Oral History Interview with
Secretary of the Treasury in the Truman Administration,
1946-53. Other Federal positions once held include Executive Vice-President
and Director, Defense Plant Corporation, 1940-43; Assistant to the Director
of the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, 1940-44; Federal Loan Administrator,
1945; Director, Office of War Mobilization and Reconversion, 1945-46.
Secretary Snyder was a longtime close friend of Harry S. Truman beginning
with their service in the U.S. Army Reserves after World War I.
John W. Snyder
April 2, 1969
By Jerry N. Hess
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Transcript | Additional Snyder Oral History
This is a transcript of a tape-recorded interview conducted for the Harry S. Truman Library. A draft of this transcript was edited by the interviewee but only minor emendations were made; therefore, the reader should remember that this is essentially a transcript of the spoken, rather than the written word.
Numbers appearing in square brackets (ex. ) within the transcript indicate the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview.
This oral history transcript may be read, quoted from, cited, and reproduced for purposes of research. It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.
Opened September, 1970
Harry S. Truman Library
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Oral History Interview with
John W. Snyder
April 2, 1969
By Jerry N. Hess
HESS: Mr. Snyder, this morning let's discuss Mr. Truman in his relaxed moments. Did you accompany the President on any of his trips to Shangri-La or to Key West or aboard the Williamsburg?
SNYDER: It was my privilege, Mr. Hess, to go with him on many of those trips. Frequently he would have someone call out to the house and invite Mrs. Snyder, Drucie and I to come down on Sunday and go down the river for a day's trip. Sometimes it would be only his family and my family and one or two others, sometimes it would be a little larger. Never any very large parties. Usually he had his aides along, his Naval Aide and his Military Aide, and his Air Force Aide later. In the earlier days Sam Rosenman used to be along. And he would sometimes invite various members of the staff. The Vinsons were invited
frequently. The President enjoyed talking with him -- talking about Congress and things of that sort. Barkley used to go in later years. These were usually rather small parties. Sometimes he would give a good sized dinner on the Williamsburg. Shangri-La was somewhat the same. He never carried large crowds up there, it was usually just limited to family and aides and one or two others.
Key West was a little different. Whenever I went down to Key West it was largely business, and I would usually go only for one or two days, and might stay over night. But Mr. Truman was down there to relax and at the same time if I wanted to relax I would go to wherever I wanted to. There is always business going on. The President never get away from business, and the daily pouch comes in with documents to sign and decisions to be made and memorandums to send back. Usually when we went to Shangri-La it was for a weekend,
and not too much took place there in the way of business. And on the day trips for the Williamsburg, it was an exceptional case when there was any business.
But on one very delightful trip that we took, we went from here up to the Quonset Point, Rhode Island naval installation and for a brief visit to the Naval War College at Newport, Rhode Island. From Quonset Point the President's party sailed to Bermuda, and had a most delightful visit there for several days. I left the Williamsburg at Quonset Point and rejoined it in Bermuda after a trip back to Washington. On the trip business was carried on in the morning when the pouch would be flown in and the President would spend several -- maybe even two or three hours on his work there, and he would call in various ones when needed. We had several conferences on urgent matters on that particular trip.
Now there were Williamsburg trips when he would call certain people to take a trip to discuss particular matters and there would be a whole afternoon devoted to discussion of problems. I remember one in particular -- I think we mentioned it before -- Sam Rosenman and I went with him down the Potomac on the Mayflower, just before he left for Potsdam. It was strictly business that day because we were discussing what things were likely to come up and the approach to them -- angles that he should weigh. He afterwards said that that was an extremely useful program that we went through at that time because it sharpened his thinking as to what might come up. And we had the advantage of having Steve Early and Sam Rosenman along on that trip, and their experiences with Mr. Roosevelt were extremely useful.
So I again repeat that the President never gets away from business, but sometimes on those
little pleasure trips for the day, or just for the weekend, there was a minimum of business and he loved to talk about history. He loved to reminisce about some of our experiences at the summer camps that he and I used to attend. We used to talk about World War I -- we were not together at that time, but we would compare experiences on what happened.
