Oral History Interview with
US Army Criminal Investigation Detachment Agent during WWII. Member of the US Amry unit that was assigned to guard the President at Celilienhof during the Potsdam Conference
Richard R. Beckman
July 5, 1991
by Niel M. Johnson
[|Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcrip | 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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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 September, 1994
Harry S. Truman Library
[Top of the Page |Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcrip | List of Subjects Discussed]
Oral History Interview with
Richard R. Beckman
July 5, 1991
by Niel M. Johnson
Mr. Beckman discusses his family history and his World War II experiences. Other topics mentioned by Mr. Beckman include Germany; the Potsdam Conference; the draft; Scotland Yard; the FBI; Normandy; Cecilienhof Castle; Mein Kampf; the Big Three; Italy; Stalin; the Augusta; and the atomic bomb.
Names mentioned include Carl Morisse, Marvin Krans, Frank Cannon, Melton Kroll, Felix Frankfurter, Lee Farrell, Willie Wagner, Bill Wallons, Johnny Fitzpatrick, Harold Wilson, Edwin Pauley, James F. Byrnes and John Osterholt.
JOHNSON: Mr. Beckman, I guess they call you Dick usually, is that right?
BECKMAN: That's correct.
JOHNSON: I would like to have some background. Would you give us the names of your parents, and the names of your brothers and sisters?
BECKMAN: My name is Richard R. Beckman. I was born on July 7, 1915, to Stephen Joseph Beckman and Bertha Jennie Gronefeldt, who both were born in Burlington, Iowa. Besides myself, they had two other children, my sister Alice, who is 2-1/2 years older than I am, and my sister Mary Cambron. All three of us children were born in Burlington, and my sister Mary Cambron died and is buried in Peoria, Illinois.
JOHNSON: So you had the two sisters. There were just the three of you then.
JOHNSON: Just to quickly go back even farther, did you have an immigrant grandparent, or grandparents?
BECKMAN: Yes, I have been able to trace my grandparents' background, on my father's side, back to Germany. In the book that Rosemary, my wife, and I assembled strictly for our family, it shows the home where my grandmother was born in Bad Eberg in Germany, and then right next to it in the book is the home where my grandfather was born in Westkirchen in Westphalia, Germany.
JOHNSON: Were they both born in Westphalia?
BECKMAN: Yes. My mother's father, I know little about him except that he was born in Germany and worked for the railroad. He was a clerk in the freight house. He had a lung congestion of some kind, and he died when my mother was only five years old.
My grandmother was one of the Lee family, and they were among the first settlers of Burlington.
JOHNSON: Your mother's mother. So there are three German grandparents and one American.
BECKMAN: I think as far as being a full-blooded German, I'm the closest that it can be. I don't think I have anything else but German blood in me.
JOHNSON: Just to jump ahead then. In your exploits through Germany in 1944-45, did you happen to be in the area where your ancestors came from?
BECKMAN: I didn't know where my ancestors really came from at that time. I knew a little bit more about my grandmother Eversman. I didn't know where my grandfather came from. It's sort of a long story, but I thought Prussia was way in the northeast part of Germany. I didn't realize it went up to the Rhine. A few years ago I was reading about the British troops going into Prussia, and I said, "Monty never got way up there." And then I got maps out and found that Prussia went back to the Rhine River.
JOHNSON: Expanded westward, yes, over the centuries.
BECKMAN: It's amazing. In our book -- called "Marriage, War and Its Aftermath."
JOHNSON: We need to put that on the record. This is your family history.
BECKMAN: That we wrote for our family.
JOHNSON: Rosemary and Dick Beckman are the authors, it says. It was printed in 1988, right?
JOHNSON: Well, there's a lot of good information in there, so we don't want to repeat necessarily what's already in print. Apparently, it didn't bother you especially that you were at war with the homeland of your ancestors.
BECKMAN: Let's go back further than this. It didn't bother my father in the First World War. I have a medal that he was given by the Treasury Department for his effort to sell Liberty Bonds during the First World War. So, no, my family didn't speak German at home; we were perhaps as much of a Yankee family as any family could be.
JOHNSON: How about your education? What schools did you attend?
BECKMAN: I started out in St. John's Catholic grade school and attended St. Paul's Catholic High School in Burlington, Iowa. I then went to Burlington Junior College for two years. By the way, I graduated from high school in 1932, in the heart of the Depression. My father was an attorney, and a good attorney, and a very popular attorney. Every bank in the city of Burlington failed. Nobody had any money, and so if my father's clients got some money, they'd first pay the rent and then they'd pay the grocery bill and then they'd pay the coal bill. Then, if they had any money left, they'd pay the coal bill. Then, if they had any money left, they'd pay the doctor bill, and by the time they got down to the lawyer there wasn't anything. So my father got more eggs and cheese than anybody could eat.
So, therefore, when I went to the University of Iowa, I had three jobs. I ran the public cafeteria in the University of Iowa Hospital and for that job I got paid $18 a month and my meals.
I was also a proctor in the Quadrangle, an 800-man dormitory at the University of Iowa. At that time the Quadrangle was divided off into eight sections. I had 120 men in my section. I was the only step between
those students and the Dean of Men. I was their counselor; I was the fellow who passed out the pink slips; if they were sick I was the fellow who took them in the hospital; I was the person who contacted their parents. And for that I got my room and $18 a month.
Then in addition to that, I had a blind student who lived in the Quadrangle in my section, and he was in two of my classes. I got paid $10 a month for reading to him for each class, or $20. Now, I was never more wealthy in my life than I was at that time. I had my meals furnished, and I had my room furnished. If a man worked in a factory he got $15 a week. So, I got two $18's plus a $20 monthly.
JOHNSON: Yes, that's doing well. You went to Junior College in Burlington and graduate there in '34...
BECKMAN: And then I went to Iowa [State University of Iowa] for four more years. The first year I was in liberal arts, and then I took a combined liberal arts and law degree in which, if you had finished all your qualifications for the BA or BS degree before you were a senior, then the first year in law school would also count as your last year as an undergraduate.
JOHNSON: So you started law school in '35. It was a three year program?
JOHNSON: After one year of the liberal arts study at the University of Iowa then there were three years of law school, and you got your law degree in 1938.
BECKMAN: June 15, 1938.
JOHNSON: Was your father a solo lawyer?
BECKMAN: No, he practiced with a man by the name of Ben Poor. The law firm was named Poor and Beckman.
JOHNSON: Was he poor?
BECKMAN: No, he was more wealthy than my father. By the way, his father was also an attorney, and it was Poor and Poor.
JOHNSON: Did your father read law in the law office or did he have a law degree from one of the universities?
BECKMAN: My dad got his law degree in 1901 from the University of Iowa. My father was one of the very few people who ever got a law degree who did not attend one
day of high school.
JOHNSON: He had the aptitude apparently. He stayed with the law.
BECKMAN: He read a lot of law. Before he went to law school, he sold shoes at what was recognized as the best shoe store in Burlington. He sold shoes before he went to law school, and he sold shoes during the entire time he was in law school. In the book that Rosemary and I wrote -- I'm talking about "Marriage, War and Its Aftermath" -- there's a picture of my father in his room with his roommate after he had finished the property examination in law school.
There's sort of an interesting thing about my father. He wanted to go to law school for many years. My grandfather, who was born in Germany, was a wagon maker. He came to America, and he first stopped at St. Louis. He worked in a dairy farm. Then he came up to Illinois, at Oquawka. Oquawka is eight miles up the river on the Illinois side from Burlington.
Now, the railroad as it was being built was coming out of Chicago down to Knoxville, and the plan was that at Knoxville it was to meet the Peoria and Oquawka railroads that were running east and west. So, my
grandfather decided that if he was to be a wagon maker, the place to build his wagon factory was in Oquawka, Illinois. My grandfather built the wagon factory so that when the immigrants came to the end of the railroad line and to the Mississippi River, they would buy one of grandpa's wagons and head west.
Well, the reason our family isn't as wealthy as the Studebakers is that the wagon factory was built in the wrong place. The railroad, instead of going to Oquawka, went eight miles down the river and crossed the river at Burlington, Iowa. So anyway, my grandfather sat high and dry in Oquawka, Illinois. As part of the research on that book, I've got a picture of the first house my grandfather bought in Oquawka, and I've got a picture of the second house he owned, which was also in Oquawka. Then when he went broke, he went to Burlington and became superintendent of the car shops of the Burlington, Cedar Rapids and Northern Railroad, which later became part of the Rock Island. Its tracks were used by the Milleapolis-St. Louis Zephyr Rocket, which ran between the two cities overnight, a fast line. But now, the Rock Island has gone broke and the tracks have been torn up.
JOHNSON: So that wasn't the CF&Q, that wasn't the Chicago,
Burlington and Quincy?
BECKMAN: The CB&Q from St. Louis stopped at Burlington, and the Rock Island took the Zephyr Rocket north out of there.
JOHNSON: So your grandfather really worked for the Rock Island.
BECKMAN: Evidently, somewhere along the line, my grandfather was taken good by a lawyer. As a result, he would not permit my father to go to law school. So when my grandfather died, my grandmother insisted that this was now the time for my father to go to law school. He took the entrance exams, and they admitted him to law school. The sad part about it is that my grandmother, who was the motivating force to get my father to go to law school, died about one month before he graduated.
JOHNSON: But she got him through most of his training, and that was good.
Well, that's interesting, how your family got into the profession of law. I guess we need to go from there, from 1938. You went into practice with your father then for the next several years, until...
BECKMAN: Until April 9th 1943.
JOHNSON: When you were called into the Army.
BECKMAN: Now, let me go back on this. Just as soon as Pearl Harbor happened, I was ripe for the plucking by one of the services. So, I got lined up for a commission in the Navy. I flunked the physical. Then I tried for the FBI, and the FBI turned me down because I had flunked the Navy physical.
To make things more complicated, Rosemary, my fiancée, was the secretary for the Draft Appeal Board.
JOHNSON: Before you were married.
JOHNSON: And her name?
BECKMAN: Rosemary Delaney. The appeal board covered the southeast one-fourth of the State of Iowa. At that time, Burlington had two local draft boards, one for the farmers and one for the city of Burlington. Those offices were also in one big room in the courthouse in Burlington. If I had been pragmatic or anything like that, I would have stayed out of that room. But I was much in love with Rosemary, and so I'd drop in every
day. Anyway, I was called up in a routine call, and I flunked the physical and got a 4-F classification, which should have been a permanent rejection.
JOHNSON: That would have been 1942.
BECKMAN: Or before that. It was during that period when the draft boards were nipping for anything, as they were required to send fifty men on each monthly call to Des Moines for possible induction into service. The local board had a policy that when they started getting close to the bottom of the barrel, they didn't want to take legitimate fathers into service unless they absolutely had to. Now, by legitimate fathers I mean ones who had children prior to the draft. The board would get these men jobs in defense industry and so forth and like that. There were about six of us who were 4-F and who were pretty active in town. So, we no more than came home with our 4-Fs, and immediately we were reclassified into 1-A. We went through the process, and within 45 days we were again back to Fort Dodge in Des Moines, going through the induction center again.
