Oral History Interview with
Edward D. Lilly
September 20, 1988
by Neil M. Johnson
JOHNSON: I want to begin, Dr. Lilly, by asking you the date and place of your birth and your parents' names.
LILLY: I was born October 13, 1910 in Brooklyn, New York. Joseph T. Lilly was my father; he was the head of the Norton Lilly Steamship Line. Jenny A. Lilly was my mother. I had four brothers and one sister. My high school was a Jesuit high school, Brooklyn Prep. I then went to Holy Cross College in Worcester, Massachusetts, which also had a Jesuit emphasis if you want on classical training. We had Latin and Greek, and an emphasis on such fields as history.
JOHNSON: It was a liberal arts education and you had foreign languages?
LILLY: Yes, I had four years of Latin at Brooklyn Prep and three years of Greek. At Holy Cross I had two more years of both Greek and Latin. In addition, I had six years of history, of course, at different levels.
JOHNSON: And political science?
LILLY: Well, political science came in. It was one you choose from in your senior year; prior to that everything was set up by the college.
JOHNSON: So most of it was required course, with not too many options, but this was a history major?
LILLY: I was a history major. Political science, I had basically when I went to the Catholic University here in Washington.
JOHNSON: When did you graduate from Holy Cross?
LILLY: In '32.
JOHNSON: Then did you start graduate work right after that, in the fall of '32 at Catholic University?
LILLY: Yes, at Catholic University
JOHNSON: You say your father was president or owner of the steamship line?
LILLY: The steamship line, Norton Lilly & Company, which just went out of existence about two years ago, when W.R. Grace and Company took over.
JOHNSON: Yes, I was going to ask if Grace had anything to do with that?
LILLY: Well, my father and Grace were friends. My brother continued it for about two years after father died. And then he died, and Grace came in and took over.
JOHNSON: I guess we could say you were a well-to-do family.
LILLY: Yes, but none of us had automobiles. Nobody had any significant money to use, although the money was there. In other words, I didn't have to work to go through college or go through four years of graduate school, but there was no spending as much money as you felt like either.
JOHNSON: Sounds like a solid Catholic family, is that correct?
LILLY: That's right. So far as I was concerned, that was one of the major careers of my life. I got a Ph.D. in 1936, and got married in August, I guess it was, of 1936, and then we went out to Chicago, to Loyola University of Chicago for three years. We then came back to…
JOHNSON: So you taught at Loyola University?
JOHNSON: Taught history?
LILLY: History, American and European.
JOHNSON: You had a Ph.D. dissertation that you wrote, I presume, at the Catholic University. What was the title of that?
LILLY: It had to do with the colonial agents who sometimes went from the colonies to England. They were the first, as it were, contacts various colonies had…
JOHNSON: Kind of like lobbyists and representatives at the time, wearing both hats?
LILLY: Yes. And that was what I did for my dissertation. At the Catholic University they were all printed and distributed, around 160 or something like that.
JOHNSON: Let's see, three years at Loyola? Then what did you do?
LILLY: Then I came back to Catholic University in the summer of 1939. They said I had a scholarship to go to England, to do additional work on the so-called Colonial Agents, to go to Cambridge and Oxford, and go to the British Records Office.
JOHNSON: So you did that?
LILLY: No, I didn't do that, unfortunately, because Adolph Hitler got active in September of that year and the State Department said no, it wasn't necessary to go over there. I didn't find out about this until some years later, but my father knew Kennedy…
JOHNSON: Oh, Joe Kennedy?
LILLY: Joe Kennedy. He was Scotch whiskey, but in '40 he was American Ambassador to England. He had his son, Jack, over there. I didn't know anything at all about it at that time, but Joe Kennedy got in touch with Joe Lilly, who was my father, and said that since I had a Ph.D. in American history and also a contact with English history, he thought it would be a good idea if he could persuade me to come over and act as tutor, I suppose to Jack Kennedy. His father than was proposing that he go into Germany, Nazi Germany. You see, we hadn't gotten into the war yet. I took two deferments until after the war was over.
JOHNSON: Okay, it had been planned, but you didn't tutor Jack Kennedy?
LILLY: Oh no. I stayed home. In 1944…
JOHNSON: You're at Catholic University at this time?
LILLY: At that time I was. In '44, I was associate professor. Unfortunately, Catholic University gave you titles but not much money, and at that time the fifth little angel was coming. I went to the rector and that sort of business, and he said he couldn't do anything at this time for improved salary. So, I said, We, I would like to go on a part-time basis and see if I couldn’t' get something in Government. I went to the Office of War Information, and fortunately got into contact with a former Catholic University graduate. He was the assistant to the director, Elmer Davis. Davis wanted to have somebody start writing the history of the Office of War Information, and in '44 I got into that.
JOHNSON: So this is the Office of War Information (OWI) under Elmer Davis?
LILLY: In the spring of '45, since it was clear that the German war was running down, even though it hadn't ended in any way, I persuaded my friend to persuade Elmer David that I should
go over to Europe and check into some of the propaganda and other news (dissemination) particularly in radio broadcasting to the Allies and to neutral peoples and to the Germans. So I went over in the beginning of May and went to North Africa, and then to Italy.
JOHNSON: This was near the end of the war, around May of '45?
LILLY: Yes. In Italy, the fighting all had stopped. Then, unfortunately, my father knew an Archbishop in the Vatican and since I was over there, he said that I should go up to Rome and see the Archbishop, that was when Pius XII was the Pope and this Archbishop arranged for a personal, private audience with the Pope.