HESS: Do you recall what experiences seemed to stand out in his mind about his experiences in World War I?
SNYDER: Well, yes, the thing that stood out was his becoming battery commander and being actually in charge of a very important segment of the offense. The field artillery was a very vital part of our drive -- especially the barrages that were laid down in front of our troops when they moved forward.
HESS: Is this when he became commander of Battery D?
SNYDER: That's right.
HESS: I have read that the Irishmen in that battery had caused their former commanders a good many headaches.
SNYDER: That is true. It was very difficult for that battery to retain a commanding officer. And when Mr. Truman, who has always been a very mild mannered man and very soft spoken, really took hold and laid the law down after the first week or two in which they were playing all sorts of tricks on him to test him out. He set some rules that he enforced to the letter. And they suddenly woke up to the fact that they were not going to carry on with him as they had with some of the previous commanders.
HESS: Do you ever recall him saying what kind of tricks they were playing on him or what they were
doing to test him out?
SNYDER: Well, it was largely pretending to be alert and then sloughing off, you know, or things of that sort and snap to attention and then just kind of loll around, don't you see. Just irritation, things to annoy him, such as being late for formation, you know, giving all sorts of excuses why it was. There was nothing that was punishable by court martial particularly.
HESS: Just irritating?
SNYDER: Just thoroughly irritating -- it would get under your skin as a battery commander.
HESS: Recall anything else he may have said about the First World War?
SNYDER: He apparently was given some very interesting assignments when the battery was put into action and then, of course, his battery, as you
have learned, is probably the largest battery that the world has ever known. I think that the last count was about thirty-six hundred members that belong to that battery. And you know...
HESS: Or, at least claimed to be members.
SNYDER: The latter is of course true -- at least claimed, because actually, as you know, a battery at that time had somewhere around two hundred people -- around one hundred eighty-five to two hundred and twenty-five at various times. And when you stop to think of the turnover that in the short time that they were -- I think that that battery was only in France less than a year -- and what a terrific turnover that would have been to have that many people. But, we have always enjoyed talking about it and he thoroughly enjoyed his military experience and he greatly liked and was very lenient towards those who were in his battery or connected in any way. They
used to have a joke when he was Presiding Judge in Jackson County. As you know, his judgeship was not judicial, it was largely administrative and took care of the County's affairs and eleemosynary institutions and...
SNYDER: ...roads and things of that character, and the courthouse operation. They used to have a standing joke saying "Well, this guy will get whatever he's going to ask for, he was in Battery D."
HESS: At the times that they would go to Key West, which were vacations of a longer duration, approximately what percentage of the day would you think was spent on business matters and what percent was spent on relaxation?
SNYDER: That would vary from day to day. If something
urgent or special came up, of course...
HESS: And the business at hand.
SNYDER: Yes. If something would come up that was of importance, then they would spend the whole day working on it. Otherwise, as routine, I would say an hour or two in the morning. After the pouch came in the President studied over things and if it required some discussion and research he would call in the right ones to discuss it. Or he would sign the necessary papers and get those bundled up and by noon they were pretty cleaned up. In the afternoon everyone would go fishing or swimming and relax a little.
HESS: Did you ever go fishing and swimming down there?
SNYDER: No. No, I did in Bermuda but not in Key West. When I would go down to Key West it was
usually because I had some matters of real importance to talk over with the President and get his clearance on or get his reactions to them as to whether he agreed with certain programs, or I'd furnish him details on a program that he would ask me to bring up. And then we would work pretty steadily. In the late afternoons and evenings we would relax. The staff that went down with him had a lot of fun. There was a sprinkling of people that would drop in to say hello. Usually the visitors would stay over in Key West, but when I was going to stay overnight I was quartered there in the compound.
HESS: And you accompany the President on any other of the trips that he took? A few of the trips that I remember -- remember the Liberty Bells that France gave the United States for each state and...