I went through that induction center eight times. On the seventh time I came home with a 4-F, and they
said I had a hole in my lung. Well, that was the first time I knew that I had something like that. I mean I had hernias in places I didn't know one could have a hernia. I had a heart condition -- you just name it, the Army said I had it. Anyway, this hole in my lung really scared me, because my mother's father died from lung congestion.
Since I had worked at the University of Iowa hospital in Iowa City, I knew the place pretty well. At the time Dr. Smith was head of internal medicine. I made an appointment with him and asked Rosemary to go up with me.
JOHNSON: What was the date of your marriage?
BECKMAN: October 16, '43.
JOHNSON: Yes, so this was...
BECKMAN: The night before my appointment with Dr. Smith -- I lived at home at that time -- my folks had Rosemary over for dinner. My dad got Rosemary aside and said, "If you can get a chance, Rosemary, ask Dr. Smith if he thinks that Dick should smoke as much as he does." I smoked a pipe and cigars. Anyway, we went up to Dr. Smith, and Rosemary sat in the halls of the hospital
for the day. I came out and I said, "Dr. Smith's going to see us very soon." So we walked into Dr. Smith's office. Dr. Smith was looking over my file and explained that it wasn't a hole, it was a lot of scar tissue on the lung. He didn't think the Army would ever take me because I was susceptible to colds, and other things. At this stage of the game, when he was talking about the lungs, little reserved Rosemary speaks up and said, "Doctor, do you think that with this condition that Dick should smoke as much as he does?" Silence filled that room. I don't think it was more than five seconds, but it seemed like five hours. Finally, Dr. Smith looked Rosemary eye-to-eye and said, "Are you going to be that kind of wife?"
Anyway, finally, on the eighth time up to the induction center at Fort Dodge, I was taken into the Army.
JOHNSON: But you were still smoking.
BECKMAN: Oh, yes. There's a sketch in there in the book which I think is the killer of all killers. Rosemary was concerned about my health in Belgium, and I had a pipe in my mouth.
JOHNSON: But you weren't smoking cigarettes.
BECKMAN: I did not smoke cigarettes; pipe and cigars.
JOHNSON: Well, now, how did you meet Rosemary?
BECKMAN: Oh, a client of mine, a wealthy client of mine, was a very good friend of Rosemary's family. And there was another quite well-to-do family that had rented the Streckfus excursion boat that used to tramp up and down the river with the Dixieland bands. They had rented the boat for one trip out of Burlington. May McGannon, this client of mine, fixed it up that Rosemary and I got an invitation on the excursion boat JS, and that's the first date.
JOHNSON: I take it that your family was rather devout Roman Catholic.
BECKMAN: Very definitely.
JOHNSON: And how about her family?
BECKMAN: My daughters, who went to St. Mary's of Notre Dame, were the fourth generation, from great-grandmother to grandmother to mother to daughter, to graduate from St. Mary's of Notre Dame. Her two brothers attended Notre Dame University. Now, I'm the only outlaw of the bunch.
JOHNSON: But you didn't belong to the same parish though?
BECKMAN: No. You understand I belonged to the Germany parish and they went to the "Shanty" Irish church [laughs].
JOHNSON: You were a very prolific letter writer, I think we can say that, and in your letter and in your autobiographical essay, "An Accounting of Time," you give a pretty comprehensive story of your military service overseas, from the beginning of '44 to the end of the war. Your story also includes the Potsdam conference, in 1945, that we want to focus on. [The writings and letters of Richard Beckman have been filed in the Truman Library's Miscellaneous Historical Documents Collection, item No. 468 (2 folders).]
You don't get into much detail about the training. You mention training that you had, such as in England with Scotland Yard and with the Customs Service. Of course, you had special training in the Army. What was the date that you entered the Army?
BECKMAN: In April.
JOHNSON: April of '43.
BECKMAN: Just around Easter.
JOHNSON: And you were married in October of that year. Then it was only about a month after that, that you were sent overseas.
BECKMAN: Let me just give you a little bit about this training. What happened is, I was sent to an MP [Military Police] basic training battalion in Fort Custer. I finished the first increment of 17 weeks, see. When the 17 weeks were over, they would take the men and send them to the different schools or different combat outfits. In that increment they sent everybody out except me. I was held back. So then they started the next increment and there I was back again in basic training. "To the right flank," "to the rear march," and all this stuff. I thought, "My God, this is like flunking kindergarten."
One day I was told to get a class A uniform and to report to camp headquarters. I went in as a private, and I was politely treated. I was treated just like I was when I came into the Truman Library today. Now, that was not the normal way a private was treated in basic training, by a long shot. At headquarters I was told, "The colonel will see you very shortly." I was called into the office and snapped a salute at the
colonel and he said, "Have a chair." Then he started talking to me and asking me a lot of questions and so forth. The interview must have lasted perhaps half an hour, right in there. He said, "Report back to your unit." So I did, but I was still during that week back in basic training.
I received a call and was told, "You are to report to the Provost Marshall, General School." I was as green about that school as one could be. Well, the Army had bought the FBI school -- by that I don't mean they closed up the FBI school in Washington, D.C. -- but they sent to Camp Custer the instructors, the equipment, and everything else. There were 150 soldiers from all over, and they were divided off into sections of fifteen men. There were ten sections with fifteen men in each. We went through what was called Provost Marshall, General School. And they told us very soon when we started training, "There are presently fifteen men in each section, but by the time you graduate there will be only ten of you in each section graduating." What they would do and how they determined which ones were going to be in and which ones were going to be out was that every week they passed out "rat lists". On the rat list you received
were the names of your section's fifteen men. Every week you were required to rate all fifteen men from one to fifteen.
JOHNSON: Rated on that list?
BECKMAN: Yes. One, two, three, four, five, six... When the whole thing ended up, it was like a golf score. The fellows who had the ten lowest number of points overall were the ones who graduated and turned out to be in that unit. If you turned out to be the eleventh lowest, you were out. When we found out we were going to graduate, we knew at that time that they were going to somehow adjust our pay. They were gong to give us per diem and petty expense money. Now, it was generally thought, by rumors, that we were going to work in port towns in the United States. So this looked like a beautiful time for us to get married. Good pay, per diem, plus petty expense.
Rosemary is from a good Catholic Irish family -- and they had a lot of maiden aunts, cousins, and so forth -- so the wedding was set for October 16. About the 13th of October a general directive came out that stated "No person in this command will be leaving the post on the weekend of October 16th, as every man in the command
will on that day go through the infiltration course." That is where they have soldiers crawl under barbed wire, and in the mud, with machine guns going over their heads and bombs exploding all around -- that sort of thing.
Well, during basic training, and through the FBI training, we'd been through the infiltration course a number of times. About that time, an invitation to our wedding was sent to me by Rosemary. I had called home and I said, "I don't think I'm going to be able to get home for our wedding." By that time all the maiden aunts were already in Burlington, and we were going to be married by Archbishop Bergan, the Archbishop of Omaha, who was Rosemary's cousin.
Anyway, having the invitation, I took it to the commanding officer and told him I'd like to invite him to a wedding. Well, on Friday, about noon, I was given a pass and was able to get on the train, and I got to Chicago, Gate 22. In the book there's picture of Gate 22, and mobs of people all over trying to get somewhere. I went to the conductor and I said, "I've got to get on that train, I'm going to get married in the morning." He said, "I haven't got any seats. The only thing we can do is put you in the vestibule
between the cars." That was the section where you went up into the car and then you had this corrugated doorway between the cars. Well, that's where I had to ride if I was to be married.
The temperature, which was beautiful when I left, turned out to be way below freezing. Frozen, I got into Burlington after midnight. The husband of a secretary for my father was in the dry-cleaning business. After midnight he took my uniform and cleaned it. I was married in a private's uniform. I didn't attend the rehearsal dinner, or the rehearsal. My brother-in-law, Dick Delaney, picked me up the morning of the wedding. I said, "What am I supposed to do?" He said, "Dick, I'll try to tell you what I think you're supposed to be doing, but if I make a mistake, both of us will." So, anyway, Rosemary and I got married, with all of the pomp and circumstance.
JOHNSON: So now, you are married.
BECKMAN: All right. Carl Morisse was my close friend -- he has now retired as vice president of Traveler's Insurance Company at Hartford. We were very, very close friends. Carl said, "Now, Dick don't worry. I'll get you the room at Post Tavern." The Post Tavern
was the best hotel in Battle Creek at that time. He said, "The room will be there -- I'll make certain."
Anyway, as you can count, the trains at that time during the war ran late. So, on the night of our honeymoon we get into Battle Creek close to one o'clock, and we got into a taxi to take us to the Post Tavern. I got there and there was no room at the inn. When we didn't show up by 12 o'clock, they let it go. Now, just as a sideline to this, at Christmas time when they read the Good Book and talk about Joseph with Mary and child knocking at the inn and the innkeeper says, "We have no room," I know just exactly how Joseph felt. But we weren't with child. But anyway, I know just exactly how he felt.
The taxicab driver took us around everyplace where there was a place that might have a room, and we couldn't find any. Finally, he says, "You seem like nice people. I think I can get you a room." Well, Rosemary and I spent the first night of our married life in the taxicab driver's living room, on a foldout cot. There were so many soldiers living in his house, it was just like Grand Central Station. So, as I always say to Rosemary, "I don't know what most people do on the first night of their honeymoon, but we
JOHNSON: That's some experience all right.
So now it's back into uniform?
BECKMAN: This is getting so long, I'm concerned.
JOHNSON: We need to get you from your training at Fort Custer...
BECKMAN: After we knew we were the ones to graduate, we were sent home for civilian clothes. And this was cause for great celebration. Rosemary's brother had stuck three bottles of champagne in my suitcase when I left home on the night of our wedding. So we gathered all our close friends to the Hart Hotel, where one of the wives had a room. We really blew the champagne that night to celebrate because we were going home to get our civilian clothes.
JOHNSON: Now, this is after you had finished your training at the FBI academy.
BECKMAN: And married. Then they changed our uniforms. We had uniforms very similar to the war correspondents. So, after this, if I talk about uniforms, I'm talking about a war correspondent's class A and combat uniform.
But we also had fatigues and everything else. Yesterday, at the 4th of July celebration here in the Truman Library, I saw some ladies with the VFW pin, which had the letters cut out of brass. Well, the pins we wore on our shoulders were similar but had the letters CID.
JOHNSON: CID. What was the difference between what you were doing and what the Provost Marshals were doing?
BECKMAN: I did not know this at that time, but I can give you a little bit of the background on that. The military services found out that if, for example, somebody in the Navy committed a very serious felony, in the area that was policed by the Army, the Military Police would turn this Navy person over to the Navy command and nothing ever happened. I mean, any Navy man has got a perfect right to knock the hell out of any soldier they want to and nobody is going to stop them; so something had to be done. They needed a group that was not to be bound by the distinction of services or rank. We did not show any rank because if a person did someone could always outrank you. You got to a certain point, as I did in one of those cases, where with no rank protection you had better just take it
easy and not go too far when dealing with a two-star general.
