to act in those two capacities.
HESS: Taking the last one first, about congressional legislation, do you recall what legislation you worked on during those years?
RENFROW: Oh, do I. I should say I do know, and I furthermore remember very well that in 1947 when the Congress put Selective Service out of business, that the President went up to make a speech to the joint session of Congress, and in the middle of his speech, which was not in his written speech, he said, "I call on the Congress of the United States to enact a new Selective Service bill," and then went on with his speech.
And when he got back to the White House that day I said, "Mr. President, I heard what you said to the Congress, but it wasn't in your speech."
He said, "I wondered how long it would take you to find that out." He said, "I wrote that in as I was going to the Hill."
And I handled the enactment of the '48--in fact, I wrote the '48 act. I wrote the '48 act in '47, because I knew that we were going to have another
bill, and I knew that when we did have to have it it wasn't easy to write a bill like that in a few minutes. So I wrote a new bill in 1947, and sent it around to all the state directors of Selective Service , and I sent it to the Pentagon, and I had it gone over by all of them, and then I had it mimeographed and put into a file, and then when the President called on the Congress to write a new bill, that day, General [ J. Lawton] Collins called me that afternoon, and he said, "Lou, will you come over to my office tonight at 7 o'clock?"
And I said, "Yes, I will."
Well, I knew what he wanted. I went down to my old office in Selective Service, and I dug out these mimeographed copies of the bill that I had written, and I put them in a briefcase and took them over with me. I set the briefcase down alongside of my chair. I never heard a first sergeant take a company any more apart than I heard General Collins take his whole general staff apart that night, because he realized that the President asked for it that day, and they had to get it by noon the next day into the Congress, and you couldn't write a bill like that in that length of
time. He really ate them up. After forty-five minutes of giving them the devil he said, "Well, take a five minute break," and he went out.
General [Willard S.] Paul, who was then G-1 of the Army and I remained in the room. General Paul said to me, "Lou, what do you have in that briefcase?"
I said, "I've got a bill."
So when General Collins came back, General Paul said, "Now, Joe, hurrah, hurrah, Lou's got a bill already written."
I wish I had had him put it in writing, because the next day General Collins took me to the Secretary of the Army's office and he introduced me to the Secretary of the Army by saying, "This is the man who saved the Army's face today."
And that morning, fifty of us got around a table in the Pentagon, we went over this bill, and it went to the Hill and was introduced at noon that day, which is the '48 act.
HESS: In the writing of that bill, did you have assistance from anyone else in the White House?
RENFROW: No. No, I wrote that bill myself while in Selective Service. The White House didn't have any idea what would go in a bill like that. I had been working with that for four years. See, I had been chief legislative officer for four years, so they had no idea, so I wrote the bill myself. And as I say, I sent it around to the state directors. I said, "What do you think about this? Are there any changes that you think ought to be made?" I sent it over to the Pentagon and they went over it too, but they had forgotten about that bill--that was in '47--they forgot that bill was in existence. The fact of the matter, I suppose they weren't even there by '48. But that's how the '48 act came into being.
HESS: What measures would you take in a case like this, after the bill had gone to Congress, to try to see that it was enacted? Just what pressures did you try to bring to bear?
RENFROW: I was appointed by the Pentagon to handle that bill.
HESS: How did you handle…
RENFROW: General [Wilson Burton] Persons and General
Miles Reber, who were then in the legislative office of the Pentagon, and I worked up there to do that, to get the job done.
HESS: Would you illustrate how you handled this particular job?
RENFROW: Well, the first thing you do, you go to the Senate Armed Services Committee, and you get somebody there to handle it in the Senate; then you go to the House Armed Services Committee and you get somebody to handle it in the House. In that case, in the House, it was the Congressman from North Carolina, [Carl Thomas] Durham, who handled it in the House. We had no trouble in the Senate, the Senate was ready to pass it, except just before the bill was to come to the Senate floor, one day I got a call from Senator [William] Langer from North Dakota, and he was dead set against the Selective Service System, and he said, "I just called you to tell you that when this bill comes up, I'm going to be against it."
Well, he did do everything he could to defeat it, but we got it passed.
In the House side, Congressman Walter Judd, who is a physician, the four physicians then in the House
and one dentist from Indiana, were opposed to one section of the bill having to do with the induction of physicians and dentists, because while I didn't write in physicians and dentists in the bill, we did provide the authority to induct professional men, which not only included physicians and dentists, but engineers and chemists and everything else. And Durham called me, he was down on the floor, and he said, "Lou, we've got to take this section out, because Walter Judd and these fellows say they will oppose this bill unless we take this question of inducting professional men."
I said, "Well, Congressman, if we ever have a war, that's the first thing we're going to have to put back."
He said, "Well, let's look at that at that time. Let's take it out."
So I said, "All right." So we took it out.
The first bill that we had to send to the Hill when I was over in the Pentagon at the time of Korea, was the bill to induct physicians and dentists by name, and that's in the law right now, they're going to induct a whole group of physicians and dentists
in the next year. That was the first amendment to the act that we sent up to the Hill after the Korean war started, which was exactly what I predicted we'd have to do.
And later on, when the bill was up for extension of one year, it was due to expire at midnight, and Senator Langer called me up and he said, "I'm going to filibuster this today and until midnight tonight, and you're damned bill will go by the board."
I said, "All right." And the old man, if you knew Senator Langer, he was quite a guy. He got the floor right at noon and held onto it, and I would say for him, he knew how to filibuster. There wasn't any foolishness. He really gave the Selective Service System the business, and he had all the papers and the references and everything that he needed, and he did that all day long. I went back into the Republican cloakroom and I said, "Is there anybody that can get him off the floor?"
Nobody could, and I went over to the Democratic cloakroom, Scott Lucas was the Majority Leader, and Scott said, "Well, I can't do anything with him."
[Joseph Christopher] O'Mahoney was there. And they said, "Why don't you get Bob Taft?"
So I went back to the Republican cloakroom and got hold of Taft and Taft said, "Well, I don't have much influence with Bill, but I'll try."
So he went down to his desk and wrote a note, typical Taft. I can see him today. And he straightened up as he always did and walked real straight, and he walked down past Langer, his desk was right behind Langer's, he walked past him and handed him the note. And Langer just threw it over on the table and said, "Forget it." So he went on.
So I said, "Isn't there anybody over here who can get Langer off the floor?"
Scott Lucas said, "Well, Abe Murdock from Colorado who seated Langer."
When Langer came up to the Senate, there was objection to his being seated, because of some condition in North Dakota, and they were voting whether they would seat him or not, and the vote was a tie, and just before the clerk was to announce it, which would not have seated him, Senator Murdock walked in and he said, "Mr. President, Senator from Colorado," he
said he hadn't voted. He said, "The Senator votes aye." So Senator Langer was seated.
So I got hold of Abe and he said, "Well, I don't have much influence with Bill anymore, but I'll try." And if you look in the Congressional Record that day, the boy who was taking down the notes heard everything that was happening, and Abe leaned over on the desk and said, "Bill, how about giving up the floor?"
And Bill said, "Well, Abe, I love you like a brother, but I'm not going to quit."
And that went into the Congressional Record.
Well, by that time it was almost 6 o'clock, and we had prepared an Executive order for the President to sign, nobody questioned the legality of it. We had it over at the White House, and I got a call in the Democratic cloakroom and they said, "Well, the President's getting ready to leave the White House, do you want him to sign this Executive order or not?"
I said, "Yep, tell him to sign it." So he signed it. Well, the minute he signed it, the press boys put it on the radio, and of course, the radio in the Democratic and Republican cloakrooms were going all the
time, and I saw a pageboy come out of the Republican cloakroom and run down the aisle to Langer with a note. And Langer said, "Get away, boy, get away. Don't bother me, don't bother me." The boy kept pressing him to read the note, and finally the Senator read the note, and of course, the note said that the President just signed an Executive order extending Selective Service for one year; and Langer sat down.
Well, of course, I was all ready for that. I had gotten Scott Lucas to put Senator O'Mahoney in the chair. There wasn't anybody on the floor but Langer. Wherry was in the back, Senator [Kenneth S.] Wherry from Nebraska was in the back of the chamber, and the minute Langer sat down, Senator O'Mahoney said, "Do I hear any objections to the extension of Selective Service for one year? Hearing none, so ordered." Bang went the gavel.
And Wherry was yelling, "Mr. President, Mr. President," because he was opposed to the extension.
And O'Mahoney looked back and said, "Why, Senator, did you want to address the chair?"
"I did, but it's too late now."
So, that's how it was passed.
Then the next year Langer was a little sick the next year, but he notified me that he was going to do it again, but this time he got that "guitar player" from Idaho, what was his name [D. Worth] Clark?
RENFROW: And Langer got him to help him, and Langer kept things going until evening, and the "guitar player" took over at 6 o'clock and Langer went back to the cloakroom and laid down. The rest of the night, this Senator from Idaho, in his first term, and he didn't know any more about how to run a filibuster, so he was reading the Congressional Record and he was reading the newspapers and he was reading everything the pages would bring him. They began to bring him in a bunch of telegrams about midnight, and into early in the morning. And I thought, "Un-huh." So, I don't know who prepared a telegram, but there was a telegram brought in with the batch of telegrams, criticizing a member of the Senate; and Clark, who didn't know anything about the rules in the Senate--and again I was ready for him, I had a man in the chair that was
all set; and he read his telegram criticizing another member of the Senate, and the chair said, "Will the Senator take his seat. You have violated the rules of the Senate criticizing another Senator." So he had to sit down, but Langer was stretched out in the cloakroom sound asleep. And the minute Clark sat down, why, the presiding officer said, "Is there any objection to the extension of Selective for one year? Hearing none, so ordered." And we had it again.
But I knew then that was the last time we would ever get it, so that's why I prepared the bill, knowing that when they did abolish it in '47, which they did, that they'd have to come back and re-enact it, because they could not, and they cannot, and all this tommyrot that you read about building a voluntary army, that's a lot of baloney. Never, no matter what they pay them, can they get enough men to volunteer to go in the armed forces.
Now, the Navy and the Marine Corps and the Air Force always have stood back, in a holier than thou attitude, saying, "Well, we don't need Selective Service." No, not as long as it's in action they
don't, because the boys that go in the Navy and Marines and the Air Force are the fellows that don't want to go in the Army, and they take their choice rather than go in the Army. But you take the Selective Service away, you can watch the rest of them collapse, because they won't get any more volunteers than the Army does.
And of course, another fallacy that just occurred, was this lottery business. They all know now that the lottery thing was a phony. They tried the lottery in '40; it didn't work.. Now they tried it again, and it doesn't work. So we make the same mistakes over again, every year. But General Hershey knew the answers to all these questions.
Now, you hear a lot about the question of students being deferred. Let me tell you something: General Hershey is as much responsible for the man on the moon as any man in this country, barring none, because he was the one who conceived the idea that if we don't start deferring men in colleges, we wouldn't have any scientists left, and that all the small colleges would be closed; and therefore, he started the deferment program of
students. As a result of that, and we had at one time, seven hundred and fifty thousand students deferred in colleges and universities. And those are the men that are going to the moon now. Those are the men that are making the rockets and everything else, because of his program of student deferment. I went out to Indianapolis because the Indianapolis newspapers were giving us the deuce, they were saying the same thing that they're saying now, that this is a rich man's deferment and a poor boy has to be inducted. That's a lot of baloney. Do you know that the vast majority of students who were deferred, eighty-five percent of them, were from homes of less than $5,000 a year income? It wasn't a rich boy's deferment at all, but it was preserving the brains, and that was all General Hershey wanted. And so I went out to Indianapolis and the press boys said, "Well, the student deferment is letting the poor boy fight the war and the rich boy go to college."
And I said, "It's a lot of nonsense. Why do you think that?"
'Well," they said, "what about dancing, music, and art?"
I said, "Okay. I'll talk about all three of those, if you'll let me talk about journalism first. Can you get a reporter by handing him a pad of paper and a pencil and saying, 'You're a reporter?' No, you bet you can't. And we're deferring boys to go to school in journalism right now. Now, as far as art is concerned, you wouldn't even be here if it wasn't for the artists in World War I , because it was the artists of America who volunteered their services to camouflage everything we had, afloat and on land, without any cost to the Government, to prevent the Germans from bombing it."
I said, "Now, as far as dancing is concerned [at that time there were only two and a half million male students] there were only two thousand taking dancing. I hope they take something else besides dancing."
"Now, as far as music is concerned, you wouldn't be here either if it wasn't for musicians, because I know that Hitler, for instance, organized the biggest bands he could organize when he went into Belgium,
France, Luxembourg, and all these other countries. He went in with a band first, not with artillery, not with infantry, but with a band. The people stood along the sidelines and applauded, and they didn't even know they were being captured until after they got there and it was all settled." So I said, "Believe me, music is an important factor in the morale and everything else in the military force, and don't you for one minute think you can hand a guy a horn and say, 'Blow it,' or even give him a drum and say, 'Beat it.' He's got to be trained."
And, of course, we never had any more trouble with the Indianapolis newspapers after that, but I mean, that's the kind of fallacy you hear right now. You hear these boys on the Hill right now, repeating the same lies that were repeated then.
Of course, that's where President Truman was so far ahead of all these people because he knew the answers to all these things, having been commander of a battery, having had military experience, which, of course, some of our distinguished Senators on the Hill who were yelling the loudest never had a uniform on, and I can
name them too, because I'm going to put their names in my book. I'm putting the names of every member of the House and Senate in my book who had any military experience at all, and I'm putting "None" behind those who never have.
HESS: At the time that you were working on matters of congressional liaison and legislation, did you call upon the assistance of Leslie Biffle, was he at all…
HESS: Leslie Biffle.
RENFROW: Oh, sure, Leslie Biffle was very helpful, always, in trying to help do everything, because Les Biffle was very loyal to the White House and to the President; and Les Biffle was one of the finest men and one of the best assistants we had up there. If you wanted to go to a Senator or anything else, Les always paved the way for you. Fortunately, I didn't have anything to do with it when there was another man by the name of Baker put there.
HESS: You didn't have anything to do with Bobby Baker?
HESS: And you mentioned that another one of your areas of interest at the time you were in the White House was
assisting in the coordination of veterans' affairs.
RENFROW: Veterans' affairs, that's right. And you see, we had a lot of problems between the Veterans' Administration, the veterans' organizations, and I , of course, was a member of the veterans' organizations, and so I used to go to their conventions and guide resolutions and help them to understand the problems; and of course, we had General Omar Bradley who was the Director of the Veterans' Administration; General Carl Gray was also the director, and we had a lot of fellows over there who were very sympathetic, and very helpful. And whenever we had veterans' problems, why, we always had a great deal of help from all those men who were in the Veterans' Administration.
HESS: Can you think of a particular problem that you worked on during those years that might help illustrate this part of your duties?
RENFROW: Yes, I can tell you one about General Vaughan.
RENFROW: One day General Vaughan got a call from a fellow out in the State of Washington. He didn't know the fellow and had never heard of him, and the fellow said, "I'm a veteran; I have bid on a surplus ship out here, but
I'm not going to get it, because the people that are running the sale out here are going to give it to a Communist."
And Vaughan said, "Well, what about it? What's the name of the ship?" And he told him. "What's your name?" He told him. He asked him a lot of questions and when he got all through, he said, "Well, I'll see what I can do."
So, he went in and told the President, and the President said, "You see that that Communist outfit doesn't get it."
So, Vaughan called up the man that was running the sale out there, and the veteran got the ship.
There were many things like that that happened. Veterans who needed help, veterans who needed housing, veterans who needed, oh, many, many things, getting into veterans' hospitals, a lot of things, which we did over there, just dozens of them a week.
HESS: Do you recall roughly what the date was when you transferred from Selective Service to the White House?
