Oral History Interview with
John H. Tolan, Jr.
Served as a naval officer, assigned to the Office of Chief of Naval, Operations, conducting liaison with Congressional. Committees, especially the "Truman Committee" (Select Senate Committee to Investigate the National Defense Program), 1943-45; and Special Assistant to the Director, Office of War Mobilization and Reconversion, 1945-46.
San Francisco, California
March 5, 10, and 17, 1970, and February 8, 1974
By James R, Fuchs
[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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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 May, 1983
Harry S. Truman Library
[Top of the Page | Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | List of Subjects Discussed]
Oral History Interview with
John H. Tolan, Jr.
San Francisco, California
March 5, 10, and 17, 1970, and February 8, 1974
By James R, Fuchs
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Interview Transcript …………………………1-227
TOLAN: Is there anything that is of particular interest to you?
FUCHS: Oh, yes, I think anything you have about the Navy Department work with the Truman Committee.
TOLAN: My experience as liaison officer between the Truman Committee and the office of the Chief of Naval Operations did not start until August 11, 1943. My Naval service began February 13, 1943. After Pearl Harbor, I worked with the War Production Board, San Francisco, until volunteering for Navy.
Senator Truman was named Chairman of the Committee March 1, 1941 and resigned when he became Vice-Presidential candidate August 3, 1944.
So, I was liaison officer for just about a year while Senator Truman was still the Chairman.
For the following year, until my departure in September 1945 to join the staff of the Office of War Mobilization and Reconversion under Mr. John Snyder, Senator Mead chaired the Committee.
There is little that I can tell you about Navy liaison before my appointment. It seems that there had been four different systems to cover the Committee and all had met with general dissatisfaction. Career naval officers or civilian aides to Secretary Frank Knox had found the assignment risky to their standing in the Navy or too onerous and unrewarding. Organizationally, Congressional investigation had been the task of the Judge Advocate General's office. This arrangement had been formalized by Secretary Knox, December 16, 1942. Apparently it simply did not work well. Investigating Congressmen, Senators or Committee staff people would telephone, write or visit Navy offices, shore establishments, or factories to make formal or informal inquiries. Too often, the Secretary or Under Secretary, and sometimes the Chiefs of Navy bureaus or
offices would find themselves summoned to Capitol Hill to give testimony, much to their surprise. They had to appear voluntarily for if they refused there was always the threat of subpoenas being issued with attendant bad publicity.
FUCHS: Congressional authority to issue subpoenas to compel testimony was somewhat limited, wasn't it?
TOLAN: Traditionally, subpoena power was limited by the necessity of obtaining passages of a House or Senate resolution granting that power in connection with a specific investigation. Senator Truman's "Select Committee to Investigate the National Defense Program" was authorized to issue subpoenas by Senate Resolution 71, passed February 13, 1941.
By 1943 a number of standing committees had asked for, and had received, subpoena authority. Thus, they could issue subpoenas either as a full committee, or acting as a subcommittee. Often committees or subcommittees thereof would authorize their Counsel or Chief Investigator to subpoena witnesses and compel the production of records simply by a phone call to
the committee or subcommittee chairman. In 1943 our office tried to get a total of all the Congressional subpoena powers potentially being waived at us from Capitol Hill. We counted about 53 separate groups, select committees, joint committees, standing committees (those empowered to report legislation) and all the various special subcommittees.
Admiral Lewis L. Strauss in his book Men and Decisions writes of his experience with a subpoena issued by the Chief Investigator of the House Naval Affairs Committee in the summer of 1941. It was a bolt out of the blue.
FUCHS: Who was Admiral Strauss at that time?
TOLAN: He was General Inspector of Ordnance. He was a Lieutenant Commander, a former partner of Kuhn, Loeb & Co., in New York, and a Naval Reservist since World War I. He had been called to active duty in 1941 and assigned to the Bureau of Ordnance. Chief Investigator Edmund Toland (no relation) of the House Naval Affairs Committee evidently had some suspicion that Strauss might have a conflict of interest due to his
banking background. It turned out to be the kind of fishing expedition that the Truman Committee always avoided.
