Oral History Interview with
Chief Examiner, US Bureau of the Budget, 1943-47; Deputy to the Assistant
to the President of the United States, 1947-49; Administrative Assistant
to the President of the Untied States, 1949-53; Labor arbitrator since
1953, including Organizational Disputes Arbitrator, Industrial Union Department,
AFL-CIO, 1955-70, and member, National Mediation Board, from 1970 until
retirement in 1980.
David H. Stowe
June 24, 1989
Niel M. Johnson
[Notices and Restrictions | Interview
Transcript | List of Subjects Discussed | Additional Stowe Oral History
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
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 It may not be published in full except by permission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 July, 1991
Harry S. Truman Library
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and Restrictions | Interview Transcript
| | List of Subjects Discussed Additional Stowe Oral History Transcripts]
Oral History Interview with
David H. Stowe
June 24, 1989
Niel M. Johnson
JOHNSON: We're going to discuss some anecdotes and some items that may
not be on the other interviews that have been recorded in the past.
We've been talking, Mr. Stowe, about some security things at the White
House, and I thought perhaps I could start by asking you again about security
provisions for President Roosevelt during World War II. You mentioned
a ramp and a small shelter, I think, under what was it, the west wing?
STOWE: The east wing.
JOHNSON: I don't believe that's on tape anywhere. So, do you want to
talk a little more about that again, about Roosevelt and provisions for
STOWE: Well, as I understand it, during World War II, there were no arrangements
for bomb shelters in the White House itself, but that a tunnel had been
constructed from the east wing of the White House over into the Treasury
Department where there was a deep vault. Since it was a tunnel and on
an incline, no stairs as I understood it, they could wheel the President,
in his wheelchair into that in the event of necessity. I never saw it;
I never went in it,
but I understand it was still there at the time we
renovated the White House.
JOHNSON: And a small shelter under that east wing?
STOWE: Under the east wing, there subsequently was built a relatively
small shelter. It was about the equivalent of two rooms. It would have
been adequate for a minor type of attack, but would have been useless
in the point of view of a ground zero atomic attack.
JOHNSON: That was there until the renovation in 1948?
STOWE: Until the renovation.
JOHNSON: What about the Map Room? It's still not clear to me whether
the Map Room was in one of these secure areas, or whether there was any
special protection around the Map Room. Do you remember the Map Room at
STOWE: No, I don't. George Elsey and Clark Clifford were familiar with
JOHNSON: You mentioned that you were the only one at the White House
who was designated by President Truman to deal with atomic energy information.
Is that right?
STOWE: That's right.
JOHNSON: Sort of like a Q clearance.
STOWE: So I was informed by the Atomic Energy Commission some time later
when they wanted me to do something for them, under the impression I had
a Q clearance. Then they found out I hadn't, but that I had this special
clearance. They did, later, give me a Q clearance, but that was after
JOHNSON: I think you mentioned that the Atomic Energy Commission security
people did put a recording device on your telephone.
JOHNSON: Is that the only one in the White House that you knew about,
that tape recording?
STOWE: It was the only one I knew of.
JOHNSON: It's the only recording device that you know of that was in
the White House when Truman was there?
STOWE: And after that one caught on fire, I didn't use it either.
JOHNSON: Do you want to just say a little more about that, why and how
that was installed in your office?
STOWE: Well, they put it in one of these cabinet-like things that they
often have, with silver carafes
standing on them in Government offices.
Apparently, they forgot to bore any holes in the back for air circulation,
and after I turned it on a couple times, and was running it, it got a
little hot in there and caught on fire. Later they came over and bored
some holes in the back of that stand, but I didn't use it much after that.
JOHNSON: Well, you were only supposed to use it when you were conversing
with someone, and something sensitive came up on the phone?
STOWE: Right. And partly being for my own protection.
JOHNSON: You know, we've been asked if we have any knowledge of the wiretaps
that the FBI did apparently on Tommy Corcoran. Do you have any knowledge
STOWE: No. I don't know if anybody in the White House outside of my secretaries
know about this machine either, because it was handled by the AEC. I think
I told you they came and checked all around once or twice a week, checking
for any kind of bugs that might be anywhere around there.
JOHNSON: The AEC security people?
STOWE: Yes. This originally started when I was assigned
the job of working
with the Atomic Energy Commission on a report. I can't think of the name
of that commission now, but Bill Davis was the chairman of it. It was
a Presidential commission on atomic energy, and because of the sensitivity
of some things this commission was working on, and because of my assignment
by the President to work with them, the AEC decided I had to be cleared.
And from then on everything that came to the White House on atomic energy
they apparently dealt with me.
JOHNSON: Okay, so you were the contact at the White House on atomic energy.
STOWE: So far as I know, there was no one else. In those days it was
so secure, you didn't know who might be dealing with it.
