While Dewey Focused on Election, Truman Dealt With Soviets

An original copy of the Chicago Daily Tribune’s famously wrong “DEWEY DEFEATS TRUMAN” edition from Nov. 3, 1948, sold for $1,493 at a June 2008 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

In 1948, Republicans selected New York Governor Thomas E. Dewey (Alice Roosevelt thought he looked like the groom on a wedding cake) to be their presidential candidate. He had lost in 1944 to FDR, but it was the closest anyone had come in four elections. Four years later, Dewey defeated a tough group of competitors that included Minnesota Governor Harold E. Stassen. In fact, Stassen was so close that Dewey challenged him to a debate just before the Oregon Republican primary.

The May 17 Dewey-Stassen debate was the first audio-recorded debate between presidential candidates in U.S. history. The debate centered primarily on the issue of criminalization of the Communist Party of the United States and was broadcast over the radio to the entire country. About 40 million people tuned in and Dewey was thought to be the winner. The real winner may have been voters, since this set a precedent that is still considered important today.

Dewey finally won the Republican nomination on the third ballot on June 24, 1948.

            Thomas E. Dewey

President Harry S. Truman had little interest in the Republicans or their convention since on the same date, June 24, the Russians decided to make a move in post-war Germany by blockading all rail, highway and water traffic in and out of Berlin. It seemed clear that Joseph Stalin was intent on forcing the Allies to withdraw from the partitioned city. Except for air, the Allied sectors were entirely cut off and nothing could come in or out of this critical German hub. About 2.5 million people were facing starvation and Truman was asked bluntly if American forces would remain in Berlin or pull out. In typical Midwest-style candor, Truman answered, “We stay in Berlin. Period.”

Four days later on June 28, while Dewey tried to rally voters to look beyond the crisis, Truman acted by ordering a full-scale airlift to Berlin. He sent to Germany two squadrons of B-29s, the giant planes associated with dropping the two atomic bombs on Japan. However, these particular planes were not equipped to carry atomic weapons, a small detail the Russians were unaware of.

Truman didn’t bother to consult with either the White House staff or any of his numerous political advisors in making the decision. He and Secretary of State General George C. Marshall were convinced that the future of Western Europe hinged on the Berlin issue and that leaving the Russians alone in Berlin could lead to a resumption of war. The numbers were sobering. The Allies had 6,500 soldiers in the city, while the Russians had 18,000. In addition, those 18,000 were backed up by 300,000 more in Germany’s Eastern Zone.

Politicians and newspapers editorialists thought it would be impossible to supply 2.5 million people with food, clothing and other essentials, especially when winter rolled around. However, by the fourth week of the airlift, American and British transports were roaring in by the hundreds each day. More pilots were being trained in Montana, flying blindfolded through extremely narrow mock routes, similar to Berlin routes. The New York Times even wrote in atypical tones, “We were proud of our Air Force during the war. We are prouder of it today.”

The effort was heroic, but it was not enough. So Truman stepped up and increased the number of planes, and 30,000 Berliners volunteered in the building of a new airfield. Voila! By October, the airlift was succeeding and Truman sent yet another 26 C-54 transports into the rotation. This increase helped guarantee supplies for the winter. Realizing their blockade ploy had failed, Stalin blinked and backed down!

“To do more would have been a direct threat to peace. To have done less would have been an abdication of our American honor and traditions,” said General Lucius Clay, the top U.S. official in occupied Germany. The 277,804 flights delivered more than 2.32 million tons of food and supplies, almost one ton for every man, woman and child in Berlin, the third-largest city in the world, behind Chicago and New York. Truman called off his airlift on May 12, 1949 … the same day Allied Powers approved the establishment of a new German Federated Republic, where the German people would rule themselves with their own government in Bonn.

They are once again the brightest country in all of Europe and dominate the E.U.

Note: I never met General Lucius Clay while he served as chairman and CEO of Continental Can Company from 1950-62 … although I received a short note from his office when I became plant manager of Continental’s South Gate, Calif., flexible packing group in 1962 at age 25. (I was told that was a record, but there is no proof.)

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chair and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

In Wartime, Leaders Made Sure Nation’s Treasures Remained Safe

An exact copy of the Declaration of Independence, commissioned by Secretary of State John Quincy Adams in 1820, sold for $597,500 at an April 2012 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

Dwight Eisenhower was a five-star general in the U.S. Army and was appointed Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Forces in Europe by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. On June 6, 1944, he directed the largest amphibious invasion in history by establishing a beachhead on Normandy on the northern coast of France.

