Cornelius J. Mara Oral History Interviews

Brigadier General Cornelius J. Mara

Oral History Interview with
Brigadier General Cornelius J. Mara

Air Force liaison officer to the White House, 1947-49;
and Assistant Military Aide to the President, 1949-53

Washington, DC
June 7 and June 9, 1971
By Jerry N. Hess

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

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.

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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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 June 1974
Harry S. Truman Library
Independence, Missouri

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

Oral History Interview with
Cornelius J. Mara

Washington, DC
June 7, 1971
By Jerry N. Hess

HESS: General, would you tell me about your background; where were you born, where were you educated, and just tell me a little bit about yourself.

MARA: Okay. I was born in Elizabeth, New Jersey on June 27, 1896. At about the age of four or five my parents moved to Brooklyn, New York, due to the death of -- some member of the family. I went to school at St. Vincent De Paul's Academy Grammar School and graduated from there and then went on to Commercial High in Brooklyn where I remained for three years (it was a three year course). I entered St. Leonard's Business Academy, which was run by the Brothers of St. Joseph, and there I learned stenography, typewriting and bookkeeping and other business subjects, a bit of English too.

Upon graduation from there I went to work for the Brooklyn Rapid Transit Company as a stenographer, in their


main office in Brooklyn. In about a year, I was transferred to the Crosstown Depot as secretary to the division superintendent.

While employed by the railroad I went to Columbia University at night and studied English and economics. I remember I had two excellent professors at Columbia. I had to travel from Greenpoint to Columbia up at 116th Street and Broadway each night on the subway.

While I was at Columbia, the war broke, the First World War, and I volunteered. I wrote the Adjutant General and set forth my credentials, and he replied in a very short time and directed me to report to a recruiting station for physical examination and to Hoboken, N. J. for a mental examination.

So, I went to Hoboken and took the mental and passed and was assigned to duty then in the Judge Advocate's office as a stenographer in the Army. That was in May of 1918.

I wanted to get overseas and about July or August I made application for admission to the officer's training camp and was accepted. Orders came out for me to go to Fremont, California, for second lieutenant training as an infantry officer. The war closed on November the 11th, just the day I was to report to California.

Later I was secretary to some of the older generals of


World War I, R. L. Bullard, Hugh Drum, Frank L. Winn.

Later I was secretary to the commanding general in Panama, from '32 to '35. General MacArthur was just going to the Philippines in 1935 and I wanted to get on his staff as his secretary. I had served under Colonel Kenyon Joyce, for whom the chapel at Arlington Cemetery is now named, to help me get the assignment, but it did not materialize.

Colonel Kenyon Joyce had been my boss at Governors Island prior to 1932 in the G-2 Section, when the march of the veterans on Washington took place. I was chief clerk as a warrant officer. We were in close contact with the new head of the FBI, young Mr. Hoover. I used to go over to New York City and sit in on some of the Communist meetings.

I remember attending a meeting at Carnegie Hall. There were two old military officers, one a retired general -- the other an admiral, debating a couple of smart young Communists. The hall was filled with men in black shirts who harassed them and I felt sorry for the officers. I was taking the proceedings down in shorthand, for our records at Governors Island.

I was ordered to Omaha, Nebraska from Panama in 1935. I didn't care about going to the Midwest, I decided to go to Washington and see if I could get a change of assignment. On the way down I stopped at the Army headquarters,


in Baltimore. An old boss of mine was there as the Inspector General and he said, "What are you doing here?"

I said, "I'm on my way to Washington to see if I can get a change of assignment."

He said, "you're free?"

I said, "Well, I'm on orders to go to Omaha."

He said, "Well, how would like to work here?"

I said, "I'd like it."

He said, "Well, I'll see what I can do about it," and the next thing I was ordered to Baltimore.

That's how I probably got to Washington.

I stayed at Baltimore for three years in the Inspector General's Department.

Before I went to Panama I served in the Inspector General's Department under some very capable old Indian fighters; General Tyree Rivers and his brother William C., who later was the Inspector General of the Army. I learned so much from them -- and the stories they could tell.

