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John P. Cosgrove Oral History Interview

 

Oral History Interview with
John P. Cosgrove

Journalist; speechwriter for the National Republican Congressional Committee, 1940; assistant in the office of Senator Hiram Johnson, 1940-41; service in the US Navy, 1941-46; speechwriter in the Speakers Library, 1946-48; Director of Publications, Broadcasting Publications, Inc., 1948-68; member and sometime officer in the National Press Club since 1946.
Washington, DC
June 9, 1987
Niel M. Johnson

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

 


Notice
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.

As an electronic publication of the Truman Library, users should note that features of the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview, such as pagination and indexing, could not be replicated for this online version of the Cosgrove transcript.

RESTRICTIONS
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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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 November, 1992
Harry S. Truman Library
Independence, Missouri

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

 



Oral History Interview with
John P. Cosgrove

Washington, DC
June 9, 1987
Niel M. Johnson

[1]

JOHNSON: Mr. Cosgrove, I'm going to start by asking you to give us some information on your own background. Would you tell us when and where you were born and your parents' names?

COSGROVE: Thank you, Mr. Johnson. My name is John Patrick Cosgrove. I was born September 25, 1918 in Pittston, Pennsylvania; it's in the anthracite region. My parents were Raymond Patrick and Alice (Gilroy) Cosgrove. I went to the public schools there, and graduated from Pittston High School in 1936. In the following year, I worked as a reporter for the Wilkes- Barre Record, writing mainly obituaries and covering sports.

JOHNSON: Wilkes-Barre Record.

[2]

COSGROVE: Wilkes-Barre Record. I came to Washington to seek my fortune just 50 years ago this September, September 1937. Washington was a far different place, as any place would be, including ourselves; it has changes radically in 50 years.

One of my first recollections of the White House was to walk through the gates, which were rarely closed to the public, and to walk under the portico. Many used this as a shortcut from Pennsylvania Avenue over to what was then the State, War and Navy Building. That building which housed three Cabinet offices is today the Executive Office of the President. Today, of course, the fence is higher, the gates are more secure, and you don't go to see the President unless you are properly labeled with the White House correspondents' credentials or visitors' credentials.

JOHNSON: You mentioned, before the interview, an episode about President and Mrs. Roosevelt going to Virginia?

COSGROVE: One Saturday morning in 1937, as part of my sightseeing of Washington and the White House, I walked down West Executive Avenue into what is now the southwest gate. I was the only one on the street; it was maybe 10 o'clock in the morning. The White House gate (southwest gate) opened, and an officer, a White House policeman, said, "Would you wait just a minute?"

[3]

I did, and out drove President and Mrs. Roosevelt in a convertible touring car, with a lap robe over both of them. They were driving down to Charlottesville, Virginia to visit their son, Franklin, who was a student at the University of Virginia. The President and Mrs. Roosevelt had driven a number of times to Charlottesville, with only a station wagon following behind. The station wagon had the Secret Service, maybe one or two agents, I guess, besides those riding in the front seat of the limousine. Usually two or three wire service reports would accompany them.

JOHNSON: That was just a two-car caravan?

COSGROVE: Two cars; it was a very simple movement. But shortly after that a vehicle went through a traffic sign enroute to Charlottesville, and barely missed crashing into the car in which the President was riding. Shortly after that the Secret Service decided the need for more security, and added a car to the entourage, and put the station wagon as the lead car. Now, today when you see the President moving around town, you would think they're moving a part of Fort Knox. Life was much simpler in those days.

JOHNSON: What was your job? What brought you to Washington in '37?

[4]

COSGROVE: Well, I was from the "original depressed" area up in Pennsylvania, the anthracite region; the Depression cut deep up there. I came to Washington to seek my fortune, and luckily I got the job as a dictation operator at the Associated Press - Washington Bureau. It was quite a unique job for me to hear the distinguished and well-known correspondents who covered the White House, or the Hill, the Supreme Court or any of the offices around town--to have them call in and dictate their stories. It a was fascinating experience. I learned how to type fast and accurately; it helped tremendously in my writing later on.

JOHNSON: You mean you typed as you listened to them on the phone, or did you take shorthand?

COSGROVE: No, I typed right at the typewriter the reporter's voice coming through earphones. There was a button on the floor operated by foot which would preclude the noise of the typewriter while the reporter was dictating; then, if he got ahead, you lifted your foot off the button so he could hear the sound of the typewriter and he knew that he should slow down until you caught up. It was an extremely interesting job.

JOHNSON: Where was your office?

COSGROVE: In the Star Building, Suite 330--where the

[5]

Evening Star was published--the Washington Bureau of the Associated Press. To make ends meet at that time, I moonlighted. I was working days in the Publications Division of Brookings Institution, which was then located at 722 Jackson Place, just a short distance across Lafayette Park from the White House.

So I was a White House watcher for many years. Running up and down Pennsylvania Avenue from Brookings to the Star Building, I saw many, many interesting and exciting parts of history during those early years. Later on I left the Associated Press and went to work for the National Republican Congressional Committee, which had headquarters here in the National Press Building. I worked in the speechwriting part, preparing material for Republican Congressmen.

JOHNSON: What year was that?