Operation Overlord started with overnight parachute and glider landings, massive naval bombardments and air attacks … followed by amphibious landings on five beaches. They were code named Omaha, Utah, Juno, Gold and Sword. Then, the remaining elements of the airborne divisions landed.

The successful operation is now commonly called D-Day.

There was an elaborate plan formulated to convince the Germans that Normandy was not the focal point of the invasion and, despite several unfortunate leaks, it was generally successful. The use of code names helped to disguise the actual location and even extended to officers who had knowledge of real D-Day plans. None of them were to be deployed to areas where there was the slightest chance of being captured. They were given the security classification code name of BIGOTs, and if any were unaccounted for or captured, the invasion was to be canceled. In a little-known incident on April 27, 10 BIGOTs were missing after German E-boats attacked several American LSTs. But all 10 bodies were recovered and no changes had to be made.

Three months later, on Sept. 19 at 3:35 p.m., the Provost Marshall of Fort Knox, Ky. – Major W.C. Hatfield – ordered a heavily armed convoy to “move out” from the U.S. Bullion Depository. As the vehicles started rolling, there was a large truck in the middle. Inside were containers holding the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution of the United States, and the Gettysburg Address. They were going home!

Archibald MacLeish

President Roosevelt, the Joint Chiefs and the War Department had decided that bombings or sabotage on the U.S. mainland were now unlikely. It was time for these most precious documents to return to Washington. The Librarian of Congress – Archibald MacLeish – wrote, “They see no need to keep materials of this kind in the woods and hills any longer.”

The convoy headed to Louisville, Ky., and agents placed the cases aboard a Pullman sleeper car – No. 42 – on the 5:30 p.m. B&O train to Washington, D.C. When they arrived at the Library of Congress via armored truck (with extra guards), MacLeish personally supervised their transfer to the vault. Safe at last!

MacLeish resigned shortly after an ailing President Roosevelt was elected to an unprecedented fourth term in 1944, defeating Republican Thomas E. Dewey, the governor of New York. However, FDR persuaded MacLeish to stay on as assistant Secretary of State for cultural and public affairs. His first assignment was to convince the American people that a United Nations was needed to ensure a lasting peace.

He did keep our most valuable treasures safe during the war, but lasting peace was more elusive. He died in 1982, just shy of his 90th birthday.

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Truman’s Time in Office Was Tumultuous, but He Still Ranks Among Best

harry-s-truman-inscribed-photo-signed
Virtually every prediction indicated that Harry S. Truman would be defeated by Thomas E. Dewey in the 1948 election. A copy of the famous “Dewey Defeats Truman” photograph, inscribed by Truman, sold for $10,157.50 at an April 2013 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

Harry S. Truman moved back into the newly rebuilt White House in March 1952 and he had already decided not to seek reelection.

Since Truman had only served one full term as an elected president (having filled a partial term after Franklin D. Roosevelt died in office), he was eligible to run for president a second time. This was the same dilemma that had confronted two of his predecessors: Teddy Roosevelt and Calvin Coolidge, both of whom had decided not to run a second time. Truman was well aware of their personal deliberations; the first Roosevelt had lived to regret not running, while Coolidge had never looked back.

In 1951, after four years of debate, Congress ratified the 22nd Amendment of the Constitution, which limited an elected president to two terms. This was a reaction to FDR’s long tenure, and it specifically exempted Truman. But, he had made up his mind.

He addressed the Democratic Party’s historic Jefferson-Jackson dinner at the D.C. National Guard Armory. “I shall not be a candidate for reelection. I have served my country long and I think efficiently and honestly. I shall not accept a re-nomination.” He added in an ironic tone not typical of him, “I do not think that it is my duty to spend another four years in the White House.”

Although he was a tough-skinned politician, he resented the negative public opinion that had risen around him. His time in office, eight years less about two months, had been tumultuous, filled with achievements that had not been easy. His call for liberal change had been rooted philosophically in the New Deal, but in the wake of World War I and increased prosperity, his call fell on deaf ears.

The American public was turning elsewhere, particularly after he vetoed an ardent Republican crusade to turn coastal tidelands mineral rights over to the states, and it was viewed as a lame-duck president lashing out. It was actually one of the few vetoes that stuck (12 of his vetoes were overridden by Congress) and it created an energy that would result in a Republican victory in the upcoming election.

At about the same time, the Treasury Department announced that the federal deficit would be double than the previous year and in the last months of his presidency, his popularity and spirits were low. He was ready to go home.

History has been kind to Truman. Every year, his standing on the Best Presidents list seems to improve. He was a small man in stature who assumed a big job at a crucial time and did his very best. Who could expect more?

Jim O'NielIntelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is President and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].