Oral History Interview with
Career officer, U.S. Army, 1923-55. Military Advisor, Conference Chapultepec, Mexico and U.N. Conference, San Francisco, 1945; National War College, 1946-47; Military Staff Committee, United Nations Staff, 1947; Deputy Commander, Armed Forces Special Weapons Project, Sandia Base, New Mexico, 1948-52; Research and Development Division in Army General Staff, 1952.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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 February, 1978
Harry S. Truman Library
Oral History Interview with
Major General Kenner F. Hertford
MCKINZIE: Perhaps we could start, General Hertford, by asking you how you happened to become involved in Latin American affairs in the Second World War? It seems that it's really not appropriate to talk about the postwar period without tying it to the events of the war.
HERTFORD: I had never been particularly interested in Latin America. I've been more of a philosopher all my life, As a matter of fact, I have
had a "misspent life" in that I was interested in almost everything possible outside of the Army, although I did enjoy enough in the Army to retire as a major general. I was a Corps of Engineers officer, and I was in France about three years with the American Battle Monuments Commission. I spoke fluent French, and I was interpreter between Marshal Petain and General [John J.] Pershing a number of times before World War II.
After interpreting French and being an engineer, I came back and was assigned to the Chief of Engineer's Office, working on tables of organization for aviation engineer units. One could see the war was ready to start for the U.S. and the War Department General Staff wanted someone to work on northeast Brazil.
I was in the Chief of Engineers' Office, and the War Department was interested in getting
an Army corps in northeast Brazil (this was before Pearl Harbor) because it was thought the Germans might attempt to come over there.
There were a lot of German sympathizers in Brazil and throughout South America as a matter of fact. The Lufthansa was down there, and the Germans had infiltrated many places. So, they asked for two colonels, and myself (I was a brand new major). The three of us went to Brazil. We were down there for about three months. I got a little book on Portuguese. I'd had Spanish at West Point and 12 years of French as a kid, so I picked up enough Portuguese to talk to General [Enrico Gaspar] Dutra who was then Minister of War and subsequently became President of Brazil. He spoke only Portuguese, and the two colonels with me spoke only English.
I was rather frank with him and realized that he wasn't about to let an American infantry corps come down there -- we actually didn't have one to go at that time.
He said substantially, "You give us the equipment and some people to train us to use it, and we will garrison northeast Brazil."
We all took a trip to the northeast. As an engineer I went with the Chief of Intelligence in the Brazilian Army all over northeast Brazil and took photographs. We went on that little railroad between Recife and Natal then back in the hinterland. By this time my Portuguese was pretty good.
I came back and made a report. Then I was ordered to the War Plan's Division to plan for a possible occupation of northeast Brazil. If we did put troops in there -- not by force --
I had to work on the intelligence and logistics side of the picture. We worked on this plan at what is now the National War College at Ft. McNair.
Then I went back to the Chief of Engineers' office. When Pearl Harbor occurred General Mathewson -- a friend of mine, then a colonel -- asked me to come over to the Latin American branch of the Operations Division.
The Operations Division was destined to run the war. So, I didn't have much choice. I preferred to go out and command an engineer battalion, but I was under orders. We'd lost the Philippines and everything looked black. Eisenhower came in as head of OPB. He was a brigadier general and didn't stay too long.
I never will forget that he called us all in his office his first day there as a brand new brigadier general and said as I recall it,
"Everybody's walking around glum. We're going to come out of this thing all right; there's no doubt about it. All I want you to do is to speak to each other and smile when you're walking in the halls of the Pentagon. That's all gentlemen."
When Mathewson left, I found myself organizing a joint Brazil-U.S. Defense Commission, because I'd said that I knew how we could get troops in there. When you complain about the mess, they make you mess officer. And the next thing I knew they'd said, "What's your scheme? You go back down there."
I said, "No, I've been down there once."
They said, "Well, who?"
I said, "Send another engineer officer down there to talk about the engineering side of it."
There was a colonel, Lucius Clay, wandering
around -- a good friend of mine -- and I said, "How would you like to go down to Brazil to finish up this engineer report of the whole northeast of Brazil from a logistic point of view and talk to the Minister of War?"
He said, "Okay, how long will it last?"
I said, "Oh, a couple of months."
I was a lieutenant colonel by that time, and I had known Lucius for years in the engineers. Lucius went down and sent back hot telegrams that I knew were going to disturb both the State Department and [Jefferson] McCaffery who was our Ambassador there. I wrote a reply to Lucius and took it to General Eisenhower. (Eisenhower had served with Clay years before). Eisenhower walked up and down the room and said substantially, "I know Clay; I know him very well. You can't send him
a message like that; you've got to really hit him hard."
I said, "I've been used to writing messages to Ambassadors from the State Department point of view." These had to be written in a passive voice because you didn't want to let them know who was really going to have to do something, but it had to be done.
He said, "Change this word, change that word." This was in the Operations Division.
I sent the message to Lucius. And he fired a hot one back and said, "I'm coming home," which he did.
Then I helped organize a joint Brazil-U.S. Defense Commission. Then with the Mexicans we organized the Mexican-U.S. Defense Commission. We were to try to get troops into northeast Brazil. We didn't have a lot of troops to go
To make a long story short, the Brazilians agreed to have a hundred Marines come in at Belem, a hundred Marines at Natal, a hundred at Recife, and at Fortaleza. These Marines went down there equipped with anti-aircraft guns. Then they agreed to let us put Army Air Corps people in the control towers so we could fly through there. They couldn't wear uniforms at first, but finally they were allowed uniforms. I agreed to turn everything over to the Brazilians when the war was over. So, that's how it got started.
MCKINZIE: Where did lend-lease fit into this?
HERTFORD: We decided we would start to build a Brazilian Army. Then Brazil declared war and that's when lend-lease really got started.
We got the materials and airplanes they wanted, and they decided to organize a division. I was ordered from Washington to Recife as Deputy Commander of the U.S. Army Forces South Atlantic. The main idea was to take a group of instructors and equipment down to Rio and to train this Brazilian division. The same was true for a fighter squadron.
We were given a lot of material by lend-lease. Then, Nelson Rockefeller got into the picture. He was the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs. Rockefeller went to see General [George C.] Marshall, who was Chief of Staff then, and said that he was very much interested in seeing that interest in Europe and Asia didn't completely overshadow Latin America. He had a desk in the State Department and asked for me. I was ordered back at Christmastime of '44.
As a brigadier general, I was assigned to the Pan-American Division, a newly organized division in the Operations Division. I headed that until the end of the war, I also attended the Chapultepec Conference in Mexico City as a military advisor.
MCKINZIE: Can we talk about the Chapultepec Conference? One of the ideas of the Conference was to come to an agreement on collective security. Was this an idea that was already well developed within the Pentagon?
HERTFORD: Not in the Pentagon, but within the State Department. We had many conferences on it similar to the Dumbarton Oaks Conference before we went out to San Francis