JOHNSON: I don't think there's been anything in particular in these other
interviews that deal with renovation of the White House. Did you have
anything that you wanted to add about the renovation that we might put
STOWE: One or two anecdotes. The President, after he had built the Court
House out in Kansas City I guess fancied himself as quite a construction
expert. He very wisely had set up a commission, because, as he
people didn't like what was being done, they'd blame him. This way, Congress
appointed a commission and if the people didn't like it, they'd blame
the commission. But he used to go over there almost every day after work
and look around and check the job out, until General [Major General Glen
E.] Edgerton called me once or twice and said, "For goodness sake, can't
you keep him away; he thinks he's rebuilding the court house out there."
There's another anecdote. I went over on many of these trips with him
because one of the things I wanted to see each time was how they were
doing with the shelter. I remember we were up in what later would be his
bedroom, and as I recall it, the bathroom was sort of a long room with
washbasins and a commode that ran like a little ell. I think I'm correct
in that. Anyway, I heard him one day in there just plain explode, "Who
the hell thought this up?" I go in there and in the little ell where the
commode was, they had placed a safe in the wall, so the only way you could
get at the combination would be to sit on the commode and turn the combination.
Now, I don't know whether he had that taken out or not, but he sure thought
that was the dumbest thing he ever saw in his life. It may still be there
for all I know.
JOHNSON: Anything else about renovation before we leave that subject?
STOWE: I think he was really very, very much concerned that it be put
back exactly as it was. Edgerton, I think, did a magnificent job of marking
everything and putting it back. My understanding is that with the exception
of one or two minor pieces, and the major change in the grand stairway,
which was a great advantage, the house, when it was put back in, was almost
exactly as it was before.
JOHNSON: You mentioned that when Mr. Truman was at the Blair House, there
was a place where he would read the morning paper before he went out on
his stroll. Do you want to describe the situation there and then that
attempted assassination which got you into the security picture again?
STOWE: There was a little room on the front of the Blair House, or Blair-Lee,
which is on the corner right next to the Court of Claims. There was a
desk and a chair, a few things in a small room; he would go in there and
read his morning paper before he went on walks with the Secret Service.
The Secret Service had become concerned that the Blair House was susceptible
[to assault], since there were only about ten feet and nothing but a little
between the sidewalk and the house. They were concerned that
somebody might throw things into the window, a Molotov cocktail or something
of that nature. They had been experimenting with how they could protect
the first floor particularly, and part of the second floor, because of
the angles they had discovered from atop Old State and from an office
building back on the back side, which might permit a sharpshooting type
of thing. They'd been working on this, and they finally called me up one
day, and I guess that was because I had found some money for them one
other time because of my former budget connections, or maybe because we
had been working together; I don't recall at that time exactly what our
relationships were in this area. They said that they had found a screen--they
couldn't put bullet-proof glass in because it was too heavy for the house--but
they had found a screen that they could put on those front windows that
would withstand whatever poundage that they were concerned about somebody
throwing things in. So I asked them the name of the company and they said
it was called, as I remember, the Psychiatric Screen Company. At that
point I said, "No way, we're not going to put up psychiatric
screens on the Blair House because the newspaper people would get hold
of it and they'll
say, 'Hey, they've got the President behind psychiatric
screens.' Forget it, and try to find something else that will serve your
About two weeks later I was in Jack Hunt's restaurant, which is just
a block up on Pennsylvania Avenue, when a waiter came back and said, "Mr.
Stowe, there's been a shooting down the street." I said, "Let them shoot."
He said, "But Mr. Stowe, it's at the Blair House." With that, I got out
of that restaurant in a hurry; Jack swears I turned over two tables going
out. I got on down the street and instead of stopping at the Blair House
I rushed right up to my office in Old State; I got the president of the
company that manufactured the Psychiatric screens and told him I guess
he'd heard it on the radio by then, but told him about our problem. He
said he'd have a man down the next morning to measure the windows and
that he would then stop the factory and make a run, a special run of screens,
for the Blair House. Then I could relax, because I had visions of something
happening and that order being pigeon-holed on my desk.
JOHNSON: So those were put up then rather promptly?
JOHNSON: Those special screens that fit on the outside of
JOHNSON: I think perhaps it's not on the record about the National Security
Resources Board, and your job of realigning personnel, rotating them,
and I guess firing people. Would you want to say a little more about that
particular job that you had?
STOWE: Well, the National Security Resources Board was transferred from
the Department of Defense to the Executive Office of the President and
became in effect like the Budget Bureau and the Council of Economic Advisers,
a Presidential staff operation. [Arthur M.] Hill, who was president of
the Greyhound Bus Company, had been chairman of the committee, but he
resigned; so the President had to appoint someone to run the National