Oral History Interview with
Special Representative of the President to Korea, 1948-49;
Ambassador to Korea, 1949-52;
John J. Muccio
Envoy Extraordinary to Iceland, 1954.
Washington, D. C.
February 10, 1971
by Jerry N. Hess
[Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | Additional
Muccio Oral History Transcripts | 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
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 It may not be published in full except by permission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 January, 1972
Harry S. Truman Library
[Top of the Page | Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | Additional Muccio Oral History Transcripts | List of Subjects Discussed]
Oral History Interview with
Ambassador John J. Muccio
Washington, D. C.
February 10, 1971
by Jerry N. Hess
HESS: All right, Ambassador, to get under way, would you give me a little
of your personal background; where were you born and raised, where were
you educated and what are a few of the many, many positions and posts
that you have held?
MUCCIO: I was born in Italy, 1900, March 1900, and brought to the United
States when I was five months old. My father was already here. And I went
to one grade school, one high school, one college, and had one job for
forty-two years of my life, and that was in the Foreign Service as a Consular
Assistant, this was in the Consular Service before the Consular and Diplomatic
Services were joined under the Rogers Act of 1924. It wasn't until '35
that I had experience
in the diplomatic side of the Service and that was
in La Paz, Bolivia. I spent most of my time in the Service between the
Far East and Latin America. Finally retired in 1962.
Do you think that is enough?
HESS: That's fine. Now moving into the Truman administration, you were
a member of the American Mission to Germany from May of '45 until 1947, correct?
HESS: Would you outline a few of the duties that you had while a member
of that mission, some of the problems that may have arisen, some of the
methods that you may have used in solving those problems?
MUCCIO: Before getting into that I'd like to mention that the first time
I saw President Truman face to face was at Potsdam in July 1945. He had
been President of the United States for a few weeks only. He was playing
international poker with two outstanding experts, "Uncle Joe" [Joseph]
Stalin and [Winston S.] Churchill. Potsdam at that time was hot, soggy,
stenchy, full of mosquitoes and flies. And Truman very clearly was ill
at ease, having only been President a short time and having so many crucial
issues thrown at him, and having
to rely on James Byrnes, who was Secretary
of State, as his principal adviser.
The next time I saw the President face to face was in July 1948, just
prior to taking off for Korea as Ambassador. Truman had just come back
from Florida. He had a wonderful tan, was very exuberant, brightly dressed,
he looked like a completely different person from the one I had seen at
Potsdam. And mind you, that was before he was elected on his own, which
came up . . .
HESS: The following November.
Do you recall if when you saw him in July of '48 if this was before or
after the convention, the Democratic convention in Philadelphia of that
MUCCIO: I'd have to--I don't recall exactly. But after he was elected
on his own, the man . . .
HESS: One question about James Byrnes who was the Secretary of State
at the time of the Potsdam Conference. There are those that say that Mr.
Truman appointed Mr. Byrnes as a consolation prize because Mr. Byrnes
had also been in the running for the vice-presidential nomination in 1944
for Mr. Roosevelt's
fourth term, and since he did not get it and Mr. Truman
did, that upon the death of Mr. Roosevelt Mr. Truman appointed Byrnes
to the highest spot in the Cabinet as more or less a consolation prize
because he was not the top man. Have you ever heard anything on that?
MUCCIO: Well, I've read accounts of that in several places, but there
are much better authorities on that than I.
HESS: How effective was James Byrnes as Secretary of State?
MUCCIO: I'd prefer to let that sort of thing go by because I was never
in Washington at that particular time. I was in the field most
of the time. And my opinion of the man at that particular time is not
HESS: Okay. All right, moving back to your duties as a member of the
American Mission to Germany?
MUCCIO: I was on Bob Murphy's staff during my two year stay in Germany,
May of '45 until April of '47.
HESS: Do you recall any particular problems that came up, your duties
there at that time?
MUCCIO: Well, can we later talk about--I mean there were
like denazification, so damn complex and controversial. You had the U.S.
Control Commission, which was part of the Allied Control Council bogged
down from the outset. I think if we get into a lot of these things it
will be an interminable interview. Could we try to focus on . . .
HESS: All right. All right, would you like to focus on the matters on
MUCCIO: Why, I think we'd better . . .
HESS: All right.
MUCCIO: . . . move up.
HESS: All right, moving into matters pertaining to Korea, you were appointed,
I believe, as Special Representative of the President to Korea in August
of '48, is that correct?
HESS: Do you have an observation on why you were selected for this
MUCCIO: Well, I'd been with the Service a good long time. I was
still a bachelor and in rugged good health. Undoubtedly the experiences
that I had had in Shanghai and elsewhere in China, Germany and Panama,
was a key factor. All involved active international situations with a
heavy United States military presence. My
long association with the U.S.
military had an influence in my selection.
HESS: What were the first problems that you were presented with
when you arrived at your new post in Korea?
MUCCIO: Well, the Government of Korea was inaugurated August 15,
1948. U.S. military government and all of its ramifications still intact.
My immediate concern was the transfer of all the functions of military
government to the new government set up by the Koreans, under the direction
of President [Syngman] Rhee. We transferred the police force, the whole
police establishment, on the llth of September of 1948. And between that
and December 12th, when we finally transferred the bank account to the
new authorities, there was a constant transfer of responsibility from
U.S. Military Government authorities to their new Korean counterparts.
It was very intricate.
