Oral History Interview with
Commander, US Navy; crewman of the USS Williamsburg
Gerald Paul Pulley
June 17, 1993
by John Curry, Elizabeth Safly, and Pauline Testerman
[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. ) 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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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, 1993
Harry S. Truman Library
[Top of the Page | Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | List of Subjects Discussed]
Oral History Interview with
Gerald Paul Pulley
June 17, 1993
by John Curry, Elizabeth Safly, and Pauline Testerman
PULLEY: At home, in Virginia, I said, "I think I'll sit down and write some thoughts on what I thought you might be interested in."
CURRY: Very good.
SAFLY: Thank you.
PULLEY: And I am a Fellow of the Truman Library Institute, by the way.
As my letter, and your response indicated, I'm here to do an oral interview and give you a little background on my experiences as official photographer to President Harry S. Truman. With that we'll get started, and I hope I don't bore everybody.
SAFLY: Would you start by giving us your name, so that we'll have that at the beginning of the interview.
PULLEY: Yes, I'm Gerald Paul Pulley, and I'll be 71 this year. I was born October 25, 1922, in King City, Missouri, and I don't say "Missouree" either; I say "Missoura," because that's what the President always said.
I was a Chief Photographer's Mate in the U. S. Navy. I joined the Navy in 1940, prior to World War II. Shortly after I entered the Navy, I worked my way into photography; that was my ambition, to be a Navy photographer. At that time there were only had 92 photographers in the whole Navy. So when the war broke out, I was already what you call a Third Class Photographer's Mate.
I was a photographer all during the war, but it wasn't until the end of the war and after President Roosevelt died, that I became involved with President Truman.
Now, I'll go back a little bit further. I'd like to do on record here, that the Navy has had a history of photographic support to the White House. I can go back as far as President Coolidge. Harry Baudu was a photographer in the Navy; he's deceased. But Harry did a lot of photography as a Chief Photographer's Mate in Washington, D.C. for Harding, Coolidge, and President Hoover. Joe Bailey Roberts is another photographer. Joe is alive; he's about 90 years old. He's a former National Geographic photographer, and retired from the National Geographic. He's the senior member of the White House Press Photographer's Association. Joe was in the Navy, but only in Reserve status. Still he did a lot of photography as a Navy photographer of Coolidge and Hoover. So that goes back a little bit before my time.
Then, the late Arthur C. Black was a Chief Photographer's Mate in the Navy, and he was official photographer to President Franklin D. Roosevelt. And following the death of Franklin Roosevelt, there was a lapsed period where President Truman didn't insist on having a personal photographer. For one thing, I think it was because he
was concerned it might cost the taxpayers some money, and he wasn't about to do that. So it wasn't until late in '47 that they decided they better get a photographer, and they convinced him that they could do like Roosevelt had done and have Navy photographer support him. Primarily, the press gave lots of coverage, but they were thinking more or less of official photography that would be retained in the Government's hands and eventually end up here at this Library.
So, in late '47, they started talking about it, and in early '48, they interviewed candidates. The Navy Photographic Center is located right at the old Naval Air Station, in Anacostia, D.C. right across from the Naval Gun Factory in the Naval Yard. That is why I believe the Navy has played such a big role in photographic support to the White House. Even today, the head of the White House Photographic Services Division is a retired Navy Chief Photographer's Mate named Billie Shaddix. President-Elect Clinton called him in December or early January of this year, and said he understood that he had been the head of the photographic services, that's until Nancy Reagan fired him.
This is a little side story, but that happened. I don't know the background and how it came about, but I got a call and was notified that he [Shaddix] is back in the White House. He did a fine job. Billie Shaddix was the director of White House Photographic Services for 12 to 15 years. He's on this tape that you've heard part of.
SAFLY: I remember the name.
PULLEY: Well, he was there following the former Chief, Bob Knudsen. Bob Knudsen was LBJ's photographer. He was a former chief photographer, and he was assigned to the Naval Photo Center. At that time, I was head of the Still Picture Department. Now, I'm really getting you mixed up. In 1963, I was a lieutenant commander, and I'd come back to Washington for one of my many tours in Washington as head of the Still Photographic Division. We provided all the coverage for the White House and whatever; you name it. So, he was the chief assigned to take my old job.
