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Col. Laurence E. Bunker Oral History Interview


Oral History Interview with
Col. Laurence E. Bunker

Chief aide to General Douglas MacArthur, April, 1946 to November, 1952

Independence, Missouri
December 14, 1976
by Benedict K. Zobrist

[Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | List of Subjects Discussed]


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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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 June, 1978
Harry S. Truman Library
Independence, Missouri

[Top of the Page | Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | List of Subjects Discussed]


Oral History Interview with
Col. Laurence E. Bunker


Independence, Missouri
December 14, 1976

by Benedict K. Zobrist


BUNKER: For identification purposes, I am Colonel Laurence E. Bunker, from Wellesley Hills, Massachusetts, at present a first vice-president of the MacArthur Memorial Foundation in Norfolk, but formerly aide to General MacArthur for six years and a half, from April 1946 until November 1952. That service started within six months after the Headquarters transferred to Tokyo for the Occupation, and then I returned to the States with General MacArthur when he was recalled in '51, and stayed with him in New York for a year and a half, until


the time of the election in 1952.

During most of that time I was in charge of his office--his military affairs office--ran his schedule, handled the correspondence, and that sort of thing, on a personal basis. Of course, Headquarters correspondence was carried on primarily through the Chief of Staff's office, but MacArthur's personal correspondence and his personal engagement calendar were my responsibility, both in Tokyo and New York. So I had a chance to become pretty thoroughly familiar with the General's affairs. Also this gave me access to a great many people who would come in to ask me to deliver messages to the General because they didn't want to bother him but they did think he ought to have certain information. Then, of course, as I circulated later I ran across a great many people who would say to me, "Well, did you know?" and thus I


gathered more information.

One of the interesting things in that period was my close association with General Charles Willoughby, who was the G-2 in MacArthur's Headquarters. Incidentally, I heard General MacArthur tell one of the Secretaries of the Army when he came out, that in his book Willoughby was the finest G-2 officer he had encountered in his fifty-odd years of service in the Army, and he was so much the number one that he wouldn't know whom to name the number two.

ZOBRIST: I was very fascinated with what you had to say about the way Willoughby wrote the book about MacArthur. Would you mind just telling us about that very briefly?

BUNKER: The way I got the inside information on that was not only from my contacts with Willoughby but through Eddie Aswell at McGraw-Hill, who was


the Adair editor in charge of bringing out the Willoughby book, which, of course, was written in conjunction with John Chamberlain. I never have checked out with John Chamberlain how much of this background he had from his contacts with Willoughby. But the situation there was, as I understand it, that Willoughby had been working on a book to be known as MacArthur's Intelligence, 1941-1951. In other words, it was to be the story of that staff section which had been under his command.

McGraw-Hill, because of the popular interests in the General at that time, wanted a biography of MacArthur during the war years. And they really forced Willoughby into converting his volume into a biographical outline of the history of that part of the General's life, and announced it to the press in such a way that it gave the impression that this was MacArthur's story being


edited by Willoughby. It hadn't been brought to the General's attention that this was being done, and he was rather irate when he found that it had been announced in this particular way. I believe he wrote a letter to McGraw-Hill disclaiming his acceptance of that basis for publication.

Well, the book came out, and in order to pad it to the extent that McGraw-Hill wanted it, Willoughby gathered a lot of material from other officers of the staff, so that it did become a somewhat general history of the period.

Of course, the basic influence all the way through, was the intelligence end, so that a number of the other officers were very critical of Willoughby for putting out the book and trying to give the impression it was he who won the war with a little help from somebody else. But that was because of the pressures from McGraw-Hill and Willoughby's conforming, shall we say, to the


minimum extent practicable for what McGraw-Hill was asking. On the other hand, the report in that book of those war years, I feel, is probably as sound and reliable as anything that has come out. Actually, as you know, General Whitney's book came out not much later, which was MacArthur His Rendezvous With Destiny. When they brought that out, they had their manuscript readers and lawyers go over it with the greatest care to make sufficient changes so that they wouldn't be sued by Willoughby for plagiarism, because a great deal of it was taken from Willoughby's writings. It so happened that when Willoughby was working on his draft, he would submit it to MacArthur for comment and changes. Apparently MacArthur would discuss it with Whitney and Whitney somewhere along the line, decided he wanted to write a book, too. Maybe it had been in the back of his mind all along, but


it was obvious that because of Willoughby's writing he, Whitney, decided he wanted to bring out a book and since it covered the same period, he had to use a great deal of the same material, and the question is just how much did he take from Willoughby's book. I don't know whether anybody, aside from the McGraw-Hill lawyers, or the lawyers who were handling Whitney's book, or anybody else, ever sat down and made comparisons as the book went along, but it would be an interesting study for anybody...

ZOBRIST: I thought that this dimension was interesting. It shows the trouble you can get into by the publisher giving you a title and then you having to write up the title.

