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Dr. Wallace H. Graham Oral History Interview, January 10, 1976

Oral History Interview with
Dr. Wallace H. Graham

Personal physician to President Harry S. Truman, 1945-72. As a colonel in the U.S. Army was selected by President Truman, while at Potsdam in 1945, to be his personal physician. Also served on the staff of Walter Reed Army Hospital while in Washington, and during his Service at the White House was promoted to Brigadier General. Dr. Graham, who was originally from Kansas City and returned there after completing his military service in 1953, remained the former President's physician until Truman's death in 1972.

Kansas City, Missouri
January 10, 1976
by Jerald L. Hill and William D. Stilley

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

 


Notice
This interview was conducted by William D. Stilley and Jerald L. Hill as part of a intern and independent study project at William Jewell College in March 1976, under the direction of the Political Science Department of William Jewell College. 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.

RESTRICTIONS
This transcript may be read, quoted from, cited, and reproduced for purposes of research. It may not be published in full except by permission of William D. Stilley and Jerald L. Hill.

Opened October, 1985
Harry S. Truman Library
Independence, Missouri

 

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

 



Oral History Interview with
Dr. Wallace H. Graham

Kansas City, Missouri
January 10, 1976
by Jerald L. Hill and William D. Stilley

[1]

STILLEY: Dr. Graham, what were the circumstances, or what led President Truman to choose you as his personal physician?

GRAHAM: That is something difficult to answer because of the fact that I like to think that because of my acumen and ability as a doctor, naturally. I knew nothing was going on from that standpoint, as I was in service in Europe; primarily had been in England, and then on D-Day we were out in the Channel. My particular unit then went in deep

[2]

ruts, too, and into Omaha Beach. Then to Lacom, and then into various battle zones throughout the entire time in Europe. Then I was chief of surgery in an evacuation hospital all throughout combat, and then attached to the 101st Airborne troops with the British First Armoured then in Rijmegen, Holland.

The first time that I knew, actually, what was taking place was after the war was finished in Germany. We were sent down to Stuttgart, Germany where I was awaiting plans to materialize to go to Japan. I had put in for Japan; then to go down to Marseilles and then on over from that standpoint. We were all working quite diligently trying to get the wounded and the men who had been operated for shell wounds and all these casualties of war, to get them back into the States as soon as possible, or send them to England and get them evacuated out of the dangerous war zones.

So, we were in Stuttgart, and one day while I was doing physical examinations and overseeing the patients, a group of officers came to me at the bedside and they addressed themselves, and I met

[3]

them. They said that I had a plane awaiting me with A 1 priority to fly to Potsdam immediately.

Well, I hadn't really kept track of the President of the United States or anything. When you are busy and you have duties to perform, a job to do, you keep after it, and you don't really pay too much attention to what the papers say. We would get the Stars and Stripes--that was our paper of the combat zone and I just hadn't been aware of the fact any more than I heard the President was up there for a conference in Potsdam. So I negated that. I said, "I'm afraid you have the wrong man, because I'm sure that he would want an internist and an older man than I am at the present time." They looked a bit and they said, "Well, yes, we probably have." So they took off and they left and saluted, and that was it.

They came back about three days later, the lads did, and there was one of higher rank than any of them, a general officer, and so we went through the same formality again. They said, "No, you're the right one." So I knew that they had

[4]

made a mistake, or I thought they had. I asked them what kind of a plane they had and how many seats it had in it, because, see, we had been in Magdeburg north of Berlin. I had been in Berlin before the war. You see, I was there as a resident surgeon after graduating here, and going through my internship and some residency here. Then I was sent over there and I took advantage of a scholarship then in Vienna, Austria, in pathology and surgery. Naturally, I having been in Berlin and lived there for some time, I wanted to show the men around who were in our unit, and let them enjoy the sights. So, we were anxious to get in there. I wanted to know how many seats there were in this plane, because everybody that was available I would fill the thing up, and if they made a mistake, they were really going to make a big one.

We got ready--I think we took off the next morning early--and had the plane pretty well filled up. We flew over the Tempelhof Airdrome. It was just out of Berlin; it's in Potsdam. I looked down there on the airfield and I said, "My goodness,

[5]

what in the world are all these officers doing? What's all that affair down there?"