This gets a little confusing, but that gives you a feel for Navy photographic support for the White House.
So I interviewed with the Secret Service men primarily, and during the interview there was about a half a dozen of us chief photographer's mates. At the end of World War II, anybody that was in the Navy that had made Chief Petty Officer, liked to stay because they had a pretty good job. And those who were not Chief Petty Officers by that time, they got out of the Navy, because with all those chiefs there and no Indians, they didn't want to hang around. So we had more than an abundance of chiefs -- all chiefs and no Indians as they say.
So there were a half a dozen of us, who knew President Truman wanted a personal photographer, and we thought, "Yeah, it sounds good." I was one of them. I think I had a few things going for me that some of the others didn't. We were all good photographers. I wasn't any great photographer, but I was competent. And one of the things that I think separated me from the pack, so to speak, was the fact I
was a blue-eyed boy born in Missouri.
The interviewers said, "Oh, you're born in Missouri?" I said, "Yes, I was. I wasn't raised there, but I was born there." Then, the second thing -- and you may find to be interesting -- they said, "Do you belong to any societies?" Now, I knew what they were fishing for was Communists. In '48, they were still hunting for commies.
SAFLY: That was just the beginning.
PULLEY: So I said, "No, I'm not a card-carrying Communist. I'm none of those things. I'm just a Chief Petty Officer in the Navy and I love my job." And they said, "So, you don't belong to any organization?"
I said, "Wait a minute. Yes, I belong to a fraternal organization." They said, "What's that?" I said, "I belong to the Masons. I'm a Mason." And they said, "Do you have a paid up dues card?" I said, "Sure, right in my pocket. Crossroads 696 Lodge, San Diego, California." They said, "Chief, I think you just got yourself a job." I said, "Why is that?" They said, "Well, the President's a Past Grand Master of Missouri." I said, "Well, I knew that." "And they went on, "He sort of likes to have Masons around him because, he can trust them. I don't tell everyone that, but that is the truth. One of the things that President Truman always insisted on was, "Boys, we've got to be honest." And he was, I guess, the most truthful President.
I know I’m going to get carried away, but in my mind, I’ve done a lot of things for a lot of other Presidents. I’ve covered Inaugural events, and LBJ, I’ve been around Washington a lot. I have a little private collection of tie clasps that I keep, and I have a little fun with it because J.F. Kennedy gave me a PT boat. He sent it to the Naval Agency. He didn’t hand it to me personally, but he said, “Give it to the boys that did this good job.”
At the Naval Photo Center, we had some wonderful capabilities in motion pictures. Now, you’ve got to understand that we’re talking about the period 1948-49. Even when Kennedy was in, television was not here yet. It was here, but it wasn’t here like we know it today. So you had motion picture camera men, and you had still photographers. They called the motion picture “mo pickers,” and the still photographers were called “single framers.” For the latter, it was one picture at a time.
So, this is a little collection of things I’ve got. I’ve got a J.F. Kennedy PT boat, and I’ve got Jimmy Cater cuff links, and LBJ hats and all kinds of memorabilia that the Presidents would give out. Most of the memorabilia were fountain pens and tie clasps. I’ve got them from [President] Ford, and [President] Nixon too, and Ike [President Eisenhower] all of them. Friends have said, “Well, you were with Truman, so what did Truman give you? You have all these tie clasps; didn’t he give you any?” I said, “No, because Truman didn’t believe in spending the taxpayers money for pens and things like that.” I have a paper clip which I’m holding up right now. I said, “He
thought that if the wind was blowing and you needed something to hold your tie to your shirt, he might give you a paper clip to hold your tie. But I'll guarantee you he would have bought the box of paper clips himself. He would have paid for them out of his own pocket, because that's how he was and how he felt."
On the train trip in 1948 he made a comment, about handling money. We drew our advance per diem for this train trip, you know. Per diem for us military guys was only about $3 a day, $3.25 or something like that. It was very low and as you can see I brought with me today one of the menus. It doesn't say the price on this one. This is one of the menus I'm going to show you in a minute. On the train trips it would cost more than your $3 but the statement he made was, "Boys, we're getting ready to start on a long trip. Now, remember you've got your money in this pocket and the government's money over in that pocket; don't get them mixed up." I have never forgotten that. I'll explain about it later.
