Numbers appearing in square brackets (ex. ) within the transcript indicate the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview.
Opened June, 1974
March 27, 1972
by Jerry N. Hess
HESS: Mr. Sullivan, to begin, will you give me a little of your personal background? Where were you born, where were you educated, and what positions have you held both before your period of service in the Truman administration, and since that time?
SULLIVAN: I was born on June 16, 1899 in Manchester, New Hampshire. I attended the Webster Street Grammar School and the Manchester High School. I entered Dartmouth in 1917 and left the following year to join the United States Navy. At the conclusion of the war, I returned to Dartmouth where I graduated in 1921. In 1924 I received my law degree from Harvard University.
In 1928 I ran for County Solicitor in Hillsboro County, that being the phrase that is usually known as district attorney. I was elected in 1928 and in 1930. I married Priscilla Manning in December of 1932.
In 1934 I ran for Governor against Styles Bridges and was defeated by about 600 votes. I later ran for Governor in 1938 and was beaten more decisively.
In January of '39 I had two clients who had rather serious tax problems. I tried to refer them to a tax counsel in Boston, but they were curious clients in that they never wanted more than one law firm to know anything about their business. So they told me I had better study up on tax law.
To show you how little I understood how bureaucracy worked in Internal Revenue, I wrote the full details of both cases to the Commissioner of Internal Revenue in January of '39. Not having heard from him by the 15th of March I called him and made an appointment to see him, and I came down and we had quite a conversation.
The following week I had a telephone call from Jim Farley asking me if I didn't want to become Assistant Commissioner of Internal Revenue, and I told him that I had no desire for any position with the Federal Government. He said that I had made an impression on Guy Helvering, the Commissioner, and I said that, well, we had just had a knockdown, dragout fight, and Jim said, "Well, I guess he liked the way you fought because he wants you to put on his colors and fight from his corner."
So I told him I wasn't interested, but I'd drop in and thank Mr. Helvering the next time I was in Washington. And Jim said, "Well, then will you come to call on me afterwards," which I did. And they both very strongly urged me to take the position. I was unable to accept the position at that time because these two tax cases were pending, and it was not until the following September when the cases had been settled that I came to Washington and was sworn in on the 3rd of September, 1939. About twenty minutes later England and France declared war on Germany, so right off the bat I was in the middle of things, handling things, which I probably wouldn't have been allowed to touch until I had had at least five year's experience. The result was I had all of World War II before we got in it, all of the war while we were in it, and all the wrap-up of the war. It was a great experience. I wouldn't give up a month of it for anything, and I wouldn't want to do another day of it for a great deal of money.
HESS: Just what were some of your duties? Now, you were Assistant Secretary of the Treasury during this period of time, is that correct?
SULLIVAN: No, I was Assistant Commissioner of Internal Revenue
from the 3rd of September 1939 until the 17th of January, 1940. I was moved over to take the place vacated by Johnny [John W.] Hanes, who had been Under Secretary.
HESS: In the Treasury, is that right?
SULLIVAN: Yes. With the war coming on it became obvious that one of the great tasks was going to be to finance it. Dan [Daniel W.] Bell took Johnny Hanes' title as Under Secretary, and I took Johnny Hanes' responsibility, handling Internal Revenue, all the tax legislation, and procurement and several other bureaus.
HESS: What do you recall about the relationship between Henry Morgenthau, who was Secretary of the Treasury at this time, and President Roosevelt?
SULLIVAN: They were very, very close. I don't think I ever saw greater loyalty than Morgenthau displayed toward FDR.
HESS: And also, about this period of time, Secretary of War Harry Woodring was having a little difficulty with his assistant, Louis Johnson, is that correct?
HESS: Did you get involved in that matter?
SULLIVAN: Yes, they were both friends of mine, and they hadn't spoken to each other for a matter of months. President Roosevelt asked Secretary Morgenthau to try to get them together, and since Morgenthau knew I was a fiend of both of them, he had me sit in with him in the rather curious role, almost as interpreter, because the two men wouldn't speak to each other, and I'd ask them the questions and they'd answer me.
