Oral History Interview with
General counsel, Department of the Army, 1949; Assistant
Secretary of the Army, 1950-52; Under Secretary of the Army, 1952. More
Karl R. Bendetsen
New York City, New York
October 24, 1972
by Jerry N. Hess
[Notices and Restrictions | Interview
Transcript | Additional Bendetsen 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.
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permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.
Harry S. Truman Library
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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 Officers Reserve Corps since
1929 when I received my bachelors 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
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,
youve 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 shouldnt
be here in the 10th Field Artillery; you ought to be in the Judge Advocate
Generals Department at the War Department in Washington, D.C."
I said, "Colonel Auer, I want nothing to do with the Judge Advocate
Generals Department. If Im going to practice law, I would rather go
back to my office, and thats how it is."
"Well," he said, "thats 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
To return to my new assignment, I was afraid I was going to be assigned
to the Judge Advocates 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
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 Generals 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
prepared them and each was published. Within
certain large circles, the demand for these articles was unprecedented.
Requests poured in to the Adjutant General (who then handled all War
Department correspondence and issued all travel orders) that I address
special groups in various sections of the nation. I received orders
to do so.
This brought me into my first direct introduction to then Senator Truman
as a member of the Military Affairs Committee of the Senate (which later
was merged with the Naval Affairs Committee, as you know, to become
the Armed Services Committee after the 1947 Act established the Defense
Establishment). This was "The National Security Act of 1947,"
which Felix Larkin undoubtedly discussed with you. Senator Truman was
very deeply interested in fair protection for draftees and as well for
their families. Most of them had no real means to defend themselves
against various kinds of civil actions brought against them for debt,
or alleged debt, or for mortgage foreclosures or any number of actions
whether in contract or tort, or domestic relations.
and Sailors Civil Relief Act" provided such means. It became milestone
The very intelligent and penetrating questions which Senator Truman
asked were of major assistance to me. Several times he asked me to come
to his office and explain to him whether in fact the provisions of certain
parts of the bill would take care of special situations. He was
interested not only in preparedness, but he thought that protection
of draftees, other military personnel and their families had much to
do with that subject. Most fully, I agreed with him.
HESS: When you would go to his office would you also see Hugh Fulton,
the Chief Counsel of the Committee, or was it generally Mr. Truman?
BENDETSEN: Senator Truman primarily. I knew Mr. Hugh Fulton, but not
well. He was widely respected and I was among the many who admired him.
Many people knew him well but I doubt that he would remember me. Although
I met him on a number of occasions, these were very active days for
A proposal for legislation of this nature such as the Soldiers and
Sailors Civil Relief Act, originating in the War Department, fell within
the purview of the G-l section of the War Department General Staff (the
Personnel Section). The Assistant Chief of Staff then was Brigadier
General [Wade Hampton] Haislip, who after World War II became the Vice
Chief of Staff of the Army. General Haislip presided over the entire
Personnel Section of the General Staff. He was responsible to the Chief
of Staff for personnel program preparation and for proper personnel
actions of every nature, a gargantuan task. He was a very able man.
He took a deep interest in the Soldiers and Sailors Civil Relief Act.
Thus, I had occasion to brief him. On introduction of the measures,
after clearance by the Bureau of the Budget and the White House, he
went to Capitol Hill to introduce the subject and me first to the Military
Affairs Committees of each House.
He then had many other legislative problems to deal with. Apparently
he believed that my handling of the relationships with Senators and
and the other agencies of the Government which were
directly or indirectly involved in the course of the Civil Relief Acts
passage, etc., qualified me to assist him in a variety of other legislative
subjects. He requested that the Judge Advocate General (Major General
Gullion) make my services available to assist him. Shortly this relationship
reached the point in which he would not go to the Hill for any purpose
without taking me along. By that time I could recite from memory, every
line of the National Defense Act, and all of its amendments. It was
a case of necessity. Someone had to be there by his side who knew the