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Harry H. Vaughan, March 20, 1976 Oral History Interview

Oral History Interview with
Harry H. Vaughan

General Vaughan was President Truman's Military Aide in the White House. He served as Truman's secretary while Truman was Senator. General Vaughan met Mr. Truman during World War I while both were serving in the 35th Division. General Vaughan discusses his recollections of the President during World War I, Truman's Senatorial years, the White House years, and the President's retirement.

Alexandria, Virginia
March 20, 1976
by Jerald L. Hill and William D. Stilley

See also Additional Harry Vaughan Interviews by Charles T. Morrissey dated January 14 and 16, 1963

See also Harry Vaughan Papers finding aid

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

 


Notice
This interview was conducted by William D. Stilley and Jerald L. Hill as part of a intern and independent study project at William Jewell College in March 1976, under the direction of the Political Science Department of William Jewell College. 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 transcript may be read, quoted from, cited, and reproduced for purposes of research. It may not be published in full except by permission of William D. Stilley and Jerald L. Hill.

Opened July, 1985
Harry S. Truman Library
Independence, Missouri

 

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

 



Oral History Interview with
Harry H. Vaughan

Alexandria, Virginia
March 20, 1976
by Jerald L. Hill and William D. Stilley

[1]

HILL: General Vaughan, when did you first meet President Truman?

VAUGHAN: In March 1918. That was about...

MISS VAUGHAN: It was earlier than 1918 wasn't it? And, it was before you went to France wasn't it?

VAUGHAN: Well, yes, we went to France about the next month after I met him in 1918. This was at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. The 35th Division was training at Fort Sill, and they picked civilians for the first

[2]

officer's training camp; and men who had never had a uniform on. After three months they commissioned them first lieutenant, second lieutenant, captains, and majors, which was ridiculous. And the second officer's training camp was the same way, and the third officer's training camp was made up of sergeants out of the various units that were in training. And due to some absolutely stupid regulation -- the Army's been having stupid regulations for 60 years that I know of -- they said in the third officer's training camp you couldn't get anything but second lieutenant commissions; and these men had had one, two, maybe three years of training as non-commissioned officers. So, it goes without saying that they would know more about things military and have a better basis to train on than the men that came right out of civilian life and never had a uniform on. So I went to the third officer's training camp, and I was commissioned a second lieutenant; and I was sent over to the 130th Field Artillery. I had been in the 129th out of St. Louis and I was sent to the 130th out of Kansas.

[3]

Well, we had a brigadier general commanding the 60th Field Artillery Brigade, who was a 24 karat s.o.b. In fact, he was a bigger one than he had to be to hold his job. You know, I always thought that was foolish to be a bigger bastard than you have to be to hold your job. It's a waste of energy, really

So, if he had an officer's call for 3 o'clock in the afternoon, and he got there at ten minutes until 3, he'd start the meeting, and if you got there at five minutes till 3 you were late and he gave you hell. So we were going over, and this was about two days after I was commissioned, we were going over to this meeting, and three or four of us talking and laughing and we pop through the door and we're clear inside before we realized that big old General Berry had started the meeting. So we all snapped up to attention, and in those days you had to be a first lieutenant before you had any rank, second lieutenants were called "mister."

So he looked around at us and we were of course snapped up to attention, and I was the first one in, and probably making the most noise, I don't remember

[4]

And he said, "What is your name mister?"

And I said, "Vaughan, sir."

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

And I said, "Two days, sir," with which he went into very minute detail as how he would doubt that I would ever be an officer if I lived to be 102." So he did quite a job on me. It took him two or three minutes, and while he was -- he had had a first lieutenant up in front giving him the devil about something. So, when he got through with me, he turned around and forgot what he was doing and this first lieutenant had stepped back in the ranks you see, and he went on with the meeting. And as we went out this lieutenant slapped me on the arm and said, "Much obliged mister, you took me off the hook nicely." And he went on. I said to the officer I was walking with, "Who's that fellow?"