HESS: What seemed to be the basis of their difficulty at that time, and just what did you know about Harry Woodring and Louis Johnson at that point in time?
SULLIVAN: Well, I knew Woodring when he was Governor of Kansas, and I had known Louis Johnson when he was National Commander of the American Legion the same year I was State Commander in New Hampshire. What their difference was, I can't say. I suspect that when Louie took the job as Assistant Secretary, he may have understood that he was going to move up soon as Secretary. As a matter of fact he never did become Secretary of War.
HESS: No, he was Secretary of Defense during the Truman administration. Do you think that the post of Secretary of War had been promised to him by Roosevelt?
SULLIVAN: I don't know.
HESS: But your job mainly was as interpreter between the two silent partners, who wouldn't speak to each other?
SULLIVAN: Between the Secretary of War and his own Assistant Secretary.
HESS: Do you recall any particular incidents where you worked in this capacity, on any particular project, that might illustrate how that relationship worked or didn't work?
SULLIVAN: Well, I think Johnson had charge of industrial development, and I always suspected that he wanted to go ahead faster with rearmament than Secretary Woodring cared to go.
HESS: All right, now moving along to Mr. Truman, what are your earliest recollections of Mr. Truman?
SULLIVAN: I was trying to recall that last night. I can't really remember when I first met him. When I was with the Treasury I handled all legislation except for the bond legislation, and I knew every member of the House and every member of the Senate. I never testified before any committee on which Senator Truman sat, but I had a
speaking acquaintance with him.
HESS: As you know, there was the Truman Committee, the Committee to Investigate the National Defense Program, through which Mr. Truman's name became quite prominent during the Second World War. Do you recall anything about Mr. Truman's handling of that Committee?
SULLIVAN: Yes, it was our feeling that he did a superb job. He wasn't out to crucify anybody; he was out to correct mistakes as they were being made so they would not be repeated.
HESS: In the summer of 1944, Mr. Truman was selected to be the vice-presidential nominee for the Democratic Party. Were you surprised that Mr. Truman was selected at this time? There were several people heavily in the running: Henry Wallace, for one, who was Vice President, and wanted to remain; Jim Byrnes of South Carolina would liked to have had it. Mr. Truman seemed to be sort of a dark horse, an outside man.
SULLIVAN: Well, I think that it was a case of God being good to America. I think Jimmy Byrnes would have made a good President, but I think Harry Truman made a better one.
HESS: What's your view on Henry Wallace? Do you think he
should have been given another chance to serve as Vice President again?
SULLIVAN: I wasn't sorry to see him leave.
HESS: You weren't sorry to see him go. What was the main attitude of most of the men who might be called political forces in their states, about Mr. Wallace?
SULLIVAN: About who?
HESS: About Henry Wallace.
SULLIVAN: I don't believe they felt he really belonged.
SULLIVAN: Fuzzy ideas.
HESS: All right. Did you go to the convention? It was held in Chicago that year.
SULLIVAN: That's right, I was there.
HESS: Do you recall anything in particular about Chicago and that convention?
SULLIVAN: I got the word about 11 o'clock in the morning from Bob Hannegan that the President had decided upon Senator Truman. Believe it or not, in those days, I
knew at least two-thirds of the delegates from all over the country, and I promptly went to Mr. Truman's room, and I congratulated him and I said I thought it would be nice if Mrs. Truman and Margaret sat in the box at the head of the main aisle with me, and I would introduce Mrs. Truman and Margaret to as many delegates as came down that aisle; and that I did. Everybody wondered why I was stopping them and introducing them to Mrs. Truman and Margaret. About an hour later they found out.
HESS: Do you think that might have been the first time that many of the delegates had met Mr. Truman? Was he rather an unknown quantity to many of the delegates?
