Stuart Symington Oral History Interview

Oral History Interview
Stuart Symington

Stuart Symington
Courtesy of Jeff Brooks
Surplus Property Administrator, 1945; Assistant Secretary of War for Air, 1946-47; Secretary of the U.S. Air Force, 1947-50; Chairman, National Security Resources Board, 1950-51; Administrator, Reconstruction Finance Corporation, 1951-52; U.S. Senator from Missouri, 1953-77.
Washington, D.C.
May 29, 1981
James R. Fuchs

See also Stuart Symington Papers finding aid

[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. [45]) 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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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 May 29, 1981
Harry S. Truman Library
Independence, Missouri

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

Oral History Interview with
Stuart Symington

Washington, D.C.
May 29, 1981
James R. Fuchs


FUCHS: I think we'll just skip down to how you happened to go to St. Louis with Emerson Electric Company; what was the driving force behind that?

SYMINGTON: I was president of the Rustless Iron and Steel. Corporation in Baltimore, Maryland, the plant headquarters. The owner of the company decided to sell it to American Rolling Mill Company; so it was sold to ARMCO. At that time I lived in New York, for a year or so went into various situations but really wanted to get back into plants. Some New York bankers came to me about a company in St. Louis in trouble, called


Emerson Electric. Inasmuch as prior to my going back into the steel business I had been head of Colonial Radio Corporation in Rochester and Buffalo, New York, owned 51 percent by me and my people, and 49 percent by Sears Roebuck, I knew something about the electric business, so went to St. Louis to discuss whether to go out as head of Emerson. We worked out a deal, so in September, 1938, I took over as Chief Executive Officer of that company.

FUCHS: Did you have any Missouri connections before that? Were you acquainted with...

SYMINGTON: I had a great-great-uncle, I think, who was commander of Jefferson Barracks around the War of 1812; and I had another great-uncle who lived for some years in St. Joseph, Missouri. Except for that, no known connection.

FUCHS: Okay. Well, then, how did you come to the attention of President Truman to receive your


appointment as Surplus Property Administrator?

SYMINGTON: In 1941 the War Production Board asked if I would go to England and find out how to build the first power gun turret plant in the United States. I discussed it with various people, including Jim Forrestal, who had been a friend in New York, also Bill Knudsen, and went to England in the early spring of '41; packaged their blueprints and returned to the United States to build a plant. This was well before we entered the war. The British were keen for 30 caliber guns, did not believe in daylight bombing. American experts said 30 caliber was not enough; we had to have 50 caliber, also said daylight bombing was right provided the planes attacked in formation, with 50 caliber guns. The prints the British had given us were all stressed for 30 caliber, so we had to revamp all our plans, including the purchase of machinery I had cabled for, in code, from England.

As a result, we ran into what well might


be called a mess. Certain equipment was already coming in we knew we didn't want because of the tremendous differences between 30 and 50 caliber stresses. As a result, we created a deep pit, you might say, problems that had to be worked out. Right about at the bottom of said pit, for possibly political reasons, we were investigated by the House Armed Services Committee, chaired by one Andrew Jackson May, who issued a dreadful statement about our plant; none of it true.

I immediately called May's office, but could not reach him. They said he was on his way by motor to his home in Kentucky. So I talked to other members of his committee, including Republican members, and they arranged to give me a hearing without him. As a result of that hearing, without Chairman May, said committee completely vindicated our position. Incidentally, May was a crook, later went to jail for accepting bribes. It was my first sad episode with Government.


We had basically a fine organization, but got caught because of 50 caliber needing different machine tools, etc., from what we thought was needed when we were in England.

FUCHS: Did you convert your plant, or was this a new plant?

SYMINGTON: New plant. Remember we were already working hard punching, drilling, cutting metal, days, nights, and Sundays; cutting metal for war orders, so there was little or nothing in it profit wise for Emerson, these turrets. There had been passed a heavy excess profits tax. This turret business was on top of our regular business. Do you follow me?