So, that's why our group was organized.
JOHNSON: The CID stood for Criminal Investigation Detachment?
BECKMAN: Yes. The reason we did not use FBI was that we were operating in England, and if we told anybody that we were from the FBI, including most men from Scotland Yard and anybody from the constabularies or anything like that, they would have no idea what the world the FBI was, but they sure as heck knew what CID meant.
JOHNSON: Well, I guess that during the war, the FBI was in foreign countries weren't they?
BECKMAN: I never ran into any of them. That's why the name CID was adopted.
JOHNSON: And as far as rank is concerned.
BECKMAN: As far as the Army records show, after being made an agent I still remained a private.
JOHNSON: But you still carried the designation agent.
JOHNSON: Not special agent, just agent.
JOHNSON: Is that how you identified yourself, when you were assigned orders and so on, as agent?
BECKMAN: Yes. And if you notice there, in our book, at one point I took a furlough in Switzerland and the orders came down and they said, "Agent Richard R. Beckman," and my serial number was 1737. Now, you'll never believe how I and all the rest of the agents got our serial numbers.
We got to England, and somebody had had a whole bunch of metal badges made up. I can remember they were in a box. We were told, "Go and pick out the badge with the number you want." The reason I picked out 1737 was that, I was born on July 7, 7/7 -- now 1915 didn't fit -- so I thought seven must be my luck number. The number with the most 7s I could find was 1737, and so, believe it or not, that is how we received our serial numbers. My number even went on my Potsdam pass. Noticing the number, a person in the Army or Navy would often say, "My golly, I didn't realize you'd been in the Army that long to get a low number like
JOHNSON: Were these mainly lawyers that were recruited into the CID?
BECKMAN: Yes. Everyone was a lawyer, except three of them.
JOHNSON: In your unit?
BECKMAN: Our unit, that's right.
JOHNSON: You're talking about ten people?
BECKMAN: Yes, seven lawyers. There were two men who were with the different state police. Marvin Krans was with the Michigan State Police, and Frank Cannon was with the Pennsylvania State Police. John Osterholt was a special agent for the Internal Revenue Service. I think they are the ones who do the dangerous work and pack a gun.
JOHNSON: I notice these names; Milton Kroll had been a lawyer.
BECKMAN: Milt was a Harvard graduate. He was one of the men that Felix Frankfurter took out of Harvard with him to Washington, and these young Harvard men were called the "brain trusters," the New Deal Brain Trusters. He
was the counsel for the Securities and Exchange Commission, when he was drafted.
[Here Johnson and Beckman are looking over one of Beckman's wartime sketches on page 168 of the book.]
And right below that -- you're looking at the sketch I had -- the man with the shirt and the socks. That's Carl Morisse and he graduated from Washington University in St. Louis. He went with the Hartford Insurance Company and was their regional in-house attorney for workman's comp. when he was drafted.
JOHNSON: So none of the others were out of the Burlington area?
BECKMAN: No, I think there were only two of us from Iowa. See, you take 100 men and just on a population basis not too many can come from any one state.
JOHNSON: There's Lee Farrell.
BECKMAN: I beg your pardon; Lee wasn't an attorney, but Lee's one of the most interesting persons that you ever met. He was an FBI agent, up in South Dakota, and his principal job turned out to be to arrest the young homesick soldiers who went AWOL. He had qualms of conscience so he resigned from the FBI, and the next
day he was drafted. Then he found himself back in the FBI school; if you notice, we called him "Flip."
BECKMAN: Now, Flip didn't get the nickname because he's flippy. What happened was that when we were going through FBI training, when you were on the firing line with a revolver, when you shot your rounds, you flipped out the barrel. In the interim, they found out that if you did that, that the cylinder didn't quite line up with the barrel, and it would spit lead. So I could remember this instructor from the FBI on the firing line, and he said, "If I see anybody flip out that barrel, your name is going to be mud, and I'm going to tell everybody around them what a person you are and so forth and so on." Old "Flip" goes out to the firing line and shoots her off and out comes the barrel. So, that's how he got his name as Flip. He's deceased now. He became one of the most respected authors of a textbook on farmer's income taxation, and that book is used by the extension services of most of the farm states in the United States. It's been updated -- it's annually updated. He was the original author of that book. He was an outstanding person.
JOHNSON: Willie Wagner, was that Wilbur Wagner?
JOHNSON: And Ben Wallons.
BECKMAN: Yes. Now, Bennie is a Boston lawyer.
JOHNSON: Did you train with the .38 caliber or...
BECKMAN: When you were in the CID in England, you had a .38 OP, Official Police, short snub, and we had that until we went into the invasion of Normandy, which comes later.
JOHNSON: You were in England for several months there, it looks like from about January to June.
JOHNSON: Almost six months, before D-Day. You were doing some investigations. I'm trying to remember this one statement that was in Time magazine, in the May 1st, 1944, issue.
BECKMAN: Just before D-Day.
JOHNSON: And that concerned...
BECKMAN: May I tell you the story, and then pick it up. I was in Southampton and I had a call from Eisenhower's Provost Marshal General for the theatre, and he said, "Dick, I don't quite understand this but the British Government is really ticked off. Some American passed a $100 note on the Bank of England, and this is the first time that they have ever had an unsecured loss that appears on their record. So, I want you to investigate it." I said, "Why not investigate that out of London? That's where the Bank of London is." He said, "Dick, I don't know a thing about it, but they must have a duplicate record place someplace down in your area."
So, I went out there, and I found out that they had a branch bank -- a big one -- in Bournemouth, England. That's down along the Southampton area.
JOHNSON: Down by the Channel?
BECKMAN: Not quite the Channel, but almost. Well, anyway, so I flashed my credentials and went from one clerk to another clerk to another clerk and finally I got the chief clerk. Then I got to the director, and that was the most formal room I'd ever been in in my life up to that time. If you wanted to take a picture of an
English old-time, elegant office, this was it. So anyway, I introduced myself and he says, "Oh, yes." So then he rang the bell for his clerk to come in and he said, "This American gentleman is investigating this $100 note that we got, and would you bring it in?" I was there and, Lord, I couldn't believe it; here comes this clerk sort of stiffly dressed, with a silver tray, and on the silver tray was a 3 x 11 envelope. So, he held out the tray and I picked off the envelope. I pulled out the note. I thought, "How in the world did the Bank of England ever get ahold of this." It was a $100 Confederate note!
Then I went through the process of interviewing the person who had taken the note, and he said, "Well, your bloke came in and he wanted to know if we could convert his American money into English currency." He told him, "Well, we don't normally do this, but because we are allies we lean over backwards," and so forth. So the U.S. soldier got out his American money and he counted out a hundred -- one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven -- he got to eleven and handed it over to the clerk and the clerk counted one, two three, four .... The clerk made out the conversion chits as we'd call them, and the American signed his
name as Sergeant Charlie Charles Williams. I was given the Charlie Charles Williams chits and everything else related to the transaction. I tried to get a description of the soldier. At that time, most units had removed their insignias -- unit insignias, so therefore it was impossible to tell what unit the guy came from. The director gave me his estimate of how many stones the fellow weighed and so forth. I had one million men who could match that description.
I left the bank and called the Provost Marshal. I said, "What in the world kind of report am I going to make on this; I haven't got one lead in the world." He says, "Dick, I don't care how you type it up; use big margins, big headers, and big footers and fill up pages, but just make the report impressive."
I returned to Southampton, where I had a real good friend, whom I refer to in our book, by the name of Johnny Fitzpatrick. He was the chief of the Scotland Yard Southern District, which was stationed in Southampton. I went to see Johnny, to see if he would have a beer with me at the pub before I went home. He said, "Say, we picked up one of your blokes, and I've got him in the jail. Why don't you just go back and talk to him." You understand at that time, the only
thing he could demand from the prisoner was name, rank and serial number.
I got to this fellow in his cell, and he was obnoxious as hell. I just handed him a piece of paper, and I said, "Sign your name, rank and serial number." he signed it. I took the paper with his signature, and I looked at that thing. Then I got out from my briefcase my Sergeant Charles Charlie Williams signature. I said, "That was surely a fast one you pulled on the Bank of England." I got the guy 57 miles away.
JOHNSON: How much later was that after the note had been passed originally?
BECKMAN: Well, it had to get to the Bank of England and then over to the Chancellor of the Exchequer through the chain of command and down to me. I could easily see where that could take a week. But I had the culprit two days after I got the assignment. No one could believe it. I said, "It's just scientific criminal investigation."
JOHNSON: What did they do with him then?
BECKMAN: I don't know.
JOHNSON: Probably sent him on to Normandy to help fight the Germans. Fend him off on the Germans.
Now, you had a camera, it appears, almost throughout your whole military career. When did you get the camera?
BECKMAN: Oh, I brought that from home to basic training. That camera, you know, is in your file.
JOHNSON: In the collection.
BECKMAN: A chip is broken out of the back of it, but that's the camera that I used all during the war.
JOHNSON: But you were not authorized to have a camera while you are in basic training, were you?
BECKMAN: Oh, yes.
JOHNSON: You could have your own personal camera?
BECKMAN: I could have it all the way up until we went on the invasion of Normandy.
JOHNSON: You had that on your person all this time, this camera?
BECKMAN: The whole time. Well, I had it in my duffle bag
or whatever it might be, but yes.
Now, I was in civilian clothes during the entire time that we lived in England. I lived with the English people; we could have lived in a hotel or anyplace. I lived with a very fine English couple down at Southampton; their address was 36 Harborough, Southampton. Believe it or not, their last name was German. Anyway, they sort of treated me like their son and took me right into the family and everything else.
JOHNSON: Did you have regular working hours? Did you report for duty at a certain time?
JOHNSON: You were on your own as to what hours you would be working and you were just expected to work on a case and get it solved and spend whatever time you felt was necessary?
JOHNSON: You were given a good deal of independence then. Wasn't that a very unusual situation?
BECKMAN: While we were in England, they considered us an Army outfit; the Army never considered anything
"quasi." But we didn't have such things as a morning report. I'm not certain who took care of the morning reports, like sick call, but I never saw them. We were on our own.
Another thing we had was what was called permanent travel orders. They were printed forms, bound like a tablet. If we wanted to take a train from Southampton to Bournemouth, we'd go to the railroad station, sign one of these travel order sheets, saying it was for transportation from Southampton to Bournemouth; we'd give it to the stationmaster and he'd give us a ticket and off we'd go.
Those travel orders would also permit us to go to Northern Ireland. Now we couldn't go to Ireland itself, see, but Northern Ireland is part of England. However, it was definitely understood that we were supposed to be in the southern base, and if caught in London when not on official business, we would be fired. We had such a good deal, we weren't going to screw up.
JOHNSON: Who did you report to? Who was your supervisor?
BECKMAN: Milt Kroll. We were told we had to get somebody to sort of be the boss. Unofficially, we called him
JOHNSON: So your reports went to him?
BECKMAN: Yes, and he would take them and forward them on to the proper office.
JOHNSON: What kind of cases were you mostly involved with?
