Oral History Interview with
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.
General Harry H. Vaughan
January 16, 1963
by Charles T. Morrissey
[Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | Additional Vaughan Oral History Transcripts]
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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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 March, 1964
Harry S. Truman Library
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Oral History Interview with
General Harry H. Vaughan
January 16, 1963
by Charles T. Morrissey
MORRISSEY: Now, the last time we were talking, General, and the time we had trouble with the tape, we were in the midst of a story about a dinner speech by Douglas Southall Freeman who was speaking to members of the Truman Committee, is that right?
VAUGHAN: Yes, as I said before, I might as well repeat it, Mr. Truman refused to accept fees for speeches and articles that had to do with the Truman Committee, but he wrote an article for some magazine and they insisted on sending a check. He didn't want it and sent it back but they insisted, for some reason or other, that it would mess up their bookkeeping or some foolishness like that. Anyway, they sent it back. It was a check for five hundred dollars, I believe, something like that. And so the President insisted on spending it on a dinner for all the members of the staff, and all the people that were connected with the committee. He got Dr. Freeman from Richmond to be the main speaker. Freeman's topic was comparing the Truman Committee with the Committee on the Conduct of the War at the time of the Civil War.
He figuratively stressed the great difference between that and the Truman Committee which made no attempt to interfere with the running of the war, the tactics, the technique or anything military at all. All they were interested in was the most expeditious and the most economical operation of the industrial part of the war effort. And he said that history would make that great distinction between these two committees. He was very complimentary in his remarks about the Truman Committee.
MORRISSEY: Do you recall that Senator Truman had any dealings with General George Marshall during these years?
VAUGHAN: Yes, yes, he did. Probably just the normal dealings that any senator on -- Senator Truman was on the Military Affairs Committee and, of course, he had a lot to do with Marshall who was Chief of Staff. After the Truman Committee started, he had a lot to do with Marshall and Marshall appeared before the committee, I believe, one or two times. Then there was that rather amusing incident where Mr. Truman went over to see Marshall and said, "I'd like to go on active duty. I'm a colonel, in the field artillery."
Marshall said, "How old are you Senator?"
And Truman said, "Fifty-six," or whatever it was at that time.
The General said, "Why, you're too old, Senator."
And Truman said, "Why, I'm not as old as you are by three years, General."
Marshall said, "Yes, but I'm a general and I'm in and you're a colonel and you're not in."
When Marshall was asked some time later if he would have made the same remark if Truman had asked him something like that when he was President, he said, "I think I would, but I would have been more diplomatic about it."
MORRISSEY: I think we can go on now to the 1944 convention and Mr. Truman's nomination as the vice-presidential candidate with Franklin Roosevelt and the '44 election. Did you go to Chicago...?
VAUGHAN: No, I did not go to the convention because I was on active military duty at that time as liaison officer between the War Department and the Truman Committee. I was a lieutenant colonel as I remember, and there was no occasion for me to be at the convention. Uniforms are not usually welcomed at political conventions, but
I followed it and I knew all the ins and outs of what was going on beforehand and then I got firsthand reports on it from the vice-presidential nominee when he came back.
MORRISSEY: By the ins and outs beforehand, would you say that Mr. Truman had made any conscious effort to obtain the vice-presidential nomination?
VAUGHAN: No, no, not the slightest, because he had promised Jimmy Byrnes that he would nominate him for vice president and that's why he refused to let his name be considered. They had already started the balloting and he still refused to have his name considered. He was talking in Bob Hannegan's room at one of the hotels, the Blackstone, I believe, when Mr. Roosevelt called Bob Hannegan and asked what the trouble was. Hannegan said, "Senator Truman won't consider -- he says that he's made a commitment to Jimmy Byrnes and he can't go back on that."
Roosevelt said, "Let me talk to him." So he got on the phone and he said, "Senator, we want you on that ticket and we don't want you to split the party by any argument at this time."
Truman said, "My commitment to Byrnes...."
Roosevelt said, "Ill talk to Jimmy Byrnes and he'll relieve you of that commitment."
And Truman said, "All right then, there's nothing else I can do if he'll relieve me of that commitment."
So Roosevelt called Byrnes and Byrnes called Truman back and relieved him of his promise. I don't think Byrnes wanted to, but that there was nothing else he could do when Mr. Roosevelt asked him.
MORRISSEY: Is this the way either Mr. Hannegan or Mr. Truman or both of them described it afterwards?
VAUGHAN: Yes, they described it to me afterwards. I believe I'm correct in my recollection that John Snyder was present when this conversation was going on and he also recounted it -- gave me an account of it.
MORRISSEY: Did Mr. Truman have much to do with President Roosevelt when Mr. Truman was serving on the Truman Committee? Were they close in any way?
VAUGHAN: Oh, no, they were not close at all. I don't think he saw the President all during 1941. I doubt if he saw the President a half dozen times and I think he had one --
maybe two -- private conferences with him that had to do with the committee business. But the other times he saw him were at large functions.
MORRISSEY: Was one of these conferences concerning, at that time, the unknown A-bomb project in New Mexico?
VAUGHAN: No, I don't know that there was any conference, but he knew -- everybody knew that there was some top secret matter going on out there and Truman was going to send me out to make an inspection. George Marshall came to see Mr. Truman and he said, "I have instructions from the President to ask the Truman Committee to give us the benefit of the doubt on that and not to make any inspection of it. This is a personal request of the President of the United States."
And Mr. Truman said, "Well, in a case like that, we'll just forget all about it. We won't attempt to."
