Numbers appearing in square brackets (ex. ) within the transcript indicate the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview.
Opened August, 1972
Oral History Interview with
HESS: Mr. Fritchey, to begin, will you give me a little of your personal background? Where you were born, where you were educated and what positions did you hold prior to your service in the Truman administration?
FRITCHEY: Well, I've been primarily a journalist most of my life and at the time that I first went into government, I was the editor of the New Orleans Item in New Orleans, Louisiana. My entrance into Government was through Mr. Truman appointing General Marshall Secretary of Defense at a bad moment during the Korean war. He asked me to take a leave of absence from the New Orleans Item and to become his Assistant Secretary of Public Affairs, at that time it was called the Office of Public Information, and also his special
assistant. And so I did take a leave of absence, but the war, instead of lasting three more months, as General Marshall then thought was the likelihood, lasted for three years. Naturally, once one is in a war position, there is no dropping out, and so I resigned from the Item, and stayed on for several more years at the Pentagon with General Marshall.
HESS: General Marshall, of course, took over from Louis Johnson. Do you recall anything particular about the resignation of Louis Johnson?
FRITCHEY: Well, as you know, the war had been not going well and just at the time of the changeover MacArthur brought off his great coup in the invasion. And so General Marshall's entry into the Pentagon was a success from the very beginning. I suppose if Louis Johnson had stayed on another month, the victory would have probably insured his staying on at the Pentagon, but the President was under very great pressure to remove Johnson because it had been regarded as a political appointment. His predecessor, Mr. Forrestal, had been an extremely popular man, highly regarded by the press, and Louis Johnson had been regarded
simply as a man who raised some money for Harry Truman in 1948 when there wasn't any money. I, myself, have always regarded Johnson as a more capable man than he has been given credit for. Mr. Truman assigned him two relatively impossible tasks. By that I mean impossible from the point of view of political popularity. He assigned him the task of reducing the budget severely, and of being the first to integrate the services. There was great resistance to both. An institution whose budget is being reduced from eighteen billion to thirteen billion must incur a great deal of resistance from the military career men and also a great deal of resistance from each of the rival services who did not want to be integrated. So, Mr. Johnson had a thankless task, and in the middle of that he had to take on a war for which we were not very well prepared. In any event, I think it is an insight into Mr. Truman that the man he instinctively sought for Secretary of Defense when he needed to generate complete public confidence in the institution, was General Marshall who I think he admired above all other men.
HESS: Mr. Truman met with General MacArthur at Wake Island in
October of 1950. That was shortly after you went to the Department of Defense. Do you recall anything in particular about that episode? Anything that was said around the Pentagon about the meeting?
FRITCHEY: I suppose we'll have to wait for all the confidential files to be declassified before we know everything about the MacArthur episode, but even at that time there was some tension building. It was clear that MacArthur, I hardly need to say, was an extraordinary figure after his immense success with that invasion at Inchon. He was in an extremely strong position to have his way. There were differences of opinion, of course, as to whether the objectives of the war should then be enlarged. The stated objectives up until that time were that we were in the war not for a definitive victory, nor definitive confrontation with the entire Communist world. There was a limited objective of restoring the status quo ante. The moment that we cut off the North Korean troops and had a very sizeable victory in our hands, there were those who wanted to go on and capture all of North Korea and go to the Yalu, and who knows from there on. I
always thought that Mr. Truman himself had grave doubts about this; but at an exhilarating moment, like sudden victory, it's very hard to explain to the public, why, when you've got the enemy on the run, you shouldn't consolidate your victory, and make it complete.
There are still differences of opinion as to precisely what Mr. Truman said to General MacArthur and vice versa. My own impression is that both the President and Secretary Acheson had misgivings about going for broke. Also, I think when the classified papers are available we'll see that, while MacArthur was not given an absolute green light, he was also not given an absolute red light. So he chose to make his drive to the Yalu and, as you know, disaster set in there.
HESS: Concerning the talks at Wake Island. On April 21st, 1951, Anthony Leviero in the New York Times quoted several documents that had been held under security classification up until that time. Do you know where he received his information? They were in connection with what actually was said at Wake Island and,
FRITCHEY: Do you remember the burden of what he said?
HESS: As I have been told, there was a young lady who was seated in the next room and who was taking stenographic notes. She really had not been told to do this. She was more or less waiting in the wings in the event that a stenographer was needed and while waiting she decided to take some notes and she took some verbatim notes of the conversations that were going on and those notes of hers were held under security classification until the following April.
FRITCHEY: By the Defense Department or by General MacArthur?
HESS: Well, it wouldn't have been by General MacArthur because I don't believe General MacArthur knew they existed. They were held by the White House and I suppose by the Defense Department.
FRITCHEY: Do you recall what the notes were supposed to have shown?
HESS: I think they intimated that General MacArthur
had stated that the Chinese Communists would not intervene. But, of course, I have not seen the exact notes. I have read the release in the press.
FRITCHEY: Well, Mr. Truman said that in his own book, and I don't know whether he based that on those notes or on his recollection. As you know, General MacArthur had disputed this to some extent. But Mr. Truman, himself said that -- quoted, I believe, General MacArthur as saying his intelligence convinced him the Chinese would not come in and that if they did that he would annihilate them. Whether Mr. Truman based that on the availability of the secretary's notes or not, I don't know. But that has always been Mr. Truman's view of the matter and I have never been impressed by General MacArthur's rebuttal of this because he never flatly denied it. I just think there are too many others that know what General MacArthur wanted to do, and did do it, and that there was a difference in intelligence estimates.
HESS: What else do you recall about the events surrounding the dismissal of General MacArthur in April of 1951?
FRITCHEY: Well, there were a number of conversations between President Truman and General Marshall. I recall there was some concern as to what the Joint Chiefs would say ab