BECKMAN: Let me get back to the camera and then the camera will bring us into your phase of it. When it got time for the invasion, we were put back in uniform again; we had these .38 OPs and the ammo for a .38 was not official ammunition that was going in on the invasion. So we were given .45's. Also, along with that, each one of us was given one piece of equipment. Now, we had one set of bandoliers. A bandolier is made up of pipes and you put a charge on the end of it; oh, I was glad I didn't carry the charge. You put a charge on it, and then you connect the pipes together. There's a firing mechanism on the other end, and then if there's a barbed wire entanglement ahead of you you can put one of those in there and it blows it up.
Well, I drew wire cutters and my only firearm was a .45 pistol. Well, that is a pistol you could either shoot at somebody or throw it, either way it was just
as effective. And whoever has got the wire cutters couldn't be the last person in on a beach. That is if we were going in.
Now, another thing is I didn't have any more callouses on my hands at that time than I have right now, which is none. So we had our office equipment boxed. Oh, we also had our civilian clothes with us. Now, we were sent to Simpsons of Picadilly for our civilian clothes.
I forgot to tell you about this. We went home for our civilian clothes but the English Navy wouldn't let us take them aboard the Queen Mary when we sailed on December 3, 1943, from New York to Greenock, Scotland. From the docks of New York we sent our civilian clothes home. Then, when we got to London, the Provost Marshal wanted to know where our civilian clothes were, and we said, "You'll have to talk to the English Navy about that." So, they sent us all to Simpsons of Picadilly and informed us what we could buy. We could each buy two suits, two pair of English flannels, a half a dozen shirts, I think a half a dozen ties, socks, two pairs of shoes, and an overcoat -- you could either buy a raincoat or a mackintosh. A mackintosh is one of those coats like Colombo wears, you know, the tan ones you
see all the time.
One of the fellows, not in our outfit but in one of the others, asked, "Well, what do you recommend, a raincoat or a mackintosh?" The fellow from Scotland Yard stared at the guy and answered, "If you're so darn dumb you don't know how to get out of the rain, get a raincoat." You were entitled to a hat, and some of the fellows even got the English bowlers. Before it was all over some of them were carrying a cane, and they turned in their glasses that they had and had tortoiseshell rims put on them. We just had to look smashingly English, you know.
We have to bring in these clothes, because it's a little bit important in this. Under Army procedure, if you were in the Army and you wanted your shoes replaced because they were worn out or something like that, all you did was turn in the shoes you had and they reissued you another pair. The deal was to try to save our civilian clothes for after the war because we had Harris Tweed overcoats, we had the best. Which, by the way, was paid for by reverse lend-lease. The Americans didn't give a care because it was about time we got a little bit back from the millions of dollars the English had been given. So, our clothes were bought on
We wrote home and said, "You remember that old pair of gaberdine trousers that I had that was real shiny in the seat and sort of frayed at the cuff? Send me those. And I think there's an old coat around that's all sweated around the cuff, which I'll never wear again." Each one of us intended to trade those old gaberdines in, and then take the English clothes home with us when the war was over.
On the sketch that's in the book, you see Marvin Krans. At that time the jeeps that were to go into the invasion had to be waterproofed. That is, they put a snorkel tube up from the exhaust and also from the carburetor through which they sucked air, and you could drive them in deep water onto the beach by sitting on the back of the front seat. Marvin Krans had all of our civilian clothes packed in the trailer behind his jeep. When the crane took the trailer and jeep off the Liberty ship and put them on the landing craft, somebody set the brake on the trailer. Marvin didn't know it. So off he comes down the ramp of the landing craft, with the trailer filled with our civilian clothes, and plump, plump, plump, plump -- the bubbles were coming up -- the jeep and trailer with all our
clothes sank into the foaming brine.
If you notice on that sketch, Carl Morisse is holding up his shirt with two argyle socks imprinted on the front. Well, we weren't able to unpack the clothes in the trailer until about the 15th of July, a month or more after D-Day. There was a perfect imprint on that English shirt of Carl's two socks down the front. So, that's how that happened.
JOHNSON: You say the day that you landed in Normandy was...
BECKMAN: We were held off on the coast because of the storm. We got in after D-Day, but there was still plenty of activity going on.
JOHNSON: As far as the camera is concerned, were you expected to take pictures of scenes, when you were at CID? Did they expect you to use a camera?
BECKMAN: Oh, no, no.
JOHNSON: They didn't have anything to do with it.
BECKMAN: Oh, no, no. What happened was, I was told to report to Oxford and bring everything I have. We packed up all the things. The typewriter box was the
waterproof box in which I put my camera. Where the keys comes up and hit the platen, there is like a nest there, and I took some cotton cloth, it was soft, and put the camera in between the keys. That is the way it went in on D-Day. Now, nobody was to have a camera on that invasion. Well, we no more than got into Normandy and a call came down from headquarters, "Has anybody got a camera?" Nobody said a word.
Finally, it got more desperate and more desperate. And they said, "There will be absolutely no questions asked if anybody can produce a camera. Let us know." And at that, I pulled out my camera.
JOHNSON: Out of your typewriter case.
BECKMAN: Out of the typewriter box. As a result, I believe I'm about the only person who went through the war who has a diary of pictures of every foxhold, town, village, or other place that he or she was in.
JOHNSON: Why were they desperate for a camera? This was in France, right?
BECKMAN: In Normandy. We did not get involved if it was a common, ordinary death, I mean one that could be handled by the MP's. Deaths had to carry a
significant, social or otherwise, effect. If you have a murder, there are two things you've got to do. You have to photograph the crime scene and you have to sketch it. I happened to be able to draw, and I had a camera. So I became the homicide expert in ETO; why? Because I had a camera and because I could draw.
JOHNSON: So you made sketches. Where did these end up these photographs and sketches? I don't think you have murder scenes in your scrapbook.
BECKMAN: I talked to Dr. Zobrist about that, if he wanted any of them. I happen to have some at home, that I can send down here if you want.
JOHNSON: These incidents all involved American servicemen?
BECKMAN: It had to involve an American. Now, you have to also understand that because of the agreement made among the Allied armed forces, the English were in no way allowed to interrogate Americans in England, and vise versa. We couldn't even talk to English citizens about any case, so we always worked as a pair with somebody from Scotland Yard, who could question the English citizens.
In France we worked with the security forces of
France, and so forth.
JOHNSON: So you worked with the French equivalent of the FBI, their equivalent.
BECKMAN: Yes, the gendarmes.
JOHNSON: And the Scotland Yard people. Did the British have Scotland Yard people or counterparts of the CID in France as well? Did they operate the way we did?
BECKMAN: You understand that after we got to France, see, the Canadians and the English landed north [of Omaha Beach] at Juno and Sword. Then you come to the Charlie Red and so forth, of the different beaches on Omaha, and then farther down the Carentan Peninsula is where Utah Beach was. So, we didn't get mixed up very often with the English. We worked with the American troops during that time, not in the British section.
JOHNSON: It seemed to me during the wartime, especially when fighting was rather fierce, that it was not always easy to distinguish between an action of war and a crime.
BECKMAN: That's one of the things. All you have to do is have somebody kill a counterespionage agent, and that's
when the fire took place. And there were a number of very, very brutal rapes and murders in France early on. I could think of one where there was a darling little French girl, maybe fourteen or fifteen, and somebody had taken a French wine bottle, broken off the bottle part, and with the jagged edges of the neck, took and jammed that into the neck of the little girl. Oh, it was just the most horrible thing.
Well, if it was one outfit the MP's could handle it, but when it spread between corps, armies, divisions -- even divisions -- they needed our help. See, we were the bridges between the different units.
JOHNSON: You were similar to what a homicide squad might do in a city or municipal police department, it seems.
BECKMAN: Yes, if you worked only homicides. See, we also had a problem of recovering works of art from the Nazis. We did a lot of that. Some of our fellows recovered the crown jewels for the House of Hesse.
JOHNSON: You've heard abut this case in Texas where an American colonel had taken very valuable old manuscripts and some artwork out of Germany, out of Ouidlenberg, and then kept them in his possession until after he died. Then Germany paid a fee, I guess, to
reclaim them. This is a problem. Is "booty of war" a legal term?
BECKMAN: We called it "liberated."
JOHNSON: What was the distinction between what was legitimate booty of war and property that was not?
BECKMAN: I would say this: let's assume somebody took some artifacts from Harry Truman's home here. That would fall within our category. But if they took it from a French peasant, that was booty of war. It's a matter of degree.
JOHNSON: Well, how about military items versus civilian items, too?
BECKMAN: Well, see, the French didn't have any military items, they were all...
JOHNSON: I'm thinking of the German military items. For instance you picked up a lot of Nazi insignia...
BECKMAN: That was just fair game.
JOHNSON: Okay, that was all military. But artwork, for instance; you could take a piece of artwork off of a wall, let's say it was done by a military artist, or it
had a Nazi war scene. Would that make it different from some other piece of artwork?
BECKMAN: I think it would have to be reported, if it was Nazi artwork originals. I think that would have fallen into our category of recovery. There wasn't a distinct line of demarcation.
JOHNSON: For instance, this painting in which Hitler was depicted as a knight, kind of a shining knight on a horse, with a banner, and some soldier had slashed it with his bayonet or whatever. That particular piece of artwork, for instance, would that be considered booty of war if a soldier took that?
BECKMAN: I don't think so. I think that would be classified as art that should belong to the United States archives.
JOHNSON: But then you had three categories. You had, you might say, booty of war, which the soldier himself could retain, could more or less take title to. You had the kind of war booty that really should belong to the United States Government, the Federal Government. Then, I suppose you also had items that didn't rightfully belong even to the enemy -- to Germany.
BECKMAN: Don't forget France and Belgium, and Holland. We ran into it more in Holland and Belgium, up there where the Van Goghs and other things were. But I would like to refer you again back to our book. See that sketch of the Eleventh CID, right up at the top it says "Beck's case."
JOHNSON: Is this the one you're talking about?
BECKMAN: Yes, up on top. Right in the corner. "Is Pete in?" That's me. See the two general's stars on the van?
BECKMAN: Well, that involves a case of exactly what we are talking about. This happened in Normandy. I don't think we'd been in Normandy a month. A report came to us from Eisenhower's headquarters. I really believe it was [General Omar) Bradley's executive who called and said, "Some countess who happened to know the right people said, 'Some Americans have stolen all my French provincial furniture, taken my deep freeze, you just name it, they've taken it all.'" So, anyway, I was assigned to this case by myself, and I wasn't on that
case more than ten hours and uncovered that a two-star general had taken these items. So I'm there -- see, the handcuffs behind me -- and the aide is coming out of the command caravan. I don't want to say who it is, but...
JOHNSON: So, you found out that he had taken it.
BECKMAN: That's when you start laying off. I mean you just...
JOHNSON: You didn't push it or press it?
BECKMAN: No, what happened is that we turned it over to Bradley. We let General Bradley handle it. We let him know what evidence we had. But that last move you would do was to clap on the cuffs. We didn't do that with a two-star general. No, that's a perfect example of what you're talking about.