RENFROW: Well, you see, I not only went to the White House, but I held both jobs. See, I held both jobs. I held the job at Selective Service and the White House at the
same time, and that was in 1947.
HESS: You had an office both places?
RENFROW: I had an office both places, sure. Then I finally got out of Selective Service in '48 and was at the White House after that, and that was when the bill was written, because I went down to my old office and got the copies of the bill from them.
HESS: Well, at the time that you were at the White House, of course, you worked for General Vaughan.
RENFROW: That's right.
HESS: How would you characterize General Vaughan? We have mentioned him this morning, but what kind of a man was he to work for?
RENFROW: General Vaughan was one of the finest men, and one of the most helpful men with everybody's problems. Our door was always open. Anybody could come in there to see General Vaughan and see me about any trouble they might be in, and if it affected the President in any way, General Vaughan was always helpful, because he had no personal interest at all in his own future. All he cared about was to make things as easy as he could for the President, and I've never worked with a finer man or had more real experiences as I did with General
Vaughan through the years I've been with him.
HESS: One thing I'd like to ask about is the press, the bad press that General Vaughan seemed to have. Just how did that...
RENFROW: Well, because they had a guy named [Drew] Pearson who was always after him, and who didn't like him because he wouldn't do the bidding of Pearson. And Pearson always wanted something. Why, one day a man came over to the White House and he went into Charlie Ross' office, and he said, "If General Vaughan doesn't get the passport for that fellow to go on the Grady Commission, Drew Pearson is going to run General Vaughan out of Washington."
So Ross, who always liked to stir up Vaughan, he called up Vaughan and he told him what was happening. And Vaughan said, "You just hold that guy there. I'll be over in a few minutes. " And he went over, but the legman for Pearson evidently smelled a mouse and got out, because Vaughan was going over to punch him in the nose. And as he came back, his hair was all ruffled and he was all red in the face, and Mrs. Truman stepped off the elevator, and she said, "Why, Harry, you look
He said, "Yes, Ma'am, and I'll tell you why." And he told her what had happened. This guy had told Charlie that Pearson was going to run him out of Washington, and he said, "I went over to punch the guy in the nose."
And Mrs. Truman said, "Harry, you must not do that, unless you call me, because I love a good fight."
But there isn't any question. There was never any question in anybody's mind that knows Harry Vaughan as to his loyalty and his sincerity. The press, of course, can just ruin you, and they can ruin you in Washington particularly. Look what they're doing to President Nixon right now.
HESS: Were there times that the press got on you, too?
RENFROW: Oh, sure, but I didn't pay any attention to them, because I fortunately never had anything they could get onto me about, that was worth anything.
The only thing that I ever did that they really clobbered me about, and I was wrong there, was that "Happy" [Albert B.] Chandler came over to see
the Secretary of Defense one day and Johnson didn't like Chandler worth a hoot; he didn't trust him and he didn't like him, and when he found out he was coming over he said, "I don't want to see him unless [J. Thomas] Schneider is in the office at the time." Now, Schneider was chairman of our Manpower Committee over at the Defense Department. So he said, "When he comes over here, you call Schneider up and tell Schneider to come in my office and when he comes in I'll meet Chandler and say ‘How-do-you-do,’ and turn him over to Schneider," because Chandler was then Commissioner of Baseball. "He's in here to fuss about some baseball player that he wants exempted from the service."
So when Chandler came over he had his publicity man, his photographer, and two or three other of his staff, with him, and I went out in the waiting room and I said, "Mr. Commissioner, you'll have to wait a few minutes. The Secretary is busy right now. He'll see you in just a moment."
I went back in my office, and then the Secretary let me know that he was ready, and in the meantime I
had called Schneider, and I went back to my office, and as I went back out through the office again to bring the Commissioner in, one of the girls in the office had had a birthday, so somebody had given her a box of candy, and she handed me the box as I went by, and I took the piece of candy and put it in my mouth, and I was chewing on this candy when I went out to see the Commissioner. I said, "All right, Mr. Commissioner," and chewed away on this candy.
And of course, the Secretary was very cold, "How do you do, Mr. Commissioner. I suppose you've come in to see me about some of your ball players. Now, Mr. Schneider here is head of our Manpower, tell him your difficulty."
And of course, Chandler denied that that was what he came there for. He came there just to pay his respects, but he was so mad--of course, he didn't go with Schneider at all--but he was so mad that he went over to the Mayflower and he and Drew Pearson used to eat lunch together over there all the time, and he told Drew Pearson about it, and he told about me coming in there chewing candy. And boy, Drew had me written up in the
column about it, see. As I say, I was wrong. There wasn't any question about that. Of course, I laughed, it didn't make any difference.
HESS: It was rather a minor item anyway.
RENFROW: Why sure, but there wasn't anything they could ever lay their hands on as far as I was concerned, because I always stayed clear of everything.
For instance, I made a speech up in New York at a society of some kind up there, and I got home. They didn't pay my expenses up there. I went up there in a military plane and I paid my own bills, but when I got home, they sent me a great big tape recorder about twice the size of that one, because that was in the early days of tape recorders. They sent me one valued at $250 , this great, big tape recorder. I didn't even unpack it. I saw who it was from and I saw it was valued at $250 and I said to my secretary, "Just put another tag on that and send it right back to them." And I returned it to them. Now, that's what you've got to do in Government; you don't dare make any mistakes above anything you do in the way of your own personal business.
HESS: One of the things that came up during that time was
the situation concerning the deepfreezes. What do you recall about that?
RENFROW: Well, of course, the deepfreeze business was a lot of baloney, absolutely one hundred percent. In the first place, the deepfreeze thing came about because Mrs. Truman was interested in buying a Coca-Cola icebox for Independence. They had a lot of hams and turkeys and chickens out there and the deepfreeze business was just coming into being then. She wanted to buy one of these electrically-operated Coca-Cola iceboxes. Well, it happened that when she asked General Vaughan about it, he didn't know what they cost, and when he got to his office he found an old friend of his there who had been with him in the T. J. Moss Tie Company. He asked him what they cost. He said, "I don't know, why?" And he told him. And this fellow said, "Well, give me the telephone." And he called a client of his in Milwaukee who was experimenting with deepfreezes, and this fellow had made seven different kinds of deepfreezes, but had decided on which one he was going to make. So this fellow said, "Well, don't do anything to the other seven until you hear from me." And he
turned around and said to General Vaughan, "You have seven of these. What do you want to do with them?"
So, General Vaughan said to me, "Well, I guess you want one."
I said, "No, I can't have one because my apartment's too small."
So, between us, we allocated these seven deepfreezes: One to Mrs. Truman in Independence; one to John Snyder, Secretary of the Treasury; one to Chief Justice Vinson; one to Secretary to the President Connelly; one to the member of the Federal Reserve Board, Jake Vardaman, and we allocated those seven that way. Now, General Vaughan didn't know the man that made them, he had nothing to do with it, and, of course, they were all sent to the people that this friend of Vaughan's told his client to send them to.
Well, then, later on, the Internal Revenue and this man got into a controversy over some importation of perfume, and in going through his files, they found a bunch of letters thanking him for these deepfreezes from everybody that received one, and immediately they leaked that news to the press and the press immediately
used it and that's when the deepfreeze thing started.
Now, General Vaughan didn't know that man then, nor any time since, nor ever had anything to do with him, but they hooked it onto Vaughan because they were after Truman and they thought if they could get to Truman by going after Vaughan, they'd do it. So, that's what happened. And as a result of it, they had a congressional investigation and they took Vaughan up on the Hill and they interrogated him, and when they found out the truth about it, they never published the truth about it, but they dropped the whole thing about it because there wasn't anything to it except a lot of political garbage.
HESS: What was the man's name who made the phone call about the deepfreezes.
RENFROW: His first name was Harry.
HESS: There was another gentleman around at that time, John Maragon?
RENFROW: Oh, John didn't have a thing to do with it.
HESS: Did you see him in the office very often?
RENFROW: I knew John, sure. John was very loyal to the President; he liked the President. He was a very good friend of Vaughan's; he'd do anything in the world for
Vaughan that he could do, but John didn't have a thing to do with those things. He didn't even know what a deepfreeze was. All the things they said about Vaughan and Maragon was a lot of baloney, too.
HESS: Would you like to get some lunch?
Second Oral History Interview with Brigadier General Louis H. Renfrow, Alexandria, Virginia, March 15, 1971. By Jerry N . Hess, Harry S. Truman Library.
HESS: Would you like to start with a statement about General Hershey?
RENFROW: There has been a great deal of misunderstanding, and a great deal of false statements made regarding the deferment of college students during the time that General Hershey was director of Selective Service. Now, the idea of deferring college students originated with General Hershey, because he told me that he was quite worried about two factors: One, that we would not have trained young men to carry on scientific work in the United States, because these young men would have been taken out of college and put into the service, and would not be in sufficient numbers to meet the needs of this country from the scientific standpoint; and two, he felt very keenly that these students deferred in colleges and universities, would guarantee the continuance of the operation of these colleges and universities, because had we inducted the men from colleges and universities in great numbers, many of the small colleges would have closed. As a result, we deferred the first
year, seven hundred and fifty thousand students in colleges.
Now, the space program that you have today in the going to the moon and all the other advances in science, in the main, is due to the fact that we do have trained men, and who at that time were young men, who now are a little older, who are able to fill these requirements.
Now, of course, obviously, the large universities, at least the big ten: Yale, Harvard, Princeton, Columbia, the presidents of those colleges banded together and wrote a report opposing this idea, that they thought it was wrong, just as you hear today and see today people who are saying the same thing; that the deferment of students in colleges and universities is wrong. But it isn't wrong, because the old hoax about deferring rich boys to go to college, and poor boys to go into the military service is not true. We had a survey made for us, of those students deferred in colleges, and eighty-five percent of them were from homes with less than $5,000 a year income. So, obviously, you wouldn't call that a privileged home, and we therefore felt that we
were on sound ground on the question of deferment of students. But today you're having the same attack on the student deferment program as you had then.
I was president of a group, we had a dinner out in Chicago, and the president of Brown University was the speaker, and he sat next to me, and during the course of the meal, he said to me, "You know, I don't agree with your student deferment program."
And I said, "Yes, Doctor, I saw where you were one of the ten that signed that report along with the presidents of all the big universities. But you know, Doctor, if we follow your ideas, we'd have closed most of the small colleges in this country."
He said, "Well, they ought to be closed."
I said, "You know, Doctor, there's a funny thing. I know a lot of men in business and in politics and in places of responsible positions, but you know, I don't know of a single Brown graduate in the outfit."
And after that, of course, there was nothing more said about it.
But the big universities were perfectly willing to see small colleges close, if that's what it meant. They had no feeling about it at all.
Well, that program, today, is being attacked now on the same identical arguments and the same basis that it was then, and it's the most ridiculous thing in the world for this country to take their young men out of college, put them in the military force, they'll never go back to college even with the G.I. Bill of Rights, many of them will never go back, and we will lose many, many fine young minds who would be necessary to preserve the economy of this country in the years to come. So General Hershey was really the one who looked ahead and saw this, and he constantly planned that way. He always was thinking about tomorrow; he's a graduate of Tri-State University in Indiana, and I don't know of anyone who has done more for his alma mater than General Hershey has. As a matter of fact, they're building a four and a half million dollar building out there right now on that campus, and they've raised almost three million dollars already to build it, which they've named for him, because of the contributions he's made to that university.
Well, I just wanted to put that in, because we're going through the same cycle as far as Selective Service is concerned. We're having the same arguments, the
same sort of shallow thinking, the same ideas about how this thing can work and how it won't work, and there's no one in the country that knows more about how to operate Selective Service than General Hershey. I regretted very much when he retired from that job due to the pressure of the politicians on the Hill, and the newspapers and the television, and the young people of this country who haven't the nerve to put a uniform on and go in the service. That's the unfortunate thing about it, and we're going to keep fooling around with attack on the Defense Department, and with an attack on Selective Service, and all these other things that tear down our defense, until we lose a war. And then I wonder where these radicals will go then, because they will find out what it means to live in a country that's controlled as the Communist countries are today. But General Hershey is not bitter about it. I thought President Nixon did a perfectly marvelous thing when he appointed him as adviser on military manpower and gave him an office, and while I don't suppose he has much to do, but at least the President recognized his ability, and I thought it was a very gracious and wonderful thing for the President to do.
Now, on the question of Vaughan, and the question about his appointment as Defense Aide to the President. That came about because the President felt that to take three aides around everyplace he went, was just, in the first place, a big expense; and in the second place, was not necessary. If he went on a Navy ship, he took his Naval Aide; if he went on an airplane, he took his Air Aide; but he always had to take Vaughan too. So the President, unbeknownst to Vaughan, asked Dr. [John R.] Steelman to work out some plan whereby he could take one aide whenever he went anyplace. So Dr. Steelman, still unbeknownst to Vaughan, devised a plan to have General Vaughan appointed Defense Aide, because the Defense Department had just been organized, and that then there would be a Military Aide, a Naval Aide and an Air Aide, and if the President went someplace on a boat, he would take the Naval Aide; if he went on an airplane he would take the Air Aide. But at any rate, if he went to a dinner or anything else, he would only take his Defense Aide.
HESS: Who was going to be made Military Aide?
RENFROW: I was to be selected as--I mean, in the plan, which I had no idea of.
HESS: Neither one of you knew anything about that.
RENFROW: Neither one of us knew anything about it, and I was to be the Military Aide, which was so totally unknown to me, that I was up on the Hill, and I got a call to go home and get my uniform on and come to the White House and be there by 4 o'clock. I still didn't know what it was all about, and I got there, and I found out when I got there what it was all about. But there was a good deal of antagonism on the west side of the White House against Vaughan, because Vaughan was the closest confidant of the President, and the boys on the west side resented that.
HESS: Who seemed to carry the brunt of this resentment over on the west side?
RENFROW: It was between Clark Clifford and Charlie Ross and some of the others over there that carried it. Don Dawson didn't; Don was always a friend of Vaughan's; Dr. Steelman was a friend of Vaughan's; the Naval and Air Aides were all friends of Vaughan's; and of course, I was. But there was a resentment there, and maybe that's natural.
HESS: What was the basis for their resentment?
RENFROW: Well, because the President consulted with Vaughan probably more than he did with any of the rest of them, and they felt that Vaughan got his way a good deal oftener than the rest of them. And that's a natural resentment. I mean, after all--and of course, we didn't have the staff at the White House that they have now. We had only a small group, just a very small group. The result was that you're bound to have those kinds of things happen. Clark Clifford was the legal adviser and did a fine job; Don Dawson had charge of manpower, and he did a fine job; Charlie Ross, of course, was the Press Secretary, and I guess as far as press secretaries go, he was all right. I was never very partial to him, but I guess he was all right. You know, he had been a Republican before he was appointed to this job, and I always kind of wondered about him, because I never felt that the President got the right press that he should have gotten as a result of the way it was handled. But, well, we didn't fuss about that.
HESS: What went sour with the appointment as Defense Aide anyway?
RENFROW: Well, then, when this plan was given to the President,
Dr. Steelman gave it to him, the President told Charlie Ross that he was going to make this announcement at 4 o'clock, to have the press ready. And Ross, presumably, because he was the only one that knew it outside of Steelman, and I know Steelman didn't do it, he evidently notified Forrestal, and Forrestal came to the White House to object. He said he objected to that appointment and the President said, "Well, all right, I'm not going to stir up a great big holler about it. Now if you don't want it, okay, we won't do it." And they didn't do it.
HESS: Did you see Forrestal at that time?
RENFROW: No, I didn't.
HESS: This was something you heard about?
RENFROW: Yes, I heard about how it got stopped. The President told me that Forrestal came over and objected.
HESS: Where were you waiting during this time?
RENFROW: I was over in Vaughan's office on the east side, we were all sitting over there waiting. Landry had just been appointed Air Aide, and he had not been announced; Bob Dennison had just been appointed Naval Aide prior to that, but he had been announced, but we
were all sitting there waiting...
