Harry S. Truman Presidential Library & Museum

Clayton Fritchey

Oral History Interviews with
Clayton Fritchey

Assistant to the Secretary of Defense and Director of the Office of Public Information, Dept. of Defense, 1950-52; Assistant to the President of the United States, 1952; and Deputy Chairman of the Democratic National Committee, 1953-57.

Washington, DC
July 1 and December 22, 1969
May 6, 1970

[Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | List of Subjects Discussed | Additional Fritchey Oral History Transcripts]

This is a transcript of a tape-recorded interview conducted for the Harry S. Truman Library. A draft of this transcript was edited by the interviewee but only minor emendations were made; therefore, the reader should remember that this is essentially a transcript of the spoken, rather than the written word.

Numbers appearing in square brackets (ex. [45]) 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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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 August, 1972
Harry S. Truman Library
Independence, Missouri

[Top of the Page | Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript || List of Subjects Discussed|
Additional Fritchey Oral History Transcripts]

Oral History Interview with
Clayton Fritchey

Washington, DC
July 1, 1969
by Jerry N. Hess


HESS: Mr. Fritchey, to begin, will you give me a little of your personal background? Where you were born, where you were educated and what positions did you hold prior to your service in the Truman administration?

FRITCHEY: Well, I've been primarily a journalist most of my life and at the time that I first went into government, I was the editor of the New Orleans Item in New Orleans, Louisiana. My entrance into Government was through Mr. Truman appointing General Marshall Secretary of Defense at a bad moment during the Korean war. He asked me to take a leave of absence from the New Orleans Item and to become his Assistant Secretary of Public Affairs, at that time it was called the Office of Public Information, and also his special


assistant. And so I did take a leave of absence, but the war, instead of lasting three more months, as General Marshall then thought was the likelihood, lasted for three years. Naturally, once one is in a war position, there is no dropping out, and so I resigned from the Item, and stayed on for several more years at the Pentagon with General Marshall.

HESS: General Marshall, of course, took over from Louis Johnson. Do you recall anything particular about the resignation of Louis Johnson?

FRITCHEY: Well, as you know, the war had been not going well and just at the time of the changeover MacArthur brought off his great coup in the invasion. And so General Marshall's entry into the Pentagon was a success from the very beginning. I suppose if Louis Johnson had stayed on another month, the victory would have probably insured his staying on at the Pentagon, but the President was under very great pressure to remove Johnson because it had been regarded as a political appointment. His predecessor, Mr. Forrestal, had been an extremely popular man, highly regarded by the press, and Louis Johnson had been regarded


simply as a man who raised some money for Harry Truman in 1948 when there wasn't any money. I, myself, have always regarded Johnson as a more capable man than he has been given credit for. Mr. Truman assigned him two relatively impossible tasks. By that I mean impossible from the point of view of political popularity. He assigned him the task of reducing the budget severely, and of being the first to integrate the services. There was great resistance to both. An institution whose budget is being reduced from eighteen billion to thirteen billion must incur a great deal of resistance from the military career men and also a great deal of resistance from each of the rival services who did not want to be integrated. So, Mr. Johnson had a thankless task, and in the middle of that he had to take on a war for which we were not very well prepared. In any event, I think it is an insight into Mr. Truman that the man he instinctively sought for Secretary of Defense when he needed to generate complete public confidence in the institution, was General Marshall who I think he admired above all other men.

HESS: Mr. Truman met with General MacArthur at Wake Island in


October of 1950. That was shortly after you went to the Department of Defense. Do you recall anything in particular about that episode? Anything that was said around the Pentagon about the meeting?

FRITCHEY: I suppose we'll have to wait for all the confidential files to be declassified before we know everything about the MacArthur episode, but even at that time there was some tension building. It was clear that MacArthur, I hardly need to say, was an extraordinary figure after his immense success with that invasion at Inchon. He was in an extremely strong position to have his way. There were differences of opinion, of course, as to whether the objectives of the war should then be enlarged. The stated objectives up until that time were that we were in the war not for a definitive victory, nor definitive confrontation with the entire Communist world. There was a limited objective of restoring the status quo ante. The moment that we cut off the North Korean troops and had a very sizeable victory in our hands, there were those who wanted to go on and capture all of North Korea and go to the Yalu, and who knows from there on. I


always thought that Mr. Truman himself had grave doubts about this; but at an exhilarating moment, like sudden victory, it's very hard to explain to the public, why, when you've got the enemy on the run, you shouldn't consolidate your victory, and make it complete.

