Oral History Interview with
Served under Capt. Harry S. Truman, Battery D, 129th Field Artillery Regiment, 1917-19, and, subsequently in the U.S. Army Reserve Corps with Mr. Truman. Chief Administrative Assistant to the President (1945) and Administrative Assistant to the Federal Loan Administrator (1945); member of the Board of Directors of the Panama Canal Company, 1950-53; and close personal friend of Mr. Truman since World War I.
Edward D. McKim
February 17, 1964
by James R. Fuchs
[Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | Additional McKim Oral History Transcripts]
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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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 December, 1964
Harry S. Truman Library
[Top of the Page | Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | Additional McKim Oral History Transcripts]
Oral History Interview with
Edward D. McKim
February 17, 1964
by James R. Fuchs
FUCHS: Mr. McKim, we might start by your giving me a brief autobiographical sketch of yourself, when you were born and where and how you happened to come to your present situation, to your retirement in Arizona?
MCKIM: You want me to go through sixty-eight years for you right quick?
FUCHS: Just briefly, mainly your education and your moves.
MCKIM: I was born in Evansville, Indiana, on the 20th of October, 1895. At a very early age, probably six months, I was taken by my mother to my grandmother's farm out near Frankfort, Kansas. The doctors had given up on me, had said that I couldn't live. My grandmother prescribed the old-time remedies and brought me through. We later moved to Kansas City, Missouri and I went to school there at old St. Patrick's School at 8th and
Cherry Streets. Later I spent four years at De LaSalle Academy at 16th and Paseo, graduating from De LaSalle in June 1915. In 1916, I spent eight weeks at Rockhurst College as a special student. I think the specialty was football. I spent one football season at Rockhurst. There are people who say I got kicked out of school but that isn't the truth; I got kicked out of the clubhouse! After that, in 1917, I joined the 2nd Missouri Field Artillery of the Missouri National Guard, which was being organized. At that time, the Artillery National Guard consisted of A Battery in St. Louis, Missouri; B Battery in Kansas City, Missouri; and C Battery in Independence, Missouri. These three batteries were to be enlarged into a regiment. The regiment was formed and was inducted in the Federal Service on the 5th o f August, 1917. Upon induction in September, the regiment became the 129th Field Artillery of the 35th Division. In September, we were sent to Camp Doniphan at Lawton, Oklahoma for training. At that time Charles B. Allen was captain of Battery D, the battery to which I belonged, and Harry Truman was then a first lieutenant in F Battery, commanded by Captain Pete Allen. We did all of our training there and we did a lot of firing for the School of Fire, which
was located over at Fort Sill across the "Horseshoe."
There was an advance detail sent to France early in 1918 and Lieutenant Truman was in this advance detail, known as "The Overseas Detail." The rest of the regiment followed in May. Shortly after arrival in France, I was sent out on a horse detail, gathering up horses for the American Army. We had been forced to leave our own horses at Fort Sill due to the lack of shipping. We had to use the culls of four years of warfare in Europe for our stock. The French would hold a requisition in a town and all of the farmers in that area had to bring in all of their horses. We would take what we wanted, and give them a requisition for it. We would then ride the horses back. The schedule seemed to be a day's ride out from our base at Le Mans on the train, to the town of the requisition, and then we'd spend close to a week riding them back. It had to be all bareback.
FUCHS: What section of France were you in?
MCKIM: We were up around in Brittany and Normandy at that time.
While I was out on that detail, we got word from
the battery that our captain, John H. Thacher, had been promoted to major and made adjutant of one of the battalions, and that we were to have a new captain, Captain Harry S. Truman. I had met Truman in the early days when we were organizing the battery and I didn't care much for him. I didn't care much for the idea of going through a war with a man I considered a "sissy," and I began to think of ways and means of transferring out of the outfit, but then I thought all my friends were there and I had better stay with them.
FUCHS: Why did you consider him a sissy at that time?
MCKIM: Just my impression of him at that time. But he certainly, after he became captain, got us out of that idea right quick.