HESS: Waiting for the press conference that never took place.
RENFROW: ...waiting for the President to send for us at 4 o'clock, which never took place. Finally Vaughan called up and said, "What happened? What's going on? What did you want?" Because he still didn't know what it was all about. They said, "Well, it's all off now. Then the President later told both Vaughan and I what happened. But of course the press, they took everything they could take and made a great big to-do about it, particularly if they could tear down Vaughan, because that was one way they thought they could get at the President, because everybody knew, that knew the President, knew the genuine affection that the President had for Vaughan, and very properly so. Vaughan had been a very loyal and warm supporter of the President. So, the thing went by the boards as a result.
Of course, there were many things that the President did and said that were very, very important at the time. One of the things that he said, of course, many times, that "If there's any decision to make here, I'll
So as a result, of course, as I say, the press, they didn't like it, and they were perfectly willing to try to tear down Vaughan. And of course, the Republicans did everything they could to tear him down, because they too wanted to get at the President.
But the President--I'll tell you--the President was pretty tough whenever anybody talked about Mrs. Truman or Margaret. He always said, "Mrs. Truman and Margaret are not in politics, and they have no way to answer these critics, because they are not in politics." He said, "They can jump onto me all they want to, and I can answer if I want to, but they can't." So, as a result, there were three members of Congress who made speeches on the floor, criticizing either Mrs. Truman or Margaret. The order was issued at the White House and carried out all during his term, that those three Congressmen could never come inside the gate of the White House, no matter what happened, even if they came with a congressional committee, they were not to be admitted. And they weren't.
HESS: Who were they?
RENFROW: One was Clare Boothe Luce, and one was Adam Clayton Powell, and I've forgotten who the third one was, but those were two of them.
HESS: I had heard of those two, but I hadn't heard of a third one.
RENFROW: I've forgotten. They were not to be admitted to the White House on any basis, because of the things they said.
Of course, his famous letter to Paul Hume, I said to him, because he came to lunch the day that letter was published, he came to lunch and I said to him, "Mr. President, how did you ever get that letter out of the White House?" Because he wrote it in longhand.
He said, "I'll tell you how I did it. I called a messenger in and I said, 'Look, you deliver this letter; don't let anybody stop you, and you deliver it in person to this guy,"' with a few odds and ends terms that he added to it. And the messenger did. Now, the press said later that Hume sold that letter for $1500. Now the press said, not long ago, less
than a year ago, that that letter was sold in Philadelphia for $5,000.
HESS: It's picking up value.
RENFROW: And I said to the President when I was out to Independence four years ago, I said to him, "I'm a mi1lionnaire."
He said, "Why do you say that?"
I said, "I've got a stack of your letters and memoranda about that thick, and all I have to do is have my kids hold them, and some day they'll be worth their weight in gold."
HESS: That's right, hang onto them.
RENFROW: I have a memorandum that he wrote me. I sent a picture in one day for him to autograph for some man out in Iowa whose name I don't even remember, and he autographed it, but he sent back a memorandum on it in longhand, on top of it. He said, "Lou, if this is the s.o.b. I think it is, don't sent it to him."
Well, it just happened that it wasn't the s.o.b. he thought he was, so I sent it. But I've got that memorandum, and that really is a classic. I also have a couple of other memorandums, because when I was in
England, I saw on the sides of all the buses, "Truman Ale." So I got the bellboy to bring me two little bottles of Truman Ale. You've got those out at the Library, and I had them put in a nice walnut box and I sent them into the President, and I put a memorandum in them, "It's too bad the United States doesn't pay its President enough to keep him out of the ale business in London." And I got really a classic memorandum back on that one.
Then another time, I was in Germany, and the Provost Marshal of Frankfurt had been a colonel on our staff here, and so he took me around and he said, "I want to show you Frankfurt."
I said, "That's fine."
He said, "I also want to take you down to my office." So we went down to his office and he had a great big German safe in his office, one of those oldtimers, a big one, and he opened the doors, and it was filled with German lugers. And he opened a little wooden box in the middle, there was a shelf in the middle, and he took out a luger out of there that I thought was just an ordinary luger that had been
nickleplated. He said, "No, this is silver. This is a silverplated luger." He said, "I want to give it to you."
I said, "Oh, no, don't give me that, because if I take that back on the plane, the Secretary of Defense will take it away from me." I said, "I'll tell you what I'll do, I'll take that back to the President and you just give me a nickelplated one for the Secretary. He won't know the difference anyhow, and give me just an old black one for myself," which he did. And I took this silverplated one, brought it back, had a box made for it and sent it into the President, which he also has at the Library, but it's not on display, at least it wasn't the last time I was there, because I asked him, "Where's the silverplated luger?"
He said, "It's in storage, but we change the displays around and someday we'll get it out."
Of course, the President was a wonderful man to work under and work for and you always knew exactly where you stood with him, there was never any question. If you wanted an answer, yes or no, you got it, and
you didn't get it from a committee or a commission or somebody else that he had designated. You got it from him.
HESS: Were there times that you worked with some of the men on the west side of the White House? You mentioned Mr. Clifford...
RENFROW: Oh, sure, sure.
HESS: Do you recall any of the particular duties that you may have worked with them...
RENFROW: No, because we didn't have any duties that coincided with anything the west side did. We didn't have anything to do with manpower, we didn't have anything to do with the press. So, we had no conflict at all, and we were all, of course--I knew Clark Clifford in St. Louis before he came to Washington, when he was in the law office of a Democratic politician in St. Louis? He was in that law office, and I knew him when he was a young man just out of law school. As a matter of fact, Clark and I were in the first group to be recognized by Washington University when they gave their first distinguished service award. Clark and I were in the first group that were so recognized. And Clark and
I have been friends through the years.
HESS: I'd like to get your comments on some of the other members who were at the White House at the same time you were, and let's start with the military and Navy who were there.
RENFROW: Well, Bob Landry, who was the Air Aide, was as easy to get along with, and as nice a fellow as anybody ever met. He had no ideas about his rank or his position or anything else. He just had a job to do and he did it, and he kept the President's planes going beautifully.
HESS: Was that his major duty?
RENFROW: That was his major duty to supervise, he didn't actually fly them, but supervise the operation of the air transportation of the President.
HESS: What about the Naval Aide? Was Foskett there when you first got there?
RENFROW: No, he had gone.
HESS: He had just left.
RENFROW: He had gone.
HESS: Then Robert Dennison.
RENFROW: Bob Dennison was as nice a fellow as you ever
met, and he was about as shy a guy--that's why I was astounded the other day when you said something about Dennison being opposed to Vaughan. Dennison was about as shy a guy as you ever met in public office. I mean, he didn't have any opinion on anything, he wanted to stay out of trouble, and he did.
HESS: Did you ever hear his reaction to the time President Truman was going to appoint General Vaughan as Defense Aide?
RENFROW: Not a word, as a matter of fact, they were all tickled to death.
HESS: They were?
RENFROW: Why, sure, they were delighted. Of course, Landry had just come, and so had Dennison. Dennison had hardly gotten his feet under the desk when this happened. He didn't know what this was all about.
HESS: He came in in January of '48.
RENFROW: That's right. Therefore, they were delighted over this whole arrangement. The only opposition, as I say, the only opposition there was, was Charlie Ross. Really, Charlie didn't want it to happen, so he tipped off Forrestal so it wouldn't. You see, a fellow like
Ross resented the fact that Vaughan had the inside track in the White House, Vaughan's opinions, Vaughan's recommendations were always considered by the President, and that wasn't true of all of them. And of course, naturally, Vaughan piled up a bunch of enemies because of it, but we had no difficulty with him; in fact, we had no business with him. As far as we were concerned, we didn't even know they were there.
HESS: Charles Ross' assistant at that time was Eben Ayers.
RENFROW: That's right.
HESS: Do you recall Eben Ayers?
RENFROW: That don't mean anything. I mean, he was just a boy carrying the papers.
David Stowe was very influential and a very competent individual. He was a very competent individual and he did a tremendous lot of research. Of course, that was his job was to research and try to work out the details of any public statement the President was to make.
We had another fellow there who did the same type of work was [Ken] Hechler, a Congressman from West
Virginia now. But Hechler had a very brilliant mind, and he did a very fine job there for the President.
HESS: Were there times that you worked with him?
RENFROW: No, no, not at all. He wasn't on the Hill then. He was just working there at the White House. He was just a research man who read the books as did Stowe.
HESS: Stowe first was deputy to Dr. Steelman and then later moved over to the west wing as an Administrative Assistant.
RENFROW: That's right. But you see, Steelman handled the labor business, and Dave came in as his assistant, then he moved over to the other side to become a researcher for the President.
HESS: How effective would you characterize Dr. Steelman as being on labor matters?
RENFROW: Dr. Steelman was one of the most brilliant minds that was ever in the White House, and one of the fairest, and honest, most honest individuals you've ever had to do business with.
HESS: Did you ever hear any comments about why Dr. Steelman had been moved into the White House in this particular job? He was handling labor…
RENFROW: He was handling labor matters...
HESS: ...but there was a Department of Labor. Didn't that look like a splitting of duties?
RENFROW: No, no, not at all. The President had to have somebody on his staff who would advise him as to the labor matters that were problems, and also talk with the Secretary of Labor over the questions that were involved, and he couldn't do it himself, he had to have somebody else do it. And Dr. Steelman, because he was an expert in the labor field, was brought in for that purpose, and did an excellent job. I mean, outside of the coal miners and the railroad workers, we didn't have many labor problems. Finally when John L. Lewis cooled off, we didn't have trouble with the miners.
HESS: Steelworkers every once in a while.
RENFROW: Oh, well, not too often, not a whole lot.
HESS: Do you recall George Elsey being there?
RENFROW: Yes, George Elsey was a very fine young man, a very brilliant fellow, and he too did research work for the President, I mean, that was his primary job, although I think he did help Clark Clifford some, but most of his work was to dig out anything that the President wanted him to study.
HESS: Commander William Rigdon was the Assistant Naval Aide.
RENFROW: Rigdon had charge of the Map Room. He ran the "situation room" and was a very fine, loyal naval officer, and we had, of course, nothing to do with him, because we didn't have anything to do with the Map Room, but he ran the "situation room" and was the contact between the same outfit in the Defense Department as he had over at our place.
HESS: One of his duties was handling the President's trips to Key West aboard the Williamsburg and to Shangri-La. Did you ever take any of those trips to Key West?
RENFROW: Oh, no, he didn't handle--well, he went along, but Bob Dennison handled the details, and he was the one who was in control of that, not Rigdon; Rigdon worked for Dennison, but that was the only way.
HESS: Did you ever go on any of those trips?
RENFROW: No, I never went on any of those trips.
HESS: Were you ever on board the Williamsburg?
RENFROW: No. I'll tell you a cute story about the Williamsburg though.
HESS: All right.
RENFROW: They went down one night on the Williamsburg, and as always, after dinner they started a poker game. Now the President had always been, most of the time, had been a loser in that poker game, and this night, however, the game went along and the President was doing all right, and Clark Clifford was way behind and Vaughan was doing all right, and some of the rest of them were one way or the other. And they had a new bunch of Filipino boys on the Williamsburg that night. About 11 o'clock, one of the boys came in and said, "Mr. President, the radio in the forward cabin has just announced that Miss Margaret is going to start her concert in the Hollywood Bowl out in California."
The President said, "Fine."
So everybody got up from the table and went into the forward cabin and listened to Miss Margaret's concert, which was about an hour, and then when they went back the Filipino boys had picked up all the chips and put the blue ones all together and the white ones all together and the red ones all together. They had put the cards away, took the green cloth off the table, and the President said, "Well, that's fine, that was
only a practice game. Now, let's start the real game."
Clark Clifford said, "The only time I was ever ahead."
HESS: Those Filipino boys were very neat, very orderly, weren't they?
HESS: Now Admiral Leahy was probably leaving about the time that you came there.
RENFROW: He was just…
HESS: He left in March of '48.
RENFROW: He had a title as Chief of Staff to the President, and I'll tell you a cute story about him. Admiral Leahy was one of the finest men, and probably the most serious individual. you've ever met, and yet he had no feeling about trying to impose his importance on anyone. But one day he came into my office and he said, "Lou, I'm getting ready to retire. I'm going to leave in a few days." And he said, "I'd like to give you a picture, autographed to you to remember me by, because after I get out of here I won't live long." He said, "I'd like for you to have a picture."
I said, "Admiral, I'd be honored."
So he brought me an autographed picture, autographed to me, which will be in my book.
But he said, "Lou, this retirement business is bad because after you retire, then you don't live very long. You just kind of fade away."
So that next day we were having lunch with the President. He came down to eat with the gang about once a week or twice a week, and when we got orders to be at luncheon at 1 o'clock, we knew the President was going to be there. So this day we got orders to be there at 1 o'clock. So we were there. In the lull of the conversation I said, "Mr. President, you have a problem in the White House?"
He said, "Only one?"
I said, "Well, I mean one serious one right now." I said, "Admiral Leahy was in to see me and he told me that he was going to retire, and that he wouldn't live very long. And that worried me tremendously, and I know it will worry you."
He said, "You tell Admiral Leahy I want to see him."
So, the next day Admiral Leahy went to see the President and he said, "Bill, you're the only one who
went to all these conferences with Roosevelt: Yalta, Casablanca, Canada, the ocean and everyplace else. You're the only one that went to all of them. I want you to sit down and from your memoranda and from your memory, write everything you remember about every one of these conferences. I'm going to give you an office in the Pentagon; I'm going to give you enough staff to do it, and you can take your time, but I want that report."
"Why," the Admiral said, "Mr. President, that'll take me two or three years."
He said, "I don't give a damn how long it takes you. Bill, I want you to do that. That's important, because I want it on the record."
And he gave him an office in the Pentagon, and he gave him a car and a chauffeur and some naval officers to help him, and Bill wrote that report. And, of course, he lived, what, five years or more beyond that as a result of it.
So when I was over in the Pentagon, I had been very kind and friendly with [Marx] Leva and with [Wilfred J.] McNeil, they were scared to death of Johnson. It doesn't make any difference what they say now. Boy, I want to tell you, both of them were just as frightened of
Johnson as they could be, because Johnson was tough. Now, there's no use kidding yourself about that. Johnson was a tough operator. But I had known him so many years before, that he didn't worry me, and he didn't worry Paul Griffith, because Paul knew him so long before, too. Paul had been in his office when he was Assistant Secretary of the Army. So one day Leva and McNeil came into my office and they said, "We want to tell you something. You know, when Forrestal was Secretary of the Navy and was about to leave that office to be made Secretary of Defense, they tried to give him a Distinguished Service Medal and he wouldn't take it, because he said, 'I never earned a Distinguished Service Medal; don't give it to me.' But now that he's leaving the Defense Department we think he ought to have it."
I said, "Well, why don't you go in and tell the boss?"
"Oh, no, that's why we're talking to you. Will you talk to the Secretary about it?"
I said, "Sure." So I went in to see Johnson and I told him that McNeil and Leva had recommended to me that Forrestal get the DSM, and if he had no objections I'd see if I couldn't get it done over at the White House.
And Johnson said, "No, I don't care. Go ahead."
So I went over to see the President, and I told him, I said, "I've got another one of those cases like Leahy. You've got a problem in the Pentagon." I said, "Two of his men think that he ought to have the DSM, and so do I, Mr. President. So I wondered whether or not you would order a DSM for him?"
"Why," he said, "what's holding you up? You call up over there to the Pentagon right now, from here, and you tell them that I said to get the DSM and the citation all ready and get it over here in my office by tomorrow, because I'll present it to Jim." And he did. The Pentagon of course got it ready and got it over there, and he presented it to Jim.
