Oral History Interview with
Perry R. Hardin
May 8, 1991
by Niel M. Johnson
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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.
Opened July, 1992
Harry S. Truman Library
Oral History Interview with
Perry R. Hardin
May 8, 1991
by Niel M. Johnson
JOHNSON: Mr. Hardin, I'm going to start out just by asking you where and when you were born, who your parents are.
HARDIN: I was born on March 4, 1928 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. My mother's name was Adelle Hardin, and my father's name was Lafayette Hampton Hardin.
JOHNSON: Do you have any brothers and sisters?
HARDIN: I had four older brothers and three older sisters.
JOHNSON: You're the youngest.
HARDIN: I am the youngest in the family.
JOHNSON: I've said this before, but it seems like I've been interviewing the youngest son or daughter more often than not.
HARDIN: I have one brother who is living and I have two sisters who are living.
JOHNSON: So you were educated in Tuscaloosa?
HARDIN: Educated in high school in Tuscaloosa. I finished high school just as I had turned 16 years of age. I went to two summer schools so I could finish high school earlier, and that was during World War II. At that time the high school was really an eleven year school. So I finished high school in ten years by way of going to summer school two years. I had a sister working in Washington, D.C. at the time.
JOHNSON: What year are we talking about?
HARDIN: This is in 1944 that I graduated from high school. I had visited my sister in Washington, D.C. when I was in junior high school and it was my desire to come back and work in Washington, D.C., and take all the Civil Service examinations, or something I thought I could pass.
So, when I graduated from high school in May of '44 I immediately got on a train and headed out for Washington in June of '44. Arriving in Washington, I took several examinations for Civil Service work. Clerical was my highest score; I believe I scored 94 or 98, something in that range, and I chose to apply as a
Civil Service clerk. The Secretary of Agriculture's department employed me. That was my first job with Civil Service.
I was employed there in the Secretary's file room for six months, from June until December of '44.
JOHNSON: Was that [Claude] Wickard who was Secretary of Agriculture at that point?
HARDIN: I think he was the Secretary of Agriculture at that time; I'm not positive. I would have to look that up. My supervisor called me into his office one day and said they had an opening in the White House for a file clerk. He said that he would like to recommend me to be detailed to the White House, if I was interested. Of course, my eyes probably got large as saucers. And it meant a grade promotion all the way up to Grade 3 -- probably around $1,200 or $1,400 a year.
So I was detailed to the White House in January, around January 3 of '45, if I remember correctly. When you got on detail to the White House, they keep you on, I guess, a certain amount of probation period. They've got to decide if they want to keep you or not, or send you back to the agency that you came from. So, they picked me up on the White House payroll probably after six months, to the best of my recollection.
JOHNSON: On detail for six months.
HARDIN: That's right, and then they considered that I was no longer detailed to the White House. After the probation period, I was transferred to the White House payroll.
JOHNSON: Who did you report to when you came to the White House for the first time?
HARDIN: My supervisor was Joseph Nash, but, of course, the executive clerk was William Hopkins. Mr. [Clarence E.] Ingling interviewed me for employment in the file room, and then Mr. Joseph Nash interviewed me for employment in the file room. They accepted me, and training began at that time in January of '45. Now, Franklin Roosevelt was President at this time, because his last inauguration, I think, was January 20 of '45, on the South Portico of the White House. He did not go to the Capitol Building for his last inauguration.
JOHNSON: You had already been detailed, right?
HARDIN: I was there.
JOHNSON: What was the date that you were detailed to the White House?
HARDIN: I think it was January 3 of '45, and President Roosevelt was inaugurated January 20, '45. We all witnessed the inauguration from the grounds, the south
grounds of the White House. That's where he and Vice President Truman took their oaths.
JOHNSON: Was that the first time you saw Harry Truman?
HARDIN: The first time I ever remember seeing him and the first time that I remember seeing President Roosevelt. Roosevelt at that time was very ill. I'm not positive, but I think it was Chief Justice [Harlan F.] Stone who administered the oath of office.