SULLIVAN: I wouldn't say it was the first time they had ever met Mr. Truman. It certainly was the first time they had ever met Mrs. Truman or Margaret.
HESS: So you thought it was a wise thing to bring the family in and introduce them to the delegates?
SULLIVAN: Yes, I did.
HESS: Do you recall anything about Mr. Truman's efforts during that campaign in 1944?
SULLIVAN: No, I don't.
HESS: Mr. Roosevelt made a number of speeches in that campaign. I recall he caught a cold in New York one time when he rode in an open convertible, and they were in the rain.
SULLIVAN: That's right.
HESS: Then he had a follow-up speech, I believe, to the teamsters, when he mentioned about Fala. But Mr. Truman did make a couple of campaign swings.
Mr. Roosevelt was inaugurated on the South Portico of the White House, I understand.
SULLIVAN: I was there.
HESS: What do you recall about that, was it a pretty cold day?
SULLIVAN: I hadn't seen him since the last week of the campaign, and both Mrs. Sullivan and I were frightfully shocked. There had been such a disturbing change in his appearance that we both felt that he was desperately ill.
HESS: His health had noticeably deteriorated since the campaign, is that right?
SULLIVAN: Very badly.
HESS: And then right after that, he had a difficult job to do when he went to Yalta, just after the inauguration. Then he came back, spent a little time in Washington and then went down to Warm Springs, and on April 12, of 1945, President Roosevelt died. Where were you when you heard the news of President Roosevelt's death, and what were your thoughts and impressions?,
SULLIVAN: I had left the Treasury the last of November in 1944, because I had so many cases in New Hampshire that had been postponed and I had to clean them up. On the day of the President's death, I was in the office of Basil O'Connor, who was head of the American Red Cross as well as the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis. He was trying to persuade me to relieve Harvey Gibson and run the Red Cross for Europe and UK. Basil was an old friend and I was listening, although I had no intention of undertaking that job. The phone rang and Basil said, "It's for you."
I took the phone and this voice said, "Can you be at work at 8 o'clock tomorrow morning?"
And I said, "Who's this?"
He said, "Jim."
I said, "Jim who?"
He said, "Forrestal."
Whenever you talked with Forrestal, he never said "hello" or "goodbye," you were right in the middle of the conversation the minute you picked up the receiver. I said, "No, I can't be at work at 8 o'clock in the morning."
He said, "Be here at 8 o'clock Monday."
I said, "Wait a minute, Jim, what about?"
He said, "Haven't you heard from the President in the last 48 hours?"
I said, "No."
He said, "Did you fill out a blank check when you left the Treasury?"
I said, "Yes, I guess I did."
He said, "Well, he's filled it in and we sent your nomination papers down to Warm Springs this morning, and they're going to suspend the rules of the Senate and you'll be confirmed tonight. Be here Monday morning."
I said, "Wait a minute, as what?"
He said, "Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Air."
So I told Basil what I was in for, and left and returned to the Waldorf and couldn't find any newspapers in the newstand. I inquired why they didn't have any newspapers and they said, "Oh, stick around. There'll be another extra in a minute."
I said, "Another extra? What's happened?"
He said, "President Roosevelt died."
Well, that freed me of any obligation and I returned to Washington and started my law firm.
Two weeks later I had a call from the White House asking me to see President Truman at 11:30. I went over there and he said he wanted to nominate me for Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Air. I assumed that he was making good on a commitment that he thought his predecessor had made to me, and I tried to explain to him that he was under no obligation because the undertaking ran in the opposite direction. It was not a very satisfactory conversation for two minutes, because nobody bothered to tell Truman that Roosevelt had also nominated me for the same job.
HESS: He didn't know that?
HESS: Had Mr. Roosevelt signed the document?
SULLIVAN: I have been told that it was the last time he ever did sign his name.
HESS: The last official document that Mr. Roosevelt signed. All right, getting on into that, what was the date that
you became associated with the Navy?