So after that, the Archbishop said, "Well, why don't you come over to my apartment. I have two sisters and we'll all have lunch together." The difficulty was that when I had the salad, the vegetable salad, it seemed to be rather sour. Eight days later the German war ended. I was in England and most of the time I was in an Army hospital, because of what I think I got in the Vatican.
JOHNSON: Food poisoning?
LILLY: Well, no, that sort of thing, but it's where you turn yellow.
JOHNSON: Some kind of jaundice?
LILLY: That's true. Anyway, since I was over there and sort of under control of the Army, I had to go to an Army doctor, and he said it was jaundice. He said, "You go back to your room and get your goods and you will be taken to the Army hospital." At that time they didn't know a great deal about it, and if you could last eight weeks, why you got over it. But many conceivable died before then. So, I was in an Army hospital for seven weeks.
JOHNSON: As a member of that Office of War Information, you were considered Army personnel?
LILLY: Well, when you are sent over into a war area.
JOHNSON: Okay. So you were checking on propaganda facilities in Europe at this time?
LILLY: That's right, and how they handled things.
JOHNSON: This involving the American Army?
LILLY: No. See when Paris was regained from the Germans, OWI had a big propaganda organization there. And down in Naples and after the Germans were pushed out of Rome, OWI got a big organization there.
JOHNSON: Would they take over the transmission facilities there, the radio transmission, when they liberated these cities?
LILLY: Yes, if it were still good. So I was trying to get a feeling about these things and mainly to try to get some copies of materials that were strictly from the local side, about local problems and things like that which we never received back in Washington. Staying in the hospital erased that, ruined everything mostly, because I was supposed to go into Germany as soon as the Germans stopped fighting.
JOHNSON: So you didn't get into Germany on this trip then?
LILLY: Not at any time.
JOHNSON: But you came up through France, to Britain? Had you been in France?
LILLY: Yes, but just for a short time.
JOHNSON: You did get to see some of the damage from the war, no doubt.
LILLY: Well, very little.
JOHNSON: Of course, London still had some damage.
LILLY: Oh yes, but when I got into London, I was totally taken over by the jaundice. I couldn't eat.
JOHNSON: You got a little thin at that point.
LILLY: Right. I went to an Army hospital and they wouldn't let me out for seven weeks.
JOHNSON: What happened after you did get out?
LILLY: Spent three days at the London office of the OWI. The head of that said, "Well, you shouldn't come out of the hospital and try to get all of this stuff that you want to get, the people that you want to talk to."
JOHNSON: Do you remember who was the OWI man?
LILLY: I can't remember. So he arranged that I would take a Pan-Am flying boat home from the Shannon River, and I got to New York on Labor Day, or the day after. Mr. Truman, and in fact, Mr. Davis, were desirous of wiping out OWI as an acting, continuing news agency. Being a newsman, he [Davis] thought that after the war was over, why they should not deal with propaganda. Anyway, I was given a week to recuperate and then was told that I could come back to OWI and be part of the group that tried to take care of things. In particular, I would try
to record the officials as they came back from Europe or the Far East; get as much information as I could.
JOHNSON: Did you interview these people?
LILLY: Yes. I stayed in OWI, and it retained its personnel until about the 15th of October. Then the ones that were going to stay in news, international news, went into the State Department. They set up a new special unit or foreign information.
JOHNSON: Took the war, of course, out of the title.
LILLY: Yes. I sought the people that were taking over after Davis left. He put in charge the man who takes care of the housekeeping work—the chairs, the desks, this sort of thing—and he became the head of whatever the State Department called the section that they put the former OWI in. I sought, or made an effort, to join that group, but this particular individual and I had argued about various things. He said that history would be put in the archives, such as it was, and that would be that. So in view of what I considered the ridiculous elements [attitude?] of OWI, I thought it would be desirable to try to get [on with] the Joint Chiefs of Staff. I got in touch with a colonel, a young colonel and another colonel who had served in China. He is an operator.
JOHNSON: What was his name, do you remember?
LILLY: No. I have a feeling that it was Dickey, but I can't be sure. Anyway, I talked to them about the fact that the Army basically made a mess of trying to develop propaganda, and even didn't do very well for the covert group, which I say was OSS (Office of Strategic Services). Of course, I wasn't in the OSS, but I knew a lot of people in OSS.
JOHNSON: Were you acquainted with Bill Donovan?
LILLY: I had met him. I was still young in those days.
LILLY: Since the Joint Chiefs of Staff were still in the process of determining what they should do, I decided to try to persuade them to set up a psychological section. Shortly thereafter they were talking about the Air Force as a regular separate service; it had been the Army Air Force. Then of course, there were the Navy and the Army departments. The three services would join together as the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and one element of national planning would be the psychological aspect of military activities. I developed a paper for the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral [William D. ] Leahy. He called me in and said he thought that my proposal was very good and that it should be part of the Joint Chiefs of Staff's planning process.
So, at the beginning of '46, I was put in the Historical Section of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. [I was put there] on the basis that in addition to continuing the psychological propaganda effort of OWI and the activities of the military during the war, I would be called upon by the planning unit of the Joint Chiefs of Staff when it came to making recommendations as to what would be the psychological policy.
JOHNSON: Was the Historical Section newly created, or was that carried over from World War II?
LILLY: It was new.
JOHNSON: So you got in on the ground floor of the Historical Section there, under the Joint Chiefs of Staff?