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General Harry H. Vaughan Oral History Interview, January 14, 1963

Oral History Interview with
General Harry H. Vaughan

Personal friend of Harry S. Truman since 1917; military associate in World War I and subsequently in the Field Artillery Officers Reserve Corps; treasurer for Senator Truman's 1940 reelection campaign committee; secretary to Senator Truman, 1941; a liaison officer for the Truman Committee, 1944; and Military Aide to Mr. Truman when he was Vice-President and President, 1945-53.

Alexandria, Virginia
January 14, 1963
by Charles T. Morrissey

[Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | Additional Vaughan Oral History Transcripts]


Notice
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.

RESTRICTIONS
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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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 March, 1964
Harry S. Truman Library
Independence, Missouri

[Top of the Page | Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | Additional Vaughan Oral History Transcripts]

 



Oral History Interview with
General Harry H. Vaughan

Alexandria, Virginia
January 14, 1963
by Charles T. Morrissey

 

[1]

MORRISSEY: As preparation for this interview, General Vaughan has graciously allowed me to read here in his home, a manuscript copy of his memoir which he is preparing. He has also allowed me to refer to three scrapbooks of material covering his career, two of which, which cover the years from 1942 to 1952, are currently in the National Archives being microfilmed for the Truman Library. The first and fourth volumes of the scrapbooks will also be microfilmed in the future. Other sources consulted in preparation for this interview include testimony and Congressional Hearings, magazines, newspaper articles read at the Library of Congress, and in the Truman Library.

These questions and answers this afternoon are

 

[2]

not intended to cover all the topics discussed in all these sources, but to supplement some points already discussed and to raise some points which haven't been discussed. Researchers using this transcript should use as well the memoir the General has given a lot of work to since he left the White House staff in January, 1953. In fact, it's almost ten years to the day, isn't it? I hadn't thought of that.

General, I know you've told many times the story of your first meeting with Harry S. Truman, but would you tell it again for our benefit right now?

GENERAL VAUGHAN: Along about March of 1917, I was a second lieutenant with the 130th Field Artillery. Harry Truman was a first lieutenant with the 129th Field Artillery and up to the day that I mention, I didn't even know him; I had never seen him. We had a brigade commander by the name of Brigadier General Lucius Berry who commanded the 60th Field Artillery which was the artillery troops of the 35th Division. General Berry was a tough old Indian fighter and pretty hard on second lieutenants. He would have a brigade officer's call to which some 150 officers would report – 175 -- and he was always in a

 

[3]

hurry; and when he'd get to the meeting, if the officer's call was for 3:00 o'clock and he got there at ten minutes to 3:00, he would start the meeting. If you got there at five minutes to 3:00, you were late and you caught the devil.

On this particular day, there were three or four of us walking over to the Brigade Headquarters, young second lieutenants from the 130th, one of whom was Jim Pendergast of Kansas City. We were talking and laughing and as we went through the door, we were clear inside before we realized that the meeting had begun and that General Berry had a young first lieutenant out in front of him, giving him unshirted hell about the way he was running the canteen. It seemed that First Lieutenant Harry Truman, in addition to his other duties, was what we call now PX Officer -- Canteen Officer. So, coming through the door we made a lot of noise and Berry was distracted from what he was doing, and he turned and looked us over. We, of course, snapped up to attention and acted like there was nothing the matter at all, and Berry looked right at me. I was the first one in and the biggest and probably making the most noise, and he said, "What is your name, Mister?"

 

[4]

Well, you may or may not recall that in those days you had to be a first lieutenant before you had any rank; second lieutenants were called "Mister."

So, I was standing like a ramrod and I said, "Vaughan, sir."

He said, "How long have you been an officer in the United States Army?"