FUCHS: The issuance of a subpoena was very threatening, wasn't it? What did Commander Strauss do?
TOLAN: Subpoena power was threatening but the ultimate sanction was being held in contempt of Congress and being fined or imprisoned or both. This is how Admiral Strauss tells the story: "Late one afternoon two young men with credentials identifying them as attaches of the (House Naval Affairs Committee) arrived at my office and presented a demand for the contents of my desk and my files. As this was before we were at war and quite late in the afternoon, counsel for the bureau had left for the day and no one was in the office of the Judge Advocate General of the Navy. Under protest, therefore, I surrendered what the subpoena called for, although the only items in my desk were some undeposited Navy salary checks and several letters from my wife. The files were too voluminous for the two agents to carry off, so they
were sealed in place.
In the course of conversation while they did this, the two young men mentioned the fact that they were Army Reserve officers who had been borrowed from the War Department by Counsel for the Naval Affairs Committee. They were thoroughly disgusted by their assignment. Subsequently, I learned that the Military Affairs Committee borrowed naval officers for similar surveillance of the War Department. The following morning I walked into the office of the Under Secretary of War and expressed my indignation at this practice. Judge Patterson agreed that it was outrageous to have officers of one service to police the other, and promptly recalled the two officers in question from the Naval Affairs Committee. I heard nothing more of the inquiry. The House Committee had found nothing to disturb it. My personal correspondence was returned intact. Captain Albert G. "Chuck" Noble was then my immediate superior and when word reached him of the incident, he sent me a note. 'You should have called me at home,' he wrote. 'I would have gotten a few Marines and chucked these fellows out of the window.’”( Lewis L. Strauss., Men and Decisions, Garden City, New York, Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1962 ,. pp. 150-51. Strauss later served both Presidents Truman and Eisenhower as a member and Chairman of the Atomic Energy Committee.)
FUCHS: How would your office have handled Commander Strauss' predicament when you were committee liaison?
TOLAN: Well, first of all, during wartime the two investigators would have been stopped by the Marine security guards at the Navy Department front door. Commander Strauss would have had notice that they were coming. Secondly, under Chief of Naval Operations order dated September 19, 1943, the two men would have been directed to the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations for clearance by our office. Third, I would have told them that civil process could not be served on a Navy officer or enlisted man without "permission to come aboard," which means Captain Noble would have had to grant permission to the subpoena of his subordinates. ( On March 26, 1944, Chief Investigator Bertram R. Gross served subpoena powers on two Navy officers who were cost inspectors at Alabama Drydock and Repair shipyard. The officers called me at my hotel in Mobile, Alabama. I told them to send the subpoenas back to Gross, and called Gross and told him that the Committee would have to have permission of the commanding officer under whom the men were serving. I then called Senator James E. Murray, Chairman of the investigating subcommittee of the Senate Military Affairs Committee and asked to see him in his room. I told him the men were prepared to testify voluntarily, would bring all their records, that the subpoena was totally unnecessary, and the reasons why I had aborted the attempt to serve the officers. Needless to say the subpoenas were withdrawn. Bertram Gross, later on in the war, was the able draftsman of the Contract Settlement Act of 1944 C55 Stat.649). It was the general law covering the termination of war contracts. After the war, Gross became a member of President Truman's Council of Economic Advisors.)
Fourth, I would have called Chief Investigator Toland or Chairman Vinson of the House Naval Affairs Committee and would have told them that it was not necessary to issue a subpoena, that the Officers of the Navy were always willing to transmit records or give testimony without a subpoena.
FUCHS: What about the Secretary of the Navy's order setting up your office? What did it provide?