SULLIVAN: I immediately went over to the Navy, sort of incognito. I was to relieve Artemus Gates who was Assistant Secretary of Air. He was extremely helpful. He gave me an office, which was shared by a lieutenant commander and a WAVE, and to which office he sent all of the material I needed to study up for the job I was about to assume. I was there about two months before leaving to join the Third Fleet. I decided that I wanted to have some experience with the carriers. I had never been a pilot, and I was quite determined that carrier experience was essential for a man who was to take the job I was about to assume. Forrestal wanted me to stay in Washington and be sworn in here, but I was afraid that if I did I'd be assigned some job on the Hill and would never get a chance to be with the Fleet. So out I went and I took, among others, Vice Admiral Aubrey Fitch, the hero of the battle of the Coral Sea with me. At that time, Admiral Fitch was Chief of the Bureau of Aeronautics, and he had all the papers to swear me in out there. I was to have been sworn in on the lst of July, but we got dispatches indicating that Gates was on a trip and hadn't been able to get back to be sworn in as Under Secretary, and hence he remained as Under Secretary of Air until, I
don't know, the third or fourth of July, when I was sworn in out there with the Fleet.
HESS: What carrier were you on, do you recall?
SULLIVAN: The Shangri-La.
HESS: What was your impression of the carrier when you first got out there?
HESS: What is your opinion of the place of aircraft carriers in our overall defense capabilities, both then and now?
SULLIVAN: I think it's irreplaceable. Before the atomic bomb, it was the strongest weapon we had. Of course, without the carriers at the time of the Suez crisis, and at the time of Korea, we would have been very much disadvantaged.
HESS: As you know, I believe I sent you xerox copies of the clippings, but in the Post recently there has been an exchange of letters and editorials between Admiral Arthur W. Radford, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, between 1953 and '57, and an editorial writer, concerning the vulnerability and the usefulness of aircraft carriers. The Post equated an attack on a carrier by a torpedo as being similar to an archer shooting an armour-clad knight from his horse,
and said, "There is a school of thought which holds that heavily and expensively defended carriers can be rendered inoperable by comparatively simple Soviet weapons." So this is a continuing argument yet today.
HESS: The vulnerability of carriers.
On April 12, 1945, you knew Mr. Truman quite well, you probably knew him far better than most people, but what was your opinion at that time, when you heard of the death of President Roosevelt, as to what kind of a job you thought this new man would do?
SULLIVAN: Well, it had to be very different. The men had such different styles, and of course, Senator Truman was completely untested and I guess my attitude was that of most people in the Government, one of hopefulness.
HESS: I noticed in the Who's Who that you also served in the Navy during World War I. Correct?
SULLIVAN: That's right.,
HESS: This brings up the point that you've had a life-long association with the Navy. Would you tell me a little bit about the reasons behind your interest in the Navy?
SULLIVAN: In World War I, I was very anxious to get into Marine or Naval aviation, but you had to be twenty-one, and I had not reached that age and I wanted to be in a service where I would be contributing something and yet from which I could transfer to Naval or Marine aviation in the event that the rule was relaxed.
HESS: We have mentioned Mr. Forrestal, and I have looked up the dates on Mr. Forrestal's service. He was Secretary of the Navy from March 19, 1944 to September 17, 1947, he was Secretary of Defense from September 17, 1947 until the date of his resignation on March 28, 1949; and the date of his death at Bethesda Naval Hospital was May 22, 1949. When did you first become acquainted with Mr. Forrestal?
SULLIVAN: My father and I had been very good friends with Frank Knox who was Forrestal's predecessor as Secretary of the Navy. One Sunday in '42 or '43 Secretary Knox phoned me and asked me to lunch with him aboard the Sequoia, the Navy yacht. When I arrived at the Sequoia, he asked me several questions about Forrestal and told me that President Roosevelt had agreed to create the office of Under Secretary of the Navy, and wanted Secretary Knox to take a look at Forrestal. We agreed that after
lunch Knox would pretend to take a nap for an hour and I would have a chance to talk alone with Jim. Shortly thereafter Jim arrived, we had lunch, Secretary Knox went below, and Jim and I talked for about an hour. I liked very much his style, his directness, his candor, and when Secretary Knox came above again I gave him the silent signal with a nod of the head and went below. When I came on deck an hour later Jim had been offered the job by Knox and had accepted.