Old W.C. told how, as a young second lieutenant, he had been assigned to an Indian reservation in the far west. He thought the traders were cheating the Indians on the weight of the corn, so he put a couple of his cavalrymen on the road leading into the trading post who weighed the corn on


the way in. The trader did not give them cash. He gave them script with the weight of the corn, and they would have them come back later to get supplies. Young lieutenant Rivers, then compared the weight shown on the slip and he sent the trader to jail. That was his beginning. He was later a brevet brigadier general in the Boxer Revolution in China (W. C. Rivers now I'm talking about). After the Boxer Revolution, he went back to the grade of captain. In World War I he went to France and commanded a brigade of artillery again as a brigadier and again returned to his old rank of colonel. That's when I served under him. He was then the Inspector General of the Second Corps area, and I was his chief clerk.

General Charles P. Summerall who was the Chief of Staff had been our commanding general at Governors Island and he liked Rivers. I remember saying to him, "Colonel, you've got a chance to be the inspector general, General Summerall likes you -- but he can't do it alone; you've got to go down and make your contacts with your Senators from Tennessee."

He said, "Mara, I don't know them and I can't be mixed up in politics."

I said, "Well, you've got to help General Summerall."


He said, "All right, just to get you off my back," And he did go and he made contact with his two Senators from Tennessee and got the appointment. He later said, "I owe that job to you." But here I was a brash young kid advising this a smart old colonel, but that's the way it goes.

Now, we'll go back to my assignment. After Baltimore I was assigned to Washington in 1938 to the Inspector General's office as an assistant to the Air Corps inspector who was working out of the Washington office, General Julius Jones, who was another brilliant officer. Our duties consisted of inspecting air bases, air depots, and special bases that were assigned to the Washington office. We also made rather lengthy investigations, as well as inspections of the finance officers. We made these inspections once or twice a year. And General Jones was a pilot and we'd get into an airplane and go out to the base and stay there for a week or two and inspect the base. In that way I got to know practically everybody in the old Air Corps.

I held a commission as a first lieutenant in the reserve. With the possibility of war if I went on active duty, I would get a reduction in pay. You see, a warrant officer made more money than a first lieutenant. I went downstairs in the same building and saw the sergeant in charge of organized Reserve


and I said, "Sergeant it's about time I was promoted to Captain." (I'd been a lieutenant since 1926).

He said, "I think so too." He arranged the papers and I appeared before a board and took the examination and was promoted to captain.

In ' 40 the war clouds darkened and I was called to active duty as a captain. They wanted me in the Inspector's section of the Air Corps. That's when I served in the same office with General Twining, he was a major at that time and I was a captain. We sat across the desk from each other. And I served there, oh, I guess for about two years, until the war came on. Then the war broke out.

HESS: Where were you when you heard the news about Pearl Harbor being bombed?

MARA: At home, I didn't know it until late that afternoon. I hadn't turned on the radio. And that afternoon Millard Libby, who was another captain in the office with me, called and he said, "Have you heard the news?"

I said, "What news?"

He said, "Pearl Harbor's been bombed."

And I said, "Oh my God."


Well then he said, "Get the uniform on and get down to the office."

HESS: Were you surprised that the Japanese took that action?

MARA: Oh yes. Oh yes. Was I surprised? Yes, of course, yes, I'm sure I was surprised. I don't think we anticipated the sudden move, but we should have. I remember on maneuvers in Panama some years previously. There was a point in the interior where the maneuvers had been held and there had been a successful breakthrough. The invading force trying to get through the Panama Canal broke through at this particular point. And we later learned that the Japanese, some Japanese people tried to buy the land where this breakthrough occurred. So they were planning for years...

HESS: They had their eye on that too.

MARA: Previously. They had their eye on the canal.

HESS: As you know, in years since the war, some historians have said that President Roosevelt thought that the Japanese were going to strike at Pearl Harbor and he did not give the commanders there adequate warning of the invasion, so that the bombing would solidify American opinion against the Japanese.


MARA: I don't believe he knew it. I don't believe he knew it. If he knew it he would have told them.

