Aide To Four Presidents

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In spite of the record he made later, I found Colonel Vaughan a pleasant man to work with. He had a friendly smile, easy manner, and no airs. My first serious question to him was whether he or the Naval Aide would take charge of the map room. Vaughan immediately rejected the idea of having any part of it. He said he did not know the Pentagon, knew practically no one who worked there, and didn’t pretend to know very much about strategy. I think I quote almost his exact words to clarify his future role: “Harry Truman would rather be called a horse thief than thought to have a swelled head now that he’s President. I’m an old friend who knows most of his old friends and my principal job is going to be to handle the personal correspondence he hasn’t time for.” That pleased me too, as it looked as if our capable understudies, Tyree, Parks, and Elsey would continue their service while the war lasted. I had not been comforted by that thought for more than a few hours when Secretary Early brought a young man to my regular, tiny office in the basement and introduced him as one destined to hold a very important position in the Truman administration—he was not at liberty to say what. I shall call him “Mr. X.” as I haven’t the faintest recollection of his real name. Mr. X. informed me that he had been making a survey of the assignment of office space in the White House and that his first conclusion was that all officers of the Army and Navy would have to move elsewhere, that Mr. Truman was a man who liked privacy and liked to read in surroundings where he would not be disturbed, and that we should therefore look for office space elsewhere. I pointed out to him the absurdity of suggesting that President Truman would ever seek privacy in the basement alongside the kitchen when he had ample space for privacy and quiet in his extensive living quarters, that it had taken years of intelligent work to develop the map room as an essential part of the equipment of the President of the United States in carrying out his duties as Commander-in-Chief in time of war, which I reminded him was still going on. I pointed out to him that it would be easy to destroy the function of that room in its convenient location and impossible to replace its usefulness elsewhere. Mr. X. did not seem impressed, but I never saw or heard of him again. His talents were not employed at the White House after all.

It seemed to me that during the first few days of the Truman administration there was a greater feeling of uncertainty, and therefore of unrest, among many who had served President Roosevelt than there had been during the Coolidge-Hoover turnover. This was perhaps natural, as in the latter instance there had been ample time to plan ahead, whereas President Truman and his followers had no warning. Nevertheless I had the unpleasant feeling that there was a general scramble among some former Truman associates to get in the limelight and to push out all who were in the way. It seemed to me that this unseemly haste did not come from President Truman himself, but from his too-eager followers.

A farewell dinner

When I had been relieved from all active duty, my wife and I packed our belongings for about the fifteenth time and moved to our house in the country at Waterford, Connecticut, where we have lived ever since except for trips to milder climes each winter. We have made it a point to visit Washington once a year to keep in touch with old friends, but during none of these visits did I ever return to the White House as I had no urge to play the part of Rip Van Winkle. So that, except for occasional correspondence with some of my old friends continuing their map room service, I had no association with the Truman administration for seven years until, out of a clear sky on December 12, 1952, a telegram reached me from Secretary Connelly which read:

“The President hopes that you can come to the White House on the evening of December eighteenth at 7:30 P.M. at which time he is giving an informal dinner (Black Tie) for the men who have served him in various capacities on a staff level since he first took office in April ’45…”

The night of December the 18th turned out to be a clear, mild, starlit night. As I walked slowly from the Army and Navy Club along the park to the brightly lighted residence, I thought of the many, many times I had covered the same route before, usually in a White House car in uniform, in company with my Army colleagues, Cheney, Winship, Latrobe, or my beloved Pa Watson. I arrived at the North Door in a very sentimental frame of mind to be met by my old friends the ushers, all three of whom had served through the Roosevelt incumbency, and by Mays, the doorman, who dates back certainly to Calvin Coolidge and, I think perhaps even to Theodore Roosevelt. Everything seemed as it always had been; it was as if I had left only the night before instead of seven years ago.

But when I entered the Blue Room with the other guests, it was quite a different story. Leahy, Jonathan Daniels, and Vaughan were almost the only ones I recognized. The others seemed very young. They were very friendly and cordial. It was nice to be back. On studying the plaque I was surprised and delighted to find that I would sit on the President’s left, between him and Vaughan. Before he came down I had time to inspect all the rooms on the main floor to note the changes that had been made in the complete rebuilding and redecorating of the reception rooms. In spite of the newness of everything it seemed unchanged.