TOLAN: I have a copy of the order. It was our charter. As you can see, it was addressed to the entire Navy. We became the clearing house for all congressional investigating committees. The Secretary drew a tight knot. As far as I know, there was no slippage. The order was clear, final, and it worked out in practice. If you don't mind, it might be appropriate to copy the full text into my statement at this point.
2 November 1943
From: The Secretary of the Navy
To: Chiefs of Bureaus and Offices, Navy Department
Commandant, U. S. Marine Corps
Commandant, U. S. Coast Guard
Commandants, All Naval Districts
All Shore Stations
Subject: Requests for Information from Congressional Committees, procedure for handling.
(a) SecNav ltr JAG:mm, dated 16 December 1942
(b) VCNO l ltr Op-50F-DR Serial 450-F, dated 29 September 1943.
1. To enable the Navy to give the most complete and effective service possible to the various Congressional Committees authorized to conduct investigations pertaining to the Navy, a section for clearing Committee inquiries has been established by the Chief of Naval Operations.
2. All requests for information received from the various investigating Committees of the U. S. Senate and U. S. House of Representatives or their staff members, either to the bureaus and offices of the Navy Department, or to Navy field activities, shall be forwarded to the Chief of Naval Operations, who will see that necessary action is taken on such requests.
3. This directive shall not alter the procedure which has been heretofore followed with regard to requests from Congress for the Navy Department's comment on pending legislation.
DISTRIBUTION: 6, 7, 8
l0b, c, d, e, f, g, i, j , k.
1, m, n. s, u, x, bb, cc;
11, 12, 14a, b, c, d, e, s, t.
FUCHS: I notice in the first paragraph of the order your
activities were limited to "Congressional Committees authorized to conduct investigations pertaining to the Navy."
TOLAN: Yes, we became the control mechanism for all Navy investigations by the Congress. What was not disturbed was the Secretary's reliance on the Judge Advocate General Rear Admiral Thomas L. Gatch, to have constant cognizance of everything that Capitol Hill was doing. All the officers and civilians doing Hill work, or by appointed representatives, gathered at the Judge Advocate Generals office (Admiral Thomas Gatch) for a 7:30 a.m. meeting almost daily. If I was traveling, Lt. Abbott, or Captain Kennedy attended, and as I recall, we never missed a meeting. Admiral Gatch would call on each of us in turn, to give a report of our concerns and especially of any possible conflicts with other liaison personnel.
FUCHS: Who made up this interdepartmental group?
TOLAN: In addition to the Judge Advocate General, who presided, Commander Earl Chesney from the Bureau of
Supplies and Accounts -- the Bureau which controlled all appearances before Senate and House Appropriations Committees; W. John Kenney of the Office of General Counsel (which handled preparing reports on pending legislation such as proposed bills to authorize Navy expansion); our office (OP50F), and sometimes as many as ten other officers who may have had special problems with Capitol Hill at that moment.
Commander Chesney had a staff located in the House Office Building which handled congressional correspondence, plus a myriad of appeals for Navy service by various individual Representatives and Senators.(Commander Chesney was later located in the East Wing of the White House in the office of Naval Aide to President Truman.)
FUCHS: When did you hear about the reorganization of congressional investigations liaison, and your selection to join the new office?
TOLAN: The last week of July, 1943, I had been ordered to New York Navy Yard, Boston Navy Yard and Hartford, Connecticut. (See Exhibit "A". The Office of Procurement and Material, Contract Distribution Branch, was in EROS, Executive Office of the Secretary, under UNSECNAV James Forrestal). Since I had entered the Navy there had been almost constant travel to Navy Yards and other shore establishments expediting contract redistribution to small business.
When I returned to Navy headquarters, Lt. Commander Kennedy called me to his desk. He had a peculiar gleam in his eye. He said, 'Lieutenant Tolan, you are about to join the real Navy, and I hope you appreciate fully what that means. Where you are going you will hardly see another Reserve officer -- everybody will be Regular Navy