I hold the commanders responsible to some degree in that they were not more alert -- with war threatening and with the war going on in Europe greater caution should have been exercised. But we always learn the hard way. The great mistake that this government made earlier was when -- who was it, oh, yes. Secretary [Henry L.] Stimson; when Stimson tried so hard to get the Administration at that time to take action against the Japanese when they invaded China for the first time. You know, where was that, at some gates, I forget...

HESS: I know what you mean.

MARA: That was the beginning, that was the first time the Japs got the free hand. Stimson recognized it, and the Army recognized, but nothing was done. And then after that you had Mussolini going into Ethiopia and disregarding the then League of Nations. That was the beginning, that was the first time where an aggressive nation was free to do what it liked. I think that that was the beginning.

HESS: All right. After Pearl Harbor was attacked tell me about your service during the war. What did you do during World War II?


MARA: I stayed in the Inspector General's office there until May. Then General Arnold wanted to organize -- see we were bringing in the officers in by the thousands and we were getting all kinds and types of people. General Arnold, wanted to start an Inspector General's school. That was in the planning stage for several -- oh, for a month or two, I knew that it was being planned, and I knew that there was a possibility that I might be assigned to it as commandant. But at that time I was executive for the colonel in charge of inspection, I forget his name now. He did not want to lose me because of my experience. This Colonel Jones whom I served as assistant when we were inspecting bases, was now Major General Jones and the Army Air Force Inspector General, who wanted me to organize and command this school. I was then a lieutenant colonel.

So there was a battle between the two for a couple of weeks. And one night I was at home having dinner and received a phone call from a Captain Fogerty. He said, "Colonel, you've been assigned to that new school at Knollwood Field."

I said, "Yes, when do I go."

He says, "Tonight."

I says, "You're kidding."

He says, "Oh, no. No, sir," he said, "the orders are out."


I said, "Well, how am I going to get transportation?"

He said, "I've already arranged that."

So I left that night at midnight for the school at Knollwood where the students had already arrived; there were fifty officers and fifty enlisted men, in a golf club. And I think it was the Pines Golf Club where the school was to be held.

The next morning I was on the platform lecturing and I instructed for about an hour or two. After that I got on a telephone and started phoning all over the country for instructors to come in to teach. And I called on the staff here in Washington to send officers down to teach, and then return to Washington.

Well, somehow I got the school organized and kept it going for thirty days. I'd be one day ahead of the students. There still are people around who tell me what a fine school we had at Knollwood.

But then I transferred the school. It was impractical to hold it there in the golf course, and I found out there was some buildings out at Fort Logan, Colorado that I might get. I got it from one of my instructors, he had just come from Denver.

I called Washington and Washington called Logan and the next thing I was on my way to Logan to open up that class.


I commanded that school from May of '41 until I transferred it to Orlando, Florida in January of '44, and I stayed with it in Orlando until June of '44.

I wanted to get overseas and I had it all fixed up with a very close friend of mine who was taking a B-29 group out to the Pacific. I was going out as his exec and he was going to be commanding officer. I was still a lieutenant colonel, and he said, "The minute we get off the shore, you're a colonel, because I'll have the table of organization and I'll appoint you colonel.

I thought I had this all fixed up, I had been approved by the training command under whom I served, and I could foresee no objection in Washington. I had already arranged for an officer to relieve me, a West Point graduate who was going to take my place as commandant of the school. But when the orders came out, I was ordered back to Washington.

And I went into Millard Libby's office, he was then executive officer for General -- General Barney Giles, General Arnold's deputy Libby was the chap who phoned me at home the day of Pearl Harbor. He's now an eagle colonel. I walked and I said, "Millard you so and so what the hell have you done to me?" I said, "I had everything all fixed up to be a colonel


and here you have me back here in Washington."

He said, "Keep your big mouth shut. You'll be a colonel in two weeks. We need you here."

I was appointed Deputy Adjutant General of the Army Air Force on General Arnold's staff. That's how I came to meet the Truman crowd.

The war in Europe was coming to a close, and General Arnold wanted to organize a command here that would be responsible for retraining, refurbishing and transferring to Asia of the air forces returning from Europe. He called it the Continental Air Force. It had command of all of the stations in the United States. He had been trying to get this thing organized for several months, and each morning at staff meeting he'd say to General Barney Giles, his deputy,

"Barney, how about the Continental Air Force?"

