Oral History Interview with
Secretary, General Staff of the Far East Command, and Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers, 1948-50; staff officer and combat officer, Korean war, 1950-51.
General John H. Chiles
July 27, 1977
by D. Clayton James
[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. ) 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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.
Harry S. Truman Library
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Oral History Interview with
General John H. Chiles
July 27, 1977
by D. Clayton James
Notice: Online permission granted by the MacArthur Memorial and Library.
DCJ: This is D. Clayton James, interviewing Major General John H. Chiles in the conference room in the Harry S. Truman Library at Independence, Missouri. General Chiles’ permanent address is the Beaufort address, isn’t? Not Liberty?
DCJ: You want the Liberty address listed as permanent? Okay. That’s 128 North Leonard Street, Liberty, Missouri. This is July 27, 1977. We also have a recording being made for the Truman Library’s oral history collection.
General Chiles, I normally start out by having colleagues of General MacArthur just hit high points of their military careers, but we won’t need to do that in your case except to pick up when you graduated from West Point.
DCJ: ‘36. In World War II you were in Europe, right?
DCJ: But you do have a prior association with MacArthur?
DCJ: Let’s start with that then.
JHC: I first knew General MacArthur when I became military aide to the High Commissioner of the Philippines in 1939. General MacArthur,
of course, was Field Marshal of the Philippine Army during that period, living in the penthouse on top of the Manila Hotel. Since my wife and I accompanied the High Commissioner and his wife to most of their functions, I, just by inadvertence, became probably the only junior American officer that General MacArthur had any acquaintance with. When he became Commander-in-Chief, Southwest Pacific [USAFFE], he would take no one on his staff from the Philippine Department headquarters. He had acted this way toward General Grunert and the Philippine Department since they had not granted him everything he asked for the Philippine Army over the past few years. So he would accept nobody on his staff who had served in Philippine Department headquarters. As a result, he got a bunch of officers, most of whom were Army War College graduates--lieutenant colonels. I came back to the Philippine Scouts. Francis B. Sayre, Woodrow Wilson's son—in—law, was already over there. Sayre had two marriageable age daughters. He didn’t know much about the military; anyway, he didn’t want a married aide. He wanted a bachelor aide, I suppose, to squire his two daughters. In any event, a classmate of mine named Priestly became his aide, and I was not banished but sent back to the Philippine Scouts. Priestly later was killed, by the way, in the Death March. Anyway, one of General MacArthur’s first steps was to unfreeze the officers in the Philippines. We had been all frozen and downhearted. Am I digressing too much?
JHC: We thought we’d be sitting there all during the war like World War I people did in the Philippines.
DCJ: If I may interrupt, by unfreezing you mean on promotion?
JHC: No. All the families were sent back before General MacArthur took command. I guess it was War Department orders, but I don’t remember. All of our families were sent back in the spring of 1941, and all of the officers, American officers, were frozen with no assignments; they were stuck. When MacArthur came in, I’m sure as a moral gesture, he decided that fifty officers a month would return to the United States in the order in which they’d arrived. And I was in the third group of fifty that came back in September, as it turned out.
DCJ: Yes, he took over, I believe, in late July, ‘41.
JHC: July. Before I was ordered back to the States under his policy, I got word from my former battalion commander. I was a captain at this time, but Congress hadn’t passed its bill authorizing our salaries. Al Dewey was my original commander. My battalion commander would become MacArthur’s G-4--Lewis C. Beebe. And Brougher was my regimental commanding officer; I lived with him. I was sort of a low man in the regimental quarters.
DCJ: You mean William Edward Brougher?
DCJ: Are you aware of my book on Brougher? I wrote a book for University of Georgia Press, South to Bataan, North to Mukden.
JHC: I thought he wrote it. I’ve got a copy of it.
DCJ: Yes, well, I edited his diary.
JHC: It’s a good book.
DCJ: Probably, since you knew him, he gave you the Long Dark Road. He gave, I believe, a copy to everyone.
JHC: Sure. But he died at Fort Benning. Mrs. Brougher and two of their daughters were in our quarters at Benning, in Georgia
DCJ: She’s a sweet person.
JHC: Anyway, Colonel Beebe came back with the news General MacArthur had selected me to be his aide. Well, our first child was about to be born. I was going back to the 2nd Division because Beebe had told somebody in the War Department that was the best place for me. If I’m digressing too much, let me know.
DCJ: No, go ahead.
JHC: Anyway, I did not say “No, thank you” to General MacArthur but, of course, I was dying to go home. And so I sent the word back that it wasn’t my choice, under his policy I was ordered back, and yet it’s his decision to make me his aide, so which was I
to do? I thought the answer would come back the next day. I didn’t sleep that night. Well, about three nights went by. Finally word came that I was to follow my orders to return and that he wasn’t going to change his policy for himself just after he had enunciated it. So I got back. The thing that always has intrigued me was that when General MacArthur left Bataan, he left one of his aides with General Wainwright and took the other one with him. Which one would I have been? So, like the story of the tiger and the lady, I’ll never know. But that was my first acquaintance with General MacArthur.
DCJ: And he didn’t take Beebe with him either.
JHC: That’s right. Beebe became Wainwright’s chief of staff.
DCJ: Before we leave that early Manila period, did you happen to meet Ike before he went home?
DCJ: He went home about December ‘39.
