Aide To Four Presidents

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*Sir Winston has written that President Roosevelt was so ill after Yalta that General Marshall handled all exchanges with Churchill and Stalin. He is mistaken about that. Before and after Yalta all dispatches dealing with military or naval matters were taken up by Admiral Leahy with the Joint Chiefs. They blocked out a recommended dispatch. President Roosevelt usually accepted the sense of this message, but by rephrasing or adding a word or two gave the message a Rooseveltian touch that could be recognized by all who were familiar with his style and favorite expressions. This procedure was continued to the day of his death.

On the morning of President Truman’s first day of office I made my usual routine visit to the Navy Department, but on arrival at the White House, I was told by a somewhat flustered assistant that the President had been in his office for well over an hour and was somewhat impatiently waiting for Admiral Leahy and me to make our report. We hastily assembled our papers, hurried over to the Executive Office and were ushered into the President’s private office at once.

Since the Roosevelt fourth term inaugural ceremonies, I had seen nothing of Vice-President Truman. And even on that occasion he kept rather modestly in the background. I was naturally anxious now to have a closer look at him and to see how he stood up under the shock of assuming without warning the grave responsibilities that lay ahead. He was alone in the presidential office, seated behind the large desk still covered with F.D.R.’s trinkets and gadgets—looking rather small in contrast to the larger figure of his predecessor. His expression of alert expectancy, so cleverly hit upon by some cartoonists, made me feel at once that he would note accurately all I had to say and how I said it. We moved up to his desk, and Leahy, standing as we had been brought up to do when making reports to seniors, and always did with F.D.R., began to give a general outline of what war problems the Joint Staff were working on. The President interrupted at once, “For God’s sake sit down! You make me nervous! Come around here in the light where I can get a good look at you.” And when we had pulled up chairs he examined each one of us in turn, just as some doctors do, without the least trace of self-consciousness about the fact that we were also examining him.

During the wakeful hours of the night before I had asked myself what was the most important problem of the war situation that I should bring to President Truman’s attention while I still had the chance. I decided that the increasing Russian arrogance since Yalta was most important. Circumstances gave me a good opening, for I had the report of Lend-Lease that came to my desk each month for delivery to the President. And so when Leahy had finished his brief summing up of problems before the Joint Staff, I told President Truman about Stalin’s bitter messages accusing us of bad faith in negotiations for the surrender of Austrian troops and of President Roosevelt’s angry reply. I mentioned also Roosevelt’s growing concern for the increasing number of reports of Russian misdeeds. I handed Mr. Truman an inventory of Lend-Lease supplies then en route to Russia—a perfectly amazing list of shiploads of locomotives, railroad cars, miles of track, trucks, artillery, gasoline, food—and stated that the Russian people were not being told where those vast stores came from, and that the Russian government never even said “thank you” to us. I urged the President to take the list home and study it carefully at his leisure. “Thank you, I will,” he said, and I felt confident that he would not forget the matter in the flurry of his first day of office.

As we were leaving, I told him that two highly competent officers had been in training for over a year in preparation for duty as new aides: Colonel Parks of the Army, a former attaché in Moscow who spoke Russian and had combat experience in Europe; and Commander Tyree of the Navy, a submarine captain with numerous cruises in Japanese waters to his credit. I added that Dr. McIntire had told me that I could plan on retiring. President Truman thanked me politely for my recommendation of Parks and Tyree, and added that he was willing to let me go only because Dr. McIntire said he ought to.

I felt quite pleased with the interview—reassured for the country’s welfare by the poise of our new leader and gratified that he would have such competent aides as the two I had recommended. My gratification was somewhat dashed before nightfall, however, when the evening paper announced that the Military Aide would be a Colonel Vaughan and the Naval Aide a Lt. Commander Vardaman, U.S.N.R.—being rushed back from the Pacific to take charge. This announcement was made, as I understood it, by Vaughan—not by the President.