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See also Robert B. Landry Oral History by the United States Air Force Oral History Office.
Oral History Interview with
February 28, 1974
James R. Fuchs
FUCHS: General Landry, you might want to begin by telling a little of your military background leading up to when you joined the staff in the White House, and then, as you were this morning, relating some of your anecdotes.
LANDRY: Yes, this is a good way to start the interview. A copy of my biographical sketch covering my military assignments will give a pretty good picture of my military background, (See Bographical Sketch of Military Service) and it is associated with further remarks I will have to make on the subject. I think, too, it is desirable for me to establish a proper setting for answers to questions you wish to ask me, and for other information that may arise out of discussions I'm sure we will have as we go along. For example, why and what had occurred to bring about this
first-time White House position on the President's staff, what were my qualifications for the job, what duties were involved, to whom I would be reporting, etc.
At the time of my appointment I was serving on the Air Force staff as Executive Officer to the Chief, General Tooey [Carl] Spaatz, whom I had known for many years and served under in England when he commanded all strategic and tactical air forces in the war against Germany. As executive officer to General Spaatz, it had been my good fortune to get to know Secretary [Stuart] Symington very well. When military assignments are being made, being in the right place at the right time can be an asset and may have had something to do in my being recommended by the Chief and the Secretary for the White House position; probably a touch of luck, too. I have often asked who was it that took the initiative in setting up the Air Force Aide's job: the Air Force Secretary maybe, or the President.
At the time, however, there had been a rumor floating around the Air Staff regarding who, among several people, might be selected for this assignment, including my name. I never gave it much thought, really, as I had hoped after my job in the Pentagon, I would be able to get back in the field with a flying
unit. I rather think it just developed, as between the President and the Secretary, that since the former Army Air Force had, in September 1947, been elevated by Congressional action to Department status, it seemed logical and fair that the President have an Air Force Officer Aide on his staff, as did the Army and Navy for their respective services.
Be that as it may, on the night of February 5, 1948, my wife and our two children were sitting on the porch of our home on Reno Road in Washington, D.C., watching the sun go down during the twilight period. The phone rang inside the house around 7:30 p.m. My wife answered it and returned to say Mr. Matt Connelly was calling from the White House wishing to speak with me. Neither of us knew Mr. Connelly, nor did we have any contacts in the White House except for the one time I had met General Harry Vaughan, the President's Military Aide, at a social function.
The message was brief. At the direction of the President, he was calling to say that I had been appointed by the President to be his Air Force Aide and I was to report to the White House the following morning for an appointment at 9:30 a.m. to meet the President. As one can imagine, this surprise news resulted in all sorts of speculation and excitement. Eventually, when things calmed down, my family and
friends decided I had better "hit the sack" so as to be fresh and alert for my first meeting, ever, with a President of the United States.
At 9:15 a.m. the next day I was cleared at the White House gate and reported to Matt Connelly whose office was adjacent to the President's office. He said the President was having a meeting with Secretary [James] Forrestal and would see me at about 9:25. There I sat for a few minutes, wondering what the President would have to say to me and how I might respond.
The door into the President's office finally opened and there stood the President. He was just inside his office smiling and ready to greet me. After Matt introduced me, he said, "Come in Colonel, glad to see you," and we shook hands. He said, "You're going to be my new Air Force Aide and I just want you to know you're going to be one of the family on my staff." He went on to say he was going to have a press conference right here in the Oval Office in a few minutes; I was to stand right behind him with Bob Dennison and Harry Vaughan, as he sat at his desk and took questions from the press. I recall him saying, "You will see it is something like a circus."
After the press conference was over, I was introduced to members of the President's staff. All
were most cordial. My first reaction, after all this was over, was how the President had made me feel right at home, like I had known him for some time. As I look back, I can't believe how relaxed I was and relieved, too, of any anxieties about this assignment. I just knew right then and there, it would be fun, exciting and rewarding.
I was then shown around the premises and the location of my office on the second floor in the East Wing of the White House. (John Steelman, Harry Vaughan and Bob Dennison were on the first floor just below me.) It consisted of my office and an adjoining secretary-receptionist office with usual furnishings. It was obvious I would have to go to the Air Force for a secretary and such transportation as might be needed and authorized.