SYMINGTON: Our regular business was going great guns, so for the turrets we had to build a new plant, did so in Florissant, Missouri. Not too long after our indictment by the House Armed Services Committee, I received notice that the


Senate War Investigating Subcommittee planned also to investigate Emerson. I had barely met the then Senator Truman, did not know him well at all, but had had enough of investigations and knew this new turret business took a tremendous amount of everybody's time. We had a little bedroom and shower built next to my office; sometimes wouldn't go home, because turrets were needed yesterday, especially after Pearl Harbor.

We had had enough of investigations, however; had much work in our three plants downtown. So I called our lawyer, Sam Fordyce, at that time one of the leading lawyers of Missouri, and said, "Please draw up a contract to give this turret plant back to the Government; they can take it. We'll get a big gold key and turn it over to them in Washington."

He said, "You don't mean that." We got into a bit of an argument. I finally said, "Mr. Sam (he was a lot older than I), let's get it straight. Do you want to be our lawyer or don't you?"


Fordyce said, "Well, if you feel that way about it, all right."

"Thanks, please get up the papers."

Several days later called and asked, "Will you have lunch with me at the Noonday Club?"

"Sure, I'd be glad to."

I went down. With him was my old and close friend John Snyder. There was a fourth place at the table.

FUCHS: Had you already met Mr. Snyder?

SYMINGTON: Yes indeed, He was Emerson's banker and one wise man, was with the First National, our leading bank. I noticed a fourth place at the table. About halfway through lunch in came Senator Truman. After awhile, Fordyce said, "Harry, Stuart's going to quit this turret business."

I remember well when the Senator turned to me, then asked, "You're going to quit, eh?"

"You're damn right."



"Well," answered, "our people can't turn around without some Government employee looking over their shoulder and telling them what to do. We've had it, don't want any more part of it."

The Boss then observed, "The boys on the Anzio beachhead aren't quitting."

That hit home, you know, but I replied, "But they don't have people all over them like a bunch of locusts, telling what to do, not knowing what they were talking about."

Again the Senator observed, "The boys on the Anzio beachhead aren't quitting."

I looked at Fordyce and Snyder. Then Mr. Truman added, "If I give you my word that this investigation will be orderly, and that at any time you have a real problem you can come to see me in my office, will you go ahead?" You know, the Senator had all that incredible quiet strength in him. I replied "Yes, we will." So we had the investigation; it was orderly, well


done. Hugh Fulton was the Commerce counsel. When it was over, the then Senator wrote a much appreciated report about us. Incidentally, Emerson ended up getting two more Army and Navy E Awards than any of its competition.

There's a story in Fortune magazine, late 1943 that gets into all this, our first national story.

FUCHS: What was the name of that plant?

SYMINGTON: Emerson Electric, of Florissant, Missouri.

FUCHS: It was a new plant. It was private, but built with the Government's...

SYMINGTON: The Government put up the money, sure, about 12 million dollars. Emerson ultimately moved everything out there, and got rid of its plants in the city, concentrated in Florissant, built our new plant on farmland. When Jack Kennedy went out there to speak over 20 years later, running for President, Florissant was a


small town. I have a copy of that article. Would you like to see it? [A Yaleman and a Communist." Fortune, Volume XXVIII, No. 5, pp. 146-148, 212, 214, 216, 218, and 221]


SYMINGTON: It sums up the development of Emerson by October '43; tells the story. Here it is. I was not the Communist.

FUCHS: You were the Yale man?

SYMINGTON: Right. Rough title, but okay history.

FUCHS: Did you have occasion to go to Mr. Truman at any time about an investigation?

SYMINGTON: Never. His men came in, exactly the opposite of the hacks from the Armed Services Committee. They were quiet, respectful of our employees, just wanted facts. Everything was as it should be. The boys in the plant ended up by doing a mighty fine job.

FUCHS: Did they hold hearings?

SYMINGTON: They didn't hold any hearings; just had


the investigation.

FUCHS: Just had an investigation; there wasn't any kind of a formal hearing?

SYMINGTON: That's right. You sort of take me back. No, the report was quite laudatory. Then we branched out, did a lot of work, for example, on turrets we hadn't made ourselves; built a small plant over at Lambert Field, in St. Louis County.