SAFLY: You can add to that, because we'll type it out and send you a transcript. No problem on that.
PULLEY: I do remember the name of a Secret Service agent who was involved in the interviewing. He was Emery Roberts. He was a Mason and he was one of the Secret Service agents. He and I became very good friends. He was a little older than I, but he was just a fine man. There was another Secret Service agent named Dempsey; I forget his first name. There were others I knew, such as Jim Rowley. He was always
the head of the Secret Service unit at the White House. Emery Roberts and I just sort of developed a friendship while we worked along on the trips and things like that.
I didn't work out of the White House. I did not go over there as you may have heard some of them do in recent years. I know when President Ford took over, David Kinnerly was a photographer that roamed the White House, in dungarees no less. I wouldn't have been seen anywhere near the White House in a pair of dungarees. Well, things have relaxed and they've gotten modern I guess.
CURRY: How did you dress, being Navy?
PULLEY: It all depended on the occasion. If we were going to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, or if we were on the Williamsburg, the yacht, I was always in uniform, whether in whites, blues, or khakis. On the trip to the Caribbean, on the Williamsburg, I wore a khaki uniform. The Admiral down at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba -- he had all of his people in whites, and I thought I was going to be put on report once. I rode with the press plane down to Guantanamo Bay. It landed ahead of the President, so I could be there and photograph him as he got off the plane. I was wearing khaki and the local Admiral saw me running around there in khaki uniform and he sent his aide over and said put that chief on report for being out of uniform. But I had told Admiral [Robert] Dennison, "You know, I can't really run around, and chase the cars in the motorcade and run up the hills with a movie camera and with flash bulbs and film packs and a bag on my shoulder, in a white uniform. I've got my white uniform with
me, but I'm going to look terrible by the end of the day." He said, "You're authorized to wear khakis." I told the aide that and he went back to the Admiral. He said, "Okay, go ahead." I did wear the uniform of the day, whenever it was possible. But on the train trip and some of the other things I'd travel in civilian clothes.
We're talking about what we wore on the Whistlestop trip in 1948. We were going to be gone a month. Well, I didn't have a month's worth of civilian clothes. You know, during World War II, we wore uniforms 24 hours a day. You didn't ever wear civilian clothes. So I didn't have a big wardrobe. Actually, I had one sport coat and some slacks and I had things like that, but I didn't have a wardrobe to last me a month on a train. So I went to the Chiefs Club at Anacostia and I got up there on the microphone -- I was only 26 years old when I was White House photographer -- and I said, "Hey, Fellows, I'm getting ready to go with the President on a month-long trip and I only have one sport coat and two pairs of slacks." I said, "Do any of you guys have a size 40 sport coat and some slacks, that you would like to have rubbed up against the President every now and then?" I said, "How about letting me borrow them?" So I borrowed clothes to wear on that train trip. That was the way it was.
Okay, I worked out of the Naval Photo Center. My immediate supervisor at the White House was a Lieutenant Commander Bill [William] Rigdon. He was my immediate supervisor. Later, he made the rank of Commander. He's deceased by the way, and I guess you know that. He wrote a book White House Sailor; I don't know if you have a copy. I'd love to get a copy of that. I don't know whether his widow
has it, or if its possible to buy a copy of that anywhere.
SAFLY: I don’t know, but I’ll take a look.
PULLEY: I don’t even have her address or anything where I could write her and ask her.
SAFLY: Is she still living?
PULLEY: I think so, because he passed away I guess only three, four, or five years ago. Not too long ago. But I lost touch with Commander Rigdon. Well, he was my immediate boss; he was the Assistant Naval Aide, to Captain Robert L. Dennison, later Rear Admiral.
The type of photography was all 4 x 5 inch black and white photography, with a Speed Graphic Camera and flash bulbs -- usually number 5s and 25s, Sylvania or GE. On my own initiative I said, “Well, really on some of these things, I should shoot some movie film.” So I got a 16mm Filmo camera, and shot 100 foot rolls on various occasions. I don’t know if the L