During the tour of the White House that first day, I was shown, among other things, the enclosed White House swimming pool with an adjoining enclosed exercise room like a small gym with the usual exercise equipment. I was told the President loved to swim and have a massage after he left the office around 5:00 to 5:30 each day. The little gym appealed to me because in those days I tried to exercise and work-out as much as possible. I wondered if I would be permitted to use the gym--swimming didn't interest me at all. At the
proper time, later on, I figured I would ask the President if I was permitted to use it.
The rest of the day was spent getting oriented in this high-level environment. Either the President or Matt had told me after the meeting that I was expected to attend their daily 9:30 a.m. meetings with the principal staff members and his three Aides when he was in residence. I also learned that when the President attended local official gatherings, his three military aides were to escort him. Information on such activities--times, places, etc.--would be furnished by Connelly's office.
For the first several weeks I mostly watched and listened to what was going on. Several things seemed clear to me; one, there was no job description or precedent concerning what my responsibilities were; two, it became clear that my position on the staff was at the same level as other principal staff members, reporting directly to "the boss," the President. I assumed it was up to me to anticipate how best I could serve the President as the Air Force representative on this special assignment. Duties and responsibilities would develop, I felt sure, and they did, as is indicated later on in this transcript.
What I believe was the first order given to me by the President early on was the scheduling of the
Presidential airplane for use by the family, cabinet officers, other high Government officials approved by the President, and heads of foreign governments invited to visit the United States by the President. All scheduling was to be handled by me, and I was to be present in the aircraft as the President's representative on all such flights.
Soon after the completion of one of the morning meetings I had an opportunity to speak to the President about working out in the gym. "You do just that whenever you like," he said, "and use the pool, too, if you want to. It would be good company for me; nobody on the staff has ever shown much interest in these facilities."
Well, as it turned out the President would have his swim, shower and have a massage which he enjoyed very much as it was very relaxing and helpful in restoring the energy spent during the day in the office. While he relaxed on the table and I was dressing, he often liked to chat about events of the day, occasionally some more pressing matters such as the cold war, the Russian threat, the Korean situation and things like that. It was on one such occasion that I recommended to the President he have an up-to-date briefing on the Air Force on the Strategic Air Command's capabilities and readiness to launch a
devastating airborne attack against vital Soviet targets, if such action should ever to necessary as a result of something like a Soviet miscalculated intercontinental atomic missile first strike against the United States. He thought the idea was a timely suggestion and told me to have it set up. The briefing took place in the Cabinet room in September, 1948, I believe. The subject matter was limited only to strategic air operations. The President; Secretary Symington; Chief of Staff General Hoyt Vandenberg; the briefer, Major General Montgomery; and myself attended the briefing. I'm not sure if Vaughan and Dennison attended it.
FUCHS: Did you become involved in the controversy over unification in any way?
LANDRY: No, this was not part of the unification program. I believe I can correctly say the President, and others, too, had become a little tired of the squabbling and infighting among the services over missions and the lion's share of appropriated money. The separation of the Army Air Force from the Army in September, 1947, was a distinct and separate action taken by the Congress and supported by the President. Under the term unification, the President meant, and he expected the several service departments to understand,
that he wanted them to work together as a team in harmony, respect, and mutual understanding in regard to the fulfillment of their respective missions assigned by higher headquarters. Budget matters must be resolved between partners on a fair and equitable basis.
FUCHS: Well, when they set up the National Defense Establishment, first, they created the Air Force. Weren't there some problems involved there?
LANDRY: No, I don't think the Defense Department came into being at the same time as the Air Force.
FUCHS: No, it was later.
LANDRY: It was later.
FUCHS: But I believe they did have a National Military Establishment when they created the Air Force.
LANDRY: Yes, I would go along with this.
FUCHS: Were you happy about this assignment?
LANDRY: Well, I was very happy about it, but not knowing what it was all about, I was a bit bewildered. Knowing that we had a Chief of Staff and a Secretary and, I guess in those days, a Secretary of Defense, too, I did sort of wonder just exactly what my job would be. I
don't mean to be boastful in any way. I felt quite honored, in being the first Air Force Aide.
FUCHS: How had the air travel been handled in the White House prior to their having an Air Force Aide?