He said, "That's the first lieutenant from over in the 129th Field Artillery, a guy named Harry Truman." That was 58 years ago. And we were associated from then on quite frequently. Of course, I saw him in

[5]

France. We were in different regiments, but I'd pass his gun position and he'd pass mine. Then we went to camp at Fort Riley for about twenty years from about 1920 to about 1940; and 1935 to '40 Truman commanded the 379th, and I commanded the 380th Field Artillery, and John Snyder, who used to be Secretary of the Treasury, commanded the 381st out of Arkansas.

I was his campaign manager when he was reelected to the Senate, and then I was his secretary in the Senate for a couple of years before I went on active duty; and then I was his Aide as Vice President and his Aide as President, up until 1953.

HILL: How much contact did you have with him after the time you came back from France before he decided to run for the Senate? Did you see him very often?

VAUGHAN: Oh, I used to see him at camps at Fort Riley. We began those camps in 1920.

MISS VAUGHAN: Three weeks you'd go to camp, every summer for three weeks?

[6]

VAUGHAN: Yes, at Fort Riley. We began those camps in 1920 I think it was. But I'd see him, I'd get up to Kansas City occasionally and he'd be down to St. Louis, and I'd see him. You see, we went to camp about twenty-some times.

MISS VAUGHAN: What was that story about...

VAUGHAN: He was a very enthusiastic reservist. He was a good officer, good artilleryman, and...

HILL: Did he ever talk in those days about going into politics and this type of thing before he ran for the Senate?

VAUGHAN: Well, it was right about that time he got elected Judge of the County Court. They called him Judge but it was not a legal position. It was a county commissioner, like they have in so many counties, have in this county. I don't know whether they have them in Missouri or not. What's the governing body of a county out there.

HILL: It's still County Judge, a County Court with the judges.

[7]

VAUGHAN: You call them judges but they're not. Harry Truman never went to college a day in his life, so he's not a lawyer.

I remember coming back from a convocation at Missouri University, I think it was. We were driving back -- to give him a Doctor of Laws degree. I think he had about sixteen of them, I think, and they also made him an honorary member of Phi Beta Kappa. We were sitting in the limousine going to the airport and he had this little velvet box with this Phi Beta Kappa key in it, and he said, "Look there, Harry, that's ridiculous." He said, "That thing is supposed to be given for academic excellence," and he said, "I never went to college a day in my life." And he said, "Besides, it's no good to me, I wear double breasted suits."

He was county commissioner for about six years I think. He had a very excellent record and that's where he surprised everybody. Everybody thought he would do what -- Pendergast helped him get elected, no doubt about that, for the simple reason that Jim Pendergast, who was an officer with us -- in fact it was

[8]

Jim Pendergast that was walking with me that time I met Truman. He and I were over in the 130th. Jim Pendergast, who was the nephew of old Tom, was a great admirer of Truman's, and great friend of his. They'd served together; and Jim persuaded his uncle to back Harry Truman. His uncle had never heard of Harry Truman, didn't know him, and everybody felt that because Pendergast backed Harry Truman to become County Judge, that Truman would be exactly as Pendergast said.

Well, Truman didn't give one single road building contract to any one of Pendergast's friends, and Pendergast asked him to come over and talk to him and he said, "Why don't you give a contract to so and so and so?"

Truman said, "Well, this contractor built this piece of road, and this one built this piece of road, and those pieces of road have a tendency to be coming to pieces." And he said, "I'm not giving a contract to any of these guys that cheat on the material." So he didn't give a contract to a single one of Pendergast's friends. Oh, they raised hell,

[9]

and Pendergast was a little provoked, but there was nothing they could do about it. Because when Roosevelt called Tom Pendergast in 1938, I think it was, something like that -- there was a contest in the Senate for Majority Leader and the contest was between Alben Barkley and Senator George of Georgia -- and Roosevelt called Tom Pendergast and he said, "Mr. Pendergast, I'd like for you to persuade your friend Harry Truman to vote for Alben Barkley for Majority Leader."

Pendergast said, "Well, I'll talk to him, but he's a hard-headed guy, if he's got some reason he has to be for George, why -- " so he called Truman and Truman said, "No, Mr. Pendergast, I promised -- I've committed myself to Senator George, and I'm going to vote for Senator George." That's all there is to it.

MISS VAUGHAN: But he was a great friend of Mr. Barkley's later.

VAUGHAN: Well, he was a friend of Barkley's then. But