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Posted Thursday, June 24, 2004

 Names are the first casualties in the battle against time, though he remembers mine.

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June 24, 2004 (Thursday)
Washington DC

I MAIL out seventy invitations to the St Louis and Louisville meetings from the mail-drop at the National Archives building in Maryland. New archives ID card has to be issued, as my old one has already expired. I look up entries in the IRR series (Investigative Records Repository), and find references to a diary of John McCloy, 1941-1945, a wartime US deputy secretary of defence; these may well be very be important, and I order the four volumes.

John TaylorThen archivist John Taylor, left, walks in; he has heard I am in the building. He is more bent than ever; his memory has sagged only a bit since we last met a year ago. Names are the first casualties in the battle against time, though he remembers mine.

He is delighted to see me there -- our first discussion on sources in the old Archives building in Pennsylvania Avenue was in about 1967 -- and we chat about many things; he says author Anthony Cave Brown is still around, he was on the phone to him last week but Brown "could not come in" -- I say probably too bulky now to get into any car. I last saw him was when we Carla Venchiaruttiinvited him to dinner with Carla Venchiarutti, right, working for me here, in K Street in 1976. He downed so many beers that I worried whether he could get his car back safely (and he totalled it that same evening, I recall).

I ask John about the PRIME-POTUS files, access to which I first requested some thirty or thirty-five years ago when I began researching the Winston Churchill biography in depth; they are now open, he concedes, and within seconds he has produced the binder with the catalogue information.

John's brain is a human file-cabinet, complete with index cards: he can produce any item, from memory. I order the PRIME-POTUS file at once, two ring binders. I comment on his lively good health, and he volunteers that he never drank a cup of coffee in his life -- then he corrects himself, he did once drink a cup in an airplane over the Grand Canyon, and disliked the taste so much he never tried again. "Probably Instant," I volunteer.

We chat about author Ladislas Farago and archivist Dr Robert Wolfe (who retired, he says, ten years ago) and other old acquaintances and friends. He knows all about the Robert Kempner files found by Walt Martin in Philadelphia, and asks what the status is of the Robert Gutierrez trove; I say I went to see the Gutierrez family in Albuquerque last December, and am playing that fish very slowly.

John broke a thumb in a fall two or three weeks ago. I ask permission to take a picture of him, and he is pleased, puts on his glasses for the second one, and asks for a print. Smiling at his liveliness, I guess his age at eighty-three, and he says, Spot on, how did you guess? But it was just a guess.

He comes into work at six each morning, though even so he is not the first man in, then has breakfast in the canteen and works a full day. What a man. He recalls bumping into me coming into the building main entrance in Pennsylvania Avenue many years ago with "a good looking blond on my arm" and that I had told him then that I had already had "a life of crime" in writing. The blonde is unlikely, the quote rings true.

He throws out many clues to me about new files now available in this building: nine million pages of CIA files are coming into their third-floor library at the rate of a million a month, on CD-Rom; you type in key words, and up come images of the documents. The library, he sniffs, keeps regular hours, closes at five pm. The MID files and FBI files contain a lot of Churchill materials between the wars. Today the research room closes at nine, that's handy.

The McCloy diary is brought in, the first box has about 1,000 pages. It is oddly comprised, of carbon copies, subject by subject, e.g. Caribbean, Philippines, evidently typed by researchers for the official histories, from a real diary, which is … where? Three more boxes to go.

RG 165 The two PRIME-POTUS box files are a bit of a disappointment after all these years of waiting: "RG 165 Security Classified records relating to the special communications circuit for handling PRIME POTUS … messages exchanged during and after the war by the President (Roosevelt and Truman) and the Prime Minister (Churchill and Attlee) and their high ranking officials, 1943-47." Boxes 195 and 196, NM-64, entry 81. The first contains a small black ring-binder, "Log of messages (lists 43 pages of messages)", with columns, Date, No., Ck. [a serial number], In, Out, Clear W.U. and Remarks, from Jan 27, 1942 to Nov 15, 1946. The remarks include frequently "unnumbered to Hopkins," "Winant to President," "Harriman to President," and the numbered PM series (e.g., PM 289).

The boxes also contain folders, including many of the original messages, and working papers of Adml William D Leahy, "Doc" Matthews and others attached to them. The slim file on the surrender of Japan omits (1985), a message Attlee to Truman, Aug 11, 1945, SRL#2262 [not an intercept], removed because of "security classified information." And another, MSG#443, Winant to Truman, "Aug 6, 1946" (sic), removed ditto. Many of the contents of other folders have been removed, evidently as they relate to communications security.

File #9 is a file on rumours that the USSR was planning a putsch in Trieste, imminent on Jun 15, 1946, with a simultaneous attack across the Oder to NW Germany, via Bulgaria and Romania into Greece and through Austria and S Germany to France. There is a verbatim teletype or phone conversation between James Byrnes and Ernie Bevin ("Bevans, Bevins") on Aug 14, 1945 about the Japanese surrender. There are several telegrams about Churchill's Fulton invitation (Westminster College, Fulton, Missouri), at which he would deliver a speech on world affairs, requesting "no honorarium." There is (in file #9, July 1945, mostly re Zones in Austria) a stray visiting card of Dr Lloyd James Thompson, Colonel, Consultant in Psychiatry ETO, Office Chief Surgeon, endorsed on the rear in his handwriting, "Received, one envelope addressed to Hon Harry Hopkins, White House, Washington. L J Thompson." The enclosure was almost certainly the letter Winant to Hopkins, Dec 11, 1944. [photocopied]

File #9 also has War Dept Washington cable to ETOUSA July 1, 1945, "From General Marshall for Ambassador Winant's eyes only. The President requested Prime [Churchill] to see Devers personally and Prime later replied that he had already done so and was much impressed. I am taking measures to assist in his relationship with British chiefs of staff. Your interest in all of this is genuinely appreciated by me as well as your consistent attitude to great helpfulness toward our military efforts and procedure."

File #11 has telegrams on the Labour election win, July 1945; reparations from Germany; President Harry S Truman's over-brief visit to Plymouth, UK, on his return voyage to the USA.

File #12 has Winant to Truman, Unclassified, SRNR 210, London August 16, 1945: 'Mr Churchill has just asked me to forward to you the following: "Accept my profound congratulations on the surrender of Japan in response to our ultimatum and upon victorious peace." -- Also Macarthur messages.

Back in Falls Church at eight p.m. Ned invites to dinner again. Afterwards we watch a video about a Greek wedding. Never seen such over-hyped tripe in my life, though the actress was oddly beautiful, the spitting image of one of the trustiest assistants I had in London, Zerin -- we called her affectionately Miss Long-Nose Twisted-Face; she hailed from Cyprus. Both she and the actress have a strange kind of marble beauty that is hard to define. I am told, as the movie grinds to its inevitable matrimonial climax, that the actress also wrote the script; ah, a Lifetime channel movie, which you have to be a woman to understand, or relish, I suppose.

 [Previous Radical's Diary]

© Focal Point 2004 F DISmall David Irving