LANDRY: Well, air travel for the President and for members of the Cabinet, or for any top official of Government that the President wanted to have travel by air someplace, and himself, of course was handled by a crew provided by MATS at that time, Military Air Transport Service. The Air Force provided an airplane--at that time it was a DC-6--and provided also a topflight crew under the command and control of Colonel Francis Williams.
FUCHS: MATS provided the Sacred Cow for Roosevelt.
LANDRY: The Sacred Cow. Mr. Truman had that for a while. The Sacred Cow was a C-54. Then we got the Douglas DC-6, and that was the one that we used the five years I was there. We got that fairly early in '48 and kept it right on through until '53 when I left. But the air transportation was handled by that crew.
Now, as I mentioned earlier, when I came in I was made responsible for all the air transportation, and I suppose during that period of time I must have, at the direction of the President, gone over and gotten, or
taken to and from the United States to their respective countries, ten, twelve, fifteen heads of state. For example, we flew the Shah of Iran a couple of times, and the President of Venezuela as well as Mr. [Winston] Churchill from England and so on. While I was not actually a part of the flying crew, I was in command of the air plane and of the operation. I took Mr. Acheson many times, as I mentioned to you this morning, to Paris first and then to New York City for meetings of the United Nations, and to various other parts of the world. All scheduling of the President's airplane was done in my office.
FUCHS: Did you know Vaughan and Admiral Dennison before you met them that day at the press conference?
LANDRY: No, I had never met Vaughan or Dennison, and, as I told you this morning, I had never met the President. In fact, I had never even seen a President, so it was a little awesome to be standing behind him that particular morning in February.
FUCHS: Did he take you aside after that and articulate further what you might be doing in the White House?
LANDRY: No. No, I don't recall that he ever took me aside and articulated anything. There was no such thing as a job description, and he didn't say that you're
responsible for anything in particular, except it was evident that he expected me to handle the air transportation because his secretaries always came to me on that. So, it developed that that was one of my responsibilities.
I would say that if there was anything that had been difficult in the five years there it was, at times, a little difficult to know exactly what to do. But it was obvious that I was representing the Air Force and it was up to me to speak of the Air Force in glowing terms or to explain or to comment on things that the Air Force was trying to do at the appropriate time without in any sense of the word trying to oversell, or be doing it at the expense of any other service.
I do remember one thing. Very shortly after I got there--this is kind of strange--Matt Connelly, who was the Appointments Secretary, asked me if I would like to go to lunch with him one day. He would like to just visit with me. I said, "Sure, I'd love to." I had never met Matt before and he seemed like a very likeable fellow. I didn't know what he wanted to talk about.
So, we went to the hotel over there on K and 16th Streets, right across from the Statler. We sat down and talked, and very soon it was evident that Mr.
Connelly wanted to let me know that while they loved to have military over there on staff, and they were delighted to have me, that civilians really ran that staff, and, while he didn't say so in so many words, that I should keep my nose out of things that were not my business. He indicated that I should do something like that. Not knowing exactly what my business was, I thought that was very amusing.
So, I think it was a kind of a warning or a charge to me to stay with the Air Force things, as they came up, and stay out of things like White House political and economic policy matters. We had a very friendly lunch and I got his message. I think he was just trying to tell me not to go meddling in anything I might want to meddle in, try to get my foot into anything. He wasn't scolding me, because I hadn't been there but a couple or three weeks.
FUCHS: Hadn't done anything yet.
LANDRY: Hadn't done anything yet. And at no time can I recall ever being unable to see the President when I had something I felt I needed to talk to him about.
FUCHS: Did you ever notice any resentment by the civilian members against any of the military aides?
LANDRY: No, I noticed just the opposite. I think, as I
said this morning, the Naval Aide had the office of record. Admiral [William D.] Leahy had been there as a four-star admiral and was Chief of Staff until he retired and [Admiral Robert] Dennison came over [as Naval Aide to the President]. Dennison spent a great deal more time with papers and the President than any of the rest of us. Vaughan was an old war buddy in World War II. I was a new guy there still wet behind the ears and not knowing exactly what I should or should not get into. But as time went on and I had my opportunities to advise and to explain air power, I think I make a contribution to his tenure of office there; I think I did help him a great deal. And as I look through some of his correspondence, some of his comments, he said on several occasions that he really appreciated the contribution I had made, which I considered to be a contribution on Air Force matters.
FUCHS: Do you recall any comments he made at this briefing?