Well, then Leva and McNeil came in and they talked to me and when I told them I said, "Well, it's going to be done. The President's going to present Forrestal with it tomorrow."
They came in one day and they said, "We're awfully worried about Jim because, you know, he doesn't have a job, and while he isn't needing a job [He was very wealthy] but to have a man just floating around and not doing anything," and of course he was out of politics
because he'd lost his job at the Defense Department. And they said, "We're just worried about him."
So I went over to see the President. I said, "Well, we've got another problem."
He said, "What is it this time?"
I said, "Well, Jim Forrestal, he's worried because he's out of a job, he doesn't need money, but what he needs is something to occupy his time."
He said, "Tell Jim to come over here. I want to see him."
So I got word to Forrestal and he went over.
The President said, "Jim, I want you to take a Government plane and your family, and I want you to go around the world to every military installation and give me a complete report on the entire Defense Department around the world."
"Why," Forrestal said, "Mr. President, that'll take me more than a year."
He said, "I don't care how long it takes you. That's what I want you to do."
Just to show you the human side of Truman. I mean, he was always thinking about--he had just fired Jim as Secretary of Defense, but here he was trying to ease the
situation, and of course, Jim never did it, because he went all to pieces down in Hobe Sound the very night he got there, and from that time on he was in the hospital either down there or up here. But the President wanted him to go around the world and go to every military installation and give him a complete report on those places, which if he had done it, would have been a very valuable piece of paper. But he never did.
HESS: Well, we'll get a little further into that when we get up to the Defense Department period.
RENFROW: Those are two things that indicated to me, always indicated to me, how human Truman was; how he thought about doing things for people and was so compassionate about people.
HESS: We've mentioned Mr. Matthew Connelly.
RENFROW: Well, Matt was the Secretary to the President. Well, he was more than Appointments Secretary. He ran that front office, and we had, of course, a lot of business with Matt, because we always had to go through Matt to see the President, but we never had any difficulty with Matt. Matt always was very cooperative and very helpful with us. Now, what Matt did otherwise, we didn't know anything about, and it was none of our business. Matt
was a good, hard worker, and he was loyal to Truman, and no one in the world could ever have doubted his loyalty.
HESS: As you recall, after the administration was out, he had a little legal difficulty. Do you recall anything in particular about that?
RENFROW: Sure, I know he had, but I don't know anything about it, because we didn't have anything to do with him. I mean, Vaughan would go in there to see the President and he'd wave to him and say, "Hi, Matt," and go on in. I'd call him up and say, "May I see the President?"
He'd say, "What's holding you up. Come on."
I mean, that's about all we ever had to do with him.
HESS: After you left, a Colonel C. J. Mara came in.
RENFROW: He was the liaison of the Air Force to the White House before I left, and when I left he took my place there as the Assistant Military Aide.
HESS: How would you characterize him?
RENFROW: Mara was a very loyal individual, very loyal to Vaughan; he went up on the Hill to testify for Vaughan; he was loyal to the President, and did everything that
he was required to do, and of course, I didn't have very much business with him because he was the liaison of the Air Force and he did most of his business with Landry before he was appointed Assistant Military Aide.
HESS: During the period of time that you were in the White House was one of the most important events of the Truman administration, the 1948 election. What do you recall when you look back on the events of that election?
RENFROW: Well, I was very much interested in what you said the other day about the President having promised Johnson that if he'd raise the money he'd give him the job.
HESS: Let me add for the record, that is just something that I have heard and do not know for sure.
RENFROW: That is as far from the truth as anything could be, because when the time came to raise the money for the campaign, they called in the heads of corporations and businesses and bankers, one night to the White House. Along with them was Johnson who was probably the most prominent and the wealthiest lawyer in Washington, and a loyal Democrat, and loyal to Truman. They went around
the room and everyone of these big wheels either had their wife in the hospital or they were going to Europe, or they were sick, or they couldn't do this, and everyone of them refused to raise the money for the President because they all felt that Truman didn't have a chance. So they ducked out of it, and they got around finally to Johnson, and Louie said, "Yeah, I'll raise it." Just that easy, and he did. He raised $1,700,000 , and he raised $250,000 more for another project to organize the veterans of this country which Mr. Coffey of Ohio headed up. So, he raised over two million dollars for the campaign.
He had no confidence in the Democratic Committee, so he moved all the fundraising business down to his own office and had his own staff down there work on it, because he had lost confidence with the Democratic Committee and he wanted Truman to be sure to get all the money that was raised, and he wasn't quite sure of that under the situation as it was then.
HESS: J. Howard McGrath was chairman.
RENFROW: That's right.
HESS: He didn't place any great confidence in J. Howard McGrath.
RENFROW: He certainly didn't. So, he raised the money. Now, of course, there were many amusing things that happened while he was doing it. One of them was he called the then Ambassador to Great Britain on the telephone one night, because he worked until 11 or 12 or 1 o'clock at night, and he happened to think about the Ambassador to Great Britain, from Arizona, and he called him on the phone over in London. Of course, over there it was 4 o'clock in the morning.
HESS: Rather early.
RENFROW: This fellow said, "Why, Louie, do you know what time it is?"
He said, "I know what time it is. I'm still working, and I called you up to find out why I hadn't gotten a check from you."
He said, "You won't get one from me."
He said, "What?"
"No, sir, I'm not going to give a dime."
Well, needless to say, after the election, he wasn't ambassador much longer, but I mean, that was a natural political thing to happen.
The same thing happened to Forrestal. When Johnson went over to pick up $10,000 from John Snyder, $5,000 for
John and $5,000 for his wife, as he came out he met Forrestal in John Snyder's--who was then Secretary of the Treasury--met him in his waiting room. He said, "Jim, I'm glad to see you. I just picked up $10,000 from John and his wife for the campaign. I'll be over to see you in a few days."
He said, "Don't come to see me. I'm not going to give a dime."
He said, "You're not what?"
He said, "I'm not going to give a dime to the campaign."
And Louie was so mad. He came over to my office right across the street from the Treasury Department, and he was just spouting venom, and I said, "Don't tell me your troubles. Go in and tell the Boss."
HESS: Did he?
RENFROW: And he did. And that day, Mr. Forrestal's...
HESS: Do you think that was the beginning of the end?
RENFROW: That was the beginning and the end. There wasn't any question about it, because Forrestal thought Dewey was going to win, and Dewey was from New York, and Forrestal figured he'd keep his job under Dewey. If his name didn't show on the money list of the Truman
campaign, why he could say, "I didn't give anything to them." And he could get out of it. That was really the beginning of the end right then. Of course, the President waited a reasonable length of time before he changed.
HESS: Was that the reason for Forrestal's ouster?
RENFROW: No question about it. How are you going to keep a man in the Cabinet who says, "I won't give a dime" to a campaign of the man who appointed him, or at least under whom he worked?
HESS: Do you recall in the press at the time, there was some speculation that one of the reasons for Forrestal's ouster was his so-called pro-Arab, pro-oil, anti-Israeli…
RENFROW: No, no, that didn't have a thing to do with it. As far as Truman was concerned, that was applesauce. No, sir. I'll tell you, the primary reason was the fact that he had no confidence in the President, and showed it by saying that he wouldn't give a dime to the campaign.
HESS: But anyway, there was no agreement between the President and…
RENFROW: There was absolutely no agreement or even a hint of understanding of anything. As a matter of fact, Vaughan and I were the only two in the White House that were for
Johnson for Secretary of Defense. And Vaughan and I were the ones that pushed for his appointment. Every time we'd get with the President, we'd talk to him about it. Finally, one day he sent for us and he said, "Well, I'm going to tell you something. I'm going to appoint Louie Johnson Secretary of Defense."
Now, Louie was in New York.
HESS: What time was this, what day?
RENFROW: I don't remember what day. It was the week before he appointed him, and he said, "Now, lock this up, don't tell anybody, because I won't announce it for a week, but I'll announce this a week from now." And we didn't tell anybody, and when the announcement was made, Louie was in New York, and Louie called me on the telephone from New York and he said, "Did you know this?"
"Yes, Vaughan and I knew this a week ago."
He said, "Why didn't you tell me?"
I said, "The Boss said 'lock it up,' and we locked it up."
It was such a shock to Louie, that he didn't know what to say, so he said, "Meet me in my apartment. I'm coming down to Washington in a few minutes, in a little while."
I said, "I can't do it. I'm going to a dinner over at the Statler."
He said, "I'm going over there and meet you there."
I said, "No, you will not. You're going to have a little trouble on the Hill getting confirmed anyhow, and you're not going to start taking the bows before your confirmation. You stay out of the public until you're confirmed." He said, "Come over to my apartment."
I said, "All right, I'll come over after dinner."
So, I went over after dinner. He lived at the Mayflower. I got there about 10:30. He started right off the reel. He said, "Lou, I want you to go with me to the Pentagon."
I said, "Louie, don't kid me. I don't want to go to the Pentagon."
He said, "Well, I want you to go. I want you over to be my assistant."
I said, "Not me, Louie."
And we argued and argued until after 12 o'clock. Finally, I said, "Good night, I'm going home," because I lived at the Jefferson Hotel then.
As I went out the door he said, "Come back for
Well, I knew that he had breakfast at 6:30 in the morning. So I said, "All right." So I went over for breakfast.
He started right off the reel, arguing with me again about going with him. I said, "Louie, look, don't argue with me about going over there. I'm happy where I am. I don't want to leave the White House."
The bell captain came back and he said, "Colonel Johnson, you're wanted on the telephone." Louie went to the telephone and he came back and he was grinning from ear to ear and he said, "Do you know who that was?"
I said, "I wouldn't have the slightest idea."
He said, "That was, the President. He wanted to know why in the hell I hadn't come over to thank him for my appointment of the day before." He said, "I told him that you and I were having breakfast and he said, 'What the hell is he doing there. I'm at work, why isn't he? You two birds come over here to the White House right away."'
So we got up from the breakfast table and went over to the White House and went in to see the President. Johnson said, "Mr. President, I certainly thank you
for this honor, and I shall do everything in my power to carry out my responsibilities." And he said, "Now, Mr. President, I want to take Lou away from you," meaning me.
I said, "Oh, now, Mr. President, just a minute." I told him I didn't want to go to the Pentagon.."I don't want to go to the Pentagon; I'm happy right here with you and with Vaughan. I don't want to go to the Pentagon, and I have told him so."
The President kind of grinned and looked up at Johnson and he said, "Louis, you can have anybody you want in the White House but me."
I said, "Mr. President, I know exactly how a galley slave feels when he's sold down the river."
I went to the Pentagon the next day, because Johnson and Forrestal, by that time, weren't speaking to each other, and so I went over to be the liaison between Forrestal and Johnson.
HESS: Before we move on to the Defense Department time, let's clear up a couple of more points here: One, approximately how long before President Truman told you that he was going to appoint Mr. Johnson as Secretary had you and General Vaughan talked to the President about it?
RENFROW: From the time of the election.
HESS: From the time of the election.
RENFROW: From the time of the election, because both Vaughan and I knew what Forrestal had told Johnson, and we didn't think any man ought to be in the Cabinet who had not been loyal enough to put up money, particularly when he was very wealthy. If he had been a poor guy it would have been a different thing, but he had the money, and the idea of trying to play politics for himself as against the President, from the time of the election, we started right then without saying anything to Johnson. That job cost Johnson $85,000 of securities that he had to sell to keep from being charged with conflict of interest, because he owned some securities in companies that did business with the Defense Department.
HESS: You mentioned that you and General Vaughan were the only two that were pushing for Louis Johnson.
RENFROW: The only two.
HESS: Were some of the other White House members pushing a candidate for this job?
RENFROW: Not that I know of. We never heard another name, but they certainly weren't for Johnson. That was
HESS: Did you hear any anti-Johnson talk from some of the staff members?
RENFROW: I should say we did.
RENFROW: We heard plenty of it right in the White House who were opposed to him.
HESS: If you have something that you would like to close for a period of time that you think would be a little too sensitive to release now that can be done.
RENFROW: No, I'm not going to name these fellows, because that's my opinion against theirs.
HESS: Okay. One thing further back on the 1948 campaign, did you go with the President to Philadelphia when he went to the convention?
RENFROW: Vaughan and I both did.
HESS: What can you tell me about that?
RENFROW: The day of the convention, both of us got a call, we weren't together--I was up on the Hill, and Vaughan was at the office--we got a call to go home that afternoon and get on our civilian clothes, and meet the President at 7 o'clock at the station, that we were going to Philadelphia with the President. So, I went home and got on
civilian clothes and so did Vaughan, but neither one of us knew the other had gotten a call. At a quarter of seven, Vaughan and I arrived at the station about the same time and Vaughan said, "Oh, you got a call too."
He said, "Well, the Boss wants us to go, that's it. We'll probably get our ears pinned back," because the Pentagon, of course, a lot of them were Republican over there. But he said, "The Boss said 'Come on."' So we went.
As we went through the gate, the press boys waiting for the President said, "Who do you birds think you're fooling?"
We said, "We aren't trying to fool anybody. We were ordered to go, and the President told us to come and go to the convention and we're going."
We got on the train and we were in the next car to the President's car. We had a bedroom. So, we took off our coats and opened our collars and started to play gin rummy, which we always did when we were on trips together. We were playing along and got about to Baltimore and Matt Connelly came in and said, "Straighten up your tie, put on your coat, the Boss wants you back in his car."
Vaughan said, "He would call me now. I'm seven dollars out."
But we went back in the car and as we went through the dining room on the car, see, the dining room was the first room, I saw Mrs. Truman and Margaret and Judge Rosenman and others sitting in the dining room. I wondered as I went through why they were sitting there, because the President was back in the observation car. We got back there and he was all alone. He said, "Well, I sent for you two birds because I suppose the three of us have known each other longer than anyone in this train, except Mrs. Truman." He said, "I think it would be nice if just the three of us sat here together on our way to Philadelphia and listened to the nominating speech on the radio."
So in a few minutes the nominating speeches started and Governor Donnelly of Missouri nominated Truman. And he started out, "Mr. Chairman, members of the delegation..." And Mr. Truman said, "That's not Phil Donnelly. Some speech teacher has gotten hold of him. That don't sound like him at all." But it wasn't long until Phil forgot what the speech teachers had told him and went back into his own language, and the President
laughed and said, "Now, that's Phil." That's the way Phil would talk.
So, we got up to Philadelphia; it was raining. I said to him, "Mr. President, it's raining." He had a white suit on. I said, "This car is air-conditioned, why don't you stay?" See, we were parked right along side of that old convention hall, "Why don't you stay here in the car, because it's going to be a long drag up there, because these southerners are going to cut your heart out. Why don't you stay here until the time for you to go on, and then come up to the hall?"
He said, "Nope, I'm going up. If anybody wants to shake hands with me, I'm going to be up there where they can do it."
So we went up to the hall and they had him back in a room, a little bit of a room, larger than this, but a very small room under the balcony. Now, in those days they didn't have air-conditioning. All they had was a big fan in the corner, that was all they had in this room. After we got him in there, Wally Graham was along, Dr. Graham, General Graham, after we got the President in there and got him all set, and by that time, people were
just flooding in, I went out of the room to see what was happening in the convention. When I came back, you couldn't have gotten a toothpick in that room, it was so jammed with people. I said to Wally Graham who was standing outside of the room, I said, "Wally this is terrible. Why, it's going to be hours before the President goes on." It was only about 8:30 then. I said, "He just can't take this heat in here like this."
He said, "You go in and tell him. I told him. He won't listen to me."
So I got hold of Jim Rowley, who was head of Secret Service and I said, "Jim, is that balcony out there secure?"
He said, "Yes, it is. "
I said, "All right, you get two chairs, two comfortable chairs, and a radio and put it out there between those chairs. I'll try to get the President out there and if he'll go, I'll tell him that I'll go down to the Kentucky delegation and get Barkley and bring him out there and the two of them can sit there and listen to the convention on the radio until time for him to go on."
