Numbers appearing in square brackets (ex. ) within the transcript indicate the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview.
Opened June, 1977
Oral History Interview with
July 14, 1975
by Richard D. McKinzie
MCKINZIE: What prompted you, as a young man, to seek out a Government career?
RINGLAND: I shall have to go back to when I was 18 years of age. I had just finished school in Montclair, New Jersey, and was interested in what I had read. There was not much known or published at that time about forestry. I was fortunate to be one of the young men recruited by Gifford Pinchot, who at that time was the chief of the Division of Forestry in the Department of Agriculture. He later carried through to what is known today as the U.S. Forest Service.
I was in that Service under interesting conditions which I'll not detail here, but I do feel that experience was very stimulating. There was one phase of it where Mr. Pinchot had meetings about once a month in his residence. Distinguished men in public service would come and talk informally about some of the problems related to the conservation of natural resources. You must remember that at that time (the turn of the century), it was the era of exploitation rather than conservation, but it was a very fortunate thing we had men of Pinchot's vision to marshal public opinion. To see what could be done to the great public domain is what was in mind. Pinchot believed that vast areas, mostly in the West, should be put under some form in the public interest.
These meetings were known as the "Baked Apple Club," because Mr. Pinchot always served baked apples and gingerbread. What impressed
me as a young man was listening to men like James [ Rudolph ] Garfield, [ Frederick Haynes ] Newell, and even Theodore Roosevelt himself. He came one time, after a walk with Pinchot, wearing a sweater and talking in his vigorous manner. It was he, with Pinchot alongside of him, who really made conservation as we know it today. I think sitting there and listening to these men did instill one with an idea of public service, and I was fortunate to carry on in that service until the outbreak of World War I, when I went overseas. It was after the armistice of 1918 that I was ordered home; but I didn't want to go home. I was completely independent of any responsibility. I had in mind trying to go across Siberia to Vladivostok and going home that way, but by chance I met an old friend in Paris and had dinner with him. He told me he had just joined the American Relief Administration, which was then being organized
by Herbert Hoover, the Allied Director General of Relief. He was about to leave for Prague in Czechoslovakia, and he said, "Why don't you join up?" I went around to the personnel office, and they said they would like to have me go with a destroyer to Archangel in Russia, but wanted to be sure that I was in physical condition. When they saw the result of my examination they said, "No, you cannot go to Russia, but you can go to Czechoslovakia." I was convalescent and they said I could go there because I could get attention if necessary.
I did go to Czechoslovakia and served under inspiring conditions. Fortunately I did know President [ Tomá G. ] Masaryk and his family, and visited them in Lang, their country home; and later [ Edvard ] Ben. s, who succeeded him. Before the liquidation of our mission we were feeding about 600 thousand children a day. The greater
number reflected malnutrition, not starvation, but malnutrition due to war shortages. Here was an example, in my recollection, of how public-spirited were the Czech men and women. They organized committees throughout the whole country, to preside over the kitchens that were set up. We brought in the major supplies to our warehouses and the Czech Government made provision for foods that we did not have. It was an impressive example of public service in a time of need, and I recall that before the war, even under the austere Austrian-Hungarian administration, the social services were well-organized in Czechoslovakia. That stood them in stead when the war was over and it helped a great deal in carrying out our program.
The President's daughter, Dr. Alice Masaryk, was the head of the Red Cross and Children's Welfare. She was a noble woman and an inspira-
tion to the Czech people in their time of need, and certainly to those of us who were cooperating and carrying out these relief projects.
When that was over I was sent to Constantinople because of the situation there that developed due to the defeat of Wrangel's Army, by the Bolshiviki.
This was in 1922, and our task was to help the Russian refugees that came into Constantinople after the defeat with no means of support. They were a source of embarrassment to the Turkish Government. The British and the French had been helping out as well as they could, but there was a hard core left who were in real distress. An appeal was made to Mr. Hoover, who obtained a substantial fund from the Laura Spellman Rockefeller Memorial. This fund was made available for me to carry on relief.
This was done by bringing in a shipload
of basic supplies. Before we actually launched the program, I had made an inspection with the help of Rear Admiral [ Mark Lambert ] Bristol, who was our United States High Commissioner. (We had no diplomatic relations at that time with Turkey.) He and I felt that there would be no end to relief unless provision was made for the evacuation of the people to countries where they could obtain employment. I reported that to the head offices in London and said I felt we should obtain support from the Allies for this evacuation, if we carried out the relief.
I went to Geneva, and with the help of Fridtjof Nansen, the famed Arctic explorer, who was High Commissioner for Refugees for the League of Nations, I was invited to appear before a special meeting of the Council of the League. Our proposal was presented that we were prepared to finance relief, if during that period provision
was made for evacuation. I always remember the pungent remarks of Lord Balfour, who was the British delegate to the League. He said it would be to the indelible shame of the League if it did not cooperate. He offered, on the spot, ten thousand pounds sterling on behalf of the British. The other delegates were sympathetic and Belgium, Brazil, China, Czechoslovakia, Japan and Switzerland supplemented the British contribution. Evacuation was provided for, with aid from the American Red Cross, and provision for social services in the host countries by the American YM and YW Christian Association. We carried out our part in Constantinople.
At the conclusion there were left several thousand refugees who wanted to come to the United States. Admiral Bristol asked me to chair a committee to consult with these men and women, to see if they could take care of
themselves when they got to this country. We finally obtained about 2,000 visas.
The initial costs of transportation was made possible by the American Red Cross. It's interesting to remark that the money was returned by all of them. There was eventually no loss at all. These homeless Russians had the courage and the fortitude to meet extraordinary and trying conditions.
When I finally returned home, I wanted to continue my interest in conservation. That took me into a period which carried on until World War II. Then, because of the background experience I had had in relief work, I went into the State Department and was a consultant to the President's War Relief Control Board (I was later the assistant director). It was set up at the request of Secretary [ Cordell ] Hull to bring some coordination into a time of
confusion. The ethnic groups in this country were very concerned about their relatives and friends overseas who were in distress.
There were commercial organizations here that tried to send packages, but some of them were fly-by-night outfits and none of them could assure delivery. That was when, 1945, the President's War Relief Control Board gave the impetus and the guidance to the creation and organization of CARE. I might remark that President Truman bought the first CARE package. Those packages, I should explain, were surplus Army ten-and-one. They would feed ten men for one day, and there was a great surplus available when the war concluded. We obtaine