LANDRY: Oh, I think, if I remember, he complimented the briefer, he complimented Secretary Symington, and the chief. He said he was delighted, and that he learned a lot about the subject. And that was about it. But it was the first time that any real briefing on air power, as far as I know, had ever been presented to Mr. Truman. Concerning previous Presidents, I don't know.
Roosevelt was a Navy man, and I guess he knew a lot about the Navy; he had been Secretary of the Navy. I think Mr. Truman, having been in the Army, knew quite a bit about Army matters. But there's an interesting letter here, if I can find it, where he said something about he doesn't know too much about the military, which I thought was rather amusing. But he was only saying something to the effect, in a letter to me, that he was still learning about the military even though he was Commander in Chief, and had been in the Army and that sort of thing, which was an expression of humility in a way--that he always figured that he was learning.
I think it would be good for the record then, and probably other people have said this, but he truly loved the military. He just loved a man in uniform; and he often told me, "I wanted to go to West Point, but," he said, "I couldn't go, I had bad eyes." He really told me that any number of times, that he would have loved to have gone to West Point. He idolized [George C.] Marshall as a military man; thought he was one of the great living Americans.
He thought [Omar N.] Bradley was the finest field commander--he was the field commander of the largest force ever put in the field. General [Dwight D.] Eisenhower was a political commander in a sense, a strategic commander, but Bradley actually had command
of the forces in the field, and President Truman thought Bradley was one of the great commanders. As a matter of fact, it was after the war that Bradley got his fifth star when the President made him chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Bradley was not a five-star man during the war.
So, he set that whole thing up. He got the law through the Congress that provided that these top flight people would never retire; that they would always be available. They would just sort of step down; that they would have an aide and a secretary and an office always available to them. These were the things that he thought that top military men should be entitled to.
FUCHS: Did you ever notice any leaning towards the Army over the Air Force and the Navy?
LANDRY: No, I don't think so at all. And in his reviews of the budget and trying to determine a budget for the several services, I think he listened to all the presentation. I don't recall in any instance where he sort of went out of the way or showed favoritism towards any particular service. He did a couple of things, I remember. I think he had a lot to do with the unification to stop this infighting and bickering and cutting each others throat for a bigger cut of the
budget. I think that was good.
We used to have an Army Day and Navy Day, and I don't think we ever had an Air Force Day because the Air Force was so new, but he thought it should be Armed Forces Day. I remember the first day we reviewed it on Constitution Avenue, he was very proud of that. He wanted one Armed Forces Day. I think he thought that a man in the Army should wear an Army uniform and they should have their own tradition, and the Navy should have their own set-up as should the Air Force, and special missions. But he felt that they were all in the Armed Forces. I think he felt just as good towards all the three major services. I'm not talking about the Coast Guard and all that, or the Marines, because the Marines are part of the Navy. I'm talking about the Army, Navy and Air Force. I don't think he ever favored one over the other, as far as I knew, in any discussions or anything else.
FUCHS: Did you ever have occasion to discuss with him some of his experiences in World War I?
LANDRY: Well, one of the things he loved to do--I've got some pictures--he'd get out with his old buddies in Kansas City and march, in the Armed Forces Day parade I think it was.
FUCHS: He used to go to the reunions of the 35th Division,
some of them.
LANDRY: That's right. I think that's more specifically what I'm talking about, the reunion. He would get out there and march with his cane and his hat.
FUCHS: Of course, they came to the Inauguration, too, in 1949.
LANDRY: Yes, they came to the Inauguration. He maintained a very strong tie with all those people, no matter what their walks of life were after the war. No, he was a commander in chief in every sense of the word in my opinion, because he loved the service and he respected it.
FUCHS: Do you recall what occurred next after that briefing?
LANDRY: No, I don't think so. Maybe if I'd just go over a couple of things that are more like anecdotes.
FUCHS: It was said at one time that there seemed to be a move to make General Vaughan the head defense aide, and the others would more or less be under him. Do you recall anything of that?