HESS: As you later held the same position, Secretary of the Navy, just how would you evaluate his performance as Secretary of that service?
SULLIVAN: I think he was excellent.
HESS: How good of an administrator was he?
SULLIVAN: I think he was a good administrator because he didn't mess into it; he let other people run it.
HESS: Is that important?
HESS: Did he have any flaws that may not be generally known, either in his administration or his handling of the Navy?
SULLIVAN: Not that I can recall.
HESS: A good deal has been written about Mr. Forrestal's views regarding unification of the armed services, but in your opinion, what was his stand on the unification of the armed services?
SULLIVAN: He followed it with great reluctance.
SULLIVAN: He felt that it would be damaging to the morale of the individual services.
HESS: What was your view?
SULLIVAN: The same.
HESS: Did you think it was necessary to have some degree of unification, or not?
SULLIVAN: No, I don't see that unification changed anything.
HESS: Well, it did create the National Military Establishment, and then the Department of Defense, so there were administrative changes.
SULLIVAN: Oh, yes, yes.
HESS: But you think that fundamentally, the basic operational
forces at sea and on the land and for the Air Force in the air, were not touched too much?
SULLIVAN: No, I don't think they were.
HESS: If I am correct, the Army seemed to favor unification more than the Navy.
SULLIVAN: Very much more so.
HESS: Very much more so. Now to lead into that I want to read a paragraph written by Secretary Kenneth Royall, who was Secretary of the Army. This was in the Annual Report of the Secretary of the Army for '47-48. It's on page 5:
Interdependence is the very essence of successful unification. Our new venture cannot contemplate that either the Navy or the Army or the Air Force shall have within its own organization all the means of performing its special duties. Unless each of the three Departments willingly comes to rely -- or is required to rely -- on the other Departments for a part of its needs -- unless the idea of complete Departmental self-sufficiency is abandoned, unification is doomed to failure.
Why do you think the Army had a more favorable view toward unification than perhaps the Navy did?
SULLIVAN: Because the Air Force wanted autonomy.
HESS: Because the Air Corps wanted out of the Army and wanted their own forces.
SULLIVAN: That's correct.
HESS: Did you think the Army was opposed to that? Did they want to keep the Air Corps as part of the Army Air Corps?
SULLIVAN: No, I think they were willing to let the Air Force have its own department, if that was the price of unification.
HESS: I have read that part of Mr. Forrestal's early support for the National Military Establishment, that's what we had, of course, in '47 and '48, before the Department of Defense was established, was because he was really opposed to a Department of Defense.
SULLIVAN: I think he was.
HESS: He felt that the National Military Establishment was the lesser of two evils. Is that correct?
SULLIVAN: That's right.
HESS: If Mr. Forrestal was opposed to unification, why was he appointed to head the Department of Defense after it was created? Why was he appointed to be our first Secretary of Defense?
SULLIVAN: Jim's philosophy was that the Department of Defense should be comprised of a very small group of planners and
thinkers. As a matter of fact, when Jim resigned, the entire Department of Defense added up to some fifty or sixty people, including secretaries, I mean, typists and messengers and chauffeurs.
HESS: That's pretty small. How many people do you think they've got over there today?
SULLIVAN: Nobody has ever been able to ascertain that.
HESS: Nobody knows. Do you think that his appointment as Secretary of Defense may have been because Mr. Truman realized that he was opposed to it and if they could get him involved that he might be easier to work with as Secretary of Defense?
