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Karl R. Bendetsen Oral History, October 24, 1972

Oral History Interview with
Karl R. Bendetsen

General counsel, Department of the Army, 1949; Assistant Secretary of the Army, 1950-52; Under Secretary of the Army, 1952. More

New York City, New York
October 24, 1972
by Jerry N. Hess

[Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | Additional Bendetsen Oral History Transcripts]

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. [45]) 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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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 1981
Harry S. Truman Library
Independence, Missouri

[Top of the Page | Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | Additional Bendetsen Oral History Transcripts]

Oral History Interview with
Karl R. Bendetson

New York City, New York
October 24, 1972
by Jerry N. Hess


HESS: To begin Mr. Bendetsen, will you tell me about your introduction into the Army, when you joined the Army and what your assignments were?

BENDETSEN: Mr. Hess, I will undertake to give you a sequential account. I entered the United States Army on extended active service in 1940. I had been a commissioned officer of the Officer’s Reserve Corps since 1929 when I received my bachelor’s degree at Stanford University, and I was commissioned in the field artillery. I reached the rank of captain of field artillery in 1939, some ten years thereafter. In the intervening years I saw no active duty at any high level headquarters. All of


my commissioned active duty was performed at Fort Lewis, Washington, in fortnightly periods. The 10th Field Artillery was stationed there during that decade, and my assignment as a Reserve Officer was to that Regular Army field artillery unit. This arrangement obtained in a number of cases around the country where a Reserve Officer happened to have his residence sufficiently close to a Regular Army unit of his military branch to permit frequent communication, inactive duty assignments on weekends and other times of convenience. So, I had some preceding connection with the Army at numerous times each year.

Parenthetically, I would add that I joined the Washington State National Guard when I was 14 years old, enlisting in the 248th Coast Artillery Battalion (Separate). I now "confess" that I prevaricated about my age. It was general practice in those days. Many young men of high school age thought it was "the thing to do" to be in the National Guard. So did I. The State authorities maintained a convenient posture of official ignorance. My span


of military service began then.

In late 1939 while I was practicing law, then at Aberdeen, Washington, I became deeply concerned about our national situation. I shared the view of many others that the clouds of war were gathering and we were ill prepared. At my own expense and with my slender resources, I took myself to Washington, D.C. in late 1939 to talk to my Washington State U.S. Senators and to my Congressman about our woefully inadequate military posture. I stayed for two weeks. I was not encouraged by what I heard. I returned to Washington, D.C. in the spring of 1940 and joined with others of like mind. We were there as private citizens to persuade Congress to enact a draft law. I was really for universal military training, which as you know, so also was President Truman.

HESS: Very much so.

BENDETSEN: I believed strongly in it. We urged that the Congress adopt some such law. Short of that, certainly Selective Service was essential because our standing forces, our reserves and our federally


recognized National Guard were small and ill prepared.

On August 16, 1940, Congress passed Public Law 96. This authorized the President to call the Army, Navy and Marine Corps Reserves and the National Guard of the several states into active Federal service. This statute also authorized the establishment of Selective Service.

At that point, someone casually said to me, "Well, Bendetsen, you’ve been around here on your own for several months trying to help get this through Congress. As a citizen, it seems to me you had ought to be one of the first ones to come forward and say you are ready to come into the Army."

I said, "I can hardly deny the force of your argument so I will do just that. Let me have up to 60 days to settle my affairs. After all, I have been here on some sort of active service for three months as it is."

I was ordered to active duty effective about 75 days later. I then reported as a captain of


field artillery to the Commanding Officer, 10th Field Artillery, Fort Lewis, Washington . While serving there I chanced to meet the Judge Advocate of the Third U.S. Army Division which had its headquarters at Fort Lewis. He was then a colonel. His name was Harry Auer. He soon became a brigadier general as the Assistant Judge Advocate General of the Army under Major General Allen W. Gullion. As he was leaving for Washington, D.C. he told me, "You shouldn’t be here in the 10th Field Artillery; you ought to be in the Judge Advocate General’s Department at the War Department in Washington, D.C."

I said, "Colonel Auer, I want nothing to do with the Judge Advocate General’s Department. If I’m going to practice law, I would rather go back to my office, and that’s how it is."

"Well," he said, "that’s an interesting point of view. I suppose I should respect it."

I said, "I certainly hope you will."

After I had been at Fort Lewis a month, I was ordered to the headquarters of the 9th Service


Command at the Presidio of San Francisco. You may recall having heard the term "service command" with relation to the Army. There were nine service commands in the United States then. These constituted the field structure of the Army. Each respectively had responsibility for the administration and command and management of all posts, camps and stations, and Army troops in the field within Continental United States. This structure was soon to be abandoned in favor of other organizational arrangements. I will briefly allude to these arrangements later because they have some bearing on some of my subsequent remarks which will be closer to the center of the area of your interest in gathering this oral history.

To return to my new assignment, I was afraid I was going to be assigned to the Judge Advocate’s office of the 9th Service Command. As it turned out in the beginning, my fears were not well founded. To my delight, I was assigned to the office of the Assistant Chief of Staff G-3, the operations section


of the general staff of the 9th Service Command. I enjoyed that service. It did not last long. General Auer apparently had not changed his mind! I was transferred to the office of the Judge Advocate of the 9th Service Command!

This also became a relatively brief tour of duty. A month later, I received orders to report to the Judge Advocate General of the Army at the War Department in Washington, D.C.

I was assigned to the Military Affairs Section which can be described as the Attorney General’s office of the Army. It did not deal with military justice subjects. Instead, it dealt with the broadest range of legal questions: international law, civil functions of the Engineer Corps, administrative law, the status of Army personnel stationed offshore and abroad, the precursory considerations and legal bases for lend-lease agreements, for example. I met an expanding circle of both civilian and military personnel in the War Department and in other executive departments and agencies. I met members of the


House and Senate and their key staffers in the course of these duties. While it was not my desire to be in the law department or in Washington either, I found my role both stimulating and challenging.

I began to receive a number of assignments bearing very directly upon the provisions of the National Defense Act and also upon the civil status of draftees. It fell to me to draft, and to present to the Bureau of the Budget and then to ten committees, proposed legislation which I authored known as "The Soldiers and Sailors Civil Relief Act." There were four legislative committees, two in each House dealing with military and naval affairs respectively. There were also four subcommittees of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees dealing with military and naval affairs. Finally, the Soldiers and Sailors Civil Relief Act also came under the jurisdiction of the Judiciary Committees, one in each House. Thus there were ten individual committees through which the proposed legislation required clearance.

This was an intensive experience. Two major law journals requested authoritative coverage. I