JOHNSON: Well, there's probably more work than you could take care of as far as cases were concerned, it would seem like. I mean, wasn't there an awful lot of looting, some of which was stealing?
BECKMAN: Well, wait a minute. You got to bear in mind that in the Normandy area, you didn't find normally too much
in the way of valuable things, until you got more up to Paris and away from the heavy fighting. Around Normandy things were pretty bad. There wasn't anything you wanted to take home. There wasn't a lot of German booty because the big Nazi flags, and the kind of things that most people would like to have, you didn't get a chance to put your hands on until you got up to Germany.
JOHNSON: Most of the souvenirs, I guess that is another term we can use, that you were able to pick up, well, around the Berlin area...
BECKMAN: I started picking up Nazi arm bands, and I have given all of them to the Truman Library. I had one of the Nazi arm band collections that is in the Library. I got them from the Gauleiters, but I have given them to the Library. The best souvenir that I have is an SS dagger.
JOHNSON: I notice you mention that that is one of the best things that you had picked up. Why did you consider that so valuable?
BECKMAN: There just aren't very many of them around.
JOHNSON: It's probably rare.
BECKMAN: Yes. Another very funny thing about it. German uniforms at that time were about as easy to acquire as anything you can think of. I had a very fine bottle of champagne that some Frenchman had given me. So, I wanted to send it home. Naturally, I didn't have any way to pack it, so I stuck it in the arm of a German winter uniform and rolled it up and packed it in a K-ration carton. When the champagne got home, what do you think everybody went after -- the German uniform. One local outstanding poet, Harold Wilson, even wrote a poem about it.
Oh, there is something else. Because of homicides, I worked a lot with pathologists in the different army hospital units. A pathologist did me just a great big favor. When we finished, I said, "If there's anything I can ever do for you, just let me know." He said, "You know what I would love to have is a German Mauser rifle." Now this was just right near the end of the war. Just the day before I had seen the biggest pile of German Mausers. That was the largest pile you ever saw in your life. Well, anyway, overnight it had rained. So, I went back there, and by that time every one of these rifles was rusty as you can see, just overnight. So I picked out the best one
I could find, and greased it down and did a lot of good, but God, I was embarrassed. I took that in to this doctor, and I couldn't have had a solid gold sword that he was more proud of than that.
JOHNSON: A Mauser rifle. I notice here in a May 5th letter you mentioned being in the Hof area, getting the "nicest souvenirs." And this is where you said the best was this German SS dagger which you were going to send to your wife. Did she get it?
BECKMAN: She did get it, and it's in my office.
JOHNSON: Do you still have it?
BECKMAN: Yes, I didn't give that away.
JOHNSON: You said you were going to cut a victory dinner cake with it when you got home.
BECKMAN: I don't think we did use it for a cake.
JOHNSON: And you picked up an iron cross, a Nazi arm band, a Nazi belt buckle, and some older German coins. Are some of these now in the Truman Library?
BECKMAN: I think everything is there except the dagger. I ended up with about four or five German Nazi iron
crosses. I got, you know, the first and second class. The lowest one is just a pin that is worn pinned on the uniform, and the other one is on a ribbon that is worn around the neck. I've got both of those.
JOHNSON: Are these at the Truman Library?
BECKMAN: I believe they are except for that...
JOHNSON: And the arm band and the buckle...
BECKMAN: Yes, a lot of arm bands.
JOHNSON: Hitler's swastika. Let's see, a German helmet.
BECKMAN: Oh, I've got that at home, but that isn't too good.
JOHNSON: You still have that at home.
BECKMAN: I don't think anybody would want it.
JOHNSON: A German officer's coat.
BECKMAN: That's the one I sent home with the...
JOHNSON: With the champagne?
JOHNSON: Where is that coat now?
BECKMAN: I don't know.
JOHNSON: Okay. A Nazi flag.
BECKMAN: I think I gave that away.
JOHNSON: Then you wrote, "When I had the thing all packed, I asked myself, 'Now what in the world is she going to do with this junk. I only hope that she can find someone to unload the stuff upon.'" This doesn't sound like you had a sense of history at this particular moment, that you were salvaging these things for history. Or were you?
BECKMAN: No, no. You understand we weren't much in love with Germany. Anyway Germany wasn't too...
JOHNSON: But you were very concerned about collecting it and getting it back to Burlington.
BECKMAN: Well, I can remember one time involving a little girl who was in the Catholic school in Burlington. The students were assigned one man each in the service to write letters to. The little daughter of a doctor drew my name, and her letter came to me in Normandy. I had liberated ten of these German Nazi swastika badges that are sewn over the pocket on the German uniforms. I
just put one of these cloth badges into the letter that I wrote to this little girl, thanking her. The school just went unbelievably wild to think that she had received this badge off of a German uniform.
JOHNSON: So you've been a collector, you might say, from childhood and were you a sketcher?
BECKMAN: Oh, yes.
JOHNSON: You were always interested in art, doing artwork. You took art classes, did you, when you were in school.
Somewhere before we got to Berlin, I had picked up three German Lugers; you know, the German Luger is the famous pistol...
JOHNSON: The pistol now you're talking about.
BECKMAN: The pistol. They were still in the cosmoline. I gave one, I know, to a friend of mine by the name of Jim Brennan. I sold one, and I had one left and brought it home. I had four children. The oldest is a girl, but there were two active boys in the middle. I had this Luger at home, and Rosemary was scared to death that the active young boys were going to get at
that Luger and get into trouble; I don't mean like robbery or anything like that, just have an accident and shoot somebody. So, anyway, I gave that Luger to my brother-in-law, and if there's anything that I regret that I ever gave away it is that Luger.
Now I'll go back to sketching. I could always sketch. I never knew a time when I couldn't draw. And I always got in trouble drawing.
JOHNSON: Got in trouble with whom?
BECKMAN: The good nuns. They couldn't understand...
JOHNSON: Did they think you were just doodling?
BECKMAN: No, I'd draw pictures of the different members of the class. I can remember I had one nun in high school who said, "It wouldn't be so bad that he's doing all of this drawing, but my golly, he even puts the belt in the trousers." It was a small Catholic school.
JOHNSON: You were in Catholic school through high school?
BECKMAN: Yes. And they did not have art. So I had no art until I got to Law school. In law school at the University of Iowa, if you made a certain grade-point average, you could take additional credit hours. Bear
in mind that when I went to law school everything was very structured. If you were in the history department, you were in the history department. If you were in the English department, you were in English. And if you were in law school, God help you, you had better stay in law. Well, instead of taking these hours in the law school, I took them in the art department.
JOHNSON: At the university.
BECKMAN: At the university. Remember I had none of the basic foundations, so I had to start out sketching 101, painting 101. Finally it got down to a point where at the art school they were going to assemble a painting class of 18 that was going to be taught by an assistant professor but Grant Wood was going to critique the class. I made one of the 18. Now, Grant Wood wasn't a bit proud of it, but anyway...
JOHNSON: So, Grant Wood critiqued your work.
BECKMAN: My work.
JOHNSON: Some of your work. That's an honor.
Well, in one of your letters, after the Potsdam Conference, you had time to kind of reflect and reminisce and philosophize. You said in a letter on
August 22, 1945, "I think that half of Europe's troubles of the past has been that they have relished and lived too much in and of the past and not enough for the future. We see Germany and every house has large pictures of Frederick the Great, Bismarck; France has their Bonapartes, and so on, and their ideals just relive the troubled past," which is a rather interesting observation and interpretation. Then you went back to the more mundane sort of writing. But do you still believe what you wrote then. Does that still ring true to you?
BECKMAN: Well, while you were reading that, I thought to myself, "Did I write that?" But anyway, I'm thinking of more of the philosophy of conquering other countries, and of not [featuring] past leaders who symbolize peace, and who [represent] understanding of other cultures, things like that.
JOHNSON: Because they glorified their military leaders and conquerors.
JOHNSON: I guess the point is that militarism obviously was rampant in Germany and, of course, France had its
militarism, certainly during the time of Bonaparte, which I guess you're referring to here.
BECKMAN: And every one of those that I referred to are the military leaders. I wasn't talking about Tolstoy or some of that type.
JOHNSON: Well, they didn't have pictures of them; they had pictures of the military greats. Of course, Bismarck's not noted as a military man, but he's the one who said that "The great issues of the day are settled not by parliamentary palaver; they are settled by blood and iron."
Well, you were for lifting the ban on fraternization with the Germans, because I think you had said that it had gone so far that you couldn't even socialize with a good German. You were saying, you know, that there were good Germans. There were good people. But that wasn't necessarily your first impression was it?
BECKMAN: Oh, no, no. The thing is, I think what was basic to that, Niel, is that nobody was allowed to fraternize. When we got to Berlin, [there were] the German police who were relatively politically clean -- I was never quite convinced that they had clean records,
because I'm still not so certain that the information we received out there was the truth -- but they were supposed not to have been Nazis. They worked with us in Berlin because we needed interpreters. Some of those whom I worked with were high-minded individuals and were not militaristic. I don't know how much they had given to the Nazi party to keep their jobs, but anyway, they appeared to me to be very intelligent people having knowledge of literature, of the sciences, and of art.
JOHNSON: Okay, now as a CID man, were you expected to do any enforcement of these anti-fraternization orders? Were you expected to do any enforcement work?
BECKMAN: If it was going on to a very serious degree, we were supposed to report it. It was like the abortion issue. Nobody is supposed to have an abortion, but it's happening all over, so finally you just sort of give up.
JOHNSON: You went to the Reichschancellory. I guess this was after the Potsdam Conference, it appears.
BECKMAN: That was right in that period.
JOHNSON: I think in the latter part of August, not long
after the conference.
BECKMAN: Now, in the scrapbook there are some pictures taken there. I was there very early, and out of Hitler's office I took this copy of Mein Kampf which I've just donated to the Library. That came from the Reichschancellory. The area where Hitler died in his bunker, which was right outside, I saw all of that.
JOHNSON: Oh yes, in your letter of August 4 of '45 you mention your first visit to the Reichschancellory. August 5 was right after the conference was over. But then you also mention a little later on that a captain gave you an iron cross, first class, in a box that came from Hitler's Reichschancellory and also a meritorious service medal. Are these in our possession at the Library?
BECKMAN: You have the one in the box.
JOHNSON: Okay, and that was in the Reichschancellory, originally.
BECKMAN: Yes. The meritorious medal, I've got that at home. I've got it sort of framed.
JOHNSON: That's a Nazi meritorious medal. That'd be a
dubious honor, wouldn't it, to get something like that?
BECKMAN: I didn't realize that I'd written all of that.
JOHNSON: There's about a thousand letters here, I think. There's a lot of them.
You felt compelled to document your experiences I would say.
BECKMAN: Well, what happened on the documentation was, because of the nature of our work, I was not allowed to write Rosemary what I was doing. Number two is, we were forbidden to mention any town in which our office was stationed, unless we were fifty miles from that, like between Independence and Cameron; then I could mention that I was in Cameron Junction, but I couldn't mention Independence. As a result my letters had me being in everyplace that I wasn't and doing work that I wasn't. So, I sat down to that typewriter and plunked away.
