Oral History Interview with
Executive assistant, War Assets Administration, 1946-48; executive officer, Office of Educational Exchange, 1948, asst. chief, Division of Libraries and Institutes, 1949-50, U.S. Dept. of State; director of personnel, Economic Stabilization Agency (also OPS), 1951; deputy director, Office of Educational Exchange, 1951-52, asst. administrator, International Information Administration, 1952-53, director, International Educational Exchange Service, U.S. Dept. of State, 1953-58; and subsequent service as a Foreign Service officer, 1958-68.
Russell L. Riley
Irvine , California
February 22, 1974
by James R. Fuchs
[Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | List of Subjects Discussed]
These are transcripts of tape-recorded interviews conducted for the Harry S. Truman Library. A draft of each transcript was edited by the interviewee but only minor emendations were made; therefore, the reader should remember that these are essentially transcripts 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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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 March, 1976
Harry S. Truman Library
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Oral History Interview with
Russell L. Riley
February 22, 1974
by James R. Fuchs
FUCHS: Mr. Riley, I'd like for you to give me a little bit of your background: where you were born, your education, your life up to the time you entered Government service which, I believe, was back around the middle thirties.
RILEY: I was born on a farm near Mendon, Missouri, in Chariton County about 100 miles east of Kansas City on the Santa Fe line on February 11, 1911. My father was a farmer. A year later we moved to Nebraska and my father
became a cowboy on a big ranch in northwestern Nebraska in McPherson County, 75 miles northwest of North Platte. He finally became the foreman of that ranch and lived there until I got big enough to go to school. Then he thought I'd better get into school. I went awhile in 1918, but the flu epidemic knocked that out, and, so, in 1919 we moved back to Missouri so we could be closer to school. I went to country schools and small town schools in Missouri, and finally graduated from high school in Mendon, having gone earlier to Brunswick, Mo. grammar school. That's a small town south of Mendon. I graduated from the University of Missouri with a Bachelor's Degree in Business Administration in 1934. I was actually in the class of 1933, but I worked my way through school, so I didn't get my degree until
1934. I worked for Montgomery Ward at the time I finished school. Then I worked for a small Mendon mercantile company up in Mendon, Missouri for a short time. In 1934 I went to work for Swift and Company working out of the St. Joseph, Missouri office as a salesman, and traveled in southern Nebraska, northern Kansas, southwestern Iowa, and northwestern Missouri for a year or so. After which I had a territory in Chillicothe, Missouri. Worked there a couple of years and quit that job around the first of October, 1937 to go to work in Washington.
FUCHS: How did you happen to do that?
RILEY: Well, when I was at the University of Missouri I took a Civil Service exam, a clerk's exam, and I passed it. Didn't pass it very high, I guess. But over a period of
from 1931 to 1937 I received a half dozen or so inquiries from the Civil Service Commission as to whether I wanted a job working in Washington and I always said "no." And finally in 1937 I got an inquiry saying, "This is the last time we're going to ask you if you want to work for the Government, on this examination. If your answer is 'no' we're going to take you off of the list."
FUCHS: Were these other inquiries for specific bureaus?
RILEY: I don't remember. I honestly don't remember what any of them were. But I went to work for the Railroad Retirement Board, at that point, in Washington, October 7, 1937 as a clerk. And I worked there a while and was still a clerk but I finally got into the economic section because of my education and experience.
Then about three and a half months after I went to work there, I got fired on 24-hours notice along with 472 other people because the Railroad Retirement Board made a mistake in its bookkeeping system and ran out of money in the first part of January, 1938. All probationary appointees, all temporary appointees, and some permanent appointees just got laid off on 24-hours notice. And that same day I was interviewed by somebody from the Social Security Board in Baltimore and I never missed a day's pay. Just transferred over there, still as a clerk, and went to work over there in the personnel office.