I said, "Three days, sir," with which he proceeded to go into detail as to how he doubted very much if I would ever be an officer in the United States Army if I lived to be a hundred. And while he was giving me the business, much to the amusement of everybody who was behind him, whom he couldn't see, why, this first lieutenant stepped back in the ranks with all the rest of the officers who were standing there, and when Berry got through with me, which took two or three minutes because he really covered the subject, he forgot who he had been talking to and he went on with the meeting. Well, the meeting lasted twenty to thirty minutes and was instructions about this and that and the other thing, and on the way out, this officer grabbed me by the arm and said, "Much obliged Mister, you got me off the hook

 

[5]

nicely."

After we got outside I said, "Who was that?"

Jim Pendergast, of course, knew him, because Jim had been in the 129th Regiment before he was commissioned. Jim said, "Why, that's Lieutenant Harry Truman. He lives in Independence; he's a friend of mine."

And that's the first time I ever saw Truman and the first contact I ever had with him.

MORRISSEY: Did you see much of him after that?

VAUGHAN: Well, I would see him at officer's call. He went over to France ahead of me. He was in what we call the advance detail. In fact, about a week after that particular incident, he started off for France with what they called, as I say, the advance detail for the brigade. And then I didn't see him until we got to France and I would run across him now and then. His battery position and mine were sometimes rather close, although usually their battery position was in front of us. They were 75's and we were 155's and so I ran across him -- in France probably I ran onto him eight or ten or a dozen times.

 

[6]

MORRISSEY: Any specific recollections of meeting him?

VAUGHAN: Well, my particular recollection of Harry Truman is after a couple of weeks in the trenches without any chance to take a bath or to change clothes, the rest of us would look like bums with mud sticking all over us, and he always looked immaculate. And I was never able to understand why. I couldn't see myself, but I imagined I looked like a buck private in the Mexican Army, but Truman looked like he just stepped out. He was always clean and neat and dapper. I'd meet him and we'd chat. I remember riding up to reconnoiter a new gun position, and I met him coming down the road and we stopped and chatted. We were both on horseback and we stopped and got off over to the side of the road because it was a camouflaged road and it was under fire whenever there was any movement on it. That was along about the first of November, near close to the end of the war. It was up in the Verdun sector.

MORRISSEY: Did you come back together to this country?

VAUGHAN: No, no, not on the same ship. We came back on a German ship that had been turned over. They had a bunch

 

[7]

of our naval recruits running the ship and they had a score of German sailors aboard because our people didn't know where the valves were to turn on. They had these Germans -- they were German prisoners -- acting as advisers to the chaps running the ship. This was, I believe, a Hamburg-American Liner that had been taken over that we came back on. About the same time, Truman's outfit came back, because we stayed in our gun positions for three months after the armistice. I never did know -- I don't yet know why we had to live in the mud there. We just stayed right where we were when the last shot was fired.

MORRISSEY: Going back a bit, do you remember anything about the canteen that Mr. Truman ran with Eddie Jacobson?

VAUGHAN: Oh well, I had been in it. You see, instead of having a big post PX like they have now, each regiment had their own canteen and it was usually in one end of the building that was the guard house; it was the guard house in one end and the canteen usually in the other. They had very, very limited supplies. They had toilet articles and handkerchiefs and they sold "near beer." Bevo had just come out, you know. We had prohibition and they sold Bevo, boxes of cookies and candy bars and toilet

 

[8]

articles and handkerchiefs and things of that nature. It was nothing like the department stores that PX's have now.

MORRISSEY: Some people when they recollect their first meeting with Mr. Truman, comment upon his glasses. His eyes seemed to shine. Do you recall anything about him losing his glasses?

VAUGHAN: Well, yes, you know, he wore thick glasses, they tell me, from the time he was about ten years old. I don't know what the difficulty is. It was a lack of coordination of -- I don't know enough about the eye to be able to tell what the difficulty was. But he always had thick glasses and he couldn't get along without them. I imagine his vision with glasses is 20-20, but without the glasses he couldn't recognize his brother twenty feet away. So, he always has had several pair on hand in case he lost any because he would be so helpless without them, and he was advised that he could not wear the ordinary glasses with the side pieces over the ears in action, because it would interfere with wearing your gas mask, you see. It would leave a hole on either side

 

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