JOHNSON: You were allowed to have a typewriter over there.
BECKMAN: Oh, that was liberated. That one was liberated. On my German typewriter, besides having all the umlauts, the dots, the s and z are crossed up on the keyboard. The z is where the s is supposed to be. So
in order to keep from hitting that z, you'd take a paper clip and run it over the edge underneath the key so you couldn't push it. Then, if you came to where you needed to type a z, you'd have to unhook the paper clip.
JOHNSON: Did you use a portable typewriter when you were in England?
JOHNSON: You never used a portable typewriter?
BECKMAN: The Eleventh CID unit had about three typewriters normally with it.
JOHNSON: This ten-man unit.
JOHNSON: And you were expected to type up your reports.
BECKMAN: All right now, maybe I ought to explain that a little bit. Most of the time we worked in two-man teams. Because of the nature of the work, and because we were spread all over France, at any one time if there were three men or four men in headquarters that was quite a bit. Let's assume you and I were free and
a number of cases would come in and we'd talk it over with whoever happened to be around. If Milt Kroll was around, we'd talk it over with Milt, and here is a case, say it's San Huber of Belgium. From what it looks like, that's about a two or three day job so we'll take two and a half days there. Then here's another one at Mersch, and that ought to take another two days. All these came up and down. So by adding up all these days, we guessed how long we'd be there. And you say it will be two weeks, so there was just a general understanding that you and I were to report back for two weeks, unless we just happened to run into some headquarters that had a TWX machine -- that was like a telegram.
BECKMAN: Yes. That we could write to First Army Headquarters, "We are finished at Mersch and we are now headed on to the next." Well, I had a sort of funny event happen along of that very nature.
Willie Wagner and myself were assigned quite a bunch of cases, and they said, "We don't expect to see you for two and a half weeks." So, anyway, we got to the first town, and by golly, the commanding officer of
that particular area had everything solved. They had turned over Belgium to the gendarmes, and everything had been done, and there wasn't anything to do. So we just wrote a quick summary and then started off for the next case. Well, by golly, we were only out two and a half days, and we had everything solved, nothing to do. So Willie looks at me and I look at Willie and he says, "Well, do you think we had ought to go back? They don't expect us for another two weeks." I said, "I don't know, what can we do?" If we could only go to Paris, I mean that would be the wrong place to go. We were in Brussels. We had better stay out in the hinterland. He says, "Have you ever spent much time in Luxembourg?" I said, "No, I haven't; I've been there only about three or four times." He said, "I've got a good friend who's near Mersch, Belgium; should we go up and see him?" "Sure."
So up we went. I can't remember this captain's name, but his picture's in the book, in the scrapbook. He was living in the Grand Duchess Charlotte of Luxembourg's palace. He put Willie and myself up in the Grand Duchess' bedroom. I have the dubious honor, of not only sleeping in the Grand Duchess' bed, but also having a bath in her tub. So, anyway, that gives
JOHNSON: That was worth a detour wasn't it?
BECKMAN: We went back in 1984, on the 40th anniversary of D-Day, and I had these photographs, so I went around and retraced my steps from Normandy to the Rhine River.
JOHNSON: Oh, in'84.
BECKMAN: Yes, forty years later.
JOHNSON: Was that the first time you had been back since '45?
BECKMAN: No, I had been back, but this is the first time I retraced my steps from the invasion on up to the Rhine.
JOHNSON: You follow the path all the way up.
BECKMAN: Because I had written "An Accounting of Time," made the sketches, plus taken the photographs. I was one of the few fellows who wrote about his wartime experiences. My "An Accounting of Time" brings you right where I wanted to go.
JOHNSON: Well, let's get to Potsdam now. President Truman attended the Potsdam Conference from July 15th through July 26th of 1945. 1 see you arrived there, and found
a place to live on July 9th.
BECKMAN: We came in on the 7th. I know it was the 7th because it was my birthday. And when we first got there, we were sent to an abandoned hospital by the Russians.
JOHNSON: And stayed over night there?
JOHNSON: Okay, I guess it was on July 9th you found a nice modern home, in the press camp area, right off Potsdamer Strasse.
JOHNSON: I don't see Potsdamer Strasse here on this map, do I, of that area.
BECKMAN: No, see you aren't...
JOHNSON: It's farther away.
BECKMAN: No, this is in Berlin proper, not in the Potsdam area.
JOHNSON: So, you had living quarters then several miles away from the Potsdam site.
BECKMAN: Oh, yes, I'd say our home was five to ten miles away.
JOHNSON: Yes, I think you do mention that in some of your letters. In your "An Accounting of Time" -- that's the title of an essay that you wrote -- you said you had "a few meetings with men of the Secret Service" and then were ready to go. You said your only duty was to guard the President and his party while they were in the Cecilien Castle -- Cecilienhof, and to maintain a 24-hour check on the President's living quarters in the castle. I'm drawing this from your letter. Do you remember any of the Secret Service men that you were associated with there?
BECKMAN: Honestly, I don't.
JOHNSON: Now, you have this drawing made by the Secret Service and also your sketch of the American part of the Cecilienhof, right ? [See Appendix I]
JOHNSON: And the Secret Service also has a sketch here, an architectural type drawing that's in the
Secret Service records that we have that are open. It has a floor plan of the first and second floors of the American portion of the Cecilienhof.[See Appendix II] So you've had a chance to compare them. Yours is a first-floor sketch?
JOHNSON: Do they correspond?
BECKMAN: I think it's amazing. They correspond. Of course, theirs is a professional drawing and...
JOHNSON: Their terminology might be just a little bit different. For instance, what they call "sitting room" you call "President's private dining room."
BECKMAN: Maybe when that sketch was drawn by the Secret Service, they didn't know what that was going to be called.
JOHNSON: Yes, this could have been done ahead of time. What they call "President's office," you have listed as the "President's study." Then they just have "BR" for British, and you have that as the "British Prime Minister's study."
BECKMAN: Right. And the dining room, here...
JOHNSON: Yes, but you have the State dining room and kitchen.
BECKMAN: They didn't go into the kitchen area when they drew theirs.
JOHNSON: Okay, but they have this long hallway, which you have shortened I guess.
BECKMAN: Yes. And I forgot to put the bay windows in.
JOHNSON: And they have these little circles and squares. Now, the little circles designate where Military Police were to be stationed, and the squares indicate where the CID people were to be stationed.
BECKMAN: Right. This is amazing to me, because...
JOHNSON: Now, could you name the CID people, by chance? Of course, you can name yourself and you were stationed here in what they call the sitting room?
BECKMAN: No. The President's office...
JOHNSON: Right outside the President's office?
BECKMAN: Well, no, I actually spent most of my time in the
JOHNSON: Okay, now you're saying John Osterholt, who is pictured in some of these snapshots you have here, usually was upstairs and you were downstairs. Now, they have somebody here at this front hallway.
BECKMAN: That would be Kroll.
JOHNSON: Okay, Milton Kroll would probably be down here toward the front.
BECKMAN: Another thing is, we were on around the clock.
JOHNSON: Three shifts, or two shifts?
JOHNSON: How about this next station here?
BECKMAN: Let's count up and see how many squares.
JOHNSON: You've got three on the first floor -- I just see three here on the second floor, of CID people.
BECKMAN: All right. That's a little difficult to do because, see, we were on two twelve-hour shifts.
JOHNSON: Yes, and you were going in to work at something like 2 o'clock in the morning, I think, at least at one
point. Okay, in one of your letters of July 20th, 1945, you said your day starts at 2 a.m. and you were off at 9 a.m., you'd drive home, which was about ten miles, have breakfast, go to bed, try to sleep, get up at about 2 p.m., read the Stars and Stripes, have supper, go back to bed, try to sleep, get up at 11 p.m., eat again, and then at 1 a.m. you'd leave for your job. Exactly, where were your quarters then?
BECKMAN: Well, where I ate and everything was at our home on...
JOHNSON: Just off of Potsdamer Strasse.
BECKMAN: You know, I could give you the address if you turn the tape recorder off for just a second.
JOHNSON: Okay. You say you were about a quarter of a mile from the press camp. The press camp was on Potsdamer Strasse, do you recall?
BECKMAN: I don't think so. I think it's a cross street there; you understand I'm going back 47 years.
JOHNSON: That's where the press had...
BECKMAN: That's where they all lived.
JOHNSON: Do you have any idea who had this station here which is before you went into the dining room area. There's a square.
BECKMAN: Here's an entrance for the dining room, off the hall.
JOHNSON: Yes, do you have any idea who might have had that?
BECKMAN: I think Carl and Milt switched off on this one.
JOHNSON: Okay, near the entrance.
BECKMAN: I believe Farrell and Wallons operated on the hall.
JOHNSON: Farrell and Wallons. Do I have his name here.
JOHNSON: Ben Wallons, okay.
Then you go past the dining room to the President's sitting room or library. This is what you called the President's private dining room. And next to that was the office or library, which you call a
study. You call it a study.
JOHNSON: It had books. This is where you found these books that you sent to us, such as Sorrell and Son book.
BECKMAN: Right. The book has Crown Prince Wilhelm's bookplate in it.
JOHNSON: I think one of these photographs shows you sitting in an overstuffed chair. By the way, you were in uniform all this time that you were on duty?
BECKMAN: In and out. Let's go back there. You want to start on uniforms?
JOHNSON: All right.
BECKMAN: As I mentioned before, our civilian clothes got dumped into the sea when they landed in Normandy. Some came out worse than others. Anyway, when we were fighting with the First Army coming out of Normandy, carrying these clothes with us was a pain in the neck. I mean it was a liability because where we were, we were up front -- there were many more soldiers who were far behind us -- and the last thing we wanted to do was to be in civilian clothes. I mean that was not the
spot to be in civilian clothes. We had no desire because of the nature of our work to be in civilian clothes, because you were a darn sight more at ease and felt much more secure in uniform, in a United States uniform, than you did in civilian clothes.
So, later when we were assigned to Potsdam, Milt Kroll and Carl Morisse went back to Paris to bring our civilian clothes up. They brought mine, and mine looked so absolutely terrible. We ran into all kinds of extents of damages. I remember the topcoat that I had, the mackintosh, and the blue Harris Tweed overcoat. I ended up with a mackintosh that was half blue and half tan. The same thing happened to my suits. I wore the suits about three times and I felt so crummy, because of the different dyes that had gone through them in the sea water. I felt much more at ease in a uniform than I did in civilian clothes. But as you can see in those pictures, I just saw one of Carl Morisse and alter Morovich, some of us were in civilian clothes. Well, the reason that they were in civilian clothes was that theirs didn't get dunked to the same extent mine did.
JOHNSON: So you had the option then, didn't you.
BECKMAN: Oh, yes. I sent the Library the order where Eisenhower granted us permission to go back into civilian clothes if we wanted to. If you're up on the front line, you don't want that.
JOHNSON: Were you ever assigned to Truman's quarters at what was called the "Little White House?"