JOHNSON: That's right.
HARDIN: President Roosevelt was so ill at the time that I remember that they had to literally pick him up, pick his chair up, to face the Justice for his oath of office. He was very ill.
JOHNSON: Where were you standing, do you remember?
HARDIN: I was standing down on the grounds along with everyone else, on the south grounds.
JOHNSON: Were all of you White House people grouped together in the same group?
HARDIN: Right. The staff was grouped together. They issued invitations for different groups to be in different locations on the south grounds. I was assigned to the staff group. But we did have a very
good vantage point for the inauguration, because this was not an inauguration of a President as we know it today.
HARDIN: Due to President Roosevelt's illness, I'm sure. And possibly the war going on had something to do with it.
JOHNSON: Yes, that was one of the reasons they cited for that. It's a memorable experience seeing that. And then you had to go back to work. Or did they give you the day off?
HARDIN: That was a holiday. We did not work, that's right. At that time when I was first employed I had to make several trips over to the East Executive Office, and I had to go by what was then a swimming pool, indoor pool. It had louvered shutters along the walkway there, and I recall I heard some splashing going on. I stopped and peeped through the little shutters there, and all of a sudden I heard this voice behind me say, "Hey boy, move on." I looked around, and I found out that was a Secret Service agent who was standing somewhere in the vicinity of the Rose Garden. It was President Roosevelt who was in the pool at the time.
JOHNSON: You see on this layout, here's a swimming pool.
This is attached to the West Wing. It shows it here, I guess, on the first floor.
HARDIN: Yes, it was right on the first floor. The President's office was over in here. And here's the walkway right here.
JOHNSON: Yes, there's the Portico.
HARDIN: And I was coming from over here, from the elevator . . .
JOHNSON: You were coming from the west side.
HARDIN: Took the elevator up to the first -- the ground level -- and was walking across ground level.
JOHNSON: So you were walking east there.
JOHNSON: Past the pool.
HARDIN: Really, my business on the east side at that time was just to have some further paper work accomplished, as the best I recall.
JOHNSON: Where was it that they first stationed you in the White House. Where was your work area? Here's Hassett's office, down here in the corner, in that southwest corner of the West Wing, first floor. But
were you in the basement, did you say?
HARDIN: I was in the basement.
JOHNSON: You said you were under the Oval Office?
HARDIN: Well, approximately under the Oval Office.
JOHNSON: Now, the Oval Office was over here.
HARDIN: No, it would be under this area here.
JOHNSON: Under [Matthew] Connelly's office perhaps?
HARDIN: Right. Perhaps right here.
JOHNSON: Now, here's the Chief Clerk.
HARDIN: Hopkins was upstairs.
JOHNSON: He was right above you then?
HARDIN: This is on ground level here; we were under the ground level.
HARDIN: We entered our office from the West Executive Avenue.
JOHNSON: That west entrance.
HARDIN: West Executive Avenue entrance. We stepped down a few steps after going in there. My office was
approximately in this location.
JOHNSON: Right under the Appointment's Secretary, under Connelly's office.
JOHNSON: That was a file room?
HARDIN: That was a file room from here up to here.
JOHNSON: Okay, under the Fish Room.
HARDIN: The messengers had a room, and duplicating rooms were over here on that same level that we were on.
JOHNSON: Down below in the basement.
HARDIN: Down below in the basement.
JOHNSON: That would be toward the west side there.
HARDIN: That is correct.
JOHNSON: Okay, you can keep that as a souvenir, and you might just keep that handy.
HARDIN: Thank you. I do not have a floor plan.
JOHNSON: This was in Life magazine, in the December 13, 1948, issue. Well, perhaps I should keep one handy here too for reference. Okay, so that's where you started work. Would you just briefly describe what
kind of duties you had? What were your responsibilities there?
HARDIN: Well, my first job was in the alphabetical files; any information that was cross-indexed, it would be underscored and then we would have t