There are still differences of opinion as to precisely what Mr. Truman said to General MacArthur and vice versa. My own impression is that both the President and Secretary Acheson had misgivings about going for broke. Also, I think when the classified papers are available we'll see that, while MacArthur was not given an absolute green light, he was also not given an absolute red light. So he chose to make his drive to the Yalu and, as you know, disaster set in there.

HESS: Concerning the talks at Wake Island. On April 21st, 1951, Anthony Leviero in the New York Times quoted several documents that had been held under security classification up until that time. Do you know where he received his information? They were in connection with what actually was said at Wake Island and,


as I...

FRITCHEY: Do you remember the burden of what he said?

HESS: As I have been told, there was a young lady who was seated in the next room and who was taking stenographic notes. She really had not been told to do this. She was more or less waiting in the wings in the event that a stenographer was needed and while waiting she decided to take some notes and she took some verbatim notes of the conversations that were going on and those notes of hers were held under security classification until the following April.

FRITCHEY: By the Defense Department or by General MacArthur?

HESS: Well, it wouldn't have been by General MacArthur because I don't believe General MacArthur knew they existed. They were held by the White House and I suppose by the Defense Department.

FRITCHEY: Do you recall what the notes were supposed to have shown?

HESS: I think they intimated that General MacArthur


had stated that the Chinese Communists would not intervene. But, of course, I have not seen the exact notes. I have read the release in the press.

FRITCHEY: Well, Mr. Truman said that in his own book, and I don't know whether he based that on those notes or on his recollection. As you know, General MacArthur had disputed this to some extent. But Mr. Truman, himself said that -- quoted, I believe, General MacArthur as saying his intelligence convinced him the Chinese would not come in and that if they did that he would annihilate them. Whether Mr. Truman based that on the availability of the secretary's notes or not, I don't know. But that has always been Mr. Truman's view of the matter and I have never been impressed by General MacArthur's rebuttal of this because he never flatly denied it. I just think there are too many others that know what General MacArthur wanted to do, and did do it, and that there was a difference in intelligence estimates.

HESS: What else do you recall about the events surrounding the dismissal of General MacArthur in April of 1951?


FRITCHEY: Well, there were a number of conversations between President Truman and General Marshall. I recall there was some concern as to what the Joint Chiefs would say about this, when and if there was a post-mortem. And I have forgotten who suggested it, but I, myself, thought it was a very practical suggestion, that the views of the Joint Chiefs be very clearly obtained before the dismissal was made public, and some time was taken in doing that. In view of later events, I think it was a very sensible thing to do because men do forget what they have said. I know I often cannot remember precisely what I have said, and under pressure, old friendships and what not, there is a tendency not to be quite as blunt or quite as clear as you were. My recollection is that all the views of all the Joint Chiefs were obtained and obtained in writing before the dismissal was made, but I don't trust my memory entirely on it but that is my impression and I think that it can be easily checked as to whether my impressions are correct or not.

HESS: Do you recall whose suggestion that was? To have


this done?

FRITCHEY: I wish I did, because I thought it was a very politically sophisticated idea. Because the pressure did become very great later on.

HESS: What was your personal view of the dismissal of MacArthur? Did you think that it was the proper thing to do?

FRITCHEY: Absolutely. Oh, I think some of the details of it might possibly have been handled more adroitly, but that's always second-guessing. There would have been bound to be a climax and great public hue and cry no matter how it was done. It seemed to many of us that MacArthur's insubordination was even worse than it appeared. I, myself, was always struck by his cables to the Joint Chiefs because they would be insufferably long, and for a purpose. The general contour of them was that he would set forth, seemingly objectively, a program or a strategy or even a tactic, and then would bring to bear endless arguments for doing it. There was often the implication that, if overruled, the Joint Chiefs (10,000 miles away), would


have to take the full responsibility if anything that went wrong. Now, there are, historically, always differences between the commander in the field and the home base. It's inevitable. In this case, however, all, nearly all of MacArthur's fellow officers regarded him as a lone wolf. Rightly or wrongly, they suspected that if they didn't go along with him in every particular, if anything went wrong, he would leak it. He would let it become known. And he would have the documentation to show that he had recommended such-and-such, but was overruled. This is an unfair way of dealing because every general in the field needs to have close relations with the center of operations in the Pentagon and with the Joint Chiefs. There needs to be a great deal of trust and confidence. MacArthur had no use for anybody in the Pentagon, in my opinion, up to and including General Marshall. General Marshall in return would never permit himself, even to his closest associates, to say a critical word about MacArthur. I, myself, felt that General Marshall did not feel close to General MacArthur, but the very fact of that made him lean over backwards to be fair.


So, day by day, it was difficult to cope with MacArthur. It was very difficult not to let him have his way because he made it so difficult not to. And his early, quick success gave him, of course, a great advantage, because many did not see eye to eye with him on the Inchon plan, which was a notable success, and turned the war around.