And Barney assigned different officers to it but they just couldn't get it started.

There was one man in the Air Force who was General Arnold's troubleshooter. Whenever he couldn't get something done, he'd say, "Where is Bill Streett?" Bill Streett was then commanding the Thirteenth Air Force in the Pacific. He had commanded the Third Air Force at Tampa when they were having trouble with the fighters. Then they had trouble


with the bombers out in Colorado. Arnold transferred him (Streett) out to the Second Air Force to straighten out the bombers. Streett was then assigned to the command the Thirteenth Air Force, in the Pacific. He's the man that introduced skip bombing. St. Clair Streett is his full name, actually one of the greats of the Air Force. He had been General Billy Mitchell's aide following World War I when the German battleships were sunk in the Norfolk area.

HESS: Since you were closely associated with the Air Corps what is your opinion of the Billy Mitchell affair.

MARA: This man, Bill Streett, he is one of the greatest of the Air Force. I'll give you a little of his background.

HESS: All right.

MARA: Bill Streett, I say he had been aide to Billy Mitchell, and he told me personally, he said, "You know, it was an impossibility for us to bomb those battleships from ten thousand feet."

HESS: That was during the demonstration of bombers and the battleships?

MARA: Yes, down in the Chesapeake. Bill Streett told me this


story. He said, Mitchell sent him from -- Langley Field to Washington to tell the Army officials that he was going to violate the rules. That he couldn't hit the ships at ten thousand feet but he was going to hit the ships.

HESS: And they wanted this to keep that information from the Navy.

MARA: That's right. That is absolutely right, and...

HESS: What altitude did they bomb from?

MARA: About two or three thousand feet.

HESS: When they were supposed to bomb from...

MARA: From ten thousand.

HESS: ...from ten thousand.

MARA: They had no bomb sights. All they wanted to do was prove that they could sink the ships, and they damned near dropped the bombs in the smokestacks. So, he came to Washington and told the Army officials here that he was going to do it. And of course, that was kept secret.

Bill Streett later was the supply officer who had to go out and stash the gas and oil in the Pacific off the


Asiatic coast for the round-the-world flyers. He was the advance man.

The Air Force, and all the services, have had men who have done such great things, and the stories will be lost. When the old times pass on.

HESS: That's what we in oral history try to do.

MARA: It's the greatest thing that has ever been invented, because you'll get the story, nobody will ever know about these stories otherwise. I would get these stories from General Streett, I'd get them from General Rivers, and I remember the first time I reported to General Brown. Now there's an interesting story too, Preston Brown.

I got orders to report to the Commanding General, Panama Canal Department, while I was on duty at Governors Island in 1932. Transfer orders always read, "Report to the Commanding General, but you report to the Adjutant and he assigns you to duty. Well, I reported to the Adjutant as usual expecting to be assigned to duty. He said, "You report to the Commanding General."

I thought I had done something, I just reported -- you don't ask questions.

So, I walked into his office and saw the aide and he


said, "Oh, Mr. Mara," he said, "oh, yes, the General's expecting you." Then the aide took me in to see him. "Oh, Mara, oh" he said, I'm glad to see you." He says, "Sit down, I'll be with you in just a moment.

He dismissed the officer shortly and turned to me and said, "Mara, I suppose you're wondering what you're doing here."

I said, "Yes, sir."

He said, "Well, I'll tell you. You were recommended to me (and he didn't tell me by whom), as a man who knows how to keep his ears open and his mouth shut. There are things in this Panama Canal Department that only you and I will know about, and," he says, "that's why you are here." So, your reputation goes in front of you.

I'm diverting again, but that's a bit of egotism on my part.

HESS: Well, that's all right.

One question about Billy Mitchell: You know there was criticism of him at the time that he was making his accusations that we were not going to be properly defended, that if he wanted to make these accusations that he should have retired from the Army before he started to...


MARA: Shout his mouth off.

HESS: That's right, before he started to criticize the Army and the Air Force.

MARA: That is true, but Billy Mitchell was a very strong, courageous man. And I believe that he felt that he would be dealing with men as big as he was, but he wasn't.