FUCHS: What year would you say that was?

SYMINGTON: '43-'44 . Some in 1945.

FUCHS: Now, did you have occasion to see him again prior to when you were appointed to Surplus Property?

SYMINGTON: Yes. 1 went down with John Snyder to the announcement of his election as Vice President in Lamar, Missouri where this Vice President was born; and where he was formally told he would be the next Vice President; a delightful


evening, crowded and messy; a big crowd, everybody bouncing around. After he was elected but before he was inaugurated, he had lost his voice, so he went over to French Lick, Indiana, by himself, Then John Snyder said, "Let's go over and see the President."


Emerson had a plane, We were told the little runway was 1,500 feet, but our pilot came back and stated, "This is ridiculous, it's not more than 800 feet."

"Well, what will happen if we try?"

"We'll end up in a cornfield."

"Well, cornfields are generally pretty flat, so let's go ahead." He did, and we did end up in a cornfield; later a tractor pulled the plane out.

We took our two pilots up to visit with the Vice President to be in French Lick. A fellow Democrat, Tom Taggart, owned the big resort hotel; and we had a great time. I


noticed the way the President-to-be handled our pilots. They had previously asked, "Do you think we could shake his hand?"


The President-to-be made them feel so good you know. We spent all that day and much of the next day with him. By that time our plane was pulled out and we flew back to St. Louis.

FUCHS: This was between the time he was nominated and sworn in as Vice President?

SYMINGTON: Right. Then after President Roosevelt was again sworn in, the Vice President was sworn in. John Snyder and I later gave a reception for him in the Carlton Hotel here, for him and Mrs. Truman. John would remember more about that than I. It was a very pleasant reception. I saw a lot of people for the first time that I got to know quite well afterwards.

FUCHS: Any anecdotes you can recall either at French Lick or at the reception? People are always


interested in these as footnotes to history; illustrative of his character and so forth.

SYMINGTON: Well, I remember when we were at French Lick Mr. Truman couldn't talk much, you see, because he had lost his voice. We had lunch. Suddenly he said, "I think I'd like to take a little nap, do you all mind?"

"Of course not," so Mr. Truman just put his head like this on his hand and promptly fell asleep at the table. I remarked, "That man's going to live a long time." He had the capacity to relax.

FUCHS: And he did.

Were you involved in politics in any way at that time? Did you go to the convention for instance?

SYMINGTON: No, I was a Democrat; my father was a Democratic judge in Maryland when he died. I was not sympathetic with more than two terms


for a President, which didn't put me into too good shape with all-out diehard Roosevelt people. I just thought it was wrong. Perhaps my father-in-law, a Republican Senator from New York, convinced me. The American people now believe it wrong, because they've limited the Presidency to two terms. Up to then, however, I had stayed out of politics.

I got to know Mr. Truman primarily through John Snyder. The day Mr. Roosevelt died, I called John, knowing how close they were. He was in Mexico, as I remember, said the President wanted him to come to Washington right away.

At the time, Emerson was working on a merger, so I later asked John if he would introduce me to the Attorney General whom I had barely met, Tom Clark, Snyder answered, "I'd be glad to. Incidentally, the President wants to see you. "

So, I went over to the White House, where the President said, "Stu, I want to dump a load of coal on you." The load of coal was to be


Chairman of the Surplus Property Board. In World War I, many concerned with war surplus disposal went to jail. Some people, friends, urged me not to do it. My father-in-law was a conservative Republican from New York. He thought Mr. Truman was pretty liberal, but said, "Of course, you should accept if the President of the United States asks you to help with his great job, you should be honored to accept." So, I never went to see Attorney General Clark on that private deal, the next day went over to the White House and joined Mr. Truman's team.

Whereupon Drew Pearson wrote three columns against me, heavily critical. What he didn't like was the fact I was a businessman. So I finally called Mr. Truman and said, "I know I'm giving you problems, getting a lot of bad publicity in the papers and all. Why don't I just go back to Missouri and you get somebody else for this job, My company is already having


problems, pulling out of military orders as the war winds down. Thanks to Pearson, Senator Joe O'Mahoney of Wyoming is running these hearings."