So Rowley said, "All right." So he turned and got
some of his boys and they began to get that organized.
So, then I pushed into this jam and finally got up to the President, but just before I got there, he sat down in a red leather chair, and I thought, "My land, if that red chair runs, that white suit of his will be a mess," because I knew he was wet with perspiration. I got up to him and I said, "Mr. President, stand up."
He said, "Hell, I just got seated."
I said, "Yeah, but I want to see whether that red runs or not."
Well, if I'd stuck him with a pin, I couldn't have gotten him up any faster. He jumped up, but fortunately it was good leather and it didn't run. And I said, "Mr. President, look, it's terrible in here. I've talked to Wally; Wally thinks you ought to come out. Now, I've arranged with Jim for two chairs and a radio. I'll go down and get Barkley. Why don't you go out on the balcony out there where the crowd can't get to you and where it's a little reasonably cool out there." The rain had stopped in the meantime.
He said, "All right."
So I got him out to this chair and then I went down to the Kentucky delegation, found Barkley, and I said,
"The President would like to see you at once." So he went with me and I took him out there and seated him.
Now, the President didn't get mad when Mississippi and Alabama and all these Southern states walked out of the convention. What made him angry was when they nominated Russell against Barkley for Vice President. Oh, brother, the air was blue when that happened, because he said, "Here's Barkley, one of the most loyal Democrats in the country, and they do this to him to try to get even with me." And he said, "I think it's a shame for that to happen."
Well, of course, as you know, after they called the roll and everything else, finally Barkley was nominated, and about 2 o’clock in the morning it came time for the President to go on with his speech.
Now, some man up in Pennsylvania had conceived the idea that they ought to make a Liberty Bell, a great big Liberty Bell out of flowers, and that when the President came on the platform they would swing this Liberty Bell and they'd drop some mesh they had in the bottom of it, out of the bottom of it would come a lot of white pigeons, or doves of peace, see. Now, here were these great big fans all over the auditorium. And they did it.
The Liberty Bell swung out and out came the doves and, boy, everyone of us could see those doves flying right into those fans, and one of them was aimed right on the President, and we thought, "Oh, what a mess this is going to be." But fortunately, the doves sat on top of the fans and around the fans, but never got in them.
But as we walked up on the stage, I was carrying the President's speech, and I handed it to him just as he got to the podium, and he opened it and said, "Mr. Chairman, members of the Democratic Convention, I have prepared a speech. The press can read it if they want to," and he threw the book over on the table, "because what I am going to say to you, I don't need to write. I can say it to you without any speech." And, brother, I want to tell you, if you don't think he didn't take them apart.
So, I left the stage and went down into the audience to see what the reaction was in the audience. And the first thing you knew, these Southern states began to come back, and these great big gaps that were in the delegations began to fill, and before he got through, these same southerners were standing up on the chairs just screaming their lungs out, and really putting on a
great big show of complete confidence in the President.
Well, he never did refer to his speech anymore. He went right on, he gave them--oh, he just gave them the works, in good old field artillery language.
So, then we went back to the car.
HESS: One question about the end of his speech. As you will recall, he closed his speech by calling the Turnip Day session of Congress, a special session of Congress.
RENFROW: That's right.
HESS: There is a point that interests historians, do you know if he had cleared that with some of the senior members of Congress?
RENFROW: No, no, he was determined that he was going to teach these boys a lesson, and he went on and did it. It wasn't in his manuscript or any clearance or anything else, he just did it.
So then we went back to the car, and as we got to the car, he said to Vaughan and I, "Come on back to my car." So we went with him. And we were alone again, the three of us. He said, "Well, what did you think about it?"
"Well," I said, "Mr. President, I went down in the delegations to see what the reaction down there would be.
When you started, there were great big holes in the delegation, the delegations that had walked out, but before you had finished, they were all back, and not only back, but they were standing up on the chairs just screaming their lungs out."
He said, "Yeah, I saw that."
I said, "There's no question about it, Mr. President, you're in. You're going to be elected."
So, of course, he was elected, and there was never any question in his mind but that he was going to be elected.
HESS: Did you think he was going to be elected?
RENFROW: You're right. Not only that, let me tell you something, I don't know whether Vaughan ever kept it or not, but a week before election, one day we were sitting together, Vaughan and Landry and Dennison and I were sitting together in Vaughan's office and I said, "Harry, take a piece of paper. I'll tell you the states that the Boss is going to carry, and tell you those he's going to lose." Do you know how many I missed?
HESS: How many?
HESS: Which one?
RENFROW: Iowa. I never thought he could carry Iowa.
HESS: He got the farm vote that you thought he wouldn't.
RENFROW: Yeah, arid he got it. I never thought that he would carry old Republican Iowa, but he did. But I got all the rest of them, and I had Dennison and Landry and Vaughan sign that paper and Vaughan kept it and I don't know whether he's still got it or not. That was it.
HESS: Did you go on any of the campaign trips, or is that verboten for Army officers?
RENFROW: No, that wasn't us. He went on campaign trips, and the aides never went.
HESS: Is that just something that is understood, that during a campaign trip, the military and Navy has to stay out of it? When it's political.
RENFROW: That's right, but that wasn't true of a trip that he did take that I went on.
HESS: Which one was that?
RENFROW: That was down to Miami to the Legion Convention. He called me in one day and he said, "Lou, I'm going to the Legion Convention." And, of course, you see, the Secret Service was actually opposed to him going to the Legion Convention, particularly in Miami, because Cermak had been killed down there when they took a shot
at Roosevelt and missed him and hit Cermak.
I said, "Mr. President, I know, I've talked to Jim, they don't want you to go."
He said, "Who's President? I'm going and I'm going to send you and Monroe Johnson [who was then Chairman of the Interstate Commerce Commission] I'm going to send you two down there, and I want you to arrange for all the military arrangements down there, and I want Monroe to arrange for the clubs, the Rotary and Lions and the schools, the turnout for the time of my arrival."
I said, "All right."
So a week before he was to go down there, Monroe and I left for Miami. Now, there were no troops in Miami or even in Florida, as a matter of fact. So I had to get troops from Gordon from Texas and two or three other places, and I had them brought in by bus rather than by plane or air, because I didn't want the press to see that we were bringing in a bunch of troops. But we brought in a bunch of troops to do two things: Primarily, the first thing was to protect the President. But we couldn't bring in enough to cover the whole situation, so I had the troops put on the line from the
airport to the Roney Plaza, and I told the commander of the troops, "Now, don't stand there looking at the President, but stand there looking at the crowd. Don't take any chances with anybody that looks like they're pulling a gun out or doing anything." So these troops, with their backs to the President, looking at the crowd, from the airport to the Roney Plaza, and while we were in the Roney Plaza I had the troops change from the Roney Plaza out to the Dinner Key were the President was going to speak, and we went through the same thing there.
While he was speaking in the Dinner Key Convention, I had the troops changed again from the Dinner Key to the airport. So we used the same troops.
HESS: One question, when you're working on a problem like this of protecting the President, do you coordinate your efforts with James Rowley, who was head of the Secret Service?
RENFROW: Oh, sure, oh, yes. The only thing I didn't coordinate was, I got all this thing set up and I got a call at 11 o'clock the night before the President was to come down, and the White House said, "Have you made arrangements for a suite at the Roney Plaza for the President and Mrs. Truman and Margaret, because we
will arrive there about 11 o'clock, the luncheon isn't until one, and they have to have someplace to go to freshen up."
"No," I said, "I haven't, that wasn't my job. But I will."
They said, "All right."
Well, I didn't have time to clear it with the Secret Service men. I had to get the job done, so I called up the Roney Plaza and I said to the telephone operator, "I want to talk to the manager."
She said, "You can't talk to the manager."
I said, "What do you mean, I can't talk to the manager?"
She said, "He has retired."
I said, "Well, that's too bad. You've got a luncheon there..." By this time it was after midnight. I said, "You've got a luncheon there, today. Now, let me tell you, I'm calling you because the White House told me to tell you that they want the best suite of your hotel for the President today. Now, you better connect me with the manager, or I'll take the luncheon away from the Roney Plaza and move it someplace else. Now, you make up your mind." I said, "If I do that,
I know what will happen to your job."
She said, "Just a minute."
So she connected me with the manager. I didn't know the manager, so I said to him, "I just had a call from the White House, they want your best suite for the President today."
And he said, "You can't have it."
I said, "Did you hear what I said? This is for the President of the United States."
He said, "I'm sorry, but you can't have it."
I said, "Why?"
He said, "The owner lives in it."
I said, "Throw him out." I didn't know who the owner was, and cared less. I said, "Throw him out, unless you don't want the luncheon there today. Now, make up your own mind, and make it up right now. Don't argue with me about it."
He said, "You'll have it."
So he got the owner up, made him pack all of his duds, moved him to another suite. I still didn't know who the owner was, but I had not cleared with the Secret Service about this suite. So the next day when we got to the Roney Plaza, got up to the floor of the suite,
you couldn't have gotten a fly in that suite, it was so crowded. The people were just jammed in it like sardines. Well, what good was the suite with that sort of a situation? So about that time, big Louie Johnson, who was there, came over to me and said, "Lou, is there anything I can do?"
I said, "Yeah, get these people out of this suite. This is for the President and Mrs. Truman and Margaret."
So, big Louie, who was about six foot four, weighed about 240 pounds, he went in and he began pushing these people out of the suite. "Get out, get out."
Life magazine took a picture of Louie doing it, and I don't know whether you can get a copy of that or not, but it really is a classic. I didn't keep a copy of it; I should have.
In the center of that group that Louie was pushing out of that room, who do you think was there? Strom Thurmond and his wife, who was running on the Dixiecrat ticket against Truman. He was right in the middle of this crowd. So, Johnson got them out, and we got the President and Mrs. Truman and Margaret in there. Then at 1 o'clock we went down to the luncheon, and they had a beautiful luncheon. My wife was there, and she wasn't
with me, she was over with a group, and she met a man and he said, "What did you say your name was?"
She said, "Renfrow."
He said, "Did your husband make arrangements over here for the suite for the President?"
She said, "Yes, I heard that conversation on the other end of it."
He said, "I'm the owner of this hotel."
HESS: He was the one that got moved out.
RENFROW: He said, "I was the one who got moved out, but it was all right. That was all right. I was very glad to do it." But who do you think it was? Mr. Schine, David's father. He owned the Roney Plaza. And Schine was the guy we moved out. Of course, at that time, I didn't know Schine or anything about him, but later on I got acquainted with his son over some difficulties we had.
Then after the luncheon we went out to the Dinner Key, and the President was in an open car, but I had arranged for a car that was low enough so that only the top of his hat showed. I got him out of the car and got him into the Dinner Key, which of course, is a great, big barn, galvanized iron barn. It was a hangar, you
see. And hot.
HESS: As only a galvanized iron building can be.
RENFROW: And they had raised the sides and put seats outside there so they could get more people to hear. Of course, the place was jammed. We got him up on the platform, and I turned around to see whether Mrs. Truman and Margaret had gotten there and I heard him say, "Lou, Lou, come here."
I turned around and said, "Yes, Mr. President."
He said, "When I get through my speech, I want to go down in the Missouri delegation," which was down about midway in front of the platform.
I said, "Mr. President, I have not cleared this with Jim at all or the Secret Service men. There's no arrangements for you to go down there."
He said, "Look, do what I tell you to do. When I get through, I'm going down there. I don't care how you get me there, but that's where I'm going."
So I got hold of Vaughan and I said, "Harry, the Boss wants to go down and sit in the Missouri delegation. Now, you walk in front of him and I'll walk behind him. If anybody takes a shot at him, they've got to hit you or me," because both of us weighed over 200 pounds and
we were taller than the President. So I said, "Nothing can happen to him as long as you're in front of him and I'm behind him. We'll get him into this delegation."
Oh, I said to the President, "But Mr. President, John Sullivan, the Secretary of the Navy, is going to speak after you do, and John talks for forty minutes and it's so hot in here."
He said, "You know, I haven't heard John for a long time, I'd like to hear him."
So that didn't work either. So we took him down there.
HESS: Even for forty minutes.
RENFROW: We got him into this delegation, got him seated, and John talked for forty minutes, and hot, it was hot. So then I said to Vaughan, "Come on, let's go get him."
So Vaughan and I went down. We went with him, and again walked in front of him and behind him out to his car. We got him in the car and got him seated and, of course, there were hundreds of people milling around outside there to see him. We got him seated and I turned around to see whether Mrs. Truman and Margaret were in the next car following and I heard him say, "Lou, Lou."
And I turned around and here he was standing up in this open car with these hundreds of people around him there. Anybody could have closed their eyes and hit him. He said, "Lou, get this fellow's name and address. He's been awfully nice to us. I want to send him an autographed picture."
I said, "Sit down, Mr. President, I'll get it, but sit down."
So he sat down and I got the man's name and address and sent him a picture, he was the assistant sergeant of arms of the convention. And of course, years afterwards every time I'd see him, he'd tell me about that picture hanging on the wall of his living room.
Well, we got the President out to the airport, and Monroe Johnson and I walked out to the steps with him. Now, the Secret Service men were all on the plane. They had gotten on, Jim Rowley and the rest of them. Of course, there was mobs of people there at the airport which were being held back, but they were still out there. And Monroe Johnson and I, and Monroe Johnson was a very good friend of the President's, very loyal to him
HESS: "Steamboat" Johnson.
RENFROW: "Steamboat" Johnson, that's right, and a very
good friend of mine. The President started up the steps, the President got about halfway, and he turned around and came back and he said, "I forgot something."
I said, "What did you forget, Mr. President?"
He said, "I forgot to thank these soldiers and police for being so nice to me while I'm here." And he comes down, walks down the line and shakes hands with every one of them, the police and every one of the soldiers. By that time, Monroe got a little restless and he went back into the crowd, and I was alone by the steps waiting there, to be sure nobody made a run from that crowd over to the steps. The President got about halfway up and he turned around again and came back. He put his hand on my shoulder and he said, "Lou, we're going to win. They told me I wouldn't carry Florida. After the reception I've gotten here today, there's no question about it. And we're going to carry Florida and we're going to win."
I said, "You're right we are, Mr. President, but get up those steps, will you?"
HESS: He was making you a little nervous?
RENFROW: So he said, "All right." So we went on up and got in the plane, because Vaughan and I were going to stay at the convention.
Well, I mean, that's just the kind of a human guy that he was. Of course, as far as he was concerned, there was never any doubt about his election. When he was out at Excelsior Springs the night of the election, he went out there to vote and he stayed--he went to bed early and at 2 o'clock in the morning his staff discovered the President was going to win, and what happened: They went into tell him and he said, "Was there ever any doubt about it?"
HESS: Not to him there wasn't.
RENFROW: Not to him, no sir.
HESS: Okay, now moving on to the time that you went over to the Pentagon, and you were there when both Forrestal and...
RENFROW: I was there before Johnson.
HESS: Before Johnson came.
RENFROW: I went over there a month ahead of time in order to be the liaison between Forrestal and Johnson, because as I say, they weren't speaking to each other by that time, and so I was sent over.
HESS: How difficult is it to be liaison between two men who aren't speaking?
RENFROW: Well, it wasn’t difficult at all. I didn’t have any trouble, except for one thing, and that was when Johnson told me to fire Leva and McNeil, and I didn’t do it.
HESS: Why did he want you to do that?
RENFROW: He didn’t want anybody over there from the…
HESS: He wanted to start with a clean slate.
RENFROW: He didn’t want anybody from the Forrestal administration over there.
HESS: Okay. Now, I noticed those two men stayed. Would you tell me about that?
RENFROW: Well, sure they stayed, because I was over there about two weeks and I didn’t tell either one of them that they were going to be fired at the first of the month. About two weeks later I was having lunch one day with Louie, which I did every day to report to him, and he said, "Oh, by the way, did you fire those two men?"