BUNKER: Yes. The other thing I was telling you about was that I'd got to know Willoughby very well all the way up the line from Melbourne on,


because I got to Melbourne on another assignment just about a week after General MacArthur and his party came down from the Philippines so I was in one headquarters or another there for some time. The first year I was not in the top headquarters, the General Headquarters, but I was in the Headquarters of the U.S. Army forces in Australia, and in the office of the General Purchasing Agent. Then when General MacArthur revived the USAFFE command in February 1943 and made Richard Marshall Deputy Chief of Staff in command of USAFFE, Marshall took me under his wing as his assistant and I followed him around from that time on. When we first went into the USAFFE Headquarters and he made me secretary to the General Staff that put me right outside his office together with the Adjutant General of the headquarters to handle all sorts of things. And, of course, again that was a different headquarters


than the one that Willoughby was in. Later on I maintained contact with Willoughby all through that period, and when Dick Marshall went in to General Headquarters again, I went with him so there I was once more in close personal contact with Willoughby because I was always very interested in the intelligence reports that were coming through, trying to keep posted so that I would be able to do my own job that much better.

Very often in the files that came to Dick Marshall, there would be material which indicated that it had not been distributed to G-2, so I would call Willoughby and tell him that there was such and such a dispatch or paper and noted that G-2 wasn't on the distribution list, but I thought that he'd be interested to have one of his people get hold of a copy. Thus I was able to help Willoughby a great deal on


a number of things, and afterwards, when we came back to New York, Willoughby returned very shortly after that.

He was in New York for a time, and then went to live in Washington and I used to see him from that time on, as a rule, only at the birthday dinner parties given for General MacArthur by General Sverdrup which always took place on the General's birthday, the 26th of January. Willoughby was not on the most cordial terms with quite a number of the other officers in Headquarters and particularly not with Jack Sverdrup, for various reasons, and the result was that, with Sverdrup acting as host, frequently Willoughby was not in the inner circle at the head of the table, and so I had a chance to sit next to him. He always had a lot of interesting information that was very useful to me in other ways, so I used to


cultivate that opportunity.

ZOBRIST: Was this dinner normally held in New York City?

BUNKER: Yes. Up until the time of the General's return in '51 all of these dinners were held in Washington, because Sverdrup had offices of his engineering firm there, Sverdrup and Parcel, and also for some time, I understood, Sverdrup had a financial interest in the Carlton Hotel and the dinners would be held there. After the General came back, Sverdrup wanted to make it into a real birthday party for the General, always having the General as the principal guest, so the General said, "Well, all right, Jack, but not in Washington." The General was through with Washington as far as he could be. So the dinners were then transferred to the Waldorf in New York and it was only a matter of the General


going from his apartment down to the banquet, and back.

Sitting next to Willoughby one night at one of those dinners in '55, '56, or '57, he said to me, "Larry, I've had a problem presented to me in the last couple of weeks, and I don't know just how to handle it, and I thought that maybe you would have some idea." He then said, "The problem is this, not long ago a very close friend of Harry Truman," (and this of course was after Truman had left the White House), "came to see me the other day, a man named Charles Patrick Clark, and he said he had been asked by Mr. Truman to come and see me and raise the question as to what channels and what techniques he could use to effect a rapprochement with MacArthur, because he was unhappy about the lack of contact."

Actually I noticed that in that letter


from Sverdrup that I saw today, there was the reference to the fact that Sverdrup had talked to Mr. Truman about a meeting with MacArthur. So apparently Mr. Truman had explored it with Jack as well as having Clark come to explore it with Willoughby. Sverdrup had received a favorable reply from General MacArthur, so that would sort of kill this other idea which I'd had that Mr. Truman might have been unhappy because the feeler that he put out through Willoughby didn't produce any result as far as I could find out. When Willoughby talked to me about it, we discussed it for a bit and, at that particular stage of affairs, Willoughby was not on the most cordial terms with MacArthur, partly over the book, and also the fact that Whitney had stepped into the picture and upset the very pleasant arrangement which had been enjoyed by Willoughby in submitting page


proofs or galley-proofs to MacArthur for comment, and then amending his manuscript with McGraw-Hill.

Incidentally, MacArthur wrote quite a lot in the way of comment and recommendation--these notes were written on little slips of paper from a box of memoranda at the Waldorf, and the General would write one and clip it to the particular place in the manuscript and then go on to something else. According to Willoughby they were quite extensive. I've never seen the full collection, but before Willoughby turned them over to McGraw-Hill for incorporation in the next proof, he had photostatic copies made, and he kept those copies for obvious reasons. After Willoughby died, I asked Bill Sebald, his brother-in-law and executor, what had become of them. He said he had them, but Willoughby's widow wasn't quite ready to give them up yet,


so I've never been able to get hold of them for the archives in Norfolk, but I expect to before time runs out, because I think it's important as they show the changes that MacArthur made in Willoughby's book, which had never been acknowledged, except as Willoughby released some of the photostats later in his Military Intelligence Digest.

Going back to the conversation at the dinner, and the question of his attempt at rapprochement, I told Willoughby that was a question I couldn't answer right away, I would have to think about it. I called him a few days later after I returned to Boston, and he was back in Washington. I said, "General, I've been thinking a lot about the story you told me about Mr. Truman, and I feel that it ought to be done if possible. However, it's going to require somebody getting to MacArthur who can


see him and talk to him about it without having to tell him why he wants to talk to him, without having to go through General Whitney to get to him, because anybody who went through General Whitney would have to tell him exactly what he was after. And someone who perhaps can talk to the General from the point