The President replied, "I'm not behind you 100 percent; I'm behind you 200 percent. Don't you take any sass from that O'Mahoney." The hearings were being chaired by Senator O'Mahoney, with whom Mr. Truman had served, He added, "Don't let him put you down, You're the man for this job and I want you there," That was the President's way. He always stood squarely behind those who worked for him. I was reassured, went down to O'Mahoney who was ready to start another hearing. O'Mahoney had been reading Pearson and liked the publicity; a nice fellow, Joe, but you know politics. As Chairman, he began telling me he wanted me to answer this, that and the other. So I said, "Now look, Senator O'Mahoney, I didn't want to come down here in the first place, only came because president Truman asked me. This is all


getting to be a big question with you as to whether I'm fit for this job. The publicity hurts me and my family. I suggest you call the President and tell him I'm not right for it. In that way I'll get out of your hair and his hair, and go back to my business. It is nice to have known you," O'Mahoney gulped, said, "Now, wait a minute."

I replied, "Don't worry about it."

Just then a bell rang for a vote, and he said, "I must go over to the Senate. Will you walk over with me?"


Halfway over Joe turned and asked, "If I put a statement out this afternoon that I think you're well qualified for the position, will you accept?"

"I would." O'Mahoney knew the President, didn't want to look him in the eye, was just putting on a show, and liked the Pearson publicity. Later in the Senate we became friends,


O'Mahoney and I. That's the story about how I came into Government, first as Chairman of the Surplus Property Board. Later I went to the President and reported, "You can't handle these disposals properly with a Board. I'm having trouble with the Board's Executive Assistant. He wants to run the show and tries to take over. So President Truman abolished the Board, appointed me Administrator. That ended any major problems. We had nothing more than normal ones, no major scandals.

Later the Administration wanted me to actually sell all remaining surplus by running the War Assets Corporation. I said I couldn't do it without some shoe leather. Everyone working for me as Administrator wanted to get back to normal activity; those assigned by the military or those anxious to get back to their business. They were asking me to build up a merchandising organization by means of a dying organization. I checked with people who knew more about merchandising than I. All


said, "You can't do it." So 1 asked for a highly thought of organization, the RFC.

They replied, "No, the RFC has too fine a name, but they are not salesmen; they're banking people."

I answered, "But you don't have to be a salesman if you take the best honest offer. That's all that's needed so long as there's nothing crooked." But I couldn't sell that. (Ironically, before I left Government, the Executive Branch, problems developed over at the RFC, and my last job before running for the Senate was RFC Administrator.) But in 1946 they refused to have the RFC involved, so I resigned. Then John and Bob Hannegan said, "The President does not want you out of his Administration, offers you three positions: Assistant Secretary of State for Commercial Air problems, Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Air, or Assistant Secretary of War for Air." Well, at


Emerson we had had no trouble with the Navy on contracts. They were experienced and efficient. There were some troubles with the Army, not too much. But the Air Force was sort of a bastard child of the Army, much like the Marines with the Navy. Everything had to be done over by the Army after it had already been done by the Air Corps, a mess. I originally came from Baltimore, near Annapolis, was Navy oriented, but thought my business experience could be of more service to the Army Air Force; knew it was a coming service because of all it did in World War II to help win. So, I took that latter job and stayed in Government.

FUCHS: They seemed to have you connected with the Air, why was that, for some reason in particular?

SYMINGTON: We had been doing a lot of work with most airplane companies, power gun turrets, putting them on planes. We put something on


most bombers built by the Army and Navy.

FUCHS: I thought maybe you had some prior connection with flying or...

SYMINGTON: I was never a flyer. It's a game I think--what's your first name?


SYMINGTON: It's an art, Jim, that you either ought to get serious about or stay out of. When I was with the Air Force, pilots used to say, "I don't want to be the boldest, just the oldest."

