Oral History Interview with
Attorney Investigator on the staff of the U.S. Senate Special Committee to Investigate the National Defense Program (Truman Committee), 1941-46.
Wilbur D. Sparks
September 5, 1968 and September 19, 1968
by Jerry N. Hess
[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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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, 1969
Harry S. Truman Library
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Oral History Interview with
Wilbur D. Sparks
September 5, 1968
by Jerry N. Hess
HESS: Mr. Sparks, for the record, would you relate a little of your personal background, such as where you were born, where you were educated, and what positions you held prior to your service on the Truman Committee?
SPARKS: Yes, Mr. Hess. I was born in Missouri, insofar as I know the only other member of the Truman Committee staff besides Mr. William Boyle, who was a Missourian from that staff. My home was Savannah, Missouri, northwest of Kansas City, about seventy-five miles, and I am now fifty years old.
My birth date was October 4, 1918. My father was a lawyer in Savannah, a prosecuting attorney there back about 1913 or '14, a graduate of the University of Missouri Law School, and he was active in State politics during the 1930s. He knew Guy Park, the Governor of Missouri, from the days when Judge Park was judge of the circuit court in the district in northwest Missouri in which Savannah fell. My father served as a member of the state board which governed the School for the Deaf at Fulton, Missouri in the 1930s as an appointee of Guy Park. My mother was a schoolteacher in Savannah, Missouri before she was married, and her origins were down around Warrensburg, Missouri. I graduated from the public schools in Savannah, attended the state university at Columbia, got an A.B. degree there in 1940, and my LL.B. from the law school at the university in 1941. I certainly had every intention of going back to Savannah after my college education was completed and practicing law, probably in association with my father, but
the events of the war intervened and they were directly related to my coming here to Washington, and to my being here still today.
HESS: When did you join the staff of the committee?
SPARKS: The specific event which brought me to the staff of the committee is of some interest I think. I joined the staff on October the 10th, 1941. My father was an active Mason, he was active in most branches of Masonry in Missouri, and became acquainted with Senator Truman as a result of his activity in Masonry. Senator Truman was Grand Master of the Grand Lodge in Missouri in the late '30s, and my father would have been Grand Master of the Grand Lodge a few years after his death in 1941. It takes fourteen years to go through the line and he was about seven or eight years behind Senator Truman. He had known Senator Truman, therefore, as a result of his activity in Masonry, and also because they both were active Democrats. My father had been chairman of the county central committee in Andrew County, and was therefore a
part of the organization and knew Truman as a result of this.
I graduated from law school in 1941 and I took the bar exam in late June or early July, and at about the same time, either shortly before or shortly after I took the exam, I went to St. Louis with my father to attend a meeting of the Grand Lodge. I had been a Mason since I was twenty one, and in 1941, I would have been twenty-two years old. I had never met Mr. Truman before, and my father and I met Mr. Truman walking down the street in St. Louis, the first time there, and my father introduced him to me and told him that I had just graduated from law school and he said, "Well, what are you going to do?"
I said, "Well, I expect to go into the army." I had a student deferment from the draft at that time, and I said, "I expect to go into the army, probably in the fall or winter, and after I get out of the army, I'll be back practicing law with my dad again."
He said, "Between now and the time you go into the army, what's going to happen?"
I said, "I'll be up in Savannah helping in the law office."
He said, "Well, just a few months ago up in Washington, the Senate passed a resolution creating an investigating committee, and I am the chairman of this investigating committee, and I think it would be good experience for you if you'd come back there and work for the committee for a few months. You may never get to Washington again in your life, but I think it would be good for you to and would be helpful to the committee if you'd come back there and work for us for a little while."
Now, in passing, I was told later by both Mr. Truman and by Hugh Fulton, the chief counsel of the committee, that this was the only instance of something like this happening, that in all other instances where people were added to the committee staff, this came about through Fulton rather than through Truman. Of course, I should
also add in passing that Truman added Mr. Boyle to the committee staff, and of course that was an exception to it, but all the others were added as a result of a decision by Fulton.
HESS: He was in charge of hiring the staff?
SPARKS: Fulton was very definitely in charge of hiring the staff, and we can talk about that in considerable detail. He did say to me that day in St. Louis, "Of course, I can't absolutely promise you a job. You'd have to pass muster by the new chief counsel there, Hugh Fulton." I don't believe, based on a very close relationship with Fulton in later years and with some conversations with him along this time, I don't believe that Fulton felt that he was supposed to pass muster on me. I think he felt that this was a young man that Truman, for reasons of his own had offered to bring back to Washington, and put to work for a few months. But I am proud to say that Fulton always claimed that he was never sorry; I don't believe, however,
that he felt that in this instance he was really supposed to say yea or nay on me.
I was very interested in this. I had been in Washington once before when I was sixteen years old and had graduated from high school in 1935, and my parents and I took a trip to the East, again because my father was a Mason. There was a Shrine convention here in Washington in 1935 and we came here and attended that. That was my only time in Washington, and so I was interested in it, as any boy from the midwest would be, a boy who was feeling like a man, having just graduated from law school, and so I looked forward to it. I said, "Yes, I'd like to do this."
He said, "I'll let you know when you should come."