BECKMAN: We were strictly Cecilienhof, except I was asked to go there once and I'm not certain where it was.
JOHNSON: To the Little White House.
BECKMAN: Yes. But this [Cecilienhof duty] turned out to be the best assignment of the whole bunch, because that is where the Big Three held their meetings. If you were stuck at the front gate you didn't get into the action. But we were inside where all the action took place.
JOHNSON: You could overhear what they were saying?
BECKMAN: There was no place to hide. Now, I didn't try to get in there close or anything like that, I just...
JOHNSON: But you could overhear what they were discussing and...
BECKMAN: Oh, yes.
JOHNSON: You didn't have to stand guard so much did you? You could sit or stand or whatever? So you were in the room paying attention to what might be going on.
JOHNSON: So, nothing very rigid about how you were to...
BECKMAN: Not rigid at all.
JOHNSON: What instructions did you have as far as guarding the President, though? What if an emergency had occurred?
BECKMAN: Well, bear in mind, we still carried a pistol, and our guns were in shoulder holsters, over our left shoulder, and they were loaded. All of us were fairly good shots. Maybe that's one of the reasons that we were there.
JOHNSON: You had all these Russian soldiers outside on the grounds, I guess sort of guarding the grounds.
BECKMAN: Every tree.
JOHNSON: I think you had some British and American troops, too, didn't you?
BECKMAN: The only place I saw any other troops besides the CID was at the front gate. They were the ones that checked your passes in. There were Americans, Russians, and British there. So help me, I can't remember any MP's at this gate, where they have been marked by the Secret Service.
JOHNSON: Yes. There were supposed to be MP's, but you don't remember any MP's at this gate.
BECKMAN: I'm positive. I think if we look through those pictures you'll see pictures of the front gate but no MP's.
JOHNSON: So it was mainly CID people, then, you're saying?
BECKMAN: The CID controlled that.
JOHNSON: That were doing the guarding there at the front?
JOHNSON: Did you have any other Secret Service people accompanying you here anywhere. It doesn't show that they did. The Secret Service were with the President wherever he went, right?
BECKMAN: Most of the time, yes.
JOHNSON: So, any time the President was here in his study...
BECKMAN: I do not believe very many of the Secret Service went into any one of those rooms. The rooms weren't big enough; by the time you get all the people, the English delegation and the American delegation, into this room, there wasn't a heck of a lot of room left.
JOHNSON: Well, where would the Secret Service people be then. They'd have to be immediately available.
BECKMAN: Well, you know, it could have been such a thing that I didn't know who the Secret Service people were, see.
JOHNSON: Because they were in civilian clothes, of course. They were supposed to blend in, that was part of their strategy, wasn't it?
BECKMAN: Right. When you talk about the Secret Service people, I can only talk about the two men that we met earlier in the...
JOHNSON: When you were doing this advance coordination.
BECKMAN: Right. I have no recollection. But if anybody
ever got the most wonderful spot to be in during the Conference, Osterholt and myself had it.
JOHNSON: Right. You've of course, explained this in some detail in your essay "Accounting of Time" which you updated with an essay entitled "More of 'An Accounting of Time': Trading the Good for the Better." [See Appendix III for a copy of the latter essay.]
BECKMAN: Yes. That's when I got to be the official photographer.
JOHNSON: You've produced a few of your pictures here.
Here you are in Truman's library at Potsdam. You mentioned in your autobiography an episode involving Mrs. Pauley and her husband, Edwin Pauley.
BECKMAN: Yes. Let's understand, Milt Kroll and I were in the Army from an entirely different point of view. I was drafted; I was going back to the private practice of law, and my military record didn't amount to anything. I mean, I wanted an honorable discharge; I didn't want anything bad. But Milt was going back to the Government and he was very concerned. We were in a town not far from Weimar, and all of a sudden a TWX telegram came through, and it says, "Agents Kroll and
Beckman leave immediately." And it added, "report to the trial judge advocate at Brussels on June 20th." So Milt reads it and says, "Oh, we don't have to leave now; we can make that in one day." I said, "Milt, it says to leave immediately. You aren't going to disobey any orders are you?"
So we hot-tailed it by air to Paris, and while we were there a Colonel Adler -- and I'm not certain what his position was, but he fit into the picture someplace -- said, "Oh golly, they'll never get that trial going by the 20th. Let me call them." So he called them and they said they had postponed that trial for another ten days. So there we were in Paris. The CID headquarters had taken over a hotel right around the corner from the Maurice Hotel, which was the Hitler headquarters during the war. So right around the corner was this nice little hotel. So we stayed there for the ten days. One afternoon Milt and I were walking down the street. Now, bear in mind, Milt was one of the old braintrusters from Harvard; all of a sudden somebody said, "Hey, Milt." The man who had spoken was with a group that was part of Pauley's Mission to Moscow. That is what it was called, and they were in town. Milt asked them, "What are you
going to do tonight?" And the man answered, "Oh, you'll never guess what; we've pulled all the strings from the State Department, to get tickets for the Follies. We've got them for seats in the fifth row." I said, "Milt, would you like to go?" And Milt said, "Yes, but we can't get any tickets." I said, "Let me try, I think I can get us some tickets." As I left, everyone wished me luck but said I'd be lucky to even get two seats in the back upper balcony.
Now, previously I had had quite a bit of work with the concierge of the Ritz Hotel. So I went to Jacque and asked Jacque if he could get me any tickets for the Follies. He said, "Richard, I owe you a lot. I'll hound them." So anyway I got tickets for two seats in the front row. And Mrs. Pauley was in her husband's group. I didn't know until that evening that she would be with the group.
JOHNSON: She's at the Follies.
BECKMAN: Yes. After I had our front-row tickets, I said, "Milt, I'll tell you what we'll do. We'll let the Pauley group get seated, and just as soon as the orchestra begins playing the opening overture before the lights are turned down, you and I will go in and
walk to the front row and turn around and wave at them," see. And so we did that.
At intermission Ambassador Pauley wanted to know how in the world we ever got front-row seats at the Follies. "Oh," I said, "you just have to have a little clout." Then I asked, "Who got you your tickets?" He said they came from the State Department. "You just need more clout than that," I responded smugly.
So that's how I got to know Mrs. Pauley. Then a few weeks later I was walking down the hall at the Cecilienhof Palace and there was one of the most depressed women [Mrs. Pauley] I'd seen in a long time. She had gotten into the castle, but no one would let her into the balcony, overlooking the room, so she could see Ambassador Pauley in operation. I said, "Oh, I think I can get you in." So I got her in.
JOHNSON: She appreciated that, I'm sure. I didn't write down the dates on these pictures. For instance, here's the photograph you took of the Big Three when they were posing outside.
BECKMAN: Churchill had already been defeated and you see there's Attlee, so this was later on.
JOHNSON: Perhaps this was at the conclusion of the
BECKMAN: Here is a picture of the three around the conference table, you see, and Attlee's here too.
Now, I had taken pictures earlier. I was scared at the time to tell them I did it. I mean, all of this censorship was such a difficult thing. I didn't know what I could write or what I couldn't, so instead of writing I just ignored it.
JOHNSON: Yes, and you've marked these in your autobiography, as to where you were. I think here you are at the top left, on the balcony, correct?
BECKMAN: I know that that was me. See, there were three Americans who were assigned to the top balcony there. I always had a center position.
JOHNSON: Now, this...
BECKMAN: I didn't take that picture.
JOHNSON: This is the one that on the back of which Truman had written that this was where he told Stalin about the atomic bomb.
BECKMAN: And he also wrote on the back of this one.
JOHNSON: Yes. The accession number is 63-1456-46, for the record.
BECKMAN: I wrote up in my book that I disagreed with the President, that this wasn't the exact time when he told Stalin. What happened was, I was assigned to my position here in the President's quarters (library) and at that time everyone was very secretive, Lord Eden and Churchill and the whole bunch. Normally they'd talk in just a normal voice like you and I are talking here today, but this was a very secret thing. I had no idea [about it]. If I remember correctly, and I think I wrote that down someplace, what the discussion was at the time. Oh, I think it was the time when the Americans wanted the conference to approve the government that the Americans had established in Italy. Then, by the same move, the Russians wanted us to recognize the governments of Bulgaria and...
JOHNSON: Yes, that's in here somewhere. I saw that in your autobiography.
BECKMAN: So anyway, I could remember someone raised an objection to that. Everybody knew about them [the government leaders in Italy], who they were and that they had been active in the government of Italy before
the war. Stalin came back up and he said, "Who elected those people from Italy?"
Then what happened is that I was asked to take this picture-taking position back here in the balcony. I was directed to remain in the conference room while the Big Three were meeting as a security man in the balcony up here. It's shown on the sketch.
JOHNSON: So you were there while the session...
BECKMAN: Was going on.
JOHNSON: While they were discussing...
BECKMAN: This recognition of the different governments.
JOHNSON: You remember that one in particular, about Italy.
BECKMAN: I wrote that up immediately afterwards, so it is correct. What is in the book is correct.
JOHNSON: Did you ever get a chance to actually talk to Truman, or did you feel that you had a chance, or the opportunity, ever to speak to him...
BECKMAN: None; other than to pass the time of day or something like that. Thinking back, I just admired him. I mean I watched him in action, see, and I was
just close enough. Bear in mind, my position was to be inconspicuous on alert. He would come up and say something like, "It's a nice day," or "Have you been working hard?" or something like that.
JOHNSON: But he would at least acknowledge that you were there, and maybe engaged in a little small talk, a few greetings, or something like that.
BECKMAN: Yes. I mean very warm. I think the funniest thing is this. After I became more active as a photographer, I was called out more often, so if you'll notice on the Secret Service sketch there are some rooms down the hall that are marked Byrnes, Secretary [James F.] Byrnes.
JOHNSON: Is that the first or second floor?
BECKMAN: The second floor. There it is, right there. On the second-floor plan you can see Byrnes' room. So anyway, they asked me if I would go up there and stand by Byrnes' place. At that time, the three foreign ministers were discussing the division of the Germany navy. Of course, the Americans and British did not want any of the German battleships, or any of the submarines or whatever they had left. Russia was
trying to grab them all. And Byrnes, with Leahy, were the ones who were taking care of that negotiation for the United States.
I can remember the argument going on about whether a submarine was offensive or defensive, and of course, the Americans were saying it was offensive and the Russians were saying it was defensive, and so forth and so on.
At that time, the Russians were getting very tough, and obnoxious. Anyway, they broke up the conference and I went into Byrnes' room. He came in and said to me, "Isn't this a hell of a day?" I said, "I presume you're talking about the weather." He said, "You know goddamn well I'm not talking about the weather, I'm talking about those damn Russians." There was a lull during the time that Churchill went back to see if he was reelected. [His party lost] and they had elected Attlee. That was a dull period for us.