SULLIVAN: Well, I never was quite sure about that. Jim's view was that policy decisions, should be made by the Defense Department and the implementation of those policies should be left entirely with the three services.
HESS: Let's spend just a few moments discussing some of the problems that were caused by the mobilization of the Navy after World War II. When you look back on the days just following the war, after the surrender of Japan, there was a great cry, of course, of demobilization, "Bring the boys home," reduce the Armed Forces.
SULLIVAN: That's right.
HESS: But what problems did that cause you, and how did you handle them?
SULLIVAN: Well, one good thing that came out of it was the necessity of finding some way to preserve ships that had to be laid up because you didn't have crews for them. There was a Captain H. G. Donald, who, I believe, was the inventor of the process that became known as "mothballing," and as we went ahead with that process, we found that we could put monitors below decks, between decks, that would register on the main deck the degree of humidity in each different compartment. In that way, we were able in a very inexpensive way to preserve those ships. If we were to need them again, as we did in Korea, they were there ready and waiting.
HESS: You were appointed Under Secretary of the Navy in 1946 and you served in that position until the following year, correct, '46 to '47?
HESS: What were the principal responsibilities of your duties as Under Secretary of the Navy? When you look back on those days, what comes to mind?
SULLIVAN: Well, on the air job, my duties were pretty clear-cut. It was just the air end of the Navy. As Under Secretary, my job was to back up Forrestal and more or less cover the whole field.
HESS: One thing of interest that took place during this period of time was the resignation of Henry Wallace in 1946. In the Forrestal Diaries, there is a memo that starts on page 207, from you, describing the events of a meeting held at the office of Acting Secretary of State Will Clayton. That meeting was held on September 12, 1946. That's the day of Wallace's speech in Madison Square Garden in New York City, and the meeting was attended by Clayton; Captain Robert L. Dennison, the Assistant Chief of Naval Operations; Robert Patterson, Secretary of War, came in a little later; James W. Riddleberger, Acting Head of the Division of European Affairs; and Loy Henderson, Head of the Division of Near and Middle Eastern Affairs. What do you recall about that meeting and the speech that Henry Wallace was to deliver in 1946?
SULLIVAN: Secretary Patterson and Forrestal were summoned to the State Department. In Forrestal's absence from the city, I attended. Acting Secretary Clayton was very much disturbed by a copy of an address that Wallace was to
deliver in New York that night. I read it and concluded that if Wallace gave that speech, either he or Secretary Byrnes would resign. I phoned the White House to get the Press Secretary, Charlie Ross, and I explained to him how serious I thought this was. He agreed to try to do something about it. But at that time, New York was on daylight saving time and Washington was not; and he just didn't have the time to stop the speech, which did result in Wallace's resignation.
HESS: At the time that we met in December, did you tell me that some of the events in the Diaries were incorrect?
SULLIVAN: No, I was speaking about the whole idea of publishing the Diaries. I was very much against it, and tried to dissuade the people from publishing it, in the event I think my judgment was vindicated, because the Diaries as published did not do credit to Jim's memory, or to his record.
HESS: Why do you hold that view? Do you recall offhand what you found objectionable about the Diaries? Any specific instances?
SULLIVAN: They were superficial. You got no feeling of Jim as a real strong man.
HESS: We've taken a few minutes out here, and you have looked over this specific episode. Is that set down fairly accurately?
SULLIVAN: Yes, it is.
HESS: The item beginning on page 207 of the Forrestal Diaries is principally your memo, is that correct?
SULLIVAN: That's right.
HESS: Do you recall if Charles Ross did talk to Mr. Truman?
SULLIVAN: I don't think he did.
HESS: Is this it here on page 209?
HESS: What does it say? "Before 7 o'clock Mr. Clayton had three or four further conversations with Mr. Ross which appeared to be inconclusive to us who heard one side of the conversation. Mr. Clayton remarked that Ross was noncommittal as to whether or not he had discussed the matter with the President and we agreed that it would be unwise or useless to press Ross further on this point."