I said, "No, I’m not going to."
He said, "Who in the hell is the Secretary of Defense, you or me?"
I said, "You are, and you’re going to fire them. I’m not going to, because if you lose those two men you’ve not only lost your right arm, but your left one too.
Don't kid yourself. You can't run that shop without McNeil and Leva. Leva knows the law, McNeil knows the money, and you've got to keep them there." See, at that time they were just assistants to the Secretary of Defense. So I said, "All right, you fire them, but I'm not going to, because I'm not going to handicap you by getting rid of those two men."
Well, he didn't do it, and two weeks after he was over there one day, after having them in every hour on the hour every day, two weeks after he was there, one day he said, "Oh, by the way, I'm glad you didn't fire those men. I couldn't run this shop without them."
I said, "That's right."
HESS: He found they were pretty valuable.
RENFROW: He also kept Kate Foley, who was Forrestal's secretary. He kept her in our office. She wasn't his secretary, but she worked in our office.
HESS: During the period of time that you were there, did you notice any signs of the mental breakdown that overtook Mr. Forrestal?
RENFROW: No, and let me tell you what I told the press. They asked me the same question, and I said, "Well,
now, let me tell you a story that I think will illustrate better than anything as far as Forrestal is concerned." I said, "About ten days before he was to leave, he called me in the office one day and he had two girls in there, secretaries, and he said, "Lou, sit down. I'm going to dictate every single defense project around the world, how nearly completed it is, how much it's going to cost, all the details of it, and I'm going to have these girls put that in a little black book that I want you to give to Johnson, because this will tell him the whole story of the Defense Department around the world."' I said, "For two hours and a half he dictated to those two girls, and he never had a note in front of him. Now, do you think for one minute that a fellow who was having mental troubles could ever do that? Of course he couldn't."
But what I didn't tell them, this picture I showed you the other day, that five minutes before we went down to the middle of the Pentagon for the swearing in, he called me and said, "Lou, call off the parade."
I said, "All right." So I called the colonel in charge of troops and I said, "There'll be no parade. The troops will stand fast and the band will stand
fast," because over there they have a ceremony of all Secretaries that leave. They go down the steps and get in an automobile, they walk down between generals and admirals, in his case...
HESS: This is in the center part of the Pentagon, is that right?
RENFROW: In the center part, and then they get into an open car and he drives away and as he does, he waves goodbye to everybody, and I mean, that's the ceremony. So I said, "Stand fast, and Forrestal will get in the car and wave them goodbye. I've arranged for a plane for him over at Andrews Field to take him to Florida," where he was going down to Hobe Sound to stay at the home of a friend of his, and a friend of ours, too, the vice president of Pan American. So he did. He did just that after the swearing in.
But when he was talking to me, five minutes before we went down, something happened to him. His face was the dirtiest gray you've ever seen on anybody's face. I don't know what happened, but whatever it was happened right then. He got in the car, got down to Palm Beach and they put him in a car there and took him over to Hobe Sound. That night, he ran out of the house with no clothes on yelling, "The Communists are after me;
the Communists are after me, they're after me." They finally caught him and got him to a hospital in Palm Beach, then of course, after a while, while he was there, he called me one day and he said, "Lou, I'm getting much better." He said, "Kate has got a key to my house. I wonder if you'd get Kate's key and have somebody go over to the house and pick up my golf things. I think I can play a little golf while I'm here."
Well I was so tickled that he was that much better that I got the sergeant and I got Kate to give me the key and I sent the sergeant from our office over to his house to pick up his golf things, and I arranged for a plane over at Andrews Field that day to take them right down to Palm Beach, because Andrews Field flies all over the place anyhow, so it doesn't make any difference whether they go to Palm Beach or Oshkosh, Michigan. But he never used them, because by the time they arrived there that very day, he was bad again.
Then they brought him up here to Bethesda and one day his brother came in to see me and he said, "I just came down to take Jim home to New York. He's so much better. But the doctors asked me if I would let him stay another week. They feel that with treatment for another week and he'll be all right. So I won't be down until next week, but I just came in to tell you what's going on."
"Well," I said, "I'm sorry he can't go home, but I'm glad you told me, because I'm leaving in a few minutes for Paris. We're going to take Acheson and Murphy and some of these State Department men over to a conference, Bob Landry and I, on the President's
plane, and I'd like to be here when Jim leaves. So I will be back the middle of next week, but I'll be here probably Thursday."
So I left and Bob and I were in Paris. Of course, we were staying there to bring Acheson and Murphy and these men home after the Conference of Foreign Ministers. And Bob and I were out seeing Paris Saturday night.
HESS: The Folies Bergere?
RENFROW: No, we didn't go to the Folies that night, no, but we went to the Lido and we were out running around and we ran into an oil man over there from the United States and we went around with him a while, and we got back to the hotel, we were staying at the hotel across from the embassy, and the clerk said, "The embassy has been trying to get you. You'd better go over there right away." So we went over to the embassy and they told us that Jim had jumped out of the window at Bethesda and committed suicide. And they said, "We have orders for you to take Mrs. Forrestal and young Jim home..."
HESS: They were in Paris at the time.
RENFROW: "...if we can find them, because they're in Paris someplace, but we don't know where. They never reported to us where they were, or anything about
So [W. Avere11] Harriman was there, and Harriman said, "I'll find them." And there a multi-millionaire gets in his own car, after midnight in Paris, and starts driving around looking for them, all the rest of the night. I really got a healthy respect for him when that happened. He found them Sunday morning about noon. He called and said, "I've found them, and they'll be out at the airport this afternoon about 4 o'clock." So then we brought them home and we stopped in Iceland for fuel and Mrs. Forrestal and young Jim and I had dinner together. She never said a word.
HESS: What seemed to be her reaction?
RENFROW: Wasn't any.
HESS: There was no reaction?
RENFROW: When we arrived in Washington, of course the press was waiting there at the steps, and just as I started down the aisle of the plane, I looked at young Jim and he was crying his heart out, and I thought, "Well, now, I'm not going to let the press take his picture crying." So I said, "Come on, Jim," and I took him up to the front and took him out the pilot's exit and got him into a car before the press ever
discovered he was on the plane. So they never got a picture of him. But it was a very sad thing, and of course, I presume that Jim was quite worried about his situation; he was quite unhappy over the fact that he was no longer able to be in politics anymore, and there wasn't any business opening right then for him, and he just thought, well, it was the end of the world for him and that was the end of it.
I want to tell you about Johnson. I want to tell you about what a human being Johnson was. Of course, Johnson asked for Sullivan's resignation, the Secretary of the Navy, because of the big carrier.
HESS: How did that come about?
RENFROW: Well, Johnson just refused to build a big carrier because he said in the first place the Navy wasn't telling the truth; the Navy kept talking about the big carrier costing around two hundred and fifty to three hundred million dollars. He said, "That isn't the truth. That big carrier will cost five hundred million." The Navy kept telling him they only wanted one. He said, "That isn't the truth, they want five. They can't get that damned big boat through the Panama Canal, so they want one in every ocean, and I'm just not
going to lay awake at night thinking about thirty-five hundred officers and men on that boat could be sunk with one bomb. I'm just not going to put that kind of money into that kind of business."
Well, of course, the fight was on. The admirals, of course, did everything they could to force the Secretary to build the big carrier.
HESS: Admiral Louis Denfeld was Chief of Naval Operations.
RENFROW: Denfeld was Chief of Naval Operations. He was carrying water on both shoulders. He was over at the Secretary's office telling the Secretary he was for him; he was over in the Navy office telling the big boys, the admirals, that he was for them, so he got caught between them, because unfortunately he wrote a letter and that got into the Secretary's hands and Denfeld was out. But, Sullivan came into my office one day and said, "I'd like to see the Secretary."
I said, "Well, sure, come on, John, let's go in."
I went in with him, and he handed the Secretary a letter. The Secretary read it and he said, "John, you didn't write this letter. Some admiral wrote this for you."
He said, "No, Mr. Secretary, I signed it."
He said, "Well, you may have signed it, but you didn't write it. You wouldn't write me a letter like this."
He said, "That's my letter."
Johnson said, "That's also your resignation. Now, you go back to your office and send me your resignation today." And that's just how it happened. And John was a very good friend of all of ours: Paul Griffith, the Secretary, and he was a good friend of mine. In fact, the night he was fired, I went to a party with he and his wife. He came by and picked us up.
HESS: What was the general portent of that letter that he showed Secretary Johnson, just complaining about the big carriers?
RENFROW: Yes, it was criticizing the Secretary for not building the big carriers. So, then the time came for John to leave. They went to the same ceremony as they do for all Secretaries, only John's office was over on mall side. The day he was to leave, that morning, Johnson came into my office and he said, "Come on, go with me."
I said, "Where are you going?"
He said, "I'm going over to tell John goodbye."
I said, "Mr. Secretary, you can't do that. Even A1 Capone, when he kills them in Chicago, he sends them flowers but he doesn't go to their funeral."
He said, "John and I are good friends. He understands. So, come on." So we went.
Well, if looks could have killed, Johnson would have dropped dead over there, because these admirals, they looked daggers at him. He walked right over to John, shook hands with him, walked down the steps with him to his car and John took off.
We went back and I said, "Well, I've seen everything now, Mr. Secretary. I'll be darned if I can see how you do that."
He said, "Oh, that's nothing personal between John and I . We're both members out at Burning Tree. I had nothing personal at all. He knows that it was a matter of policy and if he couldn't agree with the policy, why, then there was nothing in the world to do but to quit the job." And as a result of it, he did.
HESS: One question about Mr. Johnson when he first came in. Did he try to make any innovations, did he try to make any changes in the Pentagon?
RENFROW: No, I did the changes.
HESS: What changes did you think were necessary?
RENFROW: Forrestal's office was over on the mall side. It was a little bit of an office, about the size of a postage stamp.
HESS: That was the one that he had had as Secretary of the Navy, is that right, and he just kept it?
RENFROW: That's right. Well, yes, he stayed there when he was Secretary of Defense. But it was a little place. I looked at that little office and I said to myself, "Well, my land, if Paul Griffith and I and Louis Johnson got in his office all at one time [we all weighed over two hundred pounds at that time] no one else could get into this office."
So, one day I said to the custodian of the Pentagon. "Don't you have a larger office over here than this one?"
"Oh," he said, "have you seen the Secretary of the Army's office over on the river side?"
I said, "No, I haven't. I haven't seen anything over there. I've just been busy here on this side."
He said, "Come on, let's go."
So we went over to the Secretary of the Army's
office, which was [Kenneth] Royall, and he has just resigned and was leaving the Secretary's job, and I said to his secretary, "I'd like to see the Secretary," because this custodian wanted me to see the office. She said, "Sure, go right in. He's packing up his stuff. Go on in."
So I went in, and here was this great, big beautiful office of the Secretary of the Army. So I said to Royall, "Mr. Secretary, were you ever dispossessed by a sheriff?"
He said, "No, I don't think I've ever been dispossessed."
I said, "Well, you're about to be dispossessed, because I'm going to take this office for the Secretary of Defense."
He said, "What are you going to do with the room on the other side of that door?"
I said, "Is there another one over there?"
He said, "Yes."
So we walked over to the door and he opened it, and here was another office exactly the same size which was the Chief of Staff's office, exactly, a huge office.
"Well," I said, "we aren't going to have a Chief of Staff. We're going to have a Chairman of the Joint Chiefs which is going to be General Bradley, but the Congress is opposed to the Secretary of Defense building up a general staff, so we can't have General Bradley in this office because they'll scream on the Hill that Johnson is building up a general staff like the Germans. So, I guess I'll convert this room into a dining room for the Secretary," which I did.
And Forrestal had given some antiques to the Pentagon, beautiful table, great big table and chairs and a great big highboy, so I moved all that over into this dining room, then the Secretary's office. But when they moved Forrestal's desk over to the Secretary's office, it was like a postage stamp, I mean, it was a little thing. It was a big executive desk, but it was so little in comparison to this big office. I said to the custodian over there, "Don't you have a larger desk than that?"
He said, "Come on with me."
So, we went down to about the fourth subbasement of the Pentagon, and there was a desk that I have never seen its like in the world and twenty-four drawers on
the front of it and twenty-four on the back of it. Forty-eight drawers in one desk.
HESS: In one desk.
RENFROW: In one desk. Huge thing. I said, "Where in the world did this come from?"
He said, "Well, there was a Secretary of the Navy back in the 1840s from Vermont, and at that time, the Army, Navy and State Department were all in what is now the Executive Office of the President, and he brought this desk down, but it was so huge they couldn't put it in any office over there, and it's been in storage ever since. And finally we got it over there. After the Pentagon was built, they moved it over here because we had more room than anybody else."
I said, "How much would it cost to fix it up?"
He said, "Oh, maybe fifty dollars."
I said, "Oh, it'll cost more than that, because what I want is a blue felt pad on top of it and a piece of plate glass."
He said, "Oh, you're talking about money now."
I said, "I don't care how much it costs. Go on and do it."
Well, it finally developed that it cost $500 to do
that. But he got it fixed up; they put it up in Johnson's office, and Johnson was delighted.
In the meantime, I thought he ought to have something behind him to put pictures on and folders and telephones and everything else, so I got the custodian to find a table that General [George] McClellan had used for his desk during the Civil War, and it was in storage over there. So I moved that up and that's still there behind the Secretary. It was just simply a table, a beautiful table that General McClellan used when he commanded the Army of the Potomac.
Well, Johnson, of course, was delighted when he saw it. I want to tell you, the top of that big desk was never uncovered. It was constantly covered with papers from one end of it to the other. Johnson was a terrific worker.
Well, we got him over there, and then I said to McNeil one day, "You know, I'm so sick and tired of trying to find people in this building. I want a Navy officer and I walk one place; and I want an Air Force officer, and I walk someplace else. Don't you have a plan for this building? Did it just grow like Topsy?"
He said, "That's what it did. Whenever there's a
vacant office, it doesn't make any difference who's coming over, they put him in it." But he said, "We've got a plan." And he went over to his file and pulled out a great big roll of papers.
I looked at them and I said, "Well, why didn't you do this?"
He said, "Forrestal would never do it."
I said, "Why not?"
He said, "Because of the cost."
I said, "How much would it cost?"
He said, "About two million dollars to move these people all around."
So I said, "Give me that paper." So I took this plan into Johnson and I said, "I know you're objecting about having to walk all over the place, and I have to walk all over the place trying to find people. Now here's a plan that McNeil has gotten worked up, which Forrestal never would put in force. I think it makes sense. Put the Navy and the Army over on the mall side, and everything in the Army and everything in the Navy right back through the Pentagon. Over here on the river side, your office, the Secretary of the Air Force, and everything in the Air Force and Defense Department back.
He said, "That makes sense."
I said, "All right, put your initials on it." So he initialed this paper and I took it back to McNeil and I said, "Start moving, but do it today. I want you to put on enough help to get letters out to everybody in this Pentagon that they're going to move today. Because when Johnson finds out what this is going to cost, he's going to hit the ceiling."
HESS: He might change his mind.
RENFROW: We were on an economy spree, but I said, "If the letters are out, there isn't anything he can do about it." McNeil was so tickled that he got the letters out that day and we moved the whole Pentagon. Of course, we were a year doing it, but we moved the whole Pentagon around and today people will tell you over there that that was one of the best things we ever did over there, because today if you want the Army or the Navy or the Air Force or the Defense Department, you have no problem. We did it.
HESS: What were some of your other duties?
RENFROW: What do you mean? For Johnson?
RENFROW: Anything in the world Johnson wanted me to do, I
had to do.
HESS: One question on that. When you first went in, this was under the National Military Establishment, and your official title was Assistant to the Secretary.
RENFROW: That's right.