HESS: All right now, at that time, there was a movement underfoot not only to take the Air Force out of the Army and make it an Air Corps, but there was also talk underway of taking over the Navy's air arm. In other words, all airplanes, all pilots, whether they fly from land or fly from the sea, should be under one unit, not an Army Air Corps, not a Navy Air Corps, but an Air Corps. What's your opinion of that?

MARA: I think that might have been in the minds of some of the Air Force men, but I don't think it had reached a stage where it was seriously considered even by the men who thought it.

Do you follow me there?

HESS: Yes.

MARA: But I think that Billy Mitchell, I think he was definitely


a sacrifice in this country. I had great admiration for him, although Mr. Truman personally did not approve of Billy Mitchell's action. He just -- and the boss, Mr. Truman, when he gets an idea into his head, he sticks with it. Now he did not like Billy Mitchell personally. I think he thought Billy Mitchell was a glamour boy and a scene-stealer. I think that's Mr. Truman's opinion of Mitchell. But I don't agree with it. I personally think he was one of our greats. And had we followed his intentions, we would have been far better off, because we were not prepared for World War II even. We didn't have the airplanes that we should have had in World War II, even after all of our experience.

Now that's interesting too, that you bring up Billy Mitchell. While I was serving at Governors Island we had a Major Gullion there, who was a Judge Advocate, and he had a large family of girls. There were girls from about three to eleven, five of them, and he had a beautiful house at Governors Island. One day he got an order to report to Washington for duty in the Judge Advocate General's office. He said, "What the hell do they want me in Washington for? And what am I going to do with this family of mine?" He says, "Well, I know what I’ll do," he says, "I'll rent me an apartment down in Southeast, because my social status is established."


Well, he was ordered to Washington to be the Judge Advocate who prosecuted Billy Mitchell. And he was later the Judge Advocate General of the Army.

HESS: Well, now, let's see, what other positions did you hold during the war?

MARA: Oh. I started to tell you, I must have diverted, talking about General Streett. Finally he ordered General Streett into Washington to organize this Continental Air Force.

HESS: Yes, that's right.

MARA: And he reported, and I joined General Streett then and became his executive and secretary of staff of the Continental Air Force and we organized this new command.

And here, I was going through these papers the other day, I did not get this out purposely, but I did happen to see it. Here is the table of organization of the Continental Air Force, which was the parent of SAC.

HESS: The Strategic Air Command.

MARA: Yes. Well, I stayed with them until, oh, I don't know, sometime in '46.

HESS: Were you with them at the end of the war?


MARA: No, at the end of the war I was liaison at the White House. This led up to that. Now had I gone to the Pacific, none of this would have happened, I'd have been a colonel out there and probably retired as a colonel.

HESS: You'd have missed a lot, wouldn't you?

MARA: I'd have missed a lot, yes. It goes to show you, you try to set your own plans, your own career, and somebody interferes with it and does a much better job than you planned to do.

HESS: What outfit were you with by the time of the end of the war?

MARA: I was at the White House.

Now, let me see. Oh, somewhere -- I was with General Streett I guess a year or so, a year, maybe a year and a half, and then I came down with a bad case of ulcers. I got those commanding this school out there in Colorado. I was ordered out to Walter Reed Hospital, ostensibly for retirement.

And I think it must have been in 1946 or '47 that I went to Walter Reed, but they returned me to duty and I did not go back to the Continental Air Force but was assigned to


some sort of duty at the -- oh, yes, I was assigned to the headquarters again on General Arnold's staff.

I was a little ahead of my story when I went with General Streett. While I was Deputy Adjutant General of the Army Air Force the Truman Committee was going to investigate the war effort in Africa and Europe. The two of the committee members were Senator [Harold H.] Burton and Senator [James M.] Tunnell. Well, the request for a liaison officer of the Air Corps to accompany this committee to Europe came over my desk as the Adjutant General.. I thought it was a rather important assignment and I'd better assign myself to it and see what took place. I talked to General Giles, who was the deputy commander, and explained what I planned to do and he said, "You go ahead and keep an eye on things."