HESS: I understand that at the time of the dismissal, the news was supposed to be given to General MacArthur that he had been dismissed by Frank Pace. Is that correct?

FRITCHEY: That is correct. And I can't remember the details now, but there was some criticism of that particular part of the dismissal at the time. I've always felt that was a relatively unimportant detail, and in any case, no matter how it would have been done there would have been a great hue and cry.

HESS: General Marshall left in September of 1951 and Robert Lovett became Secretary of Defense. Just what kind of man was Mr. Lovett?

FRITCHEY: Well, first of all, General Marshall and Mr.


Lovett were very close. General Marshall was always a reserved man, but I always thought he had a great affection for Lovett, and they had worked together very intimately, so the transition was very smooth. Also Mr. Truman, in my opinion, came to have a great deal of confidence in Lovett, and so the changeover was almost without a hitch.

HESS: Did he make a very effective Secretary of Defense?

FRITCHEY: Excellent. There was a very easy understanding between Secretary Lovett and the President. I think they came to see eye to eye on the objectives of the war, how it should be fought, and the budget. I do not recall any serious difficulty between the White House and the Pentagon during Lovett's tenure there.

HESS: All right, fine. Are we ready to move on to the days of the White House staff?

FRITCHEY: Very well.

HESS: All right. How did you become a member of the White House staff?

FRITCHEY: Well, one never knows for sure what prompts


an invitation from a President or from the White House. I've always thought it was because I was to some extent a liaison between the Defense Department and the White House. The President's press secretary, Joe Short, and I were good friends. And it was natural for General Marshall to use me as liaison in that connection. So many of the difficulties of war center in the public relations area. Especially the Korean war which became, as the Vietnam war, a highly political war, involved highly in American politics. So, the President and Secretary Marshall and Secretary Lovett had to give an immense amount of time to this aspect of the war because it was losing popular standing all the time. Of course, the MacArthur incident divided the nation very deeply about it. It's in many respects like Vietnam today. And, I suppose, it will always be difficult to fight a war with a limited objective, especially for a nation that has been used to the idea of unconditional surrender and fight-to-the-finish. So it was constantly necessary to maintain a program of political education along with fighting the war. There was more attention to this than one would ordinarily imagine.


This meant that I was frequently back and forth to the White House, often dealing with Joe Short in particular with various public aspects of this.

HESS: Do you think it is wise to fight a war with limited objectives?

FRITCHEY: I think it depends on what the alternatives are. In the case of Korea the alternative was to go across the Yalu, bomb Manchuria, blockade the coast, and, if necessary, use nuclear weapons, as General Eisenhower later said that he intimated to the Chinese that he would do if necessary. Whether he did or not is another question. And whether the Chinese ever got the message is something that I've always been skeptical about.

I recall one statement of General Marshall's during the hearings on MacArthur that he often later referred to and which also impressed President Truman. In trying to make the Korean war understandable to Congress and to the people, Marshall was mindful that the American public understood the policy of containment in general, particularly since it was originally applied successfully in Europe. Therefore, he noted


that Korea was simply an extension of the policy of containment. As he said, the policy of containment was not to come to a total final confrontation with the Communists, nor was it an effort to restore the status quo before the Second World War, nor to roll back communism in all the countries that had come under Soviet rule in Europe. The policy of containment was to maintain the status that had developed in the immediate wake of World War II. It was thought that if we could avoid a nuclear war over a period of time, then accommodations would be reached, and the postwar difficulties would gradually be resolved in ways that none of us are wise enough to foresee. Marshall pointed out that the policy of containment required one kind of action in one place and one time, a different kind in another time and another place. For instance, in the crisis over Berlin, we could have resorted to force rather than the airlift. In Greece we relied on military advisors and economic and military aid. In Korea we had to do more than that, but it was still the policy of containment. In short, we were not seeking a decisive test, a once-and-for-all test, in Korea,


any more than we had been in Europe. And General Bradley followed this up with his famous statement, "Wrong war, wrong place, wrong time, wrong enemy." If you're going to come to grips with communism, you're going to go for the nerve center of communism and not get yourself bogged down in a mass land war in China, the worst possible circumstance for the United States. Marshall's statement helped clear the air. And General Bradley's famous line gave a further clarification to the American public as to what a limited war is. When you understand the alternatives of a limited war, it makes it, if not more palatable, at least more bearable. And we have somewhat the same situation in Vietnam. There are always those who want to bomb Hanoi and Haiphong to the ground. As General [Curtis] Lemay said, "Let's bomb them back to the stone age." Or let's go in and use nuclear weapons if necessary. Well, it was that way twenty years ago in Korea.