SULLIVAN: That's right.
HESS: So, you fellows over at the State Department who were meeting in Clayton's office really didn't know if your views had gotten through to the President, is that correct?
SULLIVAN: No, we did not.
HESS: All right. Moving on, you were a member of the President's Commission on Employee Loyalty. This was a Commission organized following the issuance of Executive Order 9806 and it held its first meeting on December 5, 1946. The chairman of the Commission was A. Devitt Vanech, who was Special Assistant to the Attorney General. The main purpose of that Commission was to establish standards for the investigation of Government employees. Do you recall anything about that?
SULLIVAN: No, I do not.
HESS: You mentioned in December that you do not recall serving on that particular Commission.
SULLIVAN: No, I do not.
HESS: Do you recall anything about the problem at that time of trying to find disloyal workers in Government? This was before (Joseph R.) McCarthy, before the McCarthy era,
but after the war there were problems of trying to find if there were subversives in the Federal Government.
SULLIVAN: I think it was not a big problem.
HESS: You were a member of the "Little Cabinet" for awhile as Under Secretary. Were there Little Cabinet meetings held where various under secretaries would meet, State Department, Treasury Department?
SULLIVAN: I never attended one.
HESS: Would it have been helpful if such meetings were held, if you could have gotten together with people on the same level in the other departments?
SULLIVAN: I don't think so.
HESS: Sometimes this is pointed out as an administrative failure of the Truman administration, and that perhaps if such meetings had been held, better communications would have been established and would have been available. But speaking as a man who was a member of the Little Cabinet you do not think that would have been advantageous?
SULLIVAN: No, I do not.
HESS: Do you know if there was any move to start such meetings?
HESS: In his press conference on August 21, 1947, Mr. Truman announced the appointment of Kenneth C. Royall to be Secretary of the Army; Stuart Symington to be Secretary of the Air Force, and yourself to be Secretary of the Navy. In your opinion, why were you selected to succeed Mr. Forrestal in that position?
SULLIVAN: Well, I'd sort of worked up through the chairs as the Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Air, and as Under Secretary.
HESS: What were your principal responsibilities as Secretary of the Navy? When you look back on those days what comes to mind?
SULLIVAN: Well, throughout my entire experience in the Navy, I handled most of the matters on the Hill, in all three jobs.
HESS: Congressional liaison?
HESS: All right, two major questions: How did you handle that, and why did you receive those assignments? Were you better acquainted with people on the Hill?
SULLIVAN: They all knew what I had been doing at the Treasury, and I had handled for five years of work with Congress, while representing the Treasury Department.
HESS: You had had five years of experience in doing the job.
SULLIVAN: Before I went over to the Navy.
HESS: Would you also say that was five years of cultivating friendships on the Hill? Did this enter in?
SULLIVAN: Of course.
HESS: Just how did you go about handling congressional liaison? That's an important subject.
SULLIVAN: The things I was working on in those days were tremendously important, so important that every member of the House and Senate in both parties was vitally interested in what I was doing, and I got to know almost all of them.
HESS: One thing that you mentioned to me when I was here in December was the difference between the way Mr. Truman handled legislative matters and the way Mr. Roosevelt handled legislative matters, and you mentioned Mr. Roosevelt's special assistance to the Navy in matters of legislation.
SULLIVAN: Well, you see, President Roosevelt was President so long that all of the natural instincts of self preservation in the Navy atrophied. Whenever anything started to go wrong somebody would call the naval aide, who would speak to President Roosevelt, who would then call the chairman of the appropriate committee and inquire what he was trying to do with his (meaning Roosevelt's) Navy. It wasn't the United States Navy, it was Roosevelt's Navy, and he protected them all through the years.
HESS: They didn't really have to protect themselves.
SULLIVAN: So, when I got over there there wasn't anybody who knew very much about Congress or cared that much about them.
HESS: They hadn't needed it, is that right?