JHC: If you’re interested, I’ve another human interest story. I think this might intrigue you. We went to the Philippines on our honeymoon in 1938. We had our first wedding anniversary on March 12, 1939. We went to the brand new Marco Polo Hotel. They had a roof restaurant, as I guess you’d call it now, with music. We are up there and had a bottle of champagne and flank steaks, which was the most ritzy thing you could buy in those
days. After dinner we were dancing, when here came Lieutenant Colonel Eisenhower, who’d been MacArthur's G-3 for five years, I guess. I don’t know where Lieutenant Colonel MacArthur had been, but he was a little bit under the weather. He was in a real rumpled linen suit. He came in alone.
DCJ: You mean Eisenhower?
JHC: What did I say?
DCJ: You said Colonel MacArthur.
JHC: Colonel Eisenhower, sure. Anyway, I stood up and invited him to join us. He said no, he didn’t want to interrupt a wedding anniversary. We told him that we’d already had our champagne and steak. So he sat down and was feeling sorry for himself. He must have spent forty-five minutes explaining how he’d come over there. He’d worked for MacArthur before in Washington.
DCJ: Yes, when he was Chief of Staff.
JHC: When he was Chief of Staff, that march on Washington took place.
DCJ: Yes, the Bonus Army.
JHC: Yes. So when MacArthur went to the Philippines, he asked for Eisenhower, who came over as the deputy chief. At the table Eisenhower told us that the war clouds were hovering over Europe, and America was beginning to see the handwriting on the wall. Anyway, the gist of it was that he, Eisenhower, said he had been
number one in his class at Leavenworth, he’d been a lieutenant colonel with two or three years’ service, and had a real promising career. But he had stayed too long with MacArthur, and all the good jobs were being dealt to his contemporaries in the States, and it was too late to do anything about it. He had lost out in the competition for the good jobs. On the way home that night, my wife and I said, “Well, isn’t that too bad. This handsome, articulate, dynamic lieutenant colonel has lost out.” Next time I saw him was on Omaha Beach. He had four stars, and shortly after that he had five. Then when he got elected President, I couldn’t stand it any more so I wrote him a letter. I reminded him how this poor unfortunate guy now was President-elect of the United States. I never got an answer from him because he was off even then at Augusta playing golf. Senator Vandenberg’s nephew was sort of his liaison; I don’t know what his actual job was. Anyway, he answered me that the President-elect was off to Augusta, but, as soon as he got back, my letter would be brought to his attention and he would answer it. Of course, he never did. But, yes, I did know him, Colonel Eisenhower.
DCJ: Now, General Chiles, from this period 1939 to ‘41 in the Philippines, you came back to the States, and then you had a tour of duty in the European Theater in ‘44-’45, is that right?
JHC: I joined the 2nd Infantry Division at Fort Sam Houston in November 1941, just before Pearl Harbor, and stayed with it until I went to the Armed Forces Staff College in the summer
of 1947. That was my first tour of duty with the 2nd, the first of four with the 2nd Division.
DCJ: As far as actual combat operations, though, you were involved in what campaigns?
JHC: In Europe?
JHC: There were five, beginning with Omaha Beach and ending up in Pilsen, Czechoslovakia.
DCJ: The race across North France and into Germany?
JHC: Yea, we were in the battles at Brest, the Bulge, and then the Siegfried Line.
DCJ: Was that First Army?
JHC: Part of the time. Originally it was First Army, but we were in Simpson’s Ninth Army.
DCJ: Okay, I want to move on into this period I’m most directly concerned with and that’s post-World War II. Now, after the war, what tours of duty?
JHC: After the war I stayed in the 2nd Division until ‘47, as I mentioned. I went to the Armed Forces Staff College in Norfolk; from there I went to Tokyo. Well, to back up, I was commanding a regiment at the end of World War II, and General Almond took command of the division at Camp Smith, Texas.
DCJ : When Almond came in, did you hear anything of his reputation with that black 92nd Division in North Italy? Did you get any scuttlebutt on that?
JHC: Yes, he had a reputation of being a very rough commander.
DCJ: I believe that’s the right division, isn’t it? It was the 92nd?
JHC: 92nd, yes. And I might interject right here, that whatever you might think of General Almond, and he‘s a very controversial man, he had an attribute that you hear a lot of people reflect on: he never failed to take a military objective. And that’s why we were being paid, all the other things aside. He also had a faculty that I‘ve only known two or three others to have, of choosing people with, in general, great potential for his staff. For instance, in my G-3 section of X Corps, at least six in my section alone, G-3 section, rose to two to four stars. So Almond picked ‘em.
DCJ: That’s interesting.
JRC: Yes. He was rough. In fact, I was commanding the 23rd Infantry when he joined us. And we thought we were heroes. We admitted it. And he came in and started slashing around, which we didn’t appreciate. Maybe it was more our fault then it was his. We probably were pretty cocky. Anyway, at staff and commanders’ meetings each week for three weeks in a row he announced that when he drove into the 23rd Infantry gate in his own private
car from Austin to Camp Swift that the 23rd Infantry MP on the gate failed to salute him. So I ended with a lieutenant colonel with a walkie-talkie and a code to whistle when he saw General Almond show up. Well, the fourth time I was getting a little bit bugged, edgy about this-- to be denounced in public every week. So a fourth time he said, “I drove into the 23rd Infantry gate and I failed to get a salute.” He said, “Chiles, what are we going to do about this?” Well, I shouldn’t have made an angry response, but I said, “Sir, why don’t you try driving into the 38th Infantry gate.” Boy, there was a deathly silence. All of a sudden he grabbed his sides and almost fell on the floor laughing, and he said, “Approved, Chiles.”
DCJ: What rank were you at that time?
JRC: I was temporary colonel.
DCJ: When did you go to permanent colonel?
JHC: I don’t remember.
DCJ: What about BG?