HESS: Can you tell me about your first meeting with Mr. Truman?

FRITCHEY: My first meeting within the Pentagon was a


dinner that General Marshall gave for him, at which he had all the secretaries and the assistant secretaries and the Joint Chiefs, all the heroes of the Defense Department, and he gave it in his own office in the Pentagon, which is about the size of a city block. Naturally everyone in the Pentagon was flattered about the President coming. That afternoon, I had been down on the Hill testifying on the Defense Department budget, and before going down General Marshall had called me to his office and given me some advice on how he thought it might be best to proceed, and what to do under certain kinds of questioning. As it turned out, the questioning followed much the line that he surmised it would, and his advice, which I followed very closely, turned out to be very successful. So, he was gratified.

HESS: What was that advice?

FRITCHEY: Well, it's too complicated to go into now, but it showed a great deal of canniness on his part on how to deal with politicians. That was my first insight into how much this rather reserved, awesome


man, had learned over the years in how to cope with politicians on the Hill. He had guessed precisely where they would attack, so to speak, and what would be the answers that would most satisfy them and deflect the attack. And he couldn't have been more right. So...

HESS: Very proficient in that.

FRITCHEY: I reported back late in the afternoon or early evening; it was just before the dinner started, I think, and he was most amused. And when the President came a few minutes later, he was so tickled by this that he wanted the President to hear a firsthand report about it. So, he had me repeat it to the President, and you know Harry Truman loves his politics and he loves the Senate and he was very amused by this, and also I could see, he was impressed by the political canniness of General Marshall. So, Mr. Truman said to me, "Well, are you finding this pretty tough going?"

I said, "Mr. President, after what I was doing before I came here, I find this a cinch."

He said, "Well, for heaven's sake, what were


you doing?"

I said, "I was running a pro-Truman newspaper in the Deep South." He roared. That began our friendship.

HESS: When did you first meet him in the White House?

FRITCHEY: Well, I saw him a number of times back and forth before I went over there to work regularly.

HESS: And, also, when you started to work at the Department of Defense, Charles Ross was still living. Was that right?

FRITCHEY: I never saw him. I think he was probably in ill health at that time. Joe Short was also intermittently in bad health during that period, and Roger Tubby and I both helped out on the press problems at the White House after I went over. The President had a great regard for Joe Short, who succeeded Ross, and Tubby was his assistant. Also the President was quite fond of Tubby, who had been in the State Department and had been a very valuable assistant to Short. So, when I came over, we had both someone who was familiar with the State Department,


as Tubby was, and someone who was familiar with the Pentagon, as I was. It helped.

HESS: Irving Perlmeter was also an assistant at that time. Is that correct, did you work with him?

FRITCHEY: Well, I worked separately from the press operation. I worked as an Administrative Assistant. The President had three. He had Dave Bell, and me, and another David.

HESS: Lloyd.

FRITCHEY: David Lloyd. There were the three of us who were Administrative Assistants, and our duties were never publicly described. When those jobs were created by Roosevelt, he said he wanted men "with passion for anonymity." Their usefulness to him was that neither the press nor anyone else knew precisely what they were doing, because their assignments varied from day to day, depending on what the President wanted them to do. So mine ranged all over the lot as Dave's did, both Davids.

I don't think any President before or since has quite operated with his staff as Mr. Truman did. I


don't know whether this would be ideal for all Presidents, but it suited Mr. Truman. He did not have a chief of staff in the sense that Sherman Adams was, under Eisenhower. He did not shut himself off. Of course, the White House staff in those days was much smaller than it is now. He would have a meeting every morning, early in the morning, and all of us at the level of press secretary, counsel, Steelman, The Assistant to the President, administrative assistants, special assistants, were welcome to come. We were not required to come, but most of us wanted to come when we were in town or not on something urgent. We made a point of it.

The second thing about these meetings was that they were very informal. So, there was a great deal of give and take, and the President encouraged all of us to speak up. We were certainly allowed, if not encouraged, to speak up in areas where we had no responsibility. For instance, if a personnel matter came up, or a patronage matter came up, he would discuss this in front of all of us, even though his patronage man, his personnel man, was there. And we all knew instinctively that if we wanted to say


something, it was all right to do it. And we did. So, it was a very, very lively occasion. And he gave quite a bit of time to this; it would often run an hour.

HESS: I have one question on a couple of gentlemen you mentioned: Dr. John Steelman had the title, The Assistant to the President, and, of course, at this time, Charles Murphy was special counsel. Just, in your opinion, how did it seem to you at that time? Did it seem as if the men were on an equal footing or did it seem that one had a rank somewhat above the other.