FUCHS: To go back just a second when you went into the White House and you accepted the Surplus Property Board job, did you see President Truman personally then?


FUCHS: Do you recall. anything that he had to say at that time?


SYMINGTON: I remember his saying, "I want to dump a load of coal on you," meaning the Surplus Property job. A wonderful part of Harry Truman was the way he would back you. Later I said, "We can't run this operation with a Board." John Snyder would help of course. He was as close to Mr. Truman as anybody when it came to such problems. So the President made me Administrator and it worked out. We had no serious problems. I went to Edgar Hoover and he kindly lent me an agent who, much later on, became a lieutenant general in the Air Force, fine man. I had some small problems with crooks, you might say. All the way we had few problems, but I would not agree to try to sell the stuff unless they'd give me some shoe leather. When you take what you can get you don't have to be a salesman.

One time I took one of the biggest sales executives in New York out to Chicago to give some advice. We went into a war surplus place.


I had made motors with Emerson, said, "We would like to look at some fractional horsepower motors."

The man said, "We haven't any of those today, but how'd you like a nice life raft?" I thought my friend, executive vice president of Graybar Electric, was going to faint.

FUCHS: Were there any other problems that you could think of as Surplus Property Administrator?

SYMINGTON: Some problems, but if you take a job like that, you want your people to handle as much as possible. I'd finally say, "Listen, you're supposed to make that decision yourself. Why come to me about it?" On that job, seldom did I see the President. He went to Potsdam that summer, then back to Missouri for a time; and then of course out to the start of the United Nations, in California, you know. I felt I had his confidence, so we worked on our own.

FUCHS: To your knowledge, was there someone other


than the president that was pushing you for one of these jobs that they offered you?

SYMINGTON: I think John Snyder probably told him I wouldn't steal the silver. He had been my banker, lent me money for my company.

FUCHS: Did you know Robert Hannegan in his earlier days?

SYMINGTON: I met him down here, didn't know him until after coming into Government.

FUCHS: You weren't privy to any of the discussions and so forth, different things that went on to make Truman the nominee in '44?

SYMINGTON: No. I've heard many different versions, some from Hannegan.

FUCHS: What were your principal duties as Assistant Secretary for Air? You were under Robert Patterson at first.

SYMINGTON: Yes. He was our boss, as Secretary of War.


I went to Genera. Spaatz, one of the great men of my life, chief of staff of the Army Air Force. A former Assistant Secretary, also an old friend before either of us came into Government, Robert Lovett of New York, a banker, told me what a fine fellow Spaatz was. Upon joining up I said to Spaatz, "There are two things I would like to do. One, give you all, if possible, the benefit of any business experience I've had, because your logistic situations are pretty well screwed up with the Army." As example, shortly after I came, the Army issued a directive that everything, I think over $100,000 that the Air Force bought had to be reviewed by the Army. At one time it had been everything over $5,000,000. Well, that meant all the work we did had to be done again. "Would like to eliminate that duplication. The other: you and your staff decide what we should have from the Congress in the way of an Air Force, then I will try to sell that to Judge Patterson and the Bureau of


the Budget and the President and the Congress."

FUCHS: How did you find Patterson to work with?

SYMINGTON: Wonderful. Wonderful man.

FUCHS: No criticism of him? What about inter-service rivalry? It was quite rampant then, and do you think that was a lack of administrative ability in Patterson or is this something that nobody could really control at the time?

SYMINGTON: Well, it certainly had little or nothing to do with Patterson. FDR had been Assistant Secretary of the Navy. They told me, now forgotten, just how many pictures of ships they took out of the White House after he died. But he could choose good men. Of course Mr. Truman. Then General George Marshall, who was above politics; Ernie King, Chief of Naval Operations, a very fine man but partisan. The Navy did not want anybody to touch their Air. General Eisenhower, then Army chief of staff, agreed with President Truman and Secretary Patterson that


the nation needed a single Secretary of Defense, with the authority of administration over the Services as against just coordination. The Navy didn't want that. They had some able men like Admiral Arthur Radford, later Chairman of the Joint Chiefs under Eisenhower, who wanted to protect the future of Naval Air. The President and Eisenhower and Patterson were anxious to get that administrative capacity in the proposed new Secretary of Defense. Forrestal and his people were opposed; and when we finally did get a "unification" bill, it wasn't the bill we wanted at all.

