Numbers appearing in square brackets (ex. ) within the transcript indicate the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the Werts oral history interview.
Opened September, 1979
Oral History Interview with
August 4, 1977
by James R. Fuchs
FUCHS: Mr. Werts, to start, you might say when and where you were born and something about your education and your first job that led to your going into the Government.
WERTS: I was born February 7, 1905, in Wren, Ohio, which is in Van Wert County where I went to high school. I graduated from high school there and then worked for the YMCA a couple of years in Van Wert and then went to YMCA College (which later became George Williams College) in 1925. I graduated in '29, took another degree at the
University of Chicago, which was a Bachelor of Philosophy, and finished in '39. As you know, that began the depression years. So after working for the Y for a short while in Chicago, I took a job with the Cook County Unemployment Relief Service. My job there was trying to place people who were on relief in specially created public agency jobs. This then led to employment in the Illinois State Employment Service. There I worked with Martin Durkin who was then the Director of Labor. I had various jobs with the Employment Service, but finally was the Associate Director. Then came the preliminaries to World War II and I took a job in Washington with a war emergency agency; and later with the War Production Board, the Manpower Commission -- in which I worked with General Frank McSherry and Paul McNutt. Then, as the war wore down, I went with the U.S. Military Government in Germany. Marty Durkin had recommended me to
Joe [Joseph Daniel] Keenan. I knew Joe. General [Lucius] Clay was the military governor. So I went to work as Chief of the Labor Supply Branch in the Manpower Division of U.S. Military Government.
During these first months in Germany, July and August 1945, I followed with great interest President Truman's participation in the four power summit which took place just outside Berlin. I was located in Berlin during part of the period of the meeting.
In 1946, I moved up to Director of the Division succeeding General McSherry. From Germany I came back to the Department of Labor. That's my first experience of employment in the Department of Labor. Phil Kaiser was the Assistant Secretary for whom I worked, [Maurice] Tobin was the Secretary and Mike Galvin, the Under Secretary. Those last three months of '49 through '53 covered the period that Mr.
Truman was in the White House while I was in the Department of Labor.
FUCHS: In other words, your going into labor affairs overseas was the result of your work in Illinois. That was your early experience.
WERTS: My experience is pretty much in employment, labor, and manpower in Illinois and in Military Government, and in the Department of Labor.
FUCHS: You were under Joseph Keenan overseas most of the time?
WERTS: While Joe was in and out of Germany, he was Labor Advisor to General Clay, but he didn't get into the day-to-day operations. As the director of the Manpower Division -- I reported directly to General Clay, but Joe and I worked together. Our offices were adjacent. I think, as I told you on the phone, when we were in Germany, the military was rather conservative since many of
the civilians who were on the staff were rather conservative. I think most of the people who were for Mr. Truman in 1948 were in the Manpower Division and I think Joe was one of the few people who was convinced that Mr. Truman was going to be reelected in '48.
FUCHS: Did you contradict him at that time?
WERTS: No. We were all doing a little wishful thinking.
FUCHS: You were a Truman man?
WERTS: Yes. An interesting sidelight was the day after the election when it was clear that Mr. Truman was reelected, you never saw such a quiet place as it was around the Military Government headquarters, because most of the people were all for Dewey. But the Manpower Division, really had a big day. Which reminds me -- I, obviously, was not there, but some of
my friends told me that the night of the election, when it was clear that Mr. Truman was elected, on the third floor at 14th and Constitution -- the Department of Labor was at 14th and Constitution, and the third floor was the Secretary's office and he, of course, was a presidential appointee -- people got gloriously drunk and the place was just flowing in liquor. It was a big night because of the election.
FUCHS: Is there anything else that stands out about your service in Germany?
WERTS: Of course, you couldn't be associated with General Clay without recognizing his brilliance. He was just tremendous. Obviously he was working closely with the President, directly or through the Defense and State Departments. But I think he, as much as anyone, whether he had the President's prior approval or not -- you remember when the Soviets closed Berlin, it was General
Clay who instituted that airlift. I remember at a staff meeting, there was a report to the effect that the Soviets were stopping some of the trains and Clay gave an order just like that, "Run that train, if it starts a fight we'll fight;" and he backed them off. But he was a person who kept the Soviets in their place. He had the guts, brains, and one got the impression that sometimes he was out making decisions and Washington was backing him up or maybe modifying it. But the airlift really stands out.
FUCHS: He operated rather autonomously over there.
WERTS: I got that impression, yes; but you never know. Bob Murphy was the top State Department person as political advisor to General Clay. How much communication there was, most of us were not privileged to know. But the relationship with the Soviets, the British and the French -- there was an overall military council
on which all four countries were represented. Then there were sub-councils. There was a manpower council in which I represented the United States and on which there were British, French, and Soviet counterparts. We'd get together two or three times a month for discussion. Actually we were the preliminary legislative body. We would recommend Military Government rules and regulations, labor standards -- the whole range of labor and manpower. Whatever we could agree to at our level then went forward to the overall council on which General Clay and the Soviet, French, and the British Commanders sat. So those are the big events as far as I think of it now.
FUCHS: Were you working in Berlin?
WERTS: Yes, we were in Berlin.
FUCHS: Did the blockade affect your work in any substantial way?
WERTS: Yes. I guess only mostly in the way we did it. You couldn't travel freely. You actually couldn't get in and out of Berlin as often as you might like. If you wanted to go down to Frankfurt, where our zone headquarters were, we'd just go out and arrange to get on a flour or coal plane and fly back to Frankfurt. Then when we came back you just went out to the airlift because there was always a plane going to Berlin.
FUCHS: Did you come in touch with David Morse over there in any way?
WERTS: Yes. Although I was recruited by other individuals, Dave, as the former Chief of the Manpower Division, interviewed me in Washington, D.C. I guess his military period ran out and he wanted to get back into civilian life. So General McSherry was assigned and I'd worked for General McSherry in Washington. Before my date was set for going to Germany, Dave Morse (he was then
a lieutenant colonel) had come to town and he called my office and we chatted about function and what my job was and something about the conditions I would face over there. Then, I would think for two or three months, Dave was in and out of Frankfurt where I first stopped for four or five weeks and then in Berlin. So I got to know him very well. Subsequent to that, I saw him in Geneva on a number of occasions, which I guess was after the Truman period. During the Truman period I was with Secretary Tobin on three occasions when he went to Geneva to make his annual speech to the ILO [International Labor Organization] convention and so I got to meet Dave there, too. I guess once during the Military Government period while Dave was Assistant Secretary for International Labor Affairs he called a conference of people in military governments in Austria, Germany, Korea, and Japan. We h