FRITCHEY: Well, in protocol, I believe Dr. Steelman's rank was first. But in practice, he himself, did not attempt, nor seem to want, to play the role of a Sherman Adams. He was secure, I think, in his relations with the President and apparently he did not want to operate across the board. So, in effect, he did not assume much more responsibility than the rest of us, especially the ones who had been with the President a long time, like Charles Murphy.


There were several others, I would say three or four, who had been with him a long time and who did not clear things with anybody except the President. I, myself, was never instructed to clear anything with anybody else. I often did, however, consult with others on the staff before talking to the President directly about matters, especially Charlie Murphy, who had a great deal of judgment. The President had great reliance on him.

HESS: But this you would do just on your own. It wasn't because that you felt that you had to.

FRITCHEY: That's right. Now, this might not suit many Presidents. Kennedy operated pretty informally. Kennedy would operate informally by bumping into his staff here and there during the day and talking about matters, or picking up the phone rather than having a large meeting where everyone tossed in anything they wanted to.

HESS: Did Charles Murphy ever have a meeting in which he might have called in the administrative assistants and have a sort of staff meeting of his or not?



HESS: How did he handle those?

FRITCHEY: Well, you know the quarters are pretty cramped there in the west end, but he had a pretty sizeable office and it was possible for a number of people to sit around there. But Charlie, like Mr. Steelman, is a very modest man and I presume that if he had wanted to magnify his position he could have. If he had wanted to make himself chief of staff or something like that he could have. He chose not to because we all had a great deal of respect for him and if he asked us to come by we accepted. I always did. We were always glad to have his counsel and have him to turn to. And you always felt when he called you, he was not ordering you to come but that you were being flattered by being consulted by him, but he has a very quiet, modest way of approaching matters.

HESS: Now, the date that you started at the Department of Defense was after the time that Clark Clifford resigned as special counsel.

FRITCHEY: Yes. I know Clark very well, but I never knew


him at the White House. I think he established in Mr. Truman's mind, the importance of that job as counsel.

HESS: Is that right? Now when Mr...

FRITCHEY: No question that Mr. Murphy had a great deal of responsibility.

HESS: When Mr. Truman first came President, he inherited Sam Rosenman who had been special counsel for Roosevelt, and after he resigned he appointed Clifford into that position.

FRITCHEY: Clifford, I think, had already been there as Naval Aide and was there and already begun to make an impression on Mr. Truman before Rosenman went back to New York in my recollection.

HESS: While we're discussing some of the men who were on the White House staff the same time that you were, I'd like to ask you a few questions about some of them, just general questions about what their duties were and how effective were they in their duties, what seemed to be their relationship with the President,


what seemed to be their relationship with each other, or anything that comes to mind about some of the men. Now, we have already mentioned Mr. Murphy, does anything else come to mind about Mr. Murphy?

FRITCHEY: Well, I think as the years went on that he had come to play an increasingly larger role as a counselor and advisor to the President. As you know, the personnel matters were then under Don Dawson. But there was a very amiable spirit around the White House and Don did not object to others making suggestions in that field, nor did he seem to me to be offended when a proposed nomination would be made to the President in our presence, and we raised questions about it. He always took it in good spirit. It was a very congenial group of men. As you know, Dr. Steelman operated to a very large extent over in the economic area, and at that time this posed some very big problems. When the steel strike came along that was about all he could handle. It was a twenty-four hour a day job. It posed great public problems, and great legal problems that went up to the Supreme Court.

Joe Short had the confidence of the President


to a very considerable extent and his advice to the President really operated across the board. The President had an interesting way of handling his press conferences. We would prepare, usually the night before a press conference, all the problems, issues and question that we thought might arise, and there'd usually be three or four people in on it; Joe Short, Perlmeter, Roger Tubby, and myself. And then the first thing in the morning we'd look over the night's news and the early ticker in the morning and see if there was anything further. Then we would go in and see the President. He didn't exclude others from this, so frequently other members of the staff, if they wanted to, could be present at the briefing with the President and sometimes a number did show up, and they enjoyed it.

After a time, we worked out a kind of unspoken modus vivendi with the President. The question would be raised. He, by look or gesture, would indicate whether he wanted any suggestions or whether he wanted a proposed answer or whether he wanted discussion of it. So, without any hard and fast signals, we all caught on to how to proceed on this. Every now and


then, he would just say, "I'll take care of that," and that would be it. The fact is that I guess he didn't want to hear our thinking on that. Most of the time there was a discussion. Most of the time the answers, I'd say in at least half of the cases, spoke for themselves, or there were answers which revolved around specific information which we had obtained from one of the other departments. So it was available to him if the subject came up. Once in awhile there was a difference of opinion on how a question should be answered, and sometimes the President would welcome suggestions and sometimes he wouldn't, and sometimes he would let the argument go on and we'd move on to the next question without being absolutely certain what he was going to say. But nine questions out of ten we had resolved before the meeting began, and in those days the press conferences were held in the Indian Treaty Room in the Executive Office Building.