FUCHS: What was your first actual meeting with Mr. Truman?
MCKIM: Well, the first time I saw him in France was the morning he took command of the battery.
FUCHS: I'm thinking of in the United States when you were organizing in Kansas City?
MCKIM: Well, at the time it was being organized, we had a bunch of fellows who would go down to the Board of Election Commissioners and go through the records there to see fellows who were within the draft age. We had six batteries to form and we'd take the names out of the election records and then the Flying Squadron would go out and try to talk the men into enlisting rather than waiting for the draft. We were both doing some of that work and that's where I first met him. I had no close association with him at that time.
FUCHS: Is it your recollection that he was actually more active in organizing the battery and building up the regiment than most of the other people?
MCKIM: I wouldn't say more so. I know he was interested in it, as were we all, but as to whether he was more or less, I didn't have much contact with him at that time and I couldn't tell you for sure. I know that he'd been in Battery "B" for a great many years. I think he'd been in since 1905.
FUCHS: Well, actually, he was in two hitches, from '05 to '11, and then he dropped out, and the story is that
when he came back he was very active with Major Miles in building the regiment up.
MCKIM: That's right. In fact, there were quite a number of people that were interested in it at that time. I wasn't up in the top brass. I couldn't tell you just what all was going on then. I was lending my volunteer efforts to help with the battery.
FUCHS: He was not an officer when you first met him?
MCKIM: No, in those days the National Guard elected their officers. Everybody knew who the officers of the Regiments were going to be, and they were elected in the National Guard and when they were inducted in the Federal Service they held that rank to which they had been elected by the men.
FUCHS: Well, did you feel when you met him, even though you thought he was a sissy, that he was going to be an officer?
MCKIM: I knew he was going to be. Sure, that was in the slate. But after we were in France, Truman was -- well, he was the boss of the outfit. He not only commanded
the outfit, he owned it. He was the first captain we had that we felt knew what he was doing. No, that first is not correct because Captain John Thacher knew what he was doing; I couldn't say as much about the other two.
FUCHS: Who were they?
MCKIM: Captain Charlie Allen and Captain Rollin Ritter, who had been an engineer officer.
FUCHS: Why didn't you think much of them?
MCKIM: Well, I thought a lot of Charlie Allen, but Charlie got himself involved with a red-headed woman and our mess fund seemed to disappear. Charlie was cashier of the fund. He went up before what they called the "Benzine board" and Charlie was washed out of the army. Afterwards, he went back to Kansas City and I think entered the SATC (Students Army Training Corps) stationed at St. Mary's, Kansas. He was the first football coach at Rockhurst College. I played under him there. In fact, I was supposed to get twelve dollars a week for going to school, playing center, and coaching the
line, but I never got the twelve dollars a week.
FUCHS: This would have been what year?
MCKIM: That would have been 1916. No, I've got to go back. This was before. Charlie was the first coach in 1916 and it was after the battery was formed and after he was cashiered at Fort Sill that he went back to St. Mary's. I think he was a reporter or did some reportorial work for the old Kansas City Post. I lost all track of him after we came back from service. I understood that he was in some veterans hospital and died in a veterans hospital, but I played football with Charlie Allen, sort of semi-pro football, for years before.
FUCHS: Well then, if I understand it correctly, you would say that he was not relieved there because of an inability to handle the men in the battery?
MCKIM: Well, first of all, I thought that he took on too big a job in being captain of a battery. Charlie Allen had been a corporal in Battery B in the Mexican border affair in 1915 , and I thought he bit off quite a chunk to go from a corporal to a captain. However,
his main trouble was a red-headed woman and the absence of our battery mess fund which we had built up.
FUCHS: What about Captain Rollin Ritter?
MCKIM: Well, I don't know much about him except that we just didn't get along very well.
FUCHS: You mean, you, personally?
MCKIM: Personally. Do you want me to tell the story about it?
FUCHS: Anything you know about him.