So, that's when I first met Harry Vaughan. I was drawing clothing at a warehouse and Harry Vaughan walked in and we met for the first time. He was a colonel and I was a colonel. And there were a couple of other officers there and we were all drawing our overseas equipment. Harry Vaughan and I seemed to hit it off right from the start. And then the trip, we were to take, we would leave after Christmas in 1944.

HESS: Mr. Truman had left the Committee and was Vice President elect at that time.


MARA: This is Christmas '44. We started out on a thirty-day trip of Africa and Europe, Jerusalem and Iran. Vaughan and I, wherever we stopped, we'd occupy the same room. We'd have the twin beds at the hotel and we became very good friends in those 30 days. I was then Adjutant General of the headquarters Army Air Force, you see, and when we came back I had Vaughan out to the club at Bolling and he had me to his home and we became very close intimate friends.

HESS: Did you ever attend any of the hearings of the Truman Committee after that time, after that trip?

MARA: No, I don't believe so.

HESS: You were just along as liaison officer.

MARA: That's it. I was just the Air Force liaison officer to the Committee.

Now, we had a photographer along and he took both motion pictures and still pictures of the trip, and I arranged to have the committee -- oh, in the meantime, after we got back, Harry took me up to the Vice President's office and introduced me to the then Vice President, and that's the first I met him.

Then a month or so after that -- oh, this is -- when did he become President?


HESS: He became President in April.

MARA: April, yes, all right.

HESS: Was it shortly after you returned from your trip that General Vaughan took you in to introduce you to Mr. Truman?

MARA: That's correct. Vaughan was than Aide to the Vice President.

HESS: Okay, this must have been '45 then, is that right?

MARA: This is '45.

HESS: This is '45.

MARA: That's right. I was arranging a party at Bolling Field for Senator Burton, Senator Tunnell, the Army, Navy liaison officers, Harry Vaughan, and I wanted to include Mr. and Mrs. Truman.

HESS: Was he able to attend?

MARA: He said, "Wait here, the boss will be here in a few minutes, and I'll see what our engagements are."

We waited a very short time, and Mrs. Truman came in and he told her that I was inviting them to dinner at Bolling and explained what it was and she thought for a minute, and she


said, "Friday, Friday, Friday," she said, "that's all right, we're free."

So, we set up. The next week, on Wednesday, Mr. Roosevelt died…

HESS: He died on Thursday.

MARA: On Thursday. The day before the party I had everything arranged at the club for the dinner and Mrs. Mara was sitting downstairs outside my office. We were having a party that night for General Streett when Roosevelt -- oh, see I had subsequently been assigned to Streett then, see. When I went with Vaughan I was at the headquarters, but in between there, and however much time, I had been assigned to the command at Bolling, because I was at Bolling when Roosevelt died.

HESS: What were your impressions? What were your thoughts when you heard that Mr. Roosevelt had died?

MARA: I was grief stricken. I was really grief stricken. I thought a terrible tragedy had occurred. And of course, as I say, we were having this party at the club that night. General Streett had already left for his quarters to get dressed to go to this cocktail -- it was a -- we had just


organized the command and this was his first introductory party for the officers. When I arrived at the club I whispered to General Streett that the President had died. You see it had just come over the radio and he said, "As soon as the line gets through, get the word around and clear this place out." He gave me those instructions.

So as soon as the greeting line ended I made announcement that word had just come across that President Roosevelt had died and that the party is discontinued, and that was that.

But that was the first time I met Mrs. Truman, that when I was in the President's office.

HESS: That one week before.

MARA: One week before, that's right.

HESS: Since you had met Mr. Truman and had known him before he became President, what kind of a President did you think he was going to make?

MARA: I didn't know. I didn't know. I was impressed with him the first time I met him, of course, as everybody is. You couldn't meet Mr. Truman in those days and not recognize that here is a very unusual man. That's the impression you got.

And in my days in the White House I would have men of the


greatest minds, I'd be talking to them after they had met President, and they say, "That man amazes me with the depth of his knowledge." Here were brilliant minds, scientists.

I remember one day we were at Key West, and the Director of the Budget, he had brought the budget down from Washington to show to Mr. Truman, and we were at lunch later and little talking, just casually, and he says, "You know, that man, it's unbelievable, he knows more about the budget than I do." Here was a Director of the Budget.