In a month or two after that I received a letter. As I recall, I received a letter from Mr. Clark, Charlie Clark, who instructed me to come to Washington and arrive at a given time and be prepared to stay. I had an automobile and I
put all my worldly possessions in the automobile and came to Washington and arrived here on the 10th of October. I went to Mr. Clark first in room 317. That may have been the only room number in the Senate Office building that I had, but at any rate I went to Mr. Clark. My recollection isn't very good at this time, but I'm pretty sure that he sent me to Hugh Fulton, and within a day or two, I met both Matt Connelly and Bill Boyle. Very shortly after that, within a day, certainly, I was on the committee payroll. I should not say that I was on the committee payroll. In the fall of 1941, only a very few people were on the committee payroll. The committee had started with an appropriation of $15,000 in the spring, and at that time, until early 1942, if my memory is correct, almost all people who were working for the committee were on the payrolls of executive departments. I was on the Securities and Exchange Commission payroll until, again as I recall, January or February, 1942, it was at about
that time that Mr. Truman and members of the committee started to make noises about dollar-a-year men. And I believe that it was because of that that this relationship with the Executive departments ceased. Also, I think, there was another very good reason for ceasing it, and again we can go into this in more detail later. But the committee's resolution was renewed in January 1942 at the beginning of the new Congress, the new session, and it got a large appropriation, and it was not only incumbent on the committee from the standpoint of public relations to start paying its own people at that time. I, however, was working fulltime for the committee, from the 10th or 11th of October on.
HESS: In October of 1941, the same month you joined the staff, the committee issued a report concerning the Office of Production Management, and their co-directors were William S. Knudsen, engineering vice-president of General Motors, and Sidney Hillman, president of Amalgamated Clothing
Workers of America. And as I understand it, there were several people on the Office of Production Management who were in a without-compensation status, and also several dollar-a-year men, which Mr. Truman seemed to take a dislike to.
SPARKS: Mr. Truman got into this subject, I believe, in the fall of 1941 first. I have refreshed my recollection a little bit on this subject by going back and looking at some scrapbooks, which I have, and also looking at a file of press releases, which the committee issued, which I gathered from time to time as they were issued and put in a loose-leaf notebook, which I still have. I believe Mr. Truman and the members of the committee became interested in dollar-a-year men along in the fall of 1941. One of the men in whom they were specifically interested was a man named Philip Reed of General Electric, and Philip Reed was with the old Office of Production Management and was a dollar-a-year man. That is, his
salary was continued to be paid by his company and. he was brought into the Office of Production Management because it was felt that he had special expertise from his services at General Electric. Maybe it was technical expertise, or maybe it was management expertise, but this was the reason that the dollar-a-year men were brought in. They were usually brought in to serve in areas of their own industry. A man from the electrical industry would be brought in to serve in an area dealing with the electrical industry over in the Office of Production Management. This was one basis of objection that the committee had to the dollar-a-year principle. They felt that the people who came, say for illustration, from the electrical industry, would be likely to have ties back into the industry, both in their own company and other companies, which might result in acts of favoritism, or might result in colored opinions which would influence their activities. Now, as a matter of fact, this
principle was carried forward both in the agencies during World War II, and even into the area of the National Production Authority in the 1950s, later on, and still exists today in the Department of Commerce where there are people who came from industry and who are down here for a few years, really on loan from their companies, on the theory that there should be people with expertise from industry who are working in the Government, that these people know the industry best. Today, however, they are on Government salary.
Mr. Truman withdrew his objection in January of 1942. He withdrew this objection to the use of these experts after Donald Nelson, who had been active, and had been in a position of responsibility in the Office of Production Management, and who was made the administrator of the War Production Board, Nelson came before the committee and said, "I need these men, and I believe that safeguards can be put up to prevent their making decisions which will be favorable to their own company, and
can be put up to prevent these situations in which their opinions would be colored by virtue of their own connections with industry."
HESS: Do you recall what safeguards he had in mind?
SPARKS: Not specifically. I am sure that the War Production Board history would show this. I don't remember specifically what safeguards he had in mind. I do know -- I have read recently -- I have clippings in my scrapbooks, which indicates that after Nelson came before the committee and said, "I'm not going to solve these vast problems unless I have assisting me these people from industry." And Truman and the committee withdrew this objection. As a matter of fact, I recently have read some editorials, current contemporary editorials, which praised Truman and the committee for being big enough to stand back and say, "All right, Mr. Nelson, if that's the way you want it, we want to see that you get the kind of assistance you need, and so we won't press on this."
Now, the other objection to dollar-a-year men, was the question of their compensation. Nelson did not stand firm on this. He did start putting some of these men on the Government payroll and changing the dollar-a-year, or without compensation idea, to meet the Truman Committee objections. I don't believe that all these men were taken off dollar-a-year immediately, but over the years, the trend was in this direction, and there were enough taken off immediately so that Mr. Truman and the committee took the pressure off Nelson and off the new WPB, as far as dollar-a-year was concerned, right at that time. The question did arise from time to time over the years, and many times I heard Mr. Truman ask in a committee hearing or in a private interrogation when the activities of a given division or a given section at WPB were under consideration, "Well, now, who is in charge over there. Is he a dollar-a-year man?"
He never got over his suspicions of the
dollar-a-year men, and I think with good reason. He remembered that as long as he was chairman of the committee, and probably longer.
HESS: When he made his so-called "farewell speech" to the Senate on August 7th, 1944, the only person named in a derogatory manner was Mr. Philip Reed.
SPARKS: Mr. Reed was sent to London, as I recall it.