MCKIM: The only thing I know about him was that he was supposed to be an engineer officer who had been transferred to field artillery. He knew nothing at all about mounted drill, and on one occasion on a cold, frosty morning when the horses were a bit frisky, I was acting first sergeant and he gave a kind of weird command (the commands were all given by arm signals) and the men didn't understand it and I didn't understand it. I blew the whistle and stopped the battery, which the captain didn't like one little bit. I rode up and he said, "What's the matter, sergeant?"
"Well, sir, I didn't understand your command and I don't think the men did and I blew the whistle."
He said, "I gave the command for so-and-so."
I said, "Well, begging the Captain's pardon, the command for that is..." and I gave it to him.
He went on again and gave another weird arm signal and about that time it threw the whole battery into confusion and one of the men in my section, the 2nd section, a fellow named Blankenship, was thrown from his horse; he was driving a wheel pair, and the carriage ran over him. I thought he was killed. We stopped the maneuvers right then and called the ambulance and took him to the hospital. We all thought he was dead; and I thought it was the fault of the Captain. The Captain and I had a few choice words out there on that bald hill and he ordered me to report to his tent after it was over; I reported. He said, "Sergeant, I have a good notion to bust you."
And I had already started my stripes that were sewed onto my shirt, and I reached up with both hands and tore them off and laid them on his table.
He said, "You'll keep them on until I tell you to take them off."
So I picked them up again and slapped them back on.
He said, "I've got a good notion, Sergeant, to treat you as man to man."
"Well," I said, "if the Captain dares."
I think he would have pulverized me because he must have weighed a good two hundred and twenty pounds and I weighed about a hundred and seventy-five.
So, I guess it was within two or three days that the order was posted that I was reduced to the rank of private. From then on I remained a private. In those days a private got thirty dollars a month, a first-class private got thirty-three, a corporal got thirty-six, a sergeant got thirty-eight, and a first sergeant got forty-four, and I couldn't figure that it was worth eight dollars a month to be a sergeant. So I told them from then on they'd look for me. I always kidded Truman after the war that he owed me three dollars a month for the duration of the war because he wouldn't make me a first class private. He probably felt I didn't deserve to be.
FUCHS: What happened to Captain Ritter?
MCKIM: I don't know. He faded out of the picture. Captain John Thacher replaced him as battery commander and I don't know what happened to Ritter. He left the regiment.
FUCHS: Why was he replaced?
MCKIM: I don't know. I wasn't in the confidence of the colonel of the regiment.
FUCHS: Did you think it was partly because the men in the battery gave me a lot of trouble?
MCKIM: No, I just think that they found out that he was just no damned good.
FUCHS: Captain Thacher then took over
MCKIM: Very, very fine man, Captain John Thacher. We boys used to call him "Cryin' John," but he was a very, very fine gentleman, a fine officer and we thought a lot of him, just an awful lot. He was moved up to be battalion adjutant and Truman was promoted to captain and given command of D Battery. At that time, Truman felt that he was promoted and given charge of D
Battery because he felt that the colonel was trying to break him, because D Battery was kind of a hard battery to handle, a tough battery to handle.
There's a story that most of these men were graduates of De LaSalle. There were only two, however, who had ever gone to Rockhurst and that was a fellow named Fred McDonald and myself. We were the only two who had ever gone to Rockhurst out of the whole battery. There were quite a number, however, from De LaSalle.
FUCHS: Was Rockhurst a full four-year college at that time?
MCKIM: No, Rockhurst at that time was just a high school.
FUCHS: It was a four-year high school?
MCKIM: Yes, a four-year high school.
FUCHS: How did they come to call it a college in so many of these...?
MCKIM: They started off calling it a college and the buildings sat there for a number of years with just the concrete work up until they could get enough
money to complete the building.
FUCHS: Do you have any other memories of Lieutenant Truman at Camp Doniphan?
MCKIM: No, because at Camp Doniphan he was in another battery.
FUCHS: You didn't have occasion to come into contact with him?
MCKIM: I had no occasion