HESS: Mr. Truman used to like to pay a lot of attention to the budget didn't he?

MARA: Oh, he knew it. He knew everything about it, and he would go through it and explain the different phases of it. The man had an unusually, oh, he had an unusual ability to analyze most everything. What time is it?

HESS: About 3:30. Shall we shut if off for the day?

MARA: I think we might.

HESS: All right, that's very good.

Second Oral History Interview with Brigadier General Cornelius J. Mara, Alexandria, Virginia, June 9, 1971. By Jerry N. Hess, Harry S. Truman Library.


MARA: We were just at the point where I was liaison officer between the Air Force and the White House. You see -- after I met Harry Vaughan, I went on duty with the Continental Air Force with General Streett. After I was there a year or so, I came down with ulcers and was sent out to Walter Reed Hospital, with the expectation of being retired. The doctors out there decided that I was still fit for duty and I did not go back to Continental Air Force. I returned to the Pentagon and was assigned as liaison between the Air Force and the White House.

We had in the headquarters there, what they called a Legislative and Liaison Division. You had a representative -- an Air Force officer represented the Hill; one for the House and one for the Senate and I was for the White House. I served then for about I'd say two years.

HESS: Did you have an office in the White House also?

MARA: Not at that time. My office was in the Pentagon, but any papers that the White House was concerned with I would get and bring it back to the Pentagon and have it processed and then I would return them some days later.


HESS: When you would go to the White House who would you usually go in to see?

MARA: Well, I would see Rose Conway and probably say hello to Matt Connelly, and then I'd go over and I'd make a kind of a tour. I'd go over and talk to General Vaughan and stop by his office and see what he had. And I believe that's about the extent. Each morning I'd make that round and then come back to the Pentagon and take care of whatever their problems were.

Well, that continued until '48 I believe, late in '48 when Johnson was appointed Secretary of War and [Louis H.] Renfrow went with Johnson. Then Harry Vaughan asked me to stay in the White House as his assistant. So that's how I come to be in the White House.

HESS: Did you often see General Renfrow when you would go to the White House?

MARA: Oh yes. Well, I knew Renfrow before that, when he was at Selective Service.

HESS: Did he help you in the performance of your duties? Was he particularly helpful when you'd go to the White House?

MARA: Well, there would be no necessity for that that I know of.


I don't recall. No. I'd just speak to him, there was no particular need for him to be helpful.

HESS: Okay.

MARA: I knew him.

HESS: All right. Now getting into your duties as Assistant Military Aide. Just what were your duties? How would you carry them out. What were some of the problems that arose?

MARA: Well, it's most difficult to describe, they were so diverse -- anything that might pertain to the military that came into the White House would be referred to our office. Just by routine it would be referred to us. And then it was our job to follow through and to see that we got a satisfactory answer to send to whoever wrote the inquiry. We would send the papers over to whatever department concerned.

We'd get a lot of correspondence of course, from veterans and veterans' families and soldiers' families and, of course, a lot of mail would come in from the Hill, from the Senators and the Representatives. And oftentimes we'd get telephone calls from the Hill, and it was a great assortment of things.

And then of course, any matters in Army or Air Force that


was of vital importance to them, they'd send it over to us. Each morning General Vaughan would attend the staff meeting in the President's office and anything that we felt was important enough to bring to the attention of the President, he would take it over in his envelope in the morning and discuss it with the President and with the staff. Now, that's the general modus operandi of the office.

HESS: Did you ever attend the President's morning staff meetings?


HESS: Did General Vaughan when he returned to the office let you know if there was anything of interest that had taken place?

MARA: He would always discuss with me what took place.

HESS: Now the date that I have down for your entrance onto the White House staff was July the 25th of 1949, is that about right? July 25?

MARA: 1949?

HESS: Yes.

MARA: Oh no, before that.


HESS: Now see Louis Johnson took over in...

MARA: Oh, maybe that's right.

HESS: ….March of '49.

MARA: Oh, that's right now. That is right.

HESS: You see Forrestal was replaced in March of '49.

MARA: I thought it was earlier than that, but see, it's hard for me to d