FUCHS: Were they looking for employees or were they just trying to pick up employees that were being laid off? How did they happen to interview you?
RILEY: They interviewed everybody who was laid off. They were looking for employees in Baltimore, old Candler Building in Baltimore. It was a big operation IBM set up. They were really establishing the Social Security Board.
FUCHS: They were just getting started?
RILEY: That's right. I've forgotten -- they'd been underway for a year, 18 months, something like that. So, I worked over there from January '38 until February '39. Then I transferred to the Washington office of the Social Security Board and became Chief of Clerical Placement for the entire Social Security Board. Shortly after that I was offered a job to come back to the Railroad Retirement Board at a substantial increase. I was employed to go to Kansas City,
which was near my home, to help set up the regional office of the Railroad Retirement Board. So I went there in June of 1939 and we got that thing pretty well underway. Around the first of October, a fellow came out from Washington and said, "I have kind of a mess that needs cleaning up in Chicago, would I go to Chicago?" Of course, I didn't think that was a very good idea. I was close to home and I'd seen enough of the Government -- been fired once and only been with it two and one-half years -- I'll never leave home again; I might not get money to get back home: But, anyway, they gave me a two grade promotion to go to Chicago. I went to Chicago and .worked there for four to six months, something like that. Then they asked me if I'd transfer back to Washington with the Railroad Retirement Board and I did in
April of 1940. Then I worked there until March of '41, at which time I went on active duty with the military. I was a Reserve officer.
FUCHS: I have read that you were with the Office of Export Control for a while in '41. Were you on active duty then?
RILEY: I was on active duty. As a matter of fact, I was hired and interviewed by the Army Air Corps to go on duty in their personnel office in March of '41 and as they were processing my papers to call me to active duty, a field artillery colonel whom I'd known in reserves, a Regular Army colonel, told me that he was active in setting up the Office of Export Control, and if I was going on active duty why didn't I come to work for him. I told him I'd made a commitment to the Army Air
Corps and he said, "I'll handle that." And he did. He got my orders changed. So I went to work for the Office of Export Control in March and worked with them until they became demilitarized in about September or October of that fall. General Russell Maxwell was the head of this organization, and at that point he went somewhere and they brought in, I believe it was Milo Perkins from Texas, a bag manufacturer, to head up this export control and all of us who were in military decided we'd rather be in military organizations than we would in a civilian organization, so we sort of abandoned ship.
I went back to the Air Corps and said, "Here I am. I didn't go to work for you when you wanted me to, but what about it?"
They said, "Sure, we still got a job for you."
So I went to work for the Army Air Corps, and very shortly thereafter I was made Deputy Director of Civilian Personnel for the entire Army Air Corps. I stayed there until February of 1943 at which time I petitioned out of there and got back to my first love which was the field artillery.
FUCHS: Had you been in the field artillery reserves?
RILEY: I'd been in reserves since 1933. I was commissioned in the field artillery reserves in 1933.
FUCHS: This was out of ROTC?
RILEY: This was out of ROTC at the University of Missouri, that's right. I was always a great admirer of one Colonel Truman, as a matter of fact, also being an artillery man from
FUCHS: Did you go to summer camps?
RILEY: Yes, I went to summer camp in Des Moines in '36, 1934 and '35 I couldn't go, I couldn't afford time off. And '36 I went. In '37 I was new in Washington, I hadn't gotten established there. '38 I went to camp in Fort Hoyle, Maryland, and '39, I was too busy trying to get the Social Security Board and the Railroad Retirement Board going and I couldn't afford to go to camp.
FUCHS: I've forgotten the last year it was that Mr. Truman went. Of course, after he became Senator he didn't go much.
RILEY: We never were in the same organization . I was in some Omaha outfit. He was connected
with the same general area.
FUCHS: He went to Fort Riley and that place in Minnesota.
RILEY: Fort Snelling, yes. I was commissioned at Fort Riley, Kansas, of course, at the