Breadcrumb

  1. Home
  2. Library Collections
  3. Oral History Interviews
  4. J. Thomas Schneider Oral History Interview

J. Thomas Schneider Oral History Interview

Oral History Interview with
J. Thomas Schneider

Chairman, Munitions Board Inter-Agency Committee on Military-Contractor Relationship, 1949-50; Chairman, Munitions Board Industry Advisory Committee on Military-Contractor Relationship, 1949-50; Chairman, Personnel Policy Board, Department of Defense, 1950-51, and Assistant Secretary of Commerce for International Affairs, 1952-53.

Washington, D.C.
January 10, 1973
by Jerry N. Hess

See also J. Thomas Schneider Papers finding aid

[Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | List of Subjects Discussed]

 


Notice
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. [45]) within the transcript indicate the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview.

RESTRICTIONS
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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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, 1983
Harry S. Truman Library
Independence, Missouri

[Top of the Page | Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | List of Subjects Discussed]

 



Oral History Interview with
J. Thomas Schneider

 

Washington, D.C.
March, 1977
by Jerry N. Hess

 

[1]

HESS: All right Mr. Schneider, this morning let's start by discussing your background a little bit. Tell me where you were born, a few of the positions that you have held before your service with the Truman administration?

SCHNEIDER: Well, I was born in Cedar Hill, Robertson County, Tennessee, on June 2nd, 1895. I went to public schools in my hometown until I went to college at the University of the South, Sewanee, Tennessee, between 1913 and 1917,

 

[2]

from which I graduated with a bachelor of arts degree in 1917.

Immediately upon graduation I took the examinations for a commission in the Regular Army, and in the interval I applied for and attended the second officers training camp at Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia, but about a week or so before that camp was to complete the course in the latter part of November, I was informed of my appointment and was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Regular Army, which I accepted.

From there I went to the heavy artillery school for young Regular Army officers at Fort Monroe, Virginia, and graduated from that in the spring of 1918, and immediately joined the 62nd Artillery Regiment, which was an artillery regiment at that time based in the Presidio in San Francisco, California, and then in a

 

[3]

few months the regiment left to go overseas.

We arrived in France, I believe, in the early part of, June, 1918, and a short while after that I went to the front for a time with a French artillery regiment and came back and joined the regiment just before the armistice as it was in training for the front.

I was then detached from the regiment and went into an officers replacement camp, and from there, after a week or so, I was ordered to General Headquarters at Chaumont, where I became Information Officer, General Staff, and aide to the Chief of Staff, Major General [James W.] McAndrew.

After a short time I was appointed Acting Secretary of the General Staff, GHQ AEF, and thus became acquainted with General [John] Pershing. General Pershing and his General

 

[4]

Headquarters removed from Chaumont to Paris (45 Avenue Montaigne) during the Paris Peace Conference and I went along as Secretary of the General Staff. During this period, General Pershing's brother James, came from New York for a visit and I conducted him over the battlefields and visited the headquarters on the Rhine of the U.S. and Allies, I returned with General Pershing and his headquarters, on the Leviathan, arriving in New York City on September the 13th, Pershing's birthday, of 1919. (He was then, I believe, 59 years of age.)

A couple of months after that General Pershing informed me that the President and Secretary of War [Newton D.] Baker had requested him to make a tour of military camps and posts, as well as principal industrial areas which had been engaged in war production; and General

 

[5]

Pershing asked me to set up the trip and to accompany him and his staff on that trip; which I did, and which lasted from just before Thanksgiving of 1919 until sometime in March of 1920. There were about 10 staff members in the party, all of whom served on Pershing's staff in France, including Generals Fox Conner, Moseley, Fiske, Colonels George C. Marshall, John Quekemeyer and myself.

General Pershing and his staff were entertained by civic bodies and others throughout the trip which covered practically every state in the Union and most of the major cities. We returned to Washington in the early spring, and just before we arrived in Washington, General Pershing told me he had rented "Highwood," Mrs. Henry C. Corbin's estate in Chevy Chase, Maryland, and asked me to become a member of his personal household. (The General was a

 

[6]

widower.) He also had with him a Major John G. Queckemeyer, and we three lived together there until Pershing retired in September of 1924.

I then was stationed in Boston, Massachusetts, where I took advantage of the opportunity to go to the Harvard Law School and obtained a law degree in 1925.

From there I went to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, to the Army Field Artillery School for a year and remained there with the 1st Field Artillery Regiment for the following year and thereafter was assigned to the United States Military Academy and taught law and field tactics to the cadet corps, 1927-1929. I then reluctantly resigned my Regular Army commission in December of 1929 and went with a law firm in New Jersey. The Army by then had been reduced to less than

 

[7]

11,000 officers and slightly over 100,000 enlisted men and appeared to offer no future.

After a few years there I went to New York, became a member of the New York bar and remained there during the early years of the "Great Depression." In 1934, I became Special Assistant to the Secretary of the Interior (Harold Ickes) and made a survey in this country and in most foreign countries, including a trip to Western Europe and the Scandinavian countries, dealing with the field and history of the preservation of historic sites and buildings. This was made possible through a grant from John D. Rockefeller. And in connection with and as a result of this, I obtained legislation through Congress setting up an appropriate and existing authority in the National Park Service to administer a program in the United States covering the subject. Most

 

[8]

of the Federal Government's activities in this field developed from that legislation and has since formed an important division in the National Park Service.