FUCHS: It wasn't?

SYMINGTON: No. The Navy won their battle for "coordination" as against "administration." That, in effect, became Forrestal's great problem when he came in as the first Secretary of Defense. He had no true administrative authority. Later that authority was increased,


then increased again. The new bill violated one of the basic principles of management, namely, no responsibility without adequate authority. This is true especially in Government where you don't show profit or loss.

FUCHS: Do you think Forrestal was the main and telling factor in the Navy...

SYMINGTON: He and Admiral King and others like Admiral. Radford. Spaatz used to say, "There are two governments in Washington, the Government of the United States, and the United States Navy." I remember General Omar Bradley, normally a quiet man, calling some of the opposing admirals "Fancy Dans" in the public hearings. But those admirals were sincere. They didn't want anybody to touch Naval Air. Between the two world wars the Navy had been the force in being, You have to fight for your own team. I was Air Force. But the Navy felt they had a navy, and an army--marines--and an air force; and they wanted to


keep it that way. Between World War I and World War II, the Army hardly had enough money to buy food. There wasn't any Air Force, see what I mean?


SYMINGTON: The Navy had its Army--the Marine Corps--and a Navy, and an Air Force. It would be their responsibility. They believed you shouldn't have had expensive and wasteful triplification. That was the thinking of some of the Navy people.

FUCHS: You think all of the wings should have either been put in under the Air Force or gone into the Navy?

SYMINGTON: Yes. When Spaatz thanked Mr. Truman for the "third Service," the President replied, "I don't want three, I want one." Spaatz often quoted this reply of the President.

As things developed, it had a lot to do with the problems of Jim Forrestal. He didn't


have the authority to properly handle his new job, but he had been the leader who fought for said job not to have adequate authority.

FUCHS: Why would he turn to Forrestal, he had really opposed unification, when it came right down to it?

SYMINGTON: Well, Secretary Patterson first turned it down. Forrestal had a fine reputation and was a good man.

FUCHS: Put responsibility to his country and the job ahead of...

SYMINGTON: Absolutely, always.

FUCHS: What did you think about the appointment at the time?

SYMINGTON: I was all for it. Forrestal was a good man, and he knew the Pentagon.

FUCHS: The Navy just had better public relations because they had been the first line of defense?


SYMINGTON: Right. My father-in-law was once Chairman of Military Affairs in the Senate, the latter part of the Wilson Administrations. He knew a lot about and was fond of the Army. He once told me that in the Twenties a regiment was ordered to move from Philadelphia to St. Louis, but didn't have enough money to ride by train, so they had to walk; added, "Many of them weren't there when the regiment finally got to St. Louis." Then later Herbert Hoover came in, and he even forgot about the Navy, or so the Navy thought. When FDR came in, things switched around for the Navy. Until World War II loomed, the Army was cut to the bone and there was no Air Force. The Navy was the force in being, operating in such places as Nicaragua and Cuba with the Marines.

FUCHS: Mr. Truman got into it with the Marines,

SYMINGTON: Yes, we all remember that one. But events forced a major change, before, during,


and after World War II, One day I was called up to Patterson's office, spring of '46, probably around the time of the famous Fulton Iron Curtain speech. Patterson called, "Come up here at 5 o'clock on the dot." There he had the Secretaries and the Chiefs, and Mr. Churchill. I'll never forget the latter's little talk. He said, "You know, everybody believes the miracle of this war was the atomic bomb. That is not true. The miracle of this war was after what you did, with your armed services between World War I and World War II, what was left"--and he mentioned Marshall, MacArthur, Eisenhower, King, and Arnold as I remember--"those men and their colleagues were so good, within four years they created the greatest fighting machine in the history of the world." Then he recited to us a poem. Years later, when in the Senate, I made a strong speech for the Army to have more money. A young lieutenant colonel, who later became Secretary of the Senate, was aide to the then Chief of


Staff of the Army, General Maxwell Taylor. His name was Stan Kimmitt. He heard my talk in committee and with some emotion left me the poem over there on the table after coming to my office. Note and please read it. As you will see, it is signed, "A Marlborough Veteran." Churchill was a Marlborough, and that's the poem he quoted to us in Secretary Patterson's office.