HESS: Did you attend the press conferences?

FRITCHEY: Oh, sure. The press would all be seated. There's a little room off the main room where we would gather, and then three or four of us would go in and sit down,


the President, Joe, Tubby, and myself. Or sometimes just one of us depending on who's away, who's in town and who's sick or what not. Anyway, there would be one or all three of us there. The questioning would begin and it would be very seldom that a question was raised that had not been anticipated. But time and again, the President would answer in a way wholly different from anything that we had suggested and he couldn't resist looking down at us and sort of half winking, and sometimes they would be blistering answers. Sometimes we thought we had worked out an answer which was tactful and which blurred the point and at least kept it in suspense until it could be answered more fully a week or two later. He hated to do that. He favored "yes" or "no," and frequently to his own disadvantage he was too blunt. There are times in politics when it's just simply bad politics to be totally candid.

HESS: Did you ever try to explain that to him?

FRITCHEY: Oh, he knew it, but it was just his nature. He wanted to speak up. He hated ambiguity. Above all, he hated to appear to be fearful. To me his pre-eminent


quality as a President -- more than almost any President that I can think of -- was his willingness at all times to sacrifice momentary popularity for the long-range interest of the country. I've come to prize this quality in Presidents more than any other quality because I think it is the rarest. We come to forgive Presidents for not doing this simply because it is almost more than you can ask for a President to risk his standing all the time. I'm sure that most Presidents have comforting extenuations. They justify it in their mind by saying, "Well, I must maintain my standing, otherwise I won't be effective." Mr. Truman knew that if he fired General MacArthur it would probably be fatal politically for him in the long run. His answer to that, in effect, was: "I'm not interested in your advice about how much this will cost politically. I'm interested in your advice as to whether I am right constitutionally in doing this. And do I have any alternatives? If I am going to preserve the rights of the Commander in Chief and the rights of civilian control of the military, do I have any alternatives?" Of course, there is always an alternative. But he felt there wasn't without


weakening civilian control in this country, and if he did it the next man would do it more, and so on. So, even if he had faced impeachment for it, he would still have gone ahead and done it. When he seized the steel mills, he knew that would be turned into a highly unpopular decision in the middle of the campaign year, yet he did it. He knew when he called out the troops to break the railroad strike, that he was going to create disaffection in the group where he had to seek most of his support. Yet, he did it. In the end, of course, it cut him down. You can suffer just so much attrition. I regard this as his pre-eminent quality. I do not regard him as the most intellectual President we ever had, or most scholarly one. Not the most experienced one, not necessarily always the wisest one, but insofar as courage was concerned, and his respect for that office, and his willingness to pay any personal price, I consider him one of our most distinguished Presidents. I don't think any President has ever been stronger in that respect.

HESS: Concerning our discussion of the White House


staff members, what do you recall of Mr. Matthew Connelly?

FRITCHEY: Well, we all liked Matt. I liked him from the day I saw him. He was helpful to the rest of us because he had access to the President. He guarded the door. He knew who should see the President and who shouldn't. He was not jealous about his prerogatives. He often would get us in when he knew the President didn't want to be bothered any more that day. So, he was wonderfully helpful and sympathetic to our different problems. Of course, I think the prosecution of Connelly was despicable.

HESS: Why did that come about?

FRITCHEY: It came about simply because you had an administration, namely the Eisenhower administration, which came to power by running a campaign about the so-called mess in Washington. Trying to convince the American people that Harry Truman, of all people, was soft on communism, and the mess in Washington meant that everybody in the Truman administration was a crook. Well, I think that we all know now that Mr. Truman's


own sense of honor was impeccable. The effort of Herbert Brownell to picture Mr. Truman as a traitor because of the Harry Dexter White case, is, I think, one of the ugliest chapters in our history. I think the prosecution of Matt Connelly was equally ugly.

HESS: Do you think that these matters were carried on with the knowledge of President Eisenhower?

FRITCHEY: Well, if they weren't they should have been. If I were President of the United States and my Attorney General accused my predecessor of being a traitor, and my Attorney General had not consulted me on that in advance, I would have fired him. Of course, Mr. Eisenhower knew about that, but having told the country that Washington was teeming with Communists and security risks, they had to find some. Of course, they never did. To the best of my recollection, in eight years of investigation of two or three million Federal employees, they never found one Communist. If so, I don't know who it is.