HESS: It is well known that Mr. Roosevelt had that feeling about the Navy. He was Assistant Secretary of the Navy was he not, during World War I?
SULLIVAN: He was.
HESS: And all through the years he had had a very close relationship with the Navy.
SULLIVAN: That's right.
HESS: Mr. Truman was in the Army during World War I. Did you have a feeling, during the time that you were in the Pentagon and with the Department of the Navy, that perhaps Mr. Truman supported the Army, had a similar feeling about the Army, as Mr. Roosevelt had had about the Navy?
SULLIVAN: No, I think he was very fair.
HESS: How would Mr. Truman and the White House go about congressional relations? Perhaps we could illustrate this by discussing a particular bill that you may have worked on.
SULLIVAN: Well, I'll tell you about one instance. It involved what became known as the Turkish-Greek Military Aid Bill.
The President called me over alone and asked me to sound out both houses of Congress on the prospects of enacting that legislation. He told me to take three days off and do nothing else. At the end of the third day I returned to him and I reported that everybody on the Hill had been very gracious, but they said the country was tired of military appropriations, and for me not to batter my head against a stone wall because I'd never get
anywhere with it. President Truman then asked me if I personally felt such a bill was desirable. I answered in the affirmative.
If you recall, at that time, Italy and France were on the verge of going Communist and Yugoslavia was one of the brightest jewels in the Communist crown, and if we lost the east end of the Mediterranean, namely Greece and Turkey, there would be no barrier to stop communism from going over into Africa, which was very ripe for subversion at that time.
When the President learned that I was very much in favor of the enactment of this legislation he said, "Well, John, you and I have taken an oath of office, and it's time we lived up to it. Are you willing to batter your head against the stone wall that they referred to?"
And I said, "Yes."
He said, "Let's get on with the drafting of the bill."
Incidentally, that afternoon he told me that the other two men he had had checking the Congress filed exactly the same report I had just given him. I never found out who the other two men were.
HESS: Of course the Greek-Turkish Aid measure came to be known as the Truman doctrine. It was signed, I believe, in March of 1947, and not too long after that came the
Marshall plan. There is a school of thought that says that the Truman doctrine coming first laid the groundwork, was really education, not only among the members of the general public, but among the members of Congress, and if we hadn't had this first, the Marshall plan coming along later and much bigger, might not have been passed. What's your view on that?
SULLIVAN: I think the Marshall plan received a very cordial welcome from the Houses of Congress, probably because of the spade work that had been done on the Greek-Turkish Military Aid Bill.
HESS: Did you receive any pressure from Congress on contracts for naval bases?
I have a clipping that I cut out of the paper not too long ago, knowing that our interviews were coming up, in which Senator Russell Long of Louisiana was demanding a "contrite apology" both from the Navy official who accused him of exerting improper pressure on the Pentagon on behalf of a Louisiana shipyard. This is current, but did you have any similar situations back in the Truman days?
We had a large number of auxiliary Navy fields all
over the country at the end of the war. Shortly thereafter I appointed a committee of three Captains serving in the Bureau of Aeronautics, and I had them very carefully screen every field that the Navy had. I think it took them about six months to complete this work, and it was all done in complete secrecy. I then asked Chairman [Carl] Vinson of the Naval Affairs Committee to have a meeting of his committee the following morning at 10 o'clock. I had lists of the airfields we were recommending to be abandoned, printed out, not only for all members of the Naval Affairs Committee, but also for all members of Congress. The three captains and I went up and when the meeting opened, I advised Chairman Vinson that there were some 452 Navy airfields which were going to be abandoned, and there was at least one in the district of every member of the committee.
HESS: This was going to hit home, in other words.
SULLIVAN I then had them pass out the list, and then asked to be excused because I had an 11 o'clock appointment with Chairman [David I.] Walsh of the Naval Affairs Committee of the Senate where I gave them the same list I gave the House. The 452 fields were abandoned, and no one complained. Everybody was getting it bad, getting