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Col. R. Allen Griffin Oral History Interview

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Oral History Interview with
Col. R. Allen Griffin

Deputy chief, China Aid Mission, Economic Cooperation Administration, 1948-49; headed State Department Economic Mission to Southeast Asia, 1950; director, Far East program division of Economic Cooperation Administration, 1950; special representative, Economic Cooperation Administration and Mutual Security Agency to Far East, 1951-52.

Pebble Beach, California
February 15, 1974
by James R. Fuchs

[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.

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 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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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, 1979
Harry S. Truman Library
Independence, Missouri

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

 



Oral History Interview with
Col. R. Allen Griffin

 

Pebble Beach, California
February 15, 1974
by James R. Fuchs

 

[1]

FUCHS: Might we start with a little background on your career, Colonel Griffin?

GRIFFIN: Well, in the First World War I had been a captain of infantry and I commanded a company of riflemen successfully. When the war was over I went home to pursue what was to be my career, which was that of a newspaperman. Then in the Second World War I tried to get in and finally did as a public relations officer to General [Ben] Lear. It got him into all sorts

 

[2]

of trouble and got him into some trouble with Senator Truman, because Lear was an abrupt and outspoken man, and I was a newspaperman and not really a public relations man; my sympathy was entirely with the news. I admired General Lear enough to feel that he would have felt it was inconsiderate of me to try to protect him. He was the only general I ever knew who didn't give a damn about what the public thought.

FUCHS: That was old "Yoo-hoo" Lear.

GRIFFIN: This was Yoo-hoo Lear, and Yoo-hoo was one of the incidents of that period.

FUCHS: What do you recall about that?

GRIFFIN: I was his public relations officer at the time. I recall it very keenly. Lear was a devoted golfer, when he had time to play golf, and he was out on the Memphis Country Club golf course, which is more or less in the center of a

 

[3]

residential part of the city, with a main road going past it. And that's the road you usually take going through from the Lebanon area, the eastern Tennessee area, in the direction of Arkansas. He was playing a hole right near that road when along came some trucks loaded with soldiers returning from maneuvers that had been held by, I think, the 35th Infantry Division. This was, I believe, a quartermaster regiment that was going past at that time; and I believe that division was commanded by a brother of Harry Truman.

FUCHS: General Ralph Truman. He was Truman's cousin.

GRIFFIN: Yes. Those men were a little out of hand, and some girls were walking along the sidewalk and the men made a lot of gestures and shouted a lot of things that were entirely unbecoming even to soldiers under those circumstances. In fact, they acted in a manner that Colonel

 

[4]

Richmond, who was playing with General Lear, said was lewd and obscene; and Lear said, "Richmond, go out and stop those trucks."

So, Richmond went out and stopped them and Lear asked for the officer in each of the trucks. There were two officers there, and he dressed them down; and he said they were going to hear more of it and he wanted that entire regiment to bivouac in Memphis that evening, near the fairgrounds, and he would see them in the morning.

He told me about this that evening. We were close friends and I had been a civilian friend of his. He had gotten me back in the Army. I rejoined the Army in the spring of 1941; not in December, but in the spring. I left my business, my wife closed our house, and so forth, and we went to Memphis. It was foolhardy in a way, but I was sure we would be in the war. I was sure of that when Munich took place. And from that time on I tried to see how I could

 

[5]

get back in the Army. I got in the back door through General Lear and friends, with the understanding that I didn't want to stay in the Specialists Corps -- in fact, I never wore the insignia. I wore crossed rifles from the time I reported to duty. He told me later it was very obvious to him that I was out of uniform, but he didn't want to scold me about that.

FUCHS: You felt that you could better serve your country in the service?

GRIFFIN: Oh, yes, I never believed in this bunk that you could serve your country better by staying at home and doing something pleasant. That's what young men say. I only wanted one more thing; I was a vigorous man and I wanted somehow to get back into combat duty. I knew a lot of Army officers and I respected them very much, but I knew I was much smarter than many

 

[6]

of them; and I felt that if I could get a command I'd handle it well. And Lear knew what I wanted, although I took what I could get.

So, he dressed them down pretty hard the next day, and he ordered them to march, I think it was a total distance of 14 miles on foot, after they got out of town, and then they could be picked up and taken on. Well, there was perfect hell to pay as a result. Of course, it was warm weather, it was summer, but they carried no weapons. They were empty-handed, in cotton clothes.

Well, Lear himself could have walked 14 miles under those conditions without suffering; but they were a bunch of spoiled kids -- National Guard often is -- and they made a lot of it, and the press made a lot of it. Senator Bennett Clark was interviewed in St. Louis and he said Lear was a "superannuated old goat" and should be relieved of command. You know, the turmoil

 

[7]

of an amusing incident which became hysterical. Well, it was the first public effort by a general officer to institute a little discipline in the United States Army, which was not in good way, and I think it had quite a good effect in the long run.

But, subsequently, in the Tennessee maneuvers this division was not conducted and controlled or disciplined in a way that Lear felt was satisfactory, and he relieved General Truman of command.

