Oral History Interview with
Frank Pace Jr.
Special Assistant to the U.S. Attorney General, Taxation Division, 1946; Executive Assistant to the U.S. Postmaster General, 1946-48; Assistant Director, Bureau of the Budget, 1948-49; Director, Bureau of the Budget, 1949-50; and Secretary of the Army, 1950-53.
New York, N. Y.
February 17, 1972
by Jerry N. Hess
[Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | Additional Pace 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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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 June, 1974
Harry S. Truman Library
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Oral History Interview with
Frank Pace Jr.
New York, N. Y.
February 17, 1972
by Jerry N. Hess
HESS: Mr. Secretary, to begin today, we have discussed the meeting at the Blair House on the night that Mr. Truman came back from Independence and they were discussing what to do about the situation in Korea; but at that time and in the meetings in the next couple of days, what was Mr. Truman's attitude?
PACE: Well, Mr. Truman was an excellent administrator, and as I said to you, he asked the opinion of everyone in the room without expressing any opinion himself at all. After it was over, he summed up what was the consensus of the group, asking if there was any disagreement with that consensus. We said, "No." He said that fortunately this coincided with his point of view, so there was no problem; but as I've said to you before, Mr. Truman has always been thought of as a great politician; but what few people understood was that he was a natural administrator. He was a natural user of staff; he selected them with care, and then he relied on them completely. This was again a perfect example of how Mr. Truman operated. Now, if we had all reached a conclusion that was contrary to his, he would have stated then his position and the reason why and asked us to challenge it. But since they coincided, there was no need for it
HESS: Do you think that one of the reasons that he did not present his views was that if he had done so, it might have inhibited others who felt contrary to those views?
PACE: Oh, very clearly. Anyone who has been a top administrator knows that if the boss speaks in advance
HESS: You'd better agree with the boss.
PACE: Not necessarily, but it does put a very major damper on the enthusiasm with which you speak about a point.
HESS: During those meetings, do you recall if it was discussed whether or not the Soviets might come in if we did take this move, if we went into Korea?
PACE: Oh, yes, that was thoroughly discussed, and it was the conclusion of most people involved that the Soviets would not come in. It was the conclusion of all people involved that the Soviets would not come in, but there were different shadings of concern about it. However, it was agreed that if the Soviets did come in this really was something that had to be faced and dealt with, because otherwise the impression would be left with the Soviets that they could undertake any kind of initiative anywhere in the world and we'd be afraid to counter it.
HESS: Do you recall if it was discussed at this early date whether or not the Chinese Communists would come in?
PACE: No, that was not discussed. As a matter of fact, at least it was not in my mind, and it was not a matter that was raised at all.
HESS: Some historians are of the opinion that the Soviets instigated matters in Korea as a diversionary matter to get our attention away from events in Europe?
PACE: No, I don't believe that's true. I believe that the Soviets did not think that we would react to this action. They had come to the conclusion that this was an isolated part of the world, that our basic interests were not there, and that they were in a position, using North Koreans, to go ahead and take over that whole area. I think there's a tendency often to ascribe to your opponents either an intelligence or a quality of planning that often isn't there. I think this was a very simple mistake on their part as to how we would react.
HESS In your opinion, should the President have tried to get a joint - congressional resolution to support this decision, to share the load with Congress, in other words, such as was done in the Tonkin Gulf matter?
PACE: Yes, and I frankly said that to him.
HESS: What were the counter arguments, why wasn't that done?
PACE: I said this to him not at this meeting, but at a later time. He said, "Frank, it's not necessary. They are all with me."
I said, "Yes, Mr. President, but we can't be sure that they'll be with you over any period of time."
The matter never was raised as a matter of discussion at this larger meeting. It just so happened that I had a very strong feeling that here was a chance to very clearly get the support of the Congress at a time when it was very necessary.
HESS: Did any others of the President's advisers also feel that same way?
PACE: I have no idea. It was not brought up...
HESS: In the main meeting. All right.
Jumping back just a little bit to Secretary Louis Johnson, what is your opinion of the manner in which Louis Johnson acted to meet the problems that arose at this time? How effective was he?
PACE: I did not feel that Louis Johnson was an effective Secretary of Defense. I don't believe he paid attention to
the details of the Defense operation. I don't believe he knew them deeply. I believe he overstated our capabilities and our strengths prior to this. I don't believe he had the breadth to grasp the totality of the problem that we faced.
HESS: He had been in the position since March of 1949, a little over a year. Why was he appointed to this high post?
PACE: Well, obviously I don't know. That was not a matter to which I was privy.
HESS: Any opinions?
PACE: Well, Mr. Johnson was a top political figure in the Democratic Party. He was a very persuasive man. I liked him personally.
HESS: He accepted the position as chairman of the finance committee in 1948 also.
PACE: That's right. I'm sure that in this regard Mr. Truman would never give that important a position to a man just because he served in the Democratic Party. I think he probably was personally over-impressed with Mr. Johnson's capabilities.
HESS: Moving on to a dual subject of the landing at Inchon. This took place on September 15. As you know, much has been
written about this. There was a breakout of the Pusan perimeter from the column moving up to the north, took a little while to break out. There were good, valid reasons why good military men thought that an invasion at Inchon was ill advised: The mud flats, the island that's out in front of Inchon, the fact that there were other cities or other places where an invasion could have been made; but nevertheless, General Mac Arthur's position did win out, and it won out in glorious fashion. It's well-known that that's one of the things he will be known for, the success at Inchon. What were your views on that? Did you think that movement was a good idea?
PACE: Well, remember I came to the Defense Department in April of 1950. The Korean war broke out in June and this was quite early on. I was not a military expert in that sense, and therefore my views were really not important on that phase of it. I do recall that the Joint Chiefs of Staff, uniformly, thought it was a bad idea, and I think that they advised General MacArthur of that feeling. I think that all I can say is that after it was achieved, it made a very deep impression on me as to General Mac Arthur's capability as a commanding general.
HESS: Just in general, what was your opinion of his capabilities?
PACE: Well, again, I knew nothing of him other than through what I had read. His reputation, of course, was unique, and I accepted that. I must say that whatever I thought about him was enhanced by Inchon.
HESS: One thing had come up about General MacArthur the previous month: That deals with the letter that he wrote to the commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars in August. The letter really states his views of why Formosa was so important, and as he called it, "the unsinkable aircraft tender," but it was in disagreement with Mr. Truman. Mr. Truman wanted the people on Formosa to stay there. He sent the 7th Fleet down and said, you know, "You fellows don't come over here; and you fellows don't go over there." But at that time, the letter was contradictory to what Mr. Truman had wanted to do for Formosa, and he said later that he should have fired MacArthur then. He said that he was talked out of firing MacArthur at that time. Do you recall anything--this is in August, this is before Inchon--do you recall anything about Mr. Truman being talked out of firing MacArthur during the month of August over a VFW letter?
PACE: No, no, I don't, although I would assume that if Mr. Truman was talking about firing MacArthur, that people he probably talked to would be General Marshall and Dean Acheson.
I don't think he would have called us in. Certainly the matter was never one that I was aware of even.
HESS: In what I have read about it, he did not identify who he spoke with. He said, "They talked me out of it." So, I didn't know who "they" were.
PACE: I wasn't the "they."
HESS: You weren't that high up to be the "they."
PACE: No, I wasn't high enough to be the "they."
HESS: About this same time, Secretary Johnson resigned. He submitted his resignation on September 12th. It was made effective on the 19th. I understand