HESS: Before we move on, tell me a little about General Pershing, just your evaluation of the man and what kind of a person was he?

SCHNEIDER: Well, when I first met him at GHQ -- I might say at this point that I happened to be ordered to GHQ by a turn of the wheel of fortune as I knew no one there at the time. I didn't learn this until a few years later. The Chief of Staff desired someone to become his aide -- primarily office aide -- and he requested the Adjutant General to send over the personnel file of a few young Regular Army officers, and mine happened to be one of those the Adjutant General selected and the

 

[9]

Chief of Staff happened to pick mine out of the few that the Adjutant General sent over. I knew no one at GHQ at the time and it was just a very lucky break for me. But General Pershing, of course, as everyone knows, was a very stern disciplinarian in the military, and publicly gave an impression of being a very stern man, which I say not by criticism but really as a very commendable trait for a distinguished military leader. But he was very efficient, he was a tremendous administrator, and, of course, I don't have to add my comments as to what a great military leader he was, and what a great organizer he was, as that's all a matter of well-known history, but I don't believe that the public as a whole had any idea at all, then or now, of what Pershing was like as a man.

 

[10]

In his home he was always a perfect gentleman. I lived in his home for approximately five years as a young officer, and, although I'm certain I gave him many reasons to do otherwise, he never spoke an unkind word to me in the entire five years I lived in his home with him. He was always considerate of me, and I was very fond of him, and he always gave every evidence of being fond of me.

I happen to think of one little incident, among many that I could think of, which I think shows the character and consideration of the man. I accompanied him to a very high official dinner at the British Embassy during one very cold, snowy, wintry night, and I had a cold, and very foolishly I didn't take an overcoat with me. But we came out of the Embassy after the dinner, somewhat after 10 o'clock, he said, "Schneider, where is your overcoat?"

 

[11]

I said, "I didn't bring one, General."

"Well," he said, "you have a cold haven't you?"

I said, "Yes sir."

He said, "Here, put on my overcoat."

Well, I objected, but he made me put on his overcoat to protect myself while driving out to Chevy Chase.

Well, that is just one minor illustration of the kind of man he was in his personal relationships with his friends and the people who lived in his home.

I kept in touch with him quite frequently after he retired, and during the last several years of his life he was at Walter Reed Hospital and I called on him there any number of times, and he was always alert and interested in everything almost right up to the end.

 

[12]

HESS: All right, now moving back to your own career, was your next position as counsel of the Reconstruction Finance Corporation?

SCHNEIDER: Yes, I came back from Europe in the early spring of 1934 and was engaged in communicating with several foreign countries which I had not visited for the purpose of learning what those countries had done in this particular field of the preservation of historic sites and buildings and objects of antiquity.

During the course of my time spent in gathering further information along this line, and at the same time writing a report to the Secretary of the Interior, and to the President, on my study of the subject, I met a classmate of mine from Harvard Law School who was then General Counsel of the Reconstruction Finance Corporation. He said that the Congress had

 

[13]

recently authorized the RFC to finance business enterprises and this being the period during the depression when businesses, large and small, were becoming bankrupt for lack of financing. The General Counsel asked me to come over and be counsel to this new setup, which I did. I remained in Washington for approximately a year and a half, and then Mr. Jesse Jones, the chairman of the RFC and James B. Alley, the General Counsel I referred to, asked me to go to New York to become assistant agency counsel to the RFC office in New York, which covered the states of New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut, as well as certain other jurisdictions, particularly the Caribbean and such countries as that. I was told that I would later be made the Chief Counsel, which I was in about a year. I was there during the

 

[14]

tremendous buildup by the RFC of the preparedness program, preceding World War II, which involved the building of billions of dollars of defense plants, financing of government contractors, the procurement of supplies, storing supplies of critical materials, as well as the liquidation of prior loans to banks, mortgage loan companies, business enterprises, and others. For example, I had a something to do with the purchase of tin from the Dutch East Indies before those islands were taken over by the Japanese. I arranged for the storage of all this in warehouses in Brooklyn. And there was tremendous other projects of that kind. I handled and closed a loan of 450 million dollars to the British Government.

I stayed with the RFC, and at the same time attempted to get back into the military on active duty when we got actively in the war,

 

[15]

but Mr. Jones and the people of the RFC would not approve my going on active duty, because they said I was doing a much more important job for them than I would do as a colonel in the Army, which was what I was offered.

So, I stayed with them, with the RFC, up until the latter part of 1942 when I became secretary and general counsel of Standard Brands, a large industrial manufacturing and food processing company. And I remained with Standard Brands until after Harry Truman was elected President of the United States in his own right in 1948.

HESS: '48?

SCHNEIDER: In 1948. I think it of interest at this point to state how I happened to come to Washington.

 

[16]

Prior to the election, when President Truman was elected in his own right, there were one or two staff people close to the President whom I knew, and I think everybody had some doubts as to whether Mr. Truman would be elected or not, and I remember asking one or two of them what they were going to do, and they said they didn't know if Mr. Truman was defeated, although they still thought he would be elected. "Well," I said, "if he's defeated, you come on up here, I'll either give you a job or get you a job."

So, after Mr