Oral History Interview with
Seventeen year veteran with the Associated Press. Later news editor and acting managing editor of the Providence (Rhode Island) Journal-Bulletin, after which he served in the White House as liaison for the press-radio division of the Office of Inter-American Affairs. In January, 1945, he became part of the White House staff as a press officer until he retired at the end of the Truman administration.
Eben A. Ayers
August 6, 1968
Jerry N. Hess
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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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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 August, 1972
Harry S. Truman Library
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Oral History Interview with
August 6, 1968
Jerry N. Hess
HESS: Mr. Ayers, in our last interview, you stated that you were in the Independence-Kansas City area with the President at the time of the Korean invasion in June of 1950. What do you recall of the events of that time?
AYERS: Well, that trip started out as simply a weekend visit for the President to his home, I think partly for business purposes and also to see the family. In connection with the trip, he was to go to Friendship Airport, which had just been completed outside of Baltimore, and dedicate that airport. As there was not any official relationship to his visit to Independence, no large staff accompanied him out there, Charlie Ross, the press secretary didn't go and I went in his place, and the chronology of it began on Saturday morning, June 24th. At that time the President was going to Friendship Airport. I left the White House with the President and General [Harry H.] Vaughan and we rode together over to the National Airport to board the Independence, the President's airplane. In the party on the plane were Admiral [Robert L.] Dennison, General [Robert B.] Landry, General [Wallace] Graham, Miss [Rose]
Conway, the President's personal secretary, and me.
Also, for the trip from the National Airport to Friendship Airport, some of the Maryland and Baltimore, particularly Baltimore, officials were taken along. So they boarded the plane there too; according to the notes that I made afterwards, I think these included Governor [William Preston] Lane of Maryland, Mayor [Thomas] D'Alesandro of Baltimore, and, I think, a couple of Congressmen and several other people. I know that there was some joking about the mayor, who I believe hadn't made an airplane flight before in his life, at least he was a little scared about it, and he was kidded a little bit, but he went through with it. So we flew over to the airport and got there about 11 o'clock, as I recall, and the President spoke briefly, dedicating the airport. He was there, actually, I think, a little less than an hour. Then those of us with the President boarded the plane again, leaving Maryland and Baltimore officials there, and we took off and flew directly to Independence. We didn't go back to Washington or stop anywhere en route. I think that we landed out there at Kansas City about 4 o'clock in the afternoon, that is, 4 o'clock eastern daylight, which was around 2 o'clock central time. The President
was met there by his sister, and some others, and he drove immediately out to his home in Independence. General Landry, the Air Force Aide, and I, went to the Muehlebach Hotel. I don't recall that Admiral Dennison went out to Independence. I have no clear recollection one way or the other, but I don't recall or find in my notes anything referring to him again. So I think he may not have made that part of the trip. There was a group of newspapermen, as usual, in a separate plane, a press plane, and they all stayed in Kansas City at the Muehlebach Hotel. Now, as I say, there was nothing of an official nature, and no news, actually, for the newspapermen, other than to record the President's safe arrival, and to know that he went to his home. So there was nothing that evening. I had dinner with one of the newspapermen, Anthony Leviero of the New York Times. And later in the evening, I did receive some queries, I think from the United Press man--it must have been Merriman Smith--I believe he was the one then--about reports of fighting in Korea where forces from the North were launching an attack on the South. But I didn't communicate with the President at all during the evening, as I knew that he would be notified directly if there was anything that he should actually know about. So I
retired, I guess, at the normal time. Anyway, some time during the middle of the night I was awakened by a hammering at the door, and one of the communications men delivered a message for the President to me. It was a message to the President, from, I think, Secretary of State Acheson, forwarding a report from the U.S. Ambassador at Seoul, Korea, informing him of the outbreak of hostilities. I debated with myself as to whether I should call him. I figured then, correctly, as it developed a little later, that Acheson would call him directly if he felt it was essential that the President know any more. And that's actually what did happen. I had already arranged during the evening with the Secret Service man [Howard S.] Anderson, who was Chief of the Kansas City Secret Service office then--he'd been in the White House detail, and I knew Anderson well--to drive me over to Independence the next morning. That was before we knew of any developments in Korea. I had never been to Independence and over to the house, in fact, I had never been to Kansas City before. So the next morning, after I awoke, I telephoned over to the house and found that the President had gotten up early and had left his home to drive out to his brother's farm, and to see his sister in Grandview. So I couldn't reach
him then, but Anderson came in shortly with his car and we drove over to Independence, and by the time we got over there and drove in the back yard, the President had returned. I was taken in the side door, or the back door, and the President came down and took me into the library, and I delivered the telegram from Acheson to him. And we sat and talked. He told me he had talked with Acheson by phone during the night and that Acheson told him that he had sent the telegram, which added little if anything to what he had already told him. He said the United Nations' Security Council had been called to meet in the afternoon, and the President said that unless something more developed, he didn't want to cut his visit short and return, and he didn't expect he'd have to. He felt if he were to do that it might alarm people, and he said that Acheson would phone him later if he felt the President should be notified or should go back to Washington. He told me of his visit out to the farm where he and his brother, Vivian, and their four sons and daughter and five grandchildren all were, and he looked over a milking machine, saw a new horse, and then went over to see his sister. He said he cleared up some personal business which he had with the family, and which had to do largely with some
work about the farm. Now that was all they had except that when I left the house and I went out the gate, all the newspapermen were there waiting. There was quite a crowd out, reporters, correspondents, and photographers.
HESS: One question there, did the President seem to be greatly concerned about the events in Korea at this time?
AYERS: Well, I don't know how you answer a question like that. The President was not one to show great concern about a thing. He wasn't going to get excited and carried away about anything. I think he was concerned, of course. When you ask questions like that, or when anybody does, about the concern of a President, and I think this would apply of any President probably--a man who gets to the point where he's President of the United States isn't going to get up and run around in little circles and get overly excited. He's going to keep his head. He just talked casually and easily about the situation, without any excitement about it.
When I went out the gate, of course, all these photographers and reporters began to ask questions and I just told them--they asked if he was concerned, and I said that naturally he was concerned, but he wasn't alarmed. That's the way I put it then, and I think that was a fair statement.
About an hour and a half later after I got back to the hotel, the word came that the President was going to go back to Washington as soon as possible, and that efforts were being made to round up everyone, others of the staff, the few that there were, and newspapermen. We couldn't locate the Air Aide, Landry, he had gone out somewhere to play golf, and we left it up to the Secret Service to try to find him. As a matter of fact, they never did find him before we took off.
HESS: Was he the only one of the aides that was left, the only one that missed the plane?
AYERS: Well, Vaughan didn't come back with us, but that was not because he missed the plane. He had gone to his family home which was in Glasgow, Missouri.
Well, we were trying to get these people, and the phone rang and it was Margaret calling. She came on and said her father had asked her to call me and she passed questions and answers back and forth. He was trying to get ready. She said the President would be at the airport between 2 and 2:15 local time. She said he had talked to Acheson and there were decisions to be made and he felt he should go back without delay. I, of course, was trying to get the newspapermen together. I di