LANDRY: I think that might very well have been in the back of the mind of Harry. I don't know whether he talked it over with the President or not. We, Dennison and I,
never got into any discussion with anybody about it. I can remember having heard something about it, and if Harry did have this in mind I don't think it could ever have been done, because it was the understanding when I went over there that I represented the Air Force and I wasn't, in a sense, subservient to any other military person. I'm sure that Dennison didn't feel he was and would never have put up with him. I think Harry Vaughan, being a close old World War I buddy of the President, may have thought that his prestige might have been a little bigger, but in terms of seniority--I went over there as a colonel, Dennison was an admiral, Vaughan was a general; rank didn't make any difference, because it just didn't come into play normally. I think we would be seated according to rank in various kinds of functions.
I certainly wouldn't believe that Harry Vaughan was trying to be the bigshot mogul and we would be assistant aides to him. I think that feeling might have developed because of the closeness of Harry Vaughan to Mr. Truman over the years, but I don't think anything ever came of it. I imagine some of that got into the press as a matter of fact, but it didn't bother us because I think that had it gotten to the point where it might have been a fact that probably we would have gone in and asked to discuss it with the
President. There was certainly no need in having an overall aide and three assistants, so nothing ever came of it. There was some chatter about it, but it didn't amount to anything and it certainly didn't affect my relationship with Vaughan. I don't think it affected Dennison's relation with Harry Vaughan at all. We all worked together very well, indeed.
FUCHS: Was Admiral Dennison's relationship to the President, as far as you know, any different from yours?
LANDRY: No, Admiral Dennison had been there longer than I had and as a matter of fact Admiral Dennison had been the commander of the battleship Missouri that took Mr. Truman on a cruise, shortly after he became President. Mr. Truman was terribly fond of Admiral Dennison, which I think he was of all his aides. He knew him a long time. He respected Bob Dennison, who was a very studious type and who probably could have been Chief of Naval Operations if he wanted to. Dennison preferred, as I understood it, to be Commander in Chief of the Atlantic Fleet than Chief of Naval Operations. He had the guts of the Navy under him. No, Mr. Truman thought very highly of Dennison, as I did.
FUCHS: What occasioned the replacement of [Rear Admiral James H.] Foskett by Dennison?
LANDRY: That was all before my time.
FUCHS: You never heard them discuss that?
FUCHS: Whether it was just rotation or...
LANDRY: That was before my time. No, that was the time when I think Clark Clifford was in uniform, and was in Foskett's office. You see, Foskett was the Naval Aide and I think Clark Clifford was a commander at the time, lieutenant commander or something, and before he got out of uniform he became the President's legal counsel. No, I have no knowledge of the Foskett situation at all.
I think this is a good time to tell a couple of anecdotes about military people.
I'm looking here now at the huge arms outlay. See, in January 1949, the proposal by the President was for a 15 billion, 900 million dollars military budget. So, when we were talking about 24 billion this morning as the total budget, that's probably the correct figure in 1949. Let's see--I want to see the 70-group program. I think it was in 1949.
FUCHS: Was that when the discussion over the 70 groups versus a lesser number arose?
LANDRY: Yes, I'm just trying to find it. I'll pin it down a little bit more correctly. "Air power advocates ready to fight for 70-group program. Stu Symington was Secretary of the Air Force and he was asked to testify before either the Senate or the House Armed Services Committee. There was a lot of infighting going on there for the major share of the budget, that is, between the services, and the Air Force felt that they had to have 70 groups, as I mentioned this morning. The military had been emasculated after World War II, reduced severely.
FUCHS: Did you ever discuss this with Mr. Truman?
LANDRY: Not in great detail, because that was more or less on a little higher level than I felt I should go and he never asked me. I discussed only the feeling that the Air Force should be built up and they were fighting for what they called a 70-group program.
Well, the President's budget provided, if I remember correctly, money for only about a 48-group program, and that was all right with the other services, but it wasn't all right with the Air Force. So, the Air Force was conducting its own campaign in Congress and had to state its own belief if they were to be sincere, and that's what Symington did before the Armed Services Committee, I believe, of either the
House or the Senate; I don't remember which. That was contrary to what the President said he could afford in the budget.
So, the papers put out a big headline, "SYMINGTON DEFIES HST." I can still see it. And I tell you, it made real headlines. It was a very controversial thing and very sensitive. Symington reacted to it right away and got me on the horn and said, "Come on over, I want to talk to you." He wanted me to go back and explain to the President that he was in no sense of the word defying the Commander in Chief. That he had been asked what his opinion was, and based upon the advice that he had got from the military, from his own people, from his own staff and from the Air Force people in uniform, 70 groups was about the force that was needed for the security of the United States so far as the Air Force mission, and he so stated. So, he said, "You go back and tell the President that I'm not fighting him and I'm not defying him; I just felt that I had to state what I sincerely believed."