HESS: Another gentleman who served as administrative assistant, we have mentioned this afternoon: David


Bell. Just how effective in his job was Mr. Bell?

FRITCHEY: I'm unable to answer that simply because I frequently didn't know what Dave was doing and he frequently didn't know what I was doing. But having seen him in operation under other circumstances, I have the highest esteem for him. I believe Dave had been in the Bureau of the Budget before he became an administrative assistant, and he's a wizard at it.

HESS: How about David Lloyd?

FRITCHEY: David, I think, was giving a great deal of time and thought when I was there, to the possible history of this administration. He was a literary man, a man of some taste. He tended to try to see this thing in perspective even while it was going on. And, again, many of his missions were directly from the President, and I simply don't know enough about them to discuss them intelligently.

HESS: There are several other members, but many of them held lesser positions, so let's just skip on over that, we have other questions.


FRITCHEY: I might say, that during the political bitterness of those days, there were many efforts made to picture General Vaughan as a malignant influence on the President, and to picture Mr. Truman as being particularly susceptible to his suggestions, and ideas, pressures and so on. I, myself, saw nothing to justify this. Often in meetings Harry, who had a considerable wit, would break in and frequently relieve the tension with a humorous remark, a humorous observation. But seldom do I recall him ever trying to influence meetings very seriously. He may have later individually with the President, but I don't think so. I don't think he attempted to use his position in that respect.

HESS: Previously you mentioned congressional liaison in relationship to your job in the Defense Department. Do you recall how congressional liaison was carried on by the White House during the Truman days?

FRITCHEY: Yes, Joe Feeney was the principal one then.

HESS: And Charles Maylon?

FRITCHEY: I don't remember him, I just remember Joe.


HESS: How did they operate? Do you recall?

FRITCHEY: Well, not too differently from the present administration. Of course, the staff was so much smaller then than it is now. It has probably tripled or quadrupled since then. So the Feeney operation was a very limited one, but he had the definite assignment of the day-to-day, hour-to-hour connection and links with the Hill. All the rest of us, in one way or another, had personal friends and contacts up there which sometimes were useful. But this was in addition to Feeney. Things were generally cleared through him.

HESS: Which personal contacts did you have that you thought were the closest? Who did you know the best on the Hill?

FRITCHEY: Well, I knew so many, it would be hard to say. I always had very good friends on the Foreign Relations committee. [Senator J. William] Fulbright always had been a close friend of mine. Russell Long, the Chairman of the Finance Committee, is a good friend, he was from New Orleans where I was once running a paper. I'm sure others on the staff also had their friends. So,


the operation was not confined one hundred percent to Feeney, but he had the principal responsibility.

HESS: How close was the President to Leslie Biffle at this time?


HESS: Would the President also make calls to various Representatives and Senators and discuss matters with them directly -- in the Johnson manner?

FRITCHEY: Well, he would do it but he did not spend his life on the phone. And when he talked, he talked quickly and to the point. Whereas Mr. Johnson might be on the phone a half hour or two years. But that was never Mr. Truman's way. Yes, he frequently interceded on his own, often without telling anybody else; he just did it. And we sometimes didn't discover it either; he'd forget to tell us, or didn't want us to know. But he had a lot of friends up there.

HESS: Just how were Mr. Truman's speeches written? Who worked on them?

FRITCHEY: It's very hard to define that exactly. Charlie


Murphy gave quite a bit of time to this. David did -- not Bell.

HESS: Lloyd.

FRITCHEY: Lloyd. Dave Lloyd. Others would be helpful from time to time, like Sam Rosenman, even in those days. From time to time, on special occasions, you might even receive help from someone like John Hersey. The President did not like adornment; he did not like rococo speeches. It was not too difficult to produce what came to be known as the Truman style, which was plainness, even dryness. So, almost anybody who was competent could produce this effect. They are not distinguished by a great deal of style. Some of these men were quite capable of style if they had had a different principal. But, it would not have seemed suitable for Mr. Truman to have given the kind of speeches that distinguished Stevenson, for instance, or even Kennedy. Therefore, the concentration was on the substance. Generally they had a strong point. Generally, they were not too long and generally an effort was made to fortify the point as persuasively and with as much documentation as possible. On the


state of the Union speech, for instance, Dean Acheson would personally be very helpful, not because he was Secretary of State so much but for the fact that he had a very fine style and the President had a great deal of confidence in him. For instance, on one state of the Union message, we would gather for a number of days in the Cabinet Room in the afternoon whenever Mr. Acheson could spare the time and when he could come over. The speech was done more or less methodically in sections. Defense wants so much, State wants so much of the speech, Interior wants this part, you have got to touch an awful lot of bases on the state of the Union speech. Acheson was extremely versatile at editing and suggesting to us bridges between sections, so that a speech of that magnitude might take several weeks in the preparation.