HESS: And on August the 10th of '49, the President signed the National Security Act of '49 converting it to the Department of Defense, and you picked up another word in your title. You were Special Assistant to the Secretary. Was there any difference in your duties from one to the other?
RENFROW: No, no difference in my office or anything else. The only thing was that he had three Assistant Secretaries at that time: McNeil, Griffith and Leva, and so they added the word "Special" just to be sure that it wouldn't be confusing.
HESS: We have mentioned these three men; we may have said what we need to say about them, but how would you characterize them?
RENFROW: I think that all three of them were probably the best choice. Now Griffith was a Republican, and yet…
HESS: So I found out last Tuesday.
RENFROW: ...yet Griffith did one of the finest jobs over in the Pentagon, and of course, his loyalty to Johnson, his loyalty to Truman, could never be questioned. In his field of manpower and special events and all that, he did an extremely outstanding job.
No one can question McNeil on money.
HESS: He was the comptroller.
RENFROW: Oh, he ran the budget and everything else, and no one could question Leva about the law, because he had more to do with the Defense law than anybody else, and with its amendments. So, those three men were absolutely wonderful.
Now, of course, after [Charles] Wilson became Secretary of Defense, he had been president of General Motors, and he was used to a lot of vice presidents, so he made ten vice presidents, and each vice president had a deputy, and each deputy had an assistant, and each assistant had another assistant, so they piled them up over there. Then when he did that, the Army and Navy and Air Force said, "Oh, we only have three; we've got to have five." So then they piled them up. And when we were over there there were seventy-five
hundred military and civilian personnel. Do you know how many they have now? Twenty-eight thousand.
HESS: Ballooning isn't it?
RENFROW: That's just simply the Defense Department. We had seventy-five hundred in the Defense Department, military and civilian, they have twenty-eight thousand in the Defense Department.
HESS: Just in the Defense Department.
Now, Mr. Leva was in charge of legal matters and legislation. Since you had been an old hand at legislation for years, did you assist Mr. Leva in any legislative matters?.
RENFROW: No. The only time I ever went to the Hill was one time when I went up with Symington. Symington got in trouble over a wind tunnel that he was building down in Tennessee and he had to have somebody from the Defense Department help him, and Johnson wouldn't help him because Johnson was angry at him and he wouldn't help him, and I was the one who went up with him to help him get out of his difficulty and we did. We got him out of it all right.
HESS: That opens up several subjects: One, why did he feel that he had to build this particular wind tunnel in
RENFROW: There was a man named McKellar who was chairman of the Appropriations Committee.
HESS: And he happened to be from Tennessee.
RENFROW: He just happened to be from Tennessee, yes.
HESS: Now, one of the big things that came up during your period of time was the B-36 matter and the Secretary of the Air Force, Mr. Symington at this time, wanted the B-36s built in place of the super carrier, this is just one of the propositions. Did You become involved in the B-36 matter?
RENFROW: No, and unfortunately for the Air Force, and that was true of the B-36 s and it was true of all the Air Force construction, as a matter of fact. If they keep yelling about the SST they're going to have the same trouble, that before they can get the thing built it's obsolete. That's the unfortunate thing about airplanes.
HESS: It takes so long...
RENFROW: It takes so long to get them built, that by the time they get them built, they're obsolete, and that was true of all aircraft. But, of course, the Air Force wanted to get the B-36s instead of the carriers.
HESS: That's right. Now, you mentioned that Secretary Johnson and Secretary Symington were often at odds.
RENFROW: Oh, they sure were.
HESS: What was the basis of that?
RENFROW: Well, Symington had had an operation, a sympathectomy operation on his spine, to try to reduce his hypertension. He was very nervous, and he thought that the way to get along with the big boss was to be in his office every hour on the hour, and he bothered the life out of Forrestal. In fact, when Forrestal was in his dilemma, one of the things he used to yell out was "Get away from me Stu; let me alone Stu; don't bother me Stu." Because Stu thought that the way to get along was to be in that office all the time.
And every time Johnson looked up here was Symington. Finally Johnson said, "Now, Stu, let me tell you something. When I want you, I'll send for you. But I don't want you to come down here bothering me every hour on the hour. I've got a lot of things to do."
Well, we had an elevator, it started up in the Air Force, went through the Secretary of Defense's office, to the basement where their cars were parked. So he didn't come in through the regular channels, the
waiting room or anything, he came down the elevator, and stepped right out in the boss' office. And that was the end. Johnson said, "Now, look, do I have to put a lock on that elevator? You stay out of here until I send for you, and I don't want you in here until I do. "
But poor old Stu was really caught. Then I got him, every hour on the hour, I got him. Stu would come down and see me.
HESS: He'd come and see you instead of Secretary Johnson.
RENFROW: Yes, to get me to take the word to Johnson. Of course, I liked Symington and I didn't mind doing it, and of course, I wasn't a bit afraid of Johnson, because I didn't care whether he fired me or not. I was perfectly willing to go back and do something else.
But that antagonism kept getting worse and worse until finally Johnson just said, "Oh, I'm not going to take anymore of this." So he told Stu to send him his resignation.
And he went with him down the front steps of the river side, the same as he did with Sullivan, when he left there, he walked down the front steps with him down to the car.
HESS: That was when Mr. Finletter came in, is that right?
RENFROW: Yes, he came in afterwards.
HESS: Did he get along with Mr. Finletter?
RENFROW: Well, I wasn't there long enough to know.
HESS: He came in in April of '50.
RENFROW: That's right. I left in September.
HESS: One of the things that interests historians very much is Mr. Johnson's role in the reduction of the Armed Forces that took place at this time.
RENFROW: The President said, "I think we ought to cut down as much as we can on the Defense expenditures. We need the money, we ought to do that," and at that time there was no probability of any war and so the Defense Department went to the Hill with a fifteen billion dollar budget for the entire Defense Department.
And then Louie said, "Mr. President, I'll beat that. I'll cut that fifteen to thirteen and a half," which he did. And then Korea hit. We really got hurt there. If it hadn't been for a brigadier general on MacArthur's staff, who MacArthur sent down in to the Pacific to gather up all of the surplus property and store it on Guam and Okinawa we would have lost the
Korean war. That surplus yard in Guam and Okinawa supplied our troops for one year until we could get something over there. I was over in Guam and I saw that yard, the most beautiful thing you've ever seen. As a matter of fact, I came home and recommended this general for a Legion of Merit and he got it.
HESS: What was his name, do you recall?
RENFROW: I haven't thought of his name for a long time. No, I can't recall.
HESS: Before we move on any further, the unification of the armed forces had ostensibly taken place before this, but there was still ill feeling between the services.
RENFROW: Oh, sure, and there still is.
HESS: There still is.
RENFROW: Don't kid yourself.
HESS: Was this part of your duties, to try to work things out between the various services?
RENFROW: My job was to carry out anything that Johnson wanted me to do. If he delegated me to do something, I did it, I didn't initiate anything.
HESS: Well, now, Mr. Johnson has been criticized stating that he applied more economy than was wise or than was necessary.
RENFROW: That's a lot of nonsense. He applied the economy that was necessary at that time on the orders of the President. The same thing is going to happen right now. Secretary Laird is going to be accused of having cut the Defense Department, if we got into a war and were about to lose it, Laird is going to take the brunt of it, because the Congress keeps demanding cutting the Defense Department. The Congress then kept demanding the cutting of the Defense Department, and the President said, "All right, we'll cut it," and he did, but simply because the members of Congress were the responsible ones. It wasn't the Secretary of Defense, nor was it the President.
HESS: One thing I'd just like to read into the record. It's by Dean Acheson on page 127 of the September 1969 issue of Esquire magazine. He had an article about Mr. Truman and he stated that Mr. Johnson "so vigorously applied" the retrenchment of the armed forces in ‘48 and ‘49, and he seems to believe that Johnson's actions were too severe.
RENFROW: You've got to remember that between Johnson and. Acheson there was absolutely no love. There was a constant fight between the two of them, because neither
one of them agreed with what the other one did. And I was in Paris with Secretary Johnson when we were going to fly home and I got on the plane and I said, "Well, I'm going to eat my supper and go to bed."
He said, "You are not; you're going to play gin rummy until we get to the Azores."
I said, "What are we going to do there?"
He said, "I'm going to get off. I want to see these stone houses that the Portuguese have built for our troops that Acheson won't let them live in because we haven't got a treaty with Portugal."
When we got into the Azores about 2 o'clock in the morning, it was raining and the commander of the airfield came out and the Secretary said, "Have you got your car?"
He said, "Yes, sir."
"All right, let's go." He said, "I want to see these stone houses."
You see, now, the Azores are so windy that trees and grass won't grow, and houses won't stay there, except that Quonset huts where our men were living were submerged about halfway down under the ground, to keep them from being blown away. And the Portuguese had
built these beautiful stone houses for our troops to live in, and Acheson wouldn't let them live in it, because we didn't have a treaty with Portugal. And Johnson was just as mad as he could be about that, and of course, that kind of thing went on all the time. If Johnson would say, "That's white," Acheson would say, "That's black." And if Johnson would say it was black, Acheson would say it was white. And that dueling between them went on, and that's what caused Johnson his trouble, was his difficulty.
HESS: Was that the reason he was dismissed?
RENFROW: The President couldn't take it any longer. The Cabinet meetings, and everyplace else, they just fought like tigers. And, of course, what climaxed the Johnson thing was that Johnson went home one weekend to Clarksburg. On Sunday there were two articles in the paper, the one, "According to a leak at the White House, Johnson will be out by September."
Another article said that Barkley, who was then chairman of the campaign committee, said that Johnson would be out by September.
HESS: He was Vice President at the time.
RENFROW: So, I called Johnson up down at Clarksburg and
I said, "Did you see Sunday's paper?"
He said, "No, I didn't."
So I read these two things to him and I said, "Now, don't say a word to anybody. When you get up here tomorrow morning, we'll get this straightened out."
He said, "All right."
So Monday morning he came in. And always before, and this had happened before, when there was a leak at the White House, and you can bet it wasn't from the east side, when there was a leak at the White House that Johnson was going to be fired, he'd go to see the President and the President would say, "Well, you tell me the s.o.b. that said this, and I'll fire him."
So I said, "You have no troubles. You go over and see the President this morning. I'll call Barkley. I'll get Barkley to deny that he said it, and you go over and get the President to cool somebody off in the White House, and we'll get along all right."
So he went over to see the President. I called Les Biffle and I said, "I'd like to speak to Senator Barkley."
He said, "He isn't here." He said, "He's away and won't be here until tomorrow."
I said, "Les , this is very important. When he comes in tomorrow, will you have him call me and I'll come to the Hill, or you call me and I'll come to the Hill to see him."
He said, "All right." But I never did get a call. Johnson went over to see the President and he came back and he was just as white as he could be and I thought, "Oh, my land, don't tell me I'm going through another Forrestal business."
All day long he went on about his work, and I was worried about him, of course, having gone through this once before. So I called my wife and I said, "Don't come over for me tonight. I'll come home with the Secretary." So, I said to the Secretary, "I'll ride home with you tonight when you get ready to go home."
So I rode home with him. He sat back in his corner and I sat in mine, and he never said a word. I never asked him anything. Finally, we got over to the Mayflower and I thought, "I wonder if I should go upstairs with him," and then I happened to remember that Mrs. Johnson had come back from Clarksburg with him and I thought, "Well, she's up there with him, so it will be all right."
So I went on home.
The next morning he came into my office, and handed me a memorandum written in longhand, a letter, to the President. He said, "I want your secretary to type this. I'll send it over right away, but I don't want anybody else in the office to know until the President announces it."
I read it, and in the letter he said that he recommended that General Marshall be made his successor. I said, "What happened?"
"Well," he said, "I went over and I talked to the President, and I just said to the President, which I've said before, 'Mr. President, if this kind of stuff comes out of the White House continuously, I'm going to have to resign."
And the President said, "Well, Louis, in your resignation, will you recommend Marshall as your successor?"
That was all that was said. So, of course, when the thing came out, Marshall was appointed, which was a mistake. Marshall was a sick man; he didn't have but one kidney; he had been ill for quite a while; this job was way yonder too much for him.
HESS: Why was Marshall chosen?
RENFROW: Because Truman thought Marshall could do no harm. He was so enamoured with Marshall that, I'll tell you, Marshall--he really thought more of Marshall than he did anybody else, except Mrs. Truman and Margaret.
HESS: Didn't he see at the time that he was not physically up to it?
RENFROW: No, I don't suppose he did, because Marshall only worked about an hour a day after he got over there.
HESS: We've got some things to go back and cover, but since we've mentioned this letter, it is printed in the Public Papers of the Presidents, first Mr. Truman has his letter accepting Louis Johnson's resignation; and then Louis Johnson's letter is printed. And in here he mentions about, and mentions it more than once, "the enemies" he has made. "Under normal conditions, the fact that I have made so many enemies [plural] would not concern me…"
Who would fit in that category, Dean Acheson?
RENFROW: Probably. And the services. Of course, the Army didn't have much of a quarrel with him, but the Air Force and the Navy did. Of course, you can't run a
shop like that, as tough as Johnson did and not make enemies.
HESS: Just one question, kind of an "iffy" question, for what it's worth. Wouldn't it have been a little wiser for Secretary Johnson to have toned down his disagreements with Acheson?
RENFROW: You couldn't ask him to tone down anything. In the first place, Louis Johnson was a millionaire; he didn't have to worry about money. He had run his own shop. At that time he had 125 lawyers working for him. He had a big law office here. He had the whole fifteenth floor of the Shoreham Building. He had a big law office in Clarksburg; he had another one in Charleston. He had 125 lawyers working for him in these law offices, and he wasn't about to kowtow to anybody. When he had an opinion, he had it, and he didn't care who disagreed with him. He told them about it. There's no way in the world you could have changed him. I mean, he was that way when he was Assistant Secretary of the Army, and he didn't change then.
HESS: Did you personally see that there might be some trouble for him in the offing?
RENFROW: Sure, I saw there was trouble for him, because I
saw the enemies he was making, and I knew what they would do. They'd cut his heart out if they could. And they did. But, there wasn't any way in the world to say to him, "Now, look, Mr. Secretary, don't do that." He'd have thrown me right out of the window. "And I wouldn't blame him at all. He knew more than all the rest of them did about the military and he knew what he was doing, and he knew exactly what it meant. As a matter of fact, the President told me out at Las Vegas that he made many mistakes, but one of the biggest mistakes he ever made was letting Louis Johnson get away from him.
HESS: As you mentioned it came down to a choice between Johnson and Acheson…
RENFROW: That's right, and an election was coming on and the fight was on politically, and there was a question of whether they were going to keep Acheson or keep Johnson.
HESS: Do you think the choice should have gone the other way?
RENFROW: Well, I don't know. Of course, I thought if he was going to get rid of one I thought it should have been Acheson, because, of course, I was loyal to Johnson.
HESS: I'd like to ask your opinion about the responsibilities of the Department of Defense and the Department of State. The Department of Defense has many programs that take place in the foreign field and that affect matters of foreign policy, and the Department of State is actually in charge of implementation of foreign policy. These are the two most powerful departments. Can you draw a neat line between the responsibilities of the two?
RENFROW: There never will be, and you see that right now, with the fight that's going on now with the Congress saying that [Dr. Henry] Kissinger is running the State Department and that [William P.] Rogers isn't. That's a lot of nonsense. You can't draw that line either, because Kissinger is an adviser to the President on all Defense matters and you can't draw a line down and say, "Look, you can't come over this line and Rogers can't go over this line." Those three people have to get along together, and they have to be congenial about it and I think Laird and Rogers and Kissinger are. I think it's the politicians on the Hill that are doing to Rogers exactly what they did to Johnson. They're trying to get him fired.
HESS: Do you recall the name of that politician
that made that statement the other day?