Which I did, and Mr. Connelly let me in between one of the appointments. I said I had an urgent message from the Secretary, because I think Mr. Secretary was getting a little queasy about the fact that maybe the President did believe he was defying him. But when I explained it to Mr. Truman he smiled
and said, "Get back on your horse, Bob, and go across the river and tell Stu to just keep his mouth shut for a few days; this will all blow over." Which I think was some relief to the Secretary and eased his own mind.
FUCHS: Had you known Stu Symington prior to your going into the White House?
LANDRY: I had known Secretary Symington because, as I said earlier, I was the executive officer to General Spaatz, and Mr. Symington's office was right here, we will say, on my left. Secretary Spaatz' office was right here on my right. I sat outside of Spaatz' office, so they were always going back and forth. Symington was usually going in and out of Spaatz' office a half a dozen times a day. So, I had known the Secretary in that job as executive officer for the Chief, for about eight months. I had formerly been on the staff of the War College over at Fort McNair as a representative of strategic air power before I got assigned to General Spaatz' office. So, I knew Symington probably for about a year.
I think the services were always grabbing for the largest share of the budget because they never had enough money to do what they thought they should do. The Navy in those days was trying to get the strategic
air mission, because they thought they wouldn't have an air mission in the future--maybe the battleship was about done--and they wanted to build up a carrier force and probably take the strategic mission.
FUCHS: Why did they really want this? Didn't they have enough else to do?
LANDRY: Well, I think it was thought by some people that the Navy may run out of a mission. You know, the battleship had always been the front line; then the carriers came along in the Navy, and the old battleship admirals didn't think much of the carriers. So they were having an internal squabble. We had developed strategic airpower during World War II and knew what it could do. We knew, for example, that if they hadn't had the air offensive against Germany and knocked out all their ability to wage war, knocked out the oil industry, and knocked out the manufacturing industry, we never could have made a landing on the continent. But we did that with strategic airpower. So all the surveys made from the war indicated that strategic airpower was here to stay.
I was saying, the newspapers aided and abetted some of it, because maybe they were pro one service or the other, and a headline like that didn't do any good. Actually, as a result of this infighting that went on,
you got unification, which tended to overcome some of that, because the Secretary of Defense had greater authority to apportion money. Prior to that time each service more or less autonomously had said this is what they wanted. So there had been three different approaches.
FUCHS: This point that the newspapers sometimes overplay things, or misstate, was brought up by you in an incident with Rosie [Emmett, Jr.] O'Donnell, I believe.
LANDRY: Yes, that's another one that I think shows the character and shows the thinking of the President. He wasn't concerned about a political controversy going on about the budget and one of the Armed Forces. He wasn't going to think ill of a man that he had thought so highly of, whereas other people would love to have cut his throat.
Yes, like I was saying, I think the great significance of the Symington incident is the fact that the President never got rattled or concerned, or lost his loyalty to people because of something they might have said in conscience, or because somebody in the press wrote something or some statement was made on the radio, as was being said about Vaughan from time to time. He never lost his love and affection for those people, or his respect. So, I think that's great, that
under political pressure and everything else, he could do that.
There's one other incident that I think illustrates this loyalty towards people, his respect toward people. One of the great Air Force generals we had was Rosie O'Donnell. General Rosie O'Donnell, later Commander in Chief of Pacific Air Forces, led the first raid against the Japanese with B-29s in World War II. O'Donnell was commanding general of the 15th Air Force bomber forces that were being employed in Korea in the Korean war. Maybe it was '51-'52, along in there. The bombers began to take quite a licking because they weren't allowed to get up there and hit the real targets. I think they were stopped at the Yalu River. Although Rosie O'Donnell was not over in Korea all the time--he had his command headquarters at March Air Force Base in California--he spent some time over there, and came back home and naturally the press wanted to talk to him. During this period of time it was getting close, hopefully, to the end of the Korean war. There were some serious negotiations going on, of which Mr. Truman, of course, was well aware, to try to put an end to this war. So, there was a very delicate situation there, and we decided not to commit any more forces over there. We didn't want to get pinned down in Korea and have the Russians overrun all of Western
So, the situation was touchy, and Rosie had a press conference and explained why he was over there and what they were doing, and that sort of thing. Anyway, he thought the press conference was all over--I think he was in his own office; he had walked out of the press conference room, certainly. He mentioned to some of his staff, which a man would do privately, that by God how in the world can we win; we ought to hit them with everything we got. I think his words were, "We ought to hit them with everything we've got if we want to win this war and get out of there."