HESS: Do you recall what year this was that you were helping with the state of the Union message? Was that the final state of the Union message?

FRITCHEY: My recollection is that I participated to some extent in the preparation of the state of the Union in 1951 and 1952. More work went into this


particular speech than probably any other one the President gave during the year. I think that's probably true of other Presidents as well. But naturally, every agency and every Cabinet department of the Government fights hard, fights all during December for a place in that speech, and rightly so because once the President makes a commitment in the state of the Union, he's a long way toward doing it. And if Agriculture, or Interior or Justice fails to get a commitment of some kind, even a small reference in that speech, they know very well that when the fighting for the money comes later on that they may lose out. So, the competition to be represented in the state of the Union speech is about as fierce as there is in Government. It's unlike almost any other speech in that respect.

HESS: When you would work on the speeches in the Cabinet Rooms, what members of the White House staff would be present?

FRITCHEY: It would vary from day to day. One day we might consider the claims of say the Defense Department for a place in the speech, or the claims


of one of the independent agencies and what not. So they might or might not be represented depending upon those who were doing the actual construction of the speech. Sometimes Mr. Acheson would just pick up his own pen and write a whole stretch himself, and, believe me, it was first class.

HESS: At the time that you were there, were you concerned only with the Department of Defense matters or were you helping to write the speech in total?

FRITCHEY: Well, as I have said before, since the role of the administrative assistant by statute was never spelled out, you could be used for anything from day to day. You were simply operating at the President's pleasure from day to day. You might have two or three assignments at one time or you might have none and you might have one. Also, there was an extraordinary flexibility in the staff at that time. I don't know whether this would be good for every President or not but it seemed to work out for Harry Truman, in the sense that one member of the staff felt free to call upon others to help him in a situation. He'd say, "Are you tied up? Has the


President got you doing anything? Could you help me on this? Could you go see so and so? Would you talk to so and so?" Or "I'm stuck on this section of speech would you help me on this speech?" And there was this kind of interchange in the staff which I found worked out quite well. And almost everyone liked it because it gave a kind of a variety so that you were not pinned down to one specific rigid task. It was enjoyable to move in different areas. Now, I think this is more true of the administrative assistants than the others. For instance, I did a great deal of political work for the President.

HESS: Tell me about that.

FRITCHEY: This, of course, was never spelled out, and many member of the staff didn't even know what I was doing. I was for some time principal liaison between the White House, the President, and the Democratic National Committee. This has never been written about. Very few people know it today. Not even many of the reporters caught on. The usual routine was for the chairman of the committee to call on the President


from time to time. India Edwards, who was the vice-chairman for women, also made a point of seeing the President. The President liked her and she was quite effective. I think she saw him probably more frequently than the national chairman did. But I would be in touch much more frequently on a day to day basis sometimes both by telephone and by actual appearance at the committee. In the nature of things, the departments and the agencies and the Democratic National Committee, as well, look for a good pipeline to the White House, even though one isn't specifically assigned to them. In this case it was more or less specifically assigned.

HESS: Was this assigned by the President?


HESS: Now, when you first went to the White House, Frank McKinney was chairman of the Democratic National Committee, is that correct?

FRITCHEY: That's correct.

HESS: And then he was very shortly thereafter, replaced by


Stephen Mitchell.

FRITCHEY: Correct. Frank took over the committee as I recall early in 1952 , and he had a big job on his hands. There was no question that the administration was in trouble on the public relations side. The propaganda of the Republicans, and the threat of Eisenhower, were creating very serious problems. McKinney was, and rightly so in my opinion, very sensitive to the public relations aspect of the party and the Democratic National Committee and the needs in that area. That made a considerable bond between us. He and I got along well. And so I became kind of an informal advisor to him in that area. They had a director of publicity, Sam Brightman.

HESS: Did you know him well?

FRITCHEY: Yes, sure. And later, after I left the White House, I went to the Democratic National Committee as vice-chairman and director of a new division called the Office of Public Affairs, and I kept Sam as the publicity director when I came. He'd been there a long time, he knew his way around. But he


wasn't quite McKinney's style. He was better than McKinney thought he was.

HESS: What was your impression of Stephen Mitchell?

FRITCHEY: I think I could tell you that more successfully if we went about the Stevenson candidacy more chronologically.

HESS: Fine, that is what we are up to now anyway.

[Top of the Page | Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript || List of Subjects Discussed|
Additional Fritchey Oral History Transcripts]