Oral History Interview with
Chief Liaison and Legislative Officer, Selective Service System, 1946-48; Assistant Military Aide in the White House, 1947-49; Special Assistant to the Secretary, Department of Defense, 1949-50; and Deputy Director, Selective Service System, 1950-57.
[Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | Appendix | List of Subjects Discussed]
As an electronic publication of the Truman Library, users should note that features of the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview, such as pagination and indexing, could not be replicated for this online version of the Renfrow transcript.
Opened May, 1972
Oral History Interview with
March 12, 1971
Jerry N. Hess
HESS: To begin, General, we've had quite a lengthy discussion here this morning about your background, and one of the things we need to state is the fact that you have a manuscript ready to be sent to the publishers, of a book, and I think the best thing to do is to send that to the publishers and then later deposit that manuscript...
RENFROW: And the book.
HESS: ...and the book, in the Truman Library. And if you have any other papers you might like to deposit them in the Library also, and they would complement your book and researchers could use them, and they would be able to use them along with what we produce here today in oral history.
RENFROW: The pictures too?
HESS: The pictures, too. Anything that you have.
RENFROW: I've got all the pictures.
HESS: Anything that you have, any correspondence that you may have had from your career, any newspaper clippings that you may have kept, anything that might represent your personal papers.
RENFROW: I've kept all of that, all of those things, letters, correspondence, memoranda, are all down at Cape Girardeau, Missouri, where our sons live. I sent all of those things down there, newspaper clippings, everything.
HESS: Do you think you could talk them out of those?
RENFROW: No, I don't think so. I don't think they'd let them go.
HESS: All right, but if that situation changes, keep in mind that there's a home for them at the Truman Library.
RENFROW: Yes, but I'm sure that they won't.
HESS: To begin this morning, sir, I always like to start off with this question: Would you relate a little of your personal background? Now, people can pick up the Who's Who and they can find it there, but I have found that it helps the researcher if a little bit about the
speaker's personal background is down in the first page or two of the interview. Where were you born?
RENFROW: Well, why don't you take a copy of this list that I have regarding my past jobs and things, and insert that in the record at this point, when it's finished. I'm going to have this mimeographed and I'll send you a mimeographed copy, when the time comes, which will be in another week or so. [See Appendix]
HESS: That's fine.
RENFROW: That will cover everything, where I was born, when I was born, names of my family, and everything else. This covers everything you want to know about me--it's in this.
HESS: Good, then we will put that in as an appendix. We'll footnote it at this point.
RENFROW: That's right, because I'll have it mimeographed.
HESS: All right, sir. When did you first meet Mr. Truman?
RENFROW: I met him in 1919 right after he came home from the service. He was a Reserve officer, and I was a Reserve officer, and we used to meet, General Vaughan, Colonel John Snyder, and President Truman and I used
to meet, at the Reserve Contact Camps around the state. See, John Snyder was a Colonel in the Reserve, and General Vaughan was, of course, then was a Major, and I was a Captain, and we used to meet around at the Contact Camps, and we all became very good friends.
HESS: Where were you living at that time?
RENFROW: St. Louis. They had Contact Camps at Columbia, Kansas City and other places in the state, so we would always go to those.
HESS: Do you recall anything of interest about Mr. Truman at that time? What was your impression of Mr. Truman at that time when you met him?
RENFROW: Well, of course, I was always very fond of him, because he was such a real, down to the earth individual, I mean, there was no pretense about him at all. At that time he was commissioner of roads of Kansas City. He supervised the construction of all of the roads in and around Kansas City, and spent millions of dollars doing it, and when he was running for President, the press tried to find something wrong with his record, and they never could find, not one scintilla
of evidence of anything improper or wrong in the handling of any of the business that he handled. While he was doing that, he decided that he'd like to run for Senator; and at that time Tom Pendergast in Kansas City was the head of the political organization of the State of Missouri, so he went to see Tom, and asked him about running for Collector.
And Tom said, "Harry, I'm sorry. I'm sorry, I promised that job to somebody else, but you can be Senator."
And President Truman said, "Oh, no, I can't, because I've already promised to support "Tuck" [Jacob L.] Milligan."
He said, "Well, you tell Tuck that you're not going to support him; you're going to run, because Tuck isn't going to be elected anyhow."
So he did tell Tuck and ran for Senator.
Now, what you don't know about Harry Vaughan, I'm sure you don't know, I'm sure he wouldn't tell you, but I'll tell you, that the warm friendship between General Vaughan and President Truman came during that first campaign for Senator, when Harry Vaughan mortgaged his home to get money enough to buy stamps to send
letters out supporting Truman for Senator.
HESS: This was in '34, the first time.
RENFROW: That's right, the first campaign, and any man that would do that will always get the loyal support of the man he does it for, at least I hope he would, and he did in this instance. And President Truman, of course, was nominated and elected and came to Washington and brought Vaughan with him. Vaughan was in his office. Then when the Truman Committee was organized, Vaughan went over to work on the Truman Committee. Then when the war came he went on active duty and wound up in Australia and New Zealand where he was the Provost Marshal of New Zealand. Then he was injured down there in an airplane accident and they treated him down there and he got an infection of his heel, where his accident had occurred, where he was hurt, and he came home to have it treated. Of course, the next time Truman ran, why, Vaughan worked for his election again.
There never can be any doubt in anyone's mind that Harry Vaughan is one of the finest Christian gentlemen that I've ever known, and one of the most honest.
HESS: Moving into your background again, sir, you were graduated as a dentist from Washington University.
RENFROW: From Washington University in 1917.
HESS: And then you practiced dentistry until...
RENFROW: No, not at all, I went in the service. I went into the service prior to the time of my graduation. I went to Jefferson Barracks and enlisted, and when they found out that I was going to graduate in June, they held up the enlistment, because when I graduated they were going to give me a commission, which they did. Then I went into the service, and served in World War I. I was in the 15th Division, 43rd and 57th Infantries; I had a special course at Camp Greenleaf, Georgia on oral surgery and military training. Then when the war was over I went back to St. Louis in 1919 , although I had served in a Regular Army division, and the colonel wanted me to go to the Philippines with him, where my regiment was going, but I didn't lose anything in the Philippines, so I didn't go with them.
Then when I got home, why, I started practicing. I guess I have about all the honors any one dentist could ever accumulate. I'm a fellow of the American
College of Dentists; I'm a fellow of the International College of Dentists; I am a past president of the International College of Dentists; I'm a master of the International College of Dentists; I'm past president and member of the Pierre Fauchard Academy and I received a gold medal from that Academy. I have the Omicron Kappa Upsilon Key from Washington University, the highest scholastic key that a dentist can obtain, and I have about all the honors that any one dentist can accumulate.
HESS: And did you practice dentistry until the time of the Second World War?
RENFROW: Until 1941 when I came back into the service.
HESS: Where did you serve in the Second World War?
RENFROW: Well, I was due to go to Fort Leonard Wood, as oral surgeon at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, but the commanding general of the Dental Corps at that time was General Leigh Fairbank, and he said, "You're not going to Fort Leonard Wood. You're coming to Washington. I've got a job for you there that I want you to do."
And I was assigned to the Selective Service in 1941, and served in Selective Service in the Medical Division,