Of course, that raised hell in the Congress and the Senate. It raised such hell that General [George C.] Marshall sent Lear a cable, which Lear showed to me. He called me into his office and pushed it across the desk, told me to read it. I read it and it called upon Lear to explain in detail the justification for the disciplinary action he had taken against this unit of that division, signed "Marshall."

 

[8]

Lear was quite upset that Marshall would question him, so he pushed across to me the cable he was sending to Washington, which was: "I took the disciplinary action I considered necessary under the circumstances Lear." An abrupt answer.

He and Marshall never got along, really, but each man admired the other; but their difficulties with one another personally had begun as early as the Philippine insurrection.

FUCHS: How was that?

GRIFFIN: When they were very young. And then in the First World War Marshall was a colonel and he had a job in Washington -- I forget what it was -- and Lear went to him and asked him to be sure to send him overseas. Marshall just gave him a cold look and said, "Everything will be done according to plan," and Lear never had a chance to serve overseas. And, of course, by

 

[9]

the time the Second World War came along, he was too old to serve overseas, at the beginning anyway. Later he was sent over to clean up the mess that Eisenhower had left in his rear.

FUCHS: What lay beneath this antipathy, starting with the Philippine incident?

GRIFFIN: I guess it was a sort of personal rivalry. Lear had tremendous respect for Marshall, but he wasn't going to let Marshall put anything over on him, hence that telegram. That was a very defiant telegram. Quite! But he was challenging Marshall because he felt Marshall had no right to hold him to account, not for anything. He knew it was political, that Marshall had yielded to political pressure, and that he'd have nothing to do with any political chicanery of any kind. He wanted to make it plain to Marshall, he knew Marshall could read plenty between the lines; and that was the end of it.

 

[10]

But a couple of years later Lear was put in charge of ground forces after [Lesley James] McNair was first wounded. By that time Lear was, I think, on a promotion board in Washington. When McNair was wounded, Lear was called to Washington to take temporary charge of ground forces. Subsequently, McNair was killed, the second time he got exposed. I think he was killed at the St. Lo offensive; he had been wounded in Africa.

Then Lear was called to Washington and put in this job again. He was in that job when I was wounded in France in the Second World War during the period we (the 13th Infantry) were supporting the 4th Armored Division south of Rennes. I was wounded in a combat patrol operation that I happened to be with. It wasn't serious and I had it dressed and we went along.

Later when we were in the Huertgen Forest a lot of difficulty set in, in my elbow. They tried to fix me up there, and finally they sent me

 

[11]

to Paris. And then in Paris the only mistake they made was not to take x-rays. So, they sent me to Washington. I was in Walter Reed Hospital and there's where a young doctor said, "I think this had better be x-rayed," because nothing was showing except the old scar. And they found this spent bullet. Some bullets went through, one spent bullet lodged there, and nobody knew it. I was sewed up there.

FUCHS: From machine gun fire?

GRIFFIN: Burp gun. I killed the man who did it, but I didn't know he had really hurt me. It was all very exciting and it happened in a hell of a hurry. And I never felt too good about killing him, either. It was not a pleasant thing, because he was young and good-looking and, hell, you get disgusted after those things take place. It's easier at a distance, you know.

FUCHS: Most of my action was in tanks. It was more

 

[12]

impersonal.

GRIFFIN: But, the upshot of that was that they took an x-ray and found this and extracted it, and then Lear came over to see me in the meantime. He had come over to see me twice when he was ground forces commander, because I had been with him, you see. And he asked me what I wanted to do. He said, "Do you want to go home or do you want to go back?"

"Well," I said, "I want to go back. I have to go back; I have to finish the damn thing."

He said, "They are about to give you a board. You know you are terribly overage; and you have been somewhat disabled." He said, "I'll see what I can arrange."

I then read in the paper that he had been appointed by Marshall (I'm getting back to Marshall again, you see) to be deputy theater commander in France. That sounds very big;

 

[13]

actually it was to mop up the rear. Eisenhower's command had left all sorts of scattered stuff with little or nothing to do; and Lear's job was to clean that up, retread troops, and so forth; and do that in England, too.

So, just before he left he came to see me again. He said, "Now, Allen, when you feel you're ready to go, you feel a little bit cocky, you telephone ground forces and ask for so and so" -- I forget the officer's name -- and tell him you're ready to leave, he'll have his instructions." And he said, "I'm leaving tomorrow."

Well, Lear left, a week passed, I couldn't stand it any longer, I was scared to death that the board might work, you know. So, I telephoned ground forces and told them I was ready. Do you realize they had me out of there the next day?

 

[14]

FUCHS: Pretty good for the Army.

GRIFFIN: And flew me over. So, I joined Lear there, and ended my career as a staff officer, which was the thing I wanted to get out of, and did get out of; but I had a very successful regiment.

FUCHS: Which regiment?

GRIFFIN: The 13th Infantry Regiment of the 8th Division. I had a wonderful regiment and a wonderful time, a very enjoyable time.

FUCHS: Did you have any occasion to talk to General Ralph Truman at the time of this incident?

GRIFFIN: No.

FUCHS: Did the General and General Truman have a confrontation at that time?

GRIFFIN: I think they did, yes, but I wasn't there.

FUCHS: Between your two World War activities I read

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