Well, somebody in the press was either in the hall or heard this and put it on the Associated Press: "O'Donnell says that the United States should use the A-bomb."
Well, coming at a delicate time--these negotiations were going on to get us out of there--that comment was not good. In any case, John Steelman, the Assistant to the President, who was in the East Wing of the White House were I was, downstairs, called me down, and he said, "Take a look at this, Bob."
I read it and I said, "My goodness, it wouldn't surprise me if O'Donnell said this, but it sure as hell would surprise me if he said it to a press conference." [I knew] O'Donnell was a fighting general and the kind
of man that would want to get at the heart of the enemy like we had done in World War II and get the damn thing over with.
Well, about that time I went upstairs, the phone rang, and General [Hoyt] Vandenberg, who was now Chief of Staff, who had succeeded General Spaatz, said, "Bob, come over, I want to talk to you right away."
So, having seen this telegram I had a pretty good idea what he wanted to talk about but I wasn't sure. He said, "I have just heard that O'Donnell has made a statement from March Field that could be very embarrassing for the Air Force and for the President."
I said, "Are you talking about that comment about using the A-bomb?"
He said, "Yes." He said, "I want you to tell the President that I have ordered O'Donnell to Washington immediately to explain what this is all about." He said, "You tell Mr. Truman that."
I said, "Yes, sir."
So, I went over there and asked Matt to get me in, that I had another important thing to say to the President. So, between appointments I went in. The President was there and greeted me with a smile as usual. I said, "Mr. President, I've got something to tell you involving an Air Force general who has been out to Korea. A statement has been made on the
Associated Press line that O'Donnell says we should use the A-bomb in the Korean war."
[Incidentally,] if memory serves me correct, having known O'Donnell for many years as a lieutenant, and then later as a senior officer, I called up O'Donnell to try to find out what the hell had gone on before I went in to see the President. Also, this was after I had seen the Chief of Staff. The Chief of Staff didn't seem to know what O'Donnell had said; and I didn't want to go in, in case the President asked me what O'Donnell had really said. So, I figured the best way to find out what O'Donnell had said, if anything, was to call him, which I did.
He said, "Hell, no, I didn't say anything like that to the press. Somebody may have heard me say that we had ought to hit them with everything we've got, but," he said, "I certainly didn't say anything about the bomb; and I didn't say anything about hitting them with everything we've got at the meeting as far as I can recall. Somebody must have been standing outside of my office when I was talking to one of my staff."
So I said, "Well, fine, I just wanted to know because Vandenberg just sent for me, and he is sending me to the President to tell him about this statement from the Associated Press before he reads it in the paper."
So, I went on in, as I say, and I saw the President. I said, "I want to tell you about a fighting Irish general we've got, the guy who led the first raid against Tokyo with the B-29, commanded the 15th Air Force, and one hell of a fine officer." I said, "It's been attributed to him in the newspapers that he made this statement about using the A-bomb." I said, "I called up O'Donnell and asked him,and he says, 'hell, no' he hadn't said that." And I said, "Well, Mr. President, I can only tell you one thing about O'Donnell; he probably felt that way, and he probably would liked to have used everything he's got, but I can assure you that he wouldn't have made a public statement like that. Somehow or other he got in the press and it was a mistake." I said, "General Vandenberg is sick about it; he's worried about it, and he just asked me to come in and tell you. He's ordered O'Donnell back to Washington to explain the whole thing."
And he [President Truman] laughed and he laughed and he said, "Bob, you tell Vandenberg not to worry about this. You know, if I had been in O'Donnell's position I would have said the same thing."
So, then I said to the President, "Well, it's good for me to tell Vandenberg that, but the guy that's really probably wondering what's going to happen to him
is O'Donnell." I said, "Can I call him up and tell him you