SNYDER: Well now, I'11 have to correct you on that. France did not give those. Those were purchased by the Savings Bond program and a number of the copper and brass companies paid for them. The Ford Motor Company furnished the vehicles to carry them to their final destinations, and all those bells, if you ever look at one of them, they all have my name on the plaque displayed with them. It was under my jurisdiction that those bells were cast in the likeness and in the alloy of the original Liberty Bell and they were cast at Annecy in France. It was the only company that we could find that could do that exact bell. But those bells were not given by France at all. They were paid for by a number of the copper and brass companies and the structural support was supplied by the American Bridge Building Company, a subsidiary of the U.S. Steel, and the Ford Motor Company furnished us with trucks
to distribute them throughout the United States. We had ceremonies in each state and had their bell go around over the state. Now, the one that is for Missouri is in Jefferson City, but there is another one on the grounds of the Truman Library; that was a special one that was presented to President Truman by the little city of Annecy. These bells were actually cast in Annecy-le Vieux -- that's the old town, and it's within a mile and a half, two miles of the city itself, and I was there at the time that the bells were ready for delivery, and at a ceremony the Mayor of Annecy presented me with a little replica and also announced that the village was giving one to President Truman as a personal gift.
HESS: Do you recall anything about the trip that you made with the President out to Independence at the date that that was dedicated?
SNYDER: Yes, I recall we flew out there, and attended
several ceremonies in connection with the presentation. The Mayor of Independence, [Robert P., Jr.] Weatherford was present, and we had with us the Mayor of Annecy, Georges Volland. He came over for the presentation and I think that the services were in one of the churches. We had a program there and then later went out on the grounds of the Memorial Building.
HESS: That's right. As I have it in my note here on November 6 of the 1950 volume, it has: "The President spoke from a stand in front of the Memorial Building in Independence, Missouri."
SNYDER: That's correct.
HESS: And the bell was there for quite some time.
SNYDER: It stood there until the ground at the Library was prepared. That's correct. Yes, Iím glad that we got that all clarified.
HESS: As how many bells there were and...
SNYDER: Yes, there were fifty-three in all that were purchased for the Savings Bond Program. This was the fifty-fourth one. This wasn't one of the fifty-three, because fifty-three of them were purchased by the people who put up the money for them. We had special arrangements cleared for them to buy these bells for us and make a donation to the liberty program that we called the "Liberty Drive."
HESS: That for the fifty-three, but the fifty-fourth bell to Mr. Truman was really a gift from the people of France.
SNYDER: From the people of Annecy, France.
HESS: The little town.
SNYDER: From the village itself -- the town itself, yes.
HESS: All right. Mr. Snyder, so much for the dedication of the bell in Independence on November 6, 1950, and of course this was shortly after the attempt on President Truman's life on November the 1st of that year. What do you recall about that?
SNYDER: I was at the Treasury office and Mr. Truman was at the Blair House. We were preparing to go out to Arlington Cemetery to dedicate a statue to Sir John Dill, who had been extremely cooperative and helpful to us in World War II. I received a message that there had been an attempt on the President's life. The Secret Service, of course as you know, operates under the Treasury. When I received the message, I immediately got in touch with the President and it was decided that we would move right on out to Arlington to the ceremony. Now, for your information, when Mr. Truman and his family came
and went from Blair House by car, they usually used the back door. It was rare that he would ever dismount from a car or enter a car in front or on the Pennsylvania side of the Blair House. Whether this was confusion or misinformation, the exact plan of the assassins was never too clear as to whether they were intending to try to blast their way into the Blair House, or whether they were waiting for him to emerge and then attempt the assassination. There was a most unusual situation that could have been tragic, when during some of the firing, Mr. Truman came to a second story window and looked out -- raised it and looked out. The Secret Service immediately called to him to get back inside and to get under cover. Later we went right on. He went out the back door, and I joined him at the statue site in Arlington Cemetery.
HESS: What seemed to be his attitude when you spoke
to him on the phone shortly after the attempt?