FUCHS: Very interesting. You have a good memory. You kind of had a little controversy over the seventy group Air Force, and I believe you and Forrestal, who was an old friend of yours, saw things differently in regard to that?

SYMINGTON: Remember those two premises I made; business administrative experience, and the rolling balls, the Air staff's wishes on the Hill. We knew we had to cut down, had been up to some 243 groups. So, I said to General Spaatz, "Look it over and please give me the


absolute minimum number we can have to carry out our assigned mission."

He said, "Give us some time."

Working with his staff, he came up with 70; and even cutting down to 70 was a very heavy cut. When Budget went below that I protested to the Bureau of the Budget and the Secretary of Defense. The Congress picked up our protest. Many Senators and Congressmen were close to some generals and admirals if they had been there for some time. They had appointed a lot of them. So there was no reason why they could not register their protest with influential members of the House or Senate Armed Services or Naval Affairs Committees. That was done plenty. I was satisfied with 70 groups.

FUCHS: Did you and the President ever discuss this?

SYMINGTON: In 1948, I don't know whether we did or not. In 1949 I know we did. The President had


a lot of us in the Cabinet Room and said, "This is the military budget this year. If anybody doesn't like it, now is the time to speak up, otherwise I'm going to believe you are supporting it." He was talking to a roomful of people, but looking right at me. I got the message, then said, "Mr. President, are you asking me to, in effect, perjure myself before a Congressional committee?"

The President thought for a minute, then replied, "Will you give me your word of honor you will not originate the question?"

"Yes, sir, I will."

Typical of Mr. Truman, he then said, "Tell them what you believe."

The next year it was decided we had to go even lower, much lower. I could see it coming; went to the President and said, "I do not want to leave Government if you want me to stay, but just can't take responsibility for cutting the Air Force any further."


FUCHS: What were they going to cut it to?

SYMINGTON: Oh, way down, well below 50 groups.

FUCHS: To fit the budget?

SYMINGTON: Yes, way down, 45, or something like that.

Yes, and it went down to 50-some I think in '49. I don't remember the exact figures; all this was a long time ago. Hardly had I left when we ran into the Korean war, doubled what I had asked for and doubled it again. I had told him I would stay in Government, be honored to, but not with the Air Force.

He asked, "Well, have you anybody in mind to replace you?"

I replied, "Yes, sir, I have somebody, the Chairman of the Presidents Air Policy Commission report, Tom Finletter, and I'd recommend him. He's also a good Democrat."

The President then said, "Is there anything you'd like to do?"


"Yes, frankly, and if you want me to stay, I'd like to run this new Atomic Energy Commission because I think this nuclear business is going to get bigger by the minute."

He replied, "I promised that to a law partner of Brian McMahon," the Senator from Connecticut; "a man named Gordon Dean. I have promised him that." I had a friend who was close to the President and close to me, Sidney Souers. Shortly thereafter, the same day, Souers called and asked, "We'd like to know,"--presumably he and the President--"would you be interested in being Chairman of the National Security Resources Board?"

I liked that, primarily for one reason. The Secretaries had been moved off, and properly so, of the National Security Council, NSRB would put me back on the Security Council by statute. There I could look in the eyes of those who were constantly cutting the services further down; and also, in discussion, get my thinking over


to the President. I took that job; after a year desired to return to Emerson, so told the President. He said, "I don't like what I hear is going on over at the RFC. If you'd go over there and straighten that thing out, I will not ask you again." So I did. That was in 1951; at that time the RFC was getting a poor reputation, political loans and some funny business. There were fine people there. I had also the priceless advice of John Snyder, who once ran it and am confident s