And the man looked up to me and he said, "Colonel Graham, that's for you."

"Oh, my land." I was really shook then, that's the first time it really got to me, because I wasn't dressed for anything like that. I mean you're in your jump boots and your trousers that you pressed between boards and things like that, you know. I was really shook then. I said, "Well, I hope he has the right one, whoever you're looking fox," because I looked down there and the French had these big gold braids on their hats, the red hats, and the Foreign Legion was out there. The Russians were out there in their white gloves and they looked spic and span, and our troops were terrific, and they had a great, long, red carpet. Oh, my goodness gracious, I just couldn't really believe it.

Well, anyway, we rolled up and the door opened right at the red carpet and so we went out according to protocol. I went to the head of the line and

[6]

the officer then up there kept looking around and looking around and, "Let's see. Let's see, can you tell me . . ."

"Are you looking for Colonel Graham?"

"Oh yes, yes indeed."

"Well, I'm Colonel Graham."

"0h, yes, yes indeed, that's fine. That's fine. Well, who are these gentlemen, who are these soldiers and officers with you?"

I said, "Well, they are my guests." So I guess he was pretty well shook. I introduced myself and showed him my ID card. You know they had the general's car and all, and he assured himself that I was the right one, and the Secret Service stepped up and they asked me what I'd like to have. Well, frankly, when you're in the Army they don't ask you what you want or what you would like to have, and I wasn't exactly used to it. I said, "pertaining to what?"

He said, "'0h, transportation."

I said, "Well, fine, give us a jeep, anything you can get."

[7]

"You can certainly have better than a jeep."

"Fine, give me a command car." You know, when you're in that year after year, been here in maneuvers for a year or so, two years, and over there throughout the whole thing.

He said, "Well, no," he said, "would you like to have a Packard car?"

"Well, I'll take anything I can get, anything is splendid, just fine."

So that was about it. We exchanged amenities there, and got in the car and we rolled up to our two places where we were to stay there in Potsdam. They had taken over several homes there in the sector. They said, "This will be your place to stay," and so that was fine. That was about the end of it and I didn't hear anything more. I think it was the following day, they said, "You can do anything you wish, go anyplace you want to go and we will contact you."

Well, that's quite a bit of latitude. So the next day then I had the group and I said, "Let's go on up to Berlin; that's the reason we

[8]

came up here, we wanted to see this place." We went on up into Berlin, and I was showing them the various places all around there. It was pretty well battered, though, Berlin was just nothing but rubble almost then. Then we went over and saw the place where [Adolph] Hitler had met his end. As a matter of fact, I had seen Hitler many times prior to this. I mean I had actually seen him. I was at the plebiscite anschluss in Vienna when Germany took over Austria as Niederdeutschland. That was on the 10th of April, 1938. It was then that I saw [Herman Wilhelm] Goering, and [Joseph Paul] Goebbels, and Hitler when they all came down there then; and I had seen him prior to that time in Berlin. He was there on the opera ring when all these German troops were rolling in from Deutschland down into Austria.

My sergeant went down into the bunker; found a book down there. He brought this book out, and the book happened to be the last will and testimony of Hitler. It's a large book, rather interesting to look at, that's all. This is a photostatic copy

[9]

of it. We've had I think five--either four or five--photostats made of it; the President has one, I had one, General [Harry] Vaughan had one, and the Secretary of War; and the original went to the archives of Congress. Then anyway, we had that, and that was just about it.

From Berlin, then, we went up to the Brandenburg Tor, which is on Unter den Linden Strasse the great street in Berlin where the horsemen were pretty well shod; these iron horses you know. I think they were brought up there by Frederick de Grossa, Frederick the Great. I think they made the trip twice for some reason or other, I'm not sure of the history, I'm a little foggy on that. I was explaining it there at the Brandenburg Tor and all of a sudden a few jeeps rolled up, the Military Police came up and "Colonel Graham?"

"Yes."

"You are wanted back at the Little White House immediately."

"Fine. Okay." I just checked out and

[10]