SNYDER: His attitude was "Well, some fool down here tried to take a shot at me." He said, "We mustn't let that interfere with our ceremony and proceed right on to it." Of course, the Secret Service was busy with the aftermath of the shooting. But he went out the back door and was gone without the people in front knowing of his departure. It took some time to straighten up matters. There were two people killed and three badly wounded, right there on the steps. So it took some time to get ambulances in, but that was carried on as though nothing happened inside the house. The president went out the back door and proceeded on over to Arlington.
When we arrived there, the crowd, of course, had largely assembled about the time that the attempt was made and it was very noticeable as the whispered word spread after President Truman
showed up. The President never said a great deal about it one way or the other, at the time. The next day at a press conference, Thursday the 2nd, the press was very eager to get something right from the President himself. One of the reporters went into a long story about how some of the press had missed the attempt that was made on President Roosevelt, and how he had kindly given them a personal report of it later. Mr. Truman cut it right off and told them if they wanted the story to read it in a reliable paper, and then they would have it. And as I recall, he never made any public statement regarding the attempt. It was a closed matter to him. Naturally, it was a shock to the family more so than to him, as he considered it to be one of the natural hazards of being President. We have had quite a number of Presidents who have had attempts made on their lives, and four actually have been assassinated And he didn't pass it off lightly but he did not
discuss it a great deal.
HESS: Since that time, of course, one of our Presidents has been shot down by an assassin, President Kennedy. Is there really anything that the Secret Service can do to afford a greater degree of protection to the President?
SNYDER: I doubt it. There's a human element there, Mr. Hess, that enters into it that you just can't -- take the Kennedy assassination. The only thing of course, Mr. Truman was not exposed to the assassins as was Mr. Kennedy. Mr. Kennedy had insisted on riding in the open car. That, of course, they finally decided just would not happen. But Mr. Roosevelt was shot in a closed car that had the windows down. But I don't think it was an open car as I recall it, I just -- it's still not too clear. Mayor [Anton Joseph] Cermak was a very good friend of mine. They shot from his side. So even with all the phalanx of protection
that you put around them you can't figure out the person who is going to try to shoot somebody, and in the manner in which he is going to do it. With the President and the exposure that he has in crowds and during speeches, travel, it's a fantastic job to try to supply adequate protection. And strangely enough most Presidents resent all this attention that's given them and they feel like they are caged animals. They just don't stop to think that it's only for them and the country that the attempt is made to protect them to the extent that it is.
HESS: I've read that Mr. Truman liked to see if he could slip off from his Secret Service protection sometimes. Is that true?
SNYDER: I think that Mr. Truman was really very considerate of the Secret Service and truly appreciated the problem, but if he could just get little jokes on them, he did it more for
variety than any real attempt to try -- he liked to tell that he did such things, but actually Mr. Truman was very considerate of the Secret Service. Of course, they had a change of pace there that caused them to feel his alertness a little more, because they had had the years with Mr. Roosevelt who was somewhat limited in his mobility. With Mr. Truman, who was very active and quite a walker, they had a change in pace that took them some months to get accustomed to. And he did love those walks. He sometimes nearly walked them out of breath on those sprints that he would take every morning. At first, they weren't accustomed to that but they soon got used to it and I think that the record will show that Mr. Truman did respect their responsibilities and worked with them quite well.
HESS: We mentioned the trip to Independence. Do you recall any other trips that you took with the
President? Anything come to mind?
SNYDER: Well, I went to three conventions with him. I was with him when he was nominated Vice President. I was at the Philadelphia convention with him and came back on the train with him in 1949. 1 flew out to the 1952 convention in Chicago with him in the presidential plane, stayed with him while there and came back with him. He and I would go back to Missouri together and he would drop me off in St. Louis frequently. I did not go on campaign trips with him. The only speech that I actually attended -- campaign speech, other than at a convention or here -- was in St. Louis.
HESS: Kiel Auditorium.
SNYDER: Yes. But we made quite a number of trips for special occasions and things of that sort.
HESS: Think that's pretty good for one morning?
SNYDER: All right, thank you very much.
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