There was an old Russian waiter who would come to my room. I would watch him all the time. We'd be on duty about the same time every evening. Here would come the Russian waiter into my room with a silver tray of tea and sandwiches. I remember especially the smoked salmon sandwiches -- they were delicious. He'd
also have a silver pitcher of hot tea, cream, sugar, napkin, and everything like that. On the first night that the Big Three were to meet with Attlee, I was sitting in the library, and at 11 o'clock here came the Russian waiter with my evening tray. The American delegation had not yet arrived, but they were due any moment. There I was with my loaded tray of snacks. There was a ledge behind the drapes. So I stuck the tray on the ledge and pulled the shade a little bit to cover it up.
JOHNSON: Was that in the library?
BECKMAN: That was in the library.
JOHNSON: That was in the larger room then.
JOHNSON: So you kind of circulated between the library and the corner room, the sitting room?
BECKMAN: And upstairs and downstairs. But 90 percent of the time, I was in the downstairs area.
JOHNSON: Okay. You've done a good job of documenting that here on paper, and in the manuscript material too, so I think we probably have gotten about all of the
interesting anecdotes and incidents that occurred while you were there at Potsdam. Of course, the President came back home, and on his way back the atomic bomb was announced. He announced that on board the Augusta.
BECKMAN: Oh, I should give you something else about the atomic bomb, the way I remember it.
The Russians were in control as to when pictures were going to be taken and when they weren't. Seldom were pictures ever taken of them in conference at the round table. The Russians wouldn't permit it. Photographs were taken only before and, I think, after a few of the conferences were over. As I remember, on this day after pictures were taken and I was asked to remain in the room, Truman got up and went around the table to Stalin without his interpreter and told him that we were going to drop the most powerful explosive that was ever made on the Japanese.
Now, bear in mind, my sole source of outside knowledge came from the Stars and Strips and the "pony" edition of Time magazine. That was about the extent of what I knew was going on in the war, and when so I was surely in no way diplomatically trained. At that time, I questioned what it was [that Truman was saying to Stalin] but as to Truman saying it was the atomic bomb,
I had no knowledge of that. I didn't know the military was working on it until they dropped the bomb on Hiroshima.
JOHNSON: If the bomb had not been used, was there a chance that you would have been transferred to the Pacific?
BECKMAN: Not at that stage of the game, because when the transfer [of servicemen] to the Pacific came, my section was being sent to Berlin. But before that we had expected to be transferred to the Pacific, even though we had had a lot of combat; two of our fellows ended up with Purple Hearts.
JOHNSON: Two out of ten?
BECKMAN: Yes, that's 20 percent.
JOHNSON: Burke, and who was the other one?
BECKMAN: Willie Wagner.
BECKMAN: So our casualty rate was pretty high. The men from SHAEF headquarters came down and had us pretty well understand that our section, the 11th, and section 14, who worked sort of always in the south of us and
who were somewhat in the same position but more with Patton's army and Simpson, into that area, because of the tough go we had, had been promised that we wouldn't be going to the Pacific. Lord Almighty, who gets the call to go to Japan but the 14th? So, if the 14th was going, the 11th was sure to follow right on through. This was when we got the call that we were going into Berlin.
JOHNSON: You call yourself "The Fighting Eleventh." The 11th what?
JOHNSON: The 11th CID detachment.
BECKMAN: Yes. SHAEF headquarters said, "Well, who do we assign this case to," and somebody said, "Well, you might as well send it to the fighting 11th."
JOHNSON: Did you ever see Truman again after he left the Conference?
JOHNSON: When you took those pictures outside, would that have been about the last time that you saw Truman?
That was the last day of the conference.
BECKMAN: No. No, I saw them when they broke up that last conference.
JOHNSON: Yes, at Potsdam, but after...
BECKMAN: You see, these were taken during the daytime, and the conference I'm sure broke up late at night.
JOHNSON: Okay. After Truman left the Potsdam Conference, did you see him again?
BECKMAN: Oh, I sure did see Truman.
JOHNSON: When did you see him next?
BECKMAN: When he was on his whistlestop tour.
JOHNSON: In '48.
BECKMAN: Yes, he stopped in Burlington, Iowa.
JOHNSON: Okay, so you were down there in Burlington at the station when he came in, at the railroad station?
BECKMAN: Yes. I forgot.
JOHNSON: At one of his whistlestops. I heard him in Rock Island, Illinois. Did you have a chance or did you try to make any contact with him?
BECKMAN: I tried to get close to him but wasn't able to. The chairman of the Des Moines County Democratic Central Committee was B.L. Robinson. B.L. knew that I was interested in having contact with Truman, and he said, "I'll tell you, Dick, we'll get you an invitation to the coach." Well, the mob was so terrific I couldn't get near the entrance. I mean I could see Truman but I couldn't get on the coach.
JOHNSON: But you had an invitation.
JOHNSON: So, you didn't get a chance to talk to him then. Any other time that you were able to see him?
JOHNSON: That was the last time that you saw Harry Truman, in '48.
JOHNSON: Were you in Democrat politics, local politics there? Did you serve on a county committee?
BECKMAN: Oh, I was secretary of the Des Moines County Democratic Central Committee, and I was the president
of the Young Democrats.
JOHNSON: Of that county?
BECKMAN: Yes. But now, let me tell you, if you want to really hear something funny. Rosemary and her family were shouting Republicans.
JOHNSON: Oh, they were? Irish Catholic Republicans.
BECKMAN: Well, now Rosemary's family was in the cookie business, Midwest Biscuit Company. That was Delaney's and Mr. Delaney thought that labor was telling management where to go, and how to handle things, and that didn't quite set too good.
JOHNSON: He took a corporation employer's point of view?
BECKMAN: Right. But they all knew that I was a Democrat. I would be asked to be the speaker at the Labor Day picnic and the Democratic Bar-B-Q. I'm not so certain that they were so certain that their new son-in-law was going down the right track.
JOHNSON: I notice you, as a lawyer, represented labor unions, didn't you?
JOHNSON: You and your father. So your father was a Democrat?
JOHNSON: And pro-labor, and involved with labor.
BECKMAN: Very much. I mean all you have to do is live through a community where every bank closed. Roosevelt had done for that what he had done for so many things that I agreed with, I couldn't be anything else. And even today, that's why I'm a Democrat.
JOHNSON: That was a shock in '48, wasn't it, for many people?
BECKMAN: Well, let me tell you. At Burlington I couldn't find anybody who was for Truman.
JOHNSON: In Burlington.
BECKMAN: I couldn't find a soul. Oh, B.L. Robinson and a few others like Mayor Tom Smith and Jack Dailey, but I'll tell you, you had to go a long ways to find anybody who was voting for Truman. Of course, there was a lot of kidding among my friends. I think most of the people thought I was for Dewey. I just didn't say
anything. I thought, well, for gosh sakes, what does one voice in the wilderness do in a situation like that. I'll just not say a word.
So, anyway, my wife, Rosemary, was all fired up for Dewey.
JOHNSON: For Dewey?
BECKMAN: Yes. So she goes downtown and happens to buy a beautiful Indian half slip made out of I think it would be called a tannish raw silk. It was made in India and it had a whole string of elephants embroidered in gold thread around the bottom. There were elephants all over. To taunt me, she would put on this darn silk slip. So, again I didn't say a word. On the night of the election, Dick Delaney, her brother, was coming in off the Zephyr, and if you will remember, it would arrive about 9 o'clock in the evening. So he asked me if I would pick him up and take him home.
I went down to the depot, and Dick got off of the train. He said, "Dick, have you heard the terrible news?" I said, "What?" He says, "Truman's carrying the East." I took him home and dropped him off. My house wasn't very far from Dick Delaney's house, so I drove home and went in and started listening to the
radio. Of course, that was just about as tense a situation as you can get into. It was like watching a horse race where they're going neck-and-neck all the way around the track.
This went on, and finally about 3 o'clock in the morning, I had never seen Rosemary look at me so disgustedly. She said, "Dick Beckman, don't tell me you voted for Truman?"
JOHNSON: So, you followed that right through the early hours of the morning. You followed the returns.
BECKMAN: Oh, yes. I think most everybody did. Of course, I had an axe to grind.
JOHNSON: Well, what was your position at that time? Did you have a local party position in '48?
BECKMAN: I'll tell you what I did get involved in was when Roosevelt ran against the utility executive.
JOHNSON: Oh, Willkie?
JOHNSON: Wendell Willkie in 1940. Did you get involved in local politics after you came back in '45?
JOHNSON: So, this was all pre-war.
BECKMAN: Pre-war. In 1940 the high school had one of the best polls that you can have as to who was going to win. They would have a rally a day or two before the election, and they would get a Democratic speaker and a Republican speaker to rally the students, and then everybody would vote. You could count on it that if it is said that Roosevelt was going to win, he was going to win. I mean it was the most accurate poll that you could get.
JOHNSON: Because it tended to be a cross-section, you think, of the population, at least at the high school?
BECKMAN: Yes. Well, of course, sometimes children tend to disagree politically with their parents.
JOHNSON: Now you went to a Catholic high school, right, in Burlington?
BECKMAN: Right; and most of them were Democrats. But the Democrats were pretty silent.
JOHNSON: Well, we'll probably stop at this point, and I
want to thank you for your time and the information.
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List of Subjects Discussed
Adler, Colonel, 82
Attlee, Clement, 85, 89, 90
Beckman, Alice, 1
Beckman, Bertha Jennie Gronefeldt, 1
Beckman, Richard R., 1, 4, 82
Beckman, Rosemary Delaney, 2, 4, 11, 13-14, 20-23, 96, 98-99
Beckman, Stephen Joseph, 1, 5, 7-8, 10
Booty of war, 46-48
Bradley, Omar, 49-50
Burke (Unknown), 92
Byrnes, James, 88, 89
Cambron, Mary Beckman, 1
Churchill, Winston, 86, 89
Camera, 35, 42-44, 81, 84-87
Cannon, Frank, 27
Cecilienhof (See also Potsdam), 69-75, 77, 84
CID (Criminal investigation Detachment), 24-50
Eden, Lord, 86
Eisenhower, Dwight D., 77
Election, 1948, 94-95, 97-99
Farrell, Lee ("Flip"), 28-29, 74
FBI, 11, 18-20, 25
Fighting Eleventh, 93
Fitzpatrick, Johnny, 33
Frankfurter, Felix, 27
Krans, Marvin, 27, 41
Kroll, Milton, 27-28, 37-38, 65, 72, 74, 76, 81-83
Leahy, William, 89
Military Police, 17
Morisse, Carl, 21, 28, 42, 74, 76
Osterholt, John, 27, 72, 81
Pauley, Edwin, 81-84
Poor, Ben, 7
Potsdam Conference – July 15-26, 1945, (See also Cecilienhof) 16, 67-81, 84-92
Provost Marshall, General School, 18
Robinson, B. L., 95, 97
Roman Catholic Church, 5, 15, 16
Selective Service Draft, 11-14
Sketching, 44, 57-58
Stalin, 86-87, 91
Souvenirs, 51- 56
Truman, Harry S., 67-68, 85, 87-88, 91, 94
University of Iowa, 5-7, 57
Wagner, Willie, 30, 65-66, 92
Wallons, Bill, 30, 74
Wilkie, Wendell, 99-100
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