COSGROVE: That was 1940; during the Willkie campaign. My legal residence continued to be in Pennsylvania. I registered in Pittston, my home town, to vote. At that time my father, who was a Democrat. If he heard I registered Republican probably would have sold my bed if I had been living at home. I clearly was against Roosevelt running for the third term; I thought that two terms would be sufficient. My boss [J. Frederick Richardson] was a friend of Representative Joe Martin,

[6]

then Chairman of the Republican National Committee, who later became Speaker of the House. We worked closely with him, preparing material for the Willkie campaign train, although I don't think much was ever really used. Russell Davenport ran that part of the campaign, and our material, I think, was just a part of a large supply of material that was prepared and never used. Davenport probably never showed it to Willkie.

JOHNSON: In '40.

COSGROVE: That was 1940. After that I worked with Senator Hiram Johnson, the great progressive Republican Senator from California, mostly on lend-lease material. I worked for him, in his office, then located on the ground floor in the Capitol Building. The other 95 Senators, including Senator Harry Truman, were located over in the Senate Office Building. This was a unique experience, working directly with Hiram Johnson. He had a very small staff, and he was a very interesting man. It was while working in his office that I met the Attorney General of California, Earl Warren, who later swore me in as president of the National Press Club in 1961.

JOHNSON: What was your title with Hiram Johnson's office?

COSGROVE: Oh, we had no titles. I was just an assistant in

[7]

his office. We didn't have anything like legislative aides or clerks, or public relations titles. It was a very small office, but a very interesting office, because we all did a bit of everything in those exciting times leading up to December 1941..

JOHNSON: Did you help write speeches then for him?

COSGROVE: Well, Hiram Johnson knew what he wanted to say, but he wanted me to find and verify the facts--material and quotes. We would prepare the material for him, and also handle a lot of correspondence. We didn't have the traffic of a Senator's office which exists today, because the heavy business then was Veterans' problems, Military Academy appointments, local water supply matters, and things of that nature. Today you have a myriad of public and individual problems that constituents are concerned about and interested in getting a Senator's attention.

JOHNSON: When did you first take notice of Harry Truman, as a Senator?

COSGROVE: Well, again, being right in the Capitol Building, I would have the privilege of going up to the floor to bring notes or messages. I saw Harry Truman around then, on the floor and about the hallways of the Capitol. Particularly at that time, visitors would

[8]

say, "There's Harry Truman. You know, he's the chairman of the Truman Committee." Many people didn't know what the Truman Committee was; it was a special defense contracts investigating committee. So he was making a name for himself as a man who wanted to know what was going on in defense contracts and defense activities. We, the USA, were being called the "arsenal of democracy," at that time. Britain was already at war, but we weren't. Then, of course, when Pearl Harbor came, everything changed.

I enlisted in the Navy, the day after Pearl Harbor, and left shortly thereafter to go into the Navy. First I was assigned to the Office of Communications at the Department of Navy located on Constitution Avenue; later on I was "loaned" to the Office of Censorship. Byron Price, the executive editor of the Associated Press, was appointed Director of Censorship by President Roosevelt. Ted Koop, who had been my boss--the "early" editor--at the Associated Press, was named deputy director. I worked closely with Ted while on loan to the Office of Censorship, a civilian office. I felt like I was masquerading in a sailor's uniform, landlocked in a Federal bureau, and could hardly wait to get out into the more Navy-like seagoing action. We were at war and defending democracy by doing all those things that we felt we

[9]

should do after being attacked by the Japanese at Pearl Harbor. It was an experience I valued more after accomplishing my desire for sea duty.

After 15 months there, I was transferred to a destroyer-escort. It was built by Bethlehem Steel in San Francisco. We left San Francisco and did not return to the States until the war was over, having gone to Pearl Harbor out to Midway, Guam--you name them--all the well-known places that the Navy participated in.

JOHNSON: Were you in some of those battles?

COSGROVE: We were in the biggest battle, at Okinawa. We went through the whole campaign.

JOHNSON: What was the name of your ship?

COSGROVE: U.S.S. Gendreau. It was named for a medical doctor killed at Guadalcanal in the early part of the war. He was a medical doctor of French-Canadian ancestry, operating with the Marine Corps. The ship was number DE639. We escorted troop ships into Okinawa, and participated in the shore activities for 30 days and more, through the securing of Okinawa. We were attacked by many of the kamikazes and, fortunately, were able to dodge them. We shot down six kamikazes. Then one Sunday morning, June 10, 1945,

[10]

when things were relatively secure, we were struck by a shore battery. Two men were killed and two seriously wounded. We had some other damage in our wartime sailings.

JOHNSON: Do you remember the U.S.S. Missouri?

COSGROVE: We saw the U.S.S. Missouri there in Tokyo Bay. We went first into Wakanoura Wan. We were to escort troop transports into Wakayama, the northern entrance to the Inland Sea. But again we encountered typhoons and the troop ships didn't rendezvous with us. We were instructed--three destroyer-escorts--to go in and make our own landing, so to speak. We didn't know what to expect from the Japanese. They were just as concerned about us. We had one officer armed. With no more than eleven men at a time, we were to go ashore at Wakayama. The first day we went into the fishing and vacation village; it was Wakayama. The only people around were the older women and men, and very young girls, but very few. The young men were all at war; the young girls were barricaded behind the boarded-up shops and stores. We had chocolate and cigarettes. They didn't have much to offer us except some of their family heirlooms. They would take out portraits of the family, or som