One interesting and complicating factor that plagued me during
this period was the struggle between the Koreans that had come to the
fore under U.S. Military Government and these appointed by the new government.
The former came forward from 1945 to 1948, and later as the United States
authorities set up what
was called the interim government, when Koreans
were placed in authority with Americans as advisers. These Koreans who
first worked with the Americans were sneeringly referred to by other Koreans
as the "interpreter government." We must admit that their ability to understand
and know some English had had a great deal to do with their selection.
Rhee did a thorough job of ignoring practically to a man those
that had come to the fore during military government days. He set up his
own hierarchy. And there's no love lost between the first group who considered
themselves indispensable and the Koreans who were about to take
over. That was the basic problem we faced at that particular time.
HESS: And you were appointed as the first United States Ambassador
to Korea the following year in 1949.
MUCCIO: Yes, right.
HESS: During this period of time, the number of U.S. troops in
Korea was being reduced, is that correct?
MUCCIO: Well, that raises the intriguing problem of the evolution
of the U.S. position in Korea. The early days 1945 to 1947 are known better
to other individuals. From '48 on, it might be of interest to recall, the U.S.
military, principally General [Dwight D.] Eisenhower, Army Chief
of Staff, and General Douglas MacArthur, CINCFE [Commander in Chief, Far
East) were first to raise the question as to the validity of our position
in Korea, and that militarily, it was better to get out of Korea. And,
in the summer of 1947, it was one of the very first U.S. international
problems handled under the new mechanism of the National Security Council.
And the Korean position was elaborated and set forth in the National Security
Council and issued by President Truman, I forget the exact date, but it
was in August, July or August 1947. We threw the problem, after one last
try with dealing directly with the Russians, into the agenda of the General
Assembly of the United Nations meeting in the fall of 1947. Our resolution
was passed-by the United Nations, and since that time there has been a
United Nations presence in Korea, since the end of that General Assembly
in 1947. There still is a UN presence there.
HESS: At this particular time in history which of the officials
of the State Department did you work with the closest? Was Dean Rusk Assistant
State for Far Eastern Affairs at that time?
MUCCIO: Walt [W. Walton] Butterworth was Assistant Secretary for
Far Eastern Affairs. He was appointed Ambassador to Sweden, and Dean Rusk
was placed in charge of the Far Eastern...
HESS: Did those men give you the necessary assistance and aid that
an Ambassador would need; the man on the spot in Korea?
MUCCIO: They gave me excellent direction and support. I was told
when I left Washington after numerous conferences at State and with the
defense establishment and intelligence agencies, that this was the first
time that the transfer of military government functions to a civilian
agency had taken place after World War II. I would undoubtedly face problems
they didn't have ready answers to, but for me to use my judgment and they'd
back me up to the hilt. And I must say that they gave me superb backing.
HESS: As an official of the State Department, did you have any
particular problems with some of the United States military commanders,
officials of the Defense Department who may not have seen eye-to-eye on
some of the things that you thought should take place in the switch over
of the powers?
MUCCIO: Well, there were a few. A good example was the visit in
late '48 of the Secretary of the Army, accompanied by General [Albert
C.] Wedemeyer. I escorted the two to President Rhee and they presented
to President Rhee U.S. thinking about the Korean situation with stress
on Korean needs in defense matters.
When they reported in Washington, they proceeded on the assumption
that Rhee had agreed to this U.S. proposal. My report was to the
effect that Rhee had said, "Yes, yes, yes," to all of the things that
we offered Rhee for his military needs, but that he had never said, "Yes,"
and he never said, "No," to the suggestion that the time had come for
the withdrawal of the U.S. military forces.
HESS: Was Kenneth Royall Secretary of the Army at that time?
MUCCIO: Royall was Secretary of the Army. And the Secretary, General
Wedemeyer, and I went and spent a long time with Rhee on this one problem.
I was summoned back to Washington, over night, to discuss compatibility
of my reports with what the Secretary of the Army and General Wedemeyer
;HESS: How was the problem of your reports solved? Did you get together
with General Wedemeyer and...
MUCCIO: It was decided during my visit to Washington to defer a
bit proceeding with the general plan, and nothing was to be said about
it until after I had had a chance to work over some of the issues with
President Rhee. Under the elongated schedule the final U.S. armed military
unit left Korea on June 29, 1949, at which time we set up and left behind,
a 500 man unit, KMAG, Korean Military Advisory Group, to help organize
and train the Koreans.
HESS: Did you have any particular difficulty of presenting the
United States' view to President Rhee at this time, of removing the troops?
MUCCIO: Well, President Rhee, at that particular time, was devoting
most of his considerable talents towards forcing us to keep U.S. military
presence in Korea and very little time to establishing his own governmental
apparatus, and thinking of leadership and progress for his own people.
He was more interested in keeping the United States tied up there.
HESS: And yet we removed our troops at that time, correct?
HESS: Did you have any particular difficulty explaining why we
were removing our troops to him, or what did he say to you?
MUCCIO: The Wedemeyer plan was for our military to be out of Korea
by the 31st of March, 1949. I urged Washington not to say anything about
this until I had a chance to work on Rhee. When I got back to Korea the
first thing I did was start pointing out to Rhee the wonderful progress
(and they were making good progress), the new Korean constabulary was making.
HESS: Developing their own forces.
MUCCIO: Developing their own forces. Soon Rhee got up several times
and publicly said that his boys were doing mighty well and could take