RENFROW: Of course I know who it was, and I heard what the President said about him too. And don't think that didn't hurt him, because of all the silly things in the world was to say that the cocktail circuit, or saying that Rogers is not Secretary of State but Kissinger. Now, I could care less about what the cocktail circuit says. That bunch of drunks.
HESS: All right, going back just a little bit to the Korean invasion. South Korea was invaded...
RENFROW: June 25, 1950.
HESS: Well, the 24th our time, the 25th their time, I think, something like that. Where were you at that time? What do you recall about that?
RENFROW: We were here, because the Secretary called me up. The attack came at 4 o'clock in the morning, and the Secretary called me up at the hotel and said, "Come over here. All hell's broken loose in Korea." And I went over and got in his car and went over to the Pentagon with him, I guess it was around 6:30 in the morning, and he told me that the war had started in Korea at 4 o'clock in the morning.
HESS: What seemed to be his attitude at that time?
RENFROW: Oh, he was worried to death, of course, because we weren't ready for a war, and the question of supplies and everything else had to be taken into consideration, the moving of manpower had to be take into consideration; the getting of manpower over there without adequate transportation was a consideration. And of course, he was just worried to death over the whole thing. Did I put on tape the other day about the bazooka ammunition?
RENFROW: Well, all right. July 4th, just less than a month, about two weeks after Korea started, he called in the Research and Development Board and he said, "Gentlemen, this piece of steel I have here is from a Russian tank used by the North Koreans. I've had it analyzed by the best steel companies in the country, and they tell me that this is the best steel being manufactured today in the world. Not only in the United States but in the world."
HESS: Even better steel than we had?
RENFROW: Better steel than we had; better steel than the British are making. Now he said, "Gentlemen, our bazooka ammunition is simply not adequate to take these things out of commission. It hits the side of
the tank and it might take a track off, or it might take a turret off or it might take a gun off, but it will be back in action again within a few days. Now, what I want to know is, do you have a shell, a bazooka shell, that will penetrate this steel and then blow?"
"Well," they said, "Mr. Secretary, we have a shell like that on the drawing board, but we've never tested it or made it or anything."
He said, "Gentlemen, this is July 4th [showing you we worked on holidays as well as any other day], I want you to have this shell manufactured and ready in San Francisco, on August the 4th, one month, on its way to Korea."
"Why," they said, "Mr. Secretary, you're talking about twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week."
He said, "That's precisely what I'm talking about."
On August 3rd, the Boxer left San Francisco so loaded with the new ammunition that her flight deck was almost awash, and she made the fastest time across the Pacific any Navy ship ever made up to that time. And when the new ammunition got there, within two weeks, you never heard of a Russian tank after that. They took
them out so quickly that the Russians pulled the rest of them out to keep them from being destroyed.
Now, I know what I'm talking about with this, because I was there. And the captain of that ship, of the Boxer, came in to report to the Secretary, "Mission accomplished." And as he went through my office into the boss' office I said to him, "Captain, I understand you made the fastest time across the Pacific any Navy ship ever made up to the present time?"
He said, "That's right."
I said, "What did you do, sit on the safety valve all the way over?"
He said, "I damned near did."
Now, I told that story up at Selfridge Field one time at a dedication up there, an anniversary celebration, where I was going to speak on military manpower, and all the audience were presidents, vice presidents of banks or companies or the big men of corporations. I didn't know what to tell them that would jar their back teeth, so I told them this story. When I got through a little man came up to me and he said, "My name is Johnson. I'm one of the vice presidents of General Motors." He said, "You know, I never heard a
more accurate story come out of Washington than what you told here tonight about the bazooka ammunition."
"Well," I said, "why shouldn't it be accurate? I was there, I know what happened. How do you know it's accurate?"
He said, "We made the shell."
HESS: He was one of those that was working around the clock to get those out.
RENFROW: Now, what I'm wondering about now is why we haven't got it in Vietnam. Of course, they've got a new shell in Vietnam now that took out nine Russian tanks yesterday, but it's run by radar and laser beams.
HESS: A little more than what they used to have back when we were around.
RENFROW: Oh, yes, these are much bigger things.
HESS: As you know, President Truman was in Independence the night of the invasion, and he came back on Sunday night, and then there was a meeting held at the Blair House and Secretary Johnson was present, in which it was decided what action to take in Korea. Did Secretary Johnson mention to you on Monday morning what had taken place?
RENFROW: He never did. He never divulged what happened at Cabinet meetings to anybody. I mean, Johnson wasn't that
type of an operator, and he never threw his weight around as far as he was concerned, as I say, he didn't have anything to worry about. He had a going concern, and he and his wife both, his wife is wealthier than he is. She owns a whole county in West Virginia with nothing on it but coal.
HESS: That would be pretty good, wouldn't it.
Now, we've mentioned a few of the things that arose after the Korean invasion, seeing about supplies, and bazooka shells, but what else comes to mind about rearming or getting ready for Korea?
RENFROW: Well, of course, all the services stepped up everything they could step up, and of course, we got an increased appropriation immediately from Congress because we had to in order to do it, and all the services did everything they could to get the business.
One of the most interesting stories, and I don't think we'd have time today for that, but one of the most interesting stories is General Frank Lowe. General Frank Lowe was an old friend of the President's. He served as military attache to the Truman Committee, that is, he was the military man on the Truman Committee. He became very fond of the President and knew him, of
course, quite well. And Frank lived up in Harrison, Maine. He was a very active Legionnaire, a member of the Legion, and Louis and Monroe Johnson and I were all out in Indianapolis at a Legion meeting. The boss, Louis Johnson, had his constellation plane, and as he was getting ready to leave I met Frank in the lobby of the club and. I said, "Frank, we're going to fly back to Washington in a few minutes. Why don't you come on and fly with us?"
He said, "Wait until I get my bag and I will go with you."
So he got on the plane with us and as we left Indianapolis and got settled, Louis Johnson said to me, "Lou, I want you to set up a trip to Japan. I want to go to see MacArthur in June. Set up a trip for me to go."
And Monroe Johnson spoke up and he said, "Well, Louis, I'd like to go with you," because MacArthur was Chief of Staff of the Rainbow Division in which Monroe served in World War I, he was a colonel of the Engineer Regiment of that Division. He said, "I'd like to go see MacArthur; I haven't seen him for a long time."
So Louis said, "All right, put Monroe on the plane."
And Frank Lowe spoke up and he said, "Well, I know MacArthur. I'd like to go too."
Well, Louis didn't want to make that trip look like a junket, so he didn't say anything about Frank. We got off the plane, and as we were going back to the Pentagon he said to me, "Don't put Frank on. I don't want this to look like a junket of my friends. It's all right with Monroe, because we can alibi that by saying he's going over to look over the railroads of Japan, but there's no alibi I can give for Frank, so don't put him on."
So I didn't. But I said, "Mr. Secretary, my oldest son is going to get married about that time and I'd like to go to the wedding and if you'll excuse me I don't think I'll go with you over to Japan."
He said, "That's all right. Put somebody else on. It's okay."
So I didn't go. They went over to Japan. Monroe, though, went down to the store and got a bunch of postcards and he wrote on them, "Having a great time. Wish you were here." Signed, "Monroe." And he sent all of us one of these cards, but he also sent one of them up to Frank Lowe in Maine. And Frank came down here to
Washington swinging that card in the air and went in to see the President, just raising hell over the fact that he wasn't taken on this trip.
"Oh," the President said, "Frank, forget it. I have people going over there all the time. I'll send you over some day."
So Frank went on back to Maine.
And one day I got a telephone call from Vaughan and he said, "There's a fellow here who wants to talk to you." And it was Frank Lowe at the White House.
He said, "Lou, I'm going tomorrow with Harriman over to see MacArthur and the President has ordered me to go as an Army officer on active duty."
I said, "Frank, my land, you're seventy-one years old. You can't go on active duty. You know what the rules and regulations in the Army are."
He said, "Look, the President told me to do this, and you better get it done."
I said, "All right."
Gordon Gray was then Secretary of the Army, so I called Gordon up and I said, "Gordon, are you sitting down or standing up?"
He said, "I'm sitting down, why?"
I said, "By orders of the President, General Frank Lowe is leaving tomorrow for Japan and he's going to leave in his rank of Major General on active duty. He'll be gone four days. Will you send the orders over here?"
He said, "Lou, you know the rules and regulations."
I said, "Yep, but did you hear what I said first? I said, 'The President directed that this be done."'
He said, "All right, I'll call you up in a few minutes." So he called Harry Vaughan and General Vaughan got the call and Gray said that I had called him. And he said, "Why, you know, Harry, I can't do this. It's against all regulations for a man seventy-one years old being on active duty."
Vaughan said, "Well, I'll tell you, Mr. Secretary, you just hold on and let me connect you with the President."
He said, "Oh, no, wait, don't do that. No, no, don't do that; I'll take care of it. I'll take care of it."
So, he called me back and said, "I'll send his I.D. and everything else over to you in a few minutes. But he's got to take seven different shots and innoculations
to go to Japan tomorrow."
So I called the doctor in the dispensary and I said, "Bring all the medicine up here and bring a nurse with you. I think we're going to kill a Major General right here in my office, but I can't help it. He wants to do it."
So the doctor brought up the innoculations and the shots that the General had to have. You know, the General stood there and the doctor wore out one arm and then he wore out the other arm, and the General never even sat down. He stood up there and took all of them.
HESS: He wanted to go to Japan, didn't he?
RENFROW: And he never even changed color.
So I said, "Now, General, you can't go see the great MacArthur in that hunting coat you've got on there."
He says, "It's all I have. I don't have a uniform."
I said, "All right." I picked up the phone and I called General Herman Feldman, who was then Quartermaster General of the Army. I said, "Herman, I'm going to send a Major General down in the car. He's leaving tomorrow for Japan, and fit him out from head to toe. Throw your memorandum receipt away, because I don't think
you'll ever get it back, but fit him out."
Herman said, "All right, send him down."
So I sent him down, but before he left he said to me, "I wish you'd get me a forty-five automatic and an under shoulder holster." And he said, "I broke my watch coming down on the train last night and I need a new watch, and I'd like to have a pair of binoculars."
Now, he was only going to Japan for four days, you see.
HESS: It sounds like he was getting ready for the invasion of France.
RENFROW: So I said, "All right." So I called the ordnance and told them to send me up an automatic; I called the Air Force and told them to send me down a watch; and I got hold of a pair of binoculars and I got it all ready and he left the next day for Japan.
About five days later, Harriman came in to our office to see the Secretary and as he went through the office I said, "Where is your aide?" You know, calling Lowe his aide. And he said, "Oh, he stayed over there. MacArthur wanted him to stay."
I said, "He's only got orders for a week."
He said, "You better change his orders, because he's going to stay for a while."
So I called Gordon Gray and I said, "Gordon, you better change those orders to 'indefinite."'
And he did, and MacArthur kept him over there and he had an office not very far from MacArthur's, right there in the building, and he went back and forth over to Korea and he went with the Marines when they went up the Yalu River. Of course, the Marines, the commanding general of the Marines, he felt the Chinese were coming in , so he dragged his feet. The Army went right up in the mountains, and they lost fifty percent of their command up there. The Marines lost twenty-five percent, but the General dragging his feet a little bit saved some of his men.
Then the Marines went back and got on a boat and Lowe stood at the foot of the gangplank with a couple of automatics and said, "All right, boys, go on up." And the Communists were coming in the city right outside the city. He said, "Go on up, boys, I'm an old man, and I'll protect your rear as long as I can." And do you know that MacArthur gave him the DSC? So when I heard that I said to the President, "You can't
give Frank any less than a DSM."
And he said, "Get one ready. I'll give it to the old fool." And he did.
So Frank got a DSC and a DSM at seventy-one years of age.
HESS: Very good.
RENFROW: No other person in the military service ever did that. And I told this whole story up at a testimonial dinner for him in Maine about six years ago, he and his wife were sitting there, and I told this whole story, and he just sat there and beamed. Poor fellow, he died in the last year. His wife's still alive, though. She was up there.
HESS: Did you leave the Department of Defense the same time that Louis Johnson did?
RENFROW: September 19th. What happened was, I called Vaughan after the resignation was announced by the press, I called Vaughan and I said, "You know what happened. I'm going to leave the service; I'm going to retire. I can't stay here. Marshall's going to be Secretary of Defense, and I can't stay here."
He said, "Don't you do anything until I call you."
So in a few minutes he said, "The President wants
to see you at 3 o'clock tomorrow afternoon."
I said, "All right."
He said, "Don't you do anything until you see him."
So I went over to see the President. And the President said, "What do you mean you're going to resign, you're going to retire?"
I said, "Mr. President, I can't stay over there with Marshall. In the first place, Marshall's got Colonel Schultz as his top assistant, who he has had all these years. He isn't going to make any difference, and I'm going to be pushed over to one side. And besides, I'm a Reserve officer; General Marshall's a Regular officer, and I haven't any business over there, Mr. President."
He says, "I can arrange that. I can work that out."
I said, "Yeah, I know you can, Mr. President, but it wouldn't be pleasant like it is now. Now, under Johnson,. I never had to look behind me to be sure that somebody wasn't going to stick me with a knife, and I couldn't be sure of that over there under those circumstances."
He said, "Well, I got another job for you."
I said, "All right, what do you want me to do, Mr.
He said, "I want you to go down and be Deputy Director of Selective Service."
I said, "Well, that's fine, Mr. President, except you don't appoint the Deputy Director of Selective Service. General Hershey appoints him."
He said, "You go down there and report to General Hershey. When you get there, you'll find out who's going to be Deputy Director."
When I got there, Hershey immediately said, "You're going to be Deputy Director."
So, I knew what happened. But I was there seven years as Deputy Director, and I never had a finer time and a more enjoyable experience than I had there.
HESS: Do you think we've pretty well covered your duties and reminiscences?
RENFROW: I think so. The rest of it is in the book.
HESS: Fine, and when the book is ready and when the manuscript is ready, they will go to the Library.
RENFROW: I'm moving on it now, and I'm going to move more and get it done.
Biography of Louis Huber Renfrow, D.D.S., L.L.D., Brigadier General (Ret.) (Truman Library Oral History Background File)
American Legion Convention, 91-93
Azores, Portugal, 130-131
Dawson, Donald S., 46, 47
Elsey, George, 60
Fairbank, Leigh, 8
armed forces, reduction of, role played in, 127
Secretary of Defense in 1948, appointment, 76-80
Sullivan, John, resignation requested by, 110-113
Judd, Walter, 15-16
Laird, Melvin, 129, 139
MacArthur, Douglas, 151
Murdock, Abe, 18-19
Reber, General Miles, 15
Selective Service, 1941, assignment to, 8-9
Selective Service, Deputy Director of, 154
Truman, Harry S.:
recollections of, early, 3-4
Presidential campaign of 1948, traveling with, 81-89
World War I, Jefferson Barracks, enlistment into, 7
Rigdon, Commander William, 61
Rogers, William P., 138, 139
Ross, Charles G., 31-32, 46-48, 57-58
Rowley, James, 85-86, 93, 100
Royall, Kenneth C., 115
Russell, Richard, 87
Selective Service legislation, 11-17
Senate Armed Services Committee, 15
Snyder, John W., 3-4, 37, 73-74
Steelman, John R., 45-46, 48, 59, 60
Stowe, David H., 58, 59
Sullivan, John, 99, 110-113
Symington, Stuart, 123-124
Taft, Robert A., 18
Hume, Paul, HST letter to, 51-52
Leahy, Admiral William, conversation with, 64-65
Pendergast, Thomas, conversation with, 5
Presidential Election of 1948, fundraising, 71-73
Selective Appointment, Korean War, 153-154
Selective Service extension, Executive order, signing of, 19-20
Senatorial campaign of 1934, 5-6
Truman, Mrs. Harry or Margaret, criticization, results of, 50
"Turnip-Day" session, 80th Congress, 89
United States Air Force, aircraft, 124