MORRISSEY: You say in your memoir that many people in Washington have "inside stories" about how Mr. Truman got the vice-presidential nomination in 1944. I wonder if you could recall some of these and why do you dismiss them?
VAUGHAN: Well, there were all kinds of theories, but the real fact is that Truman did not attempt to get it, did not want it and until the last moment, as I described, refused to even let his name be considered. In the first place, a lot of people wanted Henry Wallace off the ticket because of what they thought was his doubtful enthusiasm for the war effort. Henry was an America Firster and a lot of peculiar ideologies at that time, and so Wallace was not to be considered. Jack Garner had been for two terms and Wallace for one. Jimmy Byrnes was being advocated by quite a group but labor took a pale view of Jimmy Byrnes -- wouldn't go for him. There were two or three other people that might have been considered except for labor. Because of Senator Truman's very favorable publicity that he'd gotten by virtue of the very excellent work of the Truman Committee, he was considered as a logical candidate and suggested, I'm sure to Mr. Roosevelt by Bob Hannegan. I think that Hannegan had more to do than anybody in selling Roosevelt on the idea that Truman would be the logical vice-presidential candidate. I think that's what happened and I'm sure that that's the opinion
that Mr. Truman had.
MORRISSEY: Do you recall any of these "theories" you just referred to?
VAUGHAN: Senator Byrd of Virginia, at a rally in Berryville along about 1950, made a statement that Harry Truman came to him on the first day of the Chicago convention and asked if he could have the support of the Virginia delegation when the convention voted on the vice-presidential nomination. Several people who were present at that rally told me afterwards -- and told me separately -- that Byrd made that statement. It's wrong because, in the first place, Harry Truman wouldn't ask Senator Byrd for anything because he was committed to Byrnes. If he asked for anyone's support he would have asked it for Byrnes. Harry Truman didn't ask for anyone's support for himself until after F.D.R. had phoned him.
MORRISSEY: Did Mr. Truman have much to do with Bob Hannegan becoming Chairman of the Democratic party?
VAUGHAN: Hannegan really didn't want to become chairman. Early in 1944, probably in February, when he heard that
he was being considered for the chairmanship, he said he wasn't interested. "Hell, I don't want it," he said to Mr. Truman. He asked Truman what he should do if he was offered the job and I recall Truman saying "tell them you won't take it unless the President asks you directly." Neither Hannegan nor Truman expected the President to call directly, but he did. Hannegan called Truman back and asked sarcastically: "what do I do now, Coach?" Truman laughed. "You take it," he said. Truman told me about this about fifteen minutes after it happened. I doubt if Truman had anything more than this to do with Hannegan becoming chairman of the party. Hannegan, as I say, was a strong backer of Mr. Truman for the vice-presidency. When the convention was balloting for the vice-presidential nomination Hannegan went on the floor and spoke to Harley Kilgore, or Mon Wallgren, I can't recall which, and urged whichever one it was to try to get Sam Rayburn's attention. When Rayburn finally asked what was wanted the response was "All I wanted was to change my vote from Wallace to Truman." That started the great surge to Truman.
MORRISSEY: Let me go back a bit. You mentioned two things
in your comment a moment ago. America First; when Mr. Truman was Senator and the America First sentiment was very strong, I assume that he had no respect for this viewpoint?
VAUGHAN: Oh, no, he was very much opposed to it. He thought it was lacking in patriotism because he thought it was a very dangerous attitude.
MORRISSEY: Why do you think he saw world affairs from what we might call an internationalist's position, unlike his colleague Bennett Clark, whom I think you could call an isolationist without any hesitation?
VAUGHAN: Well, I think it is due to more extensive study and reading on the subject. Harry Truman has always been a very, very intensive student. He's one of the best educated men that I know. As you know he has no formal education beyond high school, but he certainly is well read and well informed. Even during all the years he was in the White House, he read extensively. I'd say he read six or eight daily papers through, and he read all the periodicals and then a lot of the things he had to read by virtue of his position.
MORRISSEY: Another question that comes to mind from your previous comment: when you mentioned Jimmy Byrnes, is it safe to say at this time that Mr. Truman and Mr. Byrnes were good friends?
VAUGHAN: Oh, yes, they were very excellent friends. Mr. Truman thought a great deal of him and had a very high regard for Jimmy's ability. He made him his Secretary of State which is certainly imposing a considerable confidence in the person, but Jimmy Byrnes, unfortunately, I think -- when things are going good, Jimmy's fine but he can't stand adversity. He's kind of dissatisfied with one job after another. He was in the Senate and he withdrew from the Senate; then he was in the Supreme Court which for a lawyer is the ultimate, most everybody would think, and he didn't like that; and he had two or three jobs, War Mobilization Director, I believe. Then when he was Secretary of State he made some decisions that Mr. Truman criticized him for and reversed him on, and he got unhappy with that position and said that he had to resign because of ill health. But within two or three months he was running for governor of his state which certainly would not indicate any delicate
health, I would think. It's unfortunate that Jimmy couldn't keep on the target.
MORRISSEY: One of the interesting things about Mr. Truman's career is that personally he could be on the best of terms with people whom politically he often opposed. And of course, a lot of people read, I think, more into this friendship than perhaps it deserves. I'm thinking perhaps of his friendship with Burton Wheeler who was at the other end of the spectrum in regard to foreign affairs.
VAUGHAN: Well, he had a high regard for Burton Wheeler's ability and he and Burton Wheeler worked very closely together when Burton Wheeler was chairman of the full committee and he was chairman of the sub-committee on Interstate Commerce, and so he liked Burton and admired him i