Thursday, June 22, 2017

Historical notes highlight Pentagon players – Part 3

Harry was fond of boss Zuckert (on right, above and below)
On this page we see more reflections from Harry’s early Pentagon years. Whether he intended anyone to see them (other than the original recipient) we’ll never know. As our family reads these notes, however, we can pair some of his experiences with the Pentagon photos taken during his career. I found these notes dated Jan. 3, 2010 in computer files, though I think he wrote them years earlier.


When I came to the Pentagon, the United States Air Force, as a separate service, was just two years old. The first Secretary, Stuart Symington, was just leaving and the second Secretary, Tom Finletter, was just arriving. One of the Assistant Secretaries was Eugene Zuckert, whom I met early on and took an immediate liking to. The Special Projects Office was run by a couple high-powered Colonels, established to do special jobs for the Secretary.  

The thing to remember is that the Air Force was still trying to organize itself and the Secretary had all kinds of organizational problems in trying to adjust its civilian staff to do the administrative things while the military side was trying to adjust its staff to get out from under the Army and do the military things – and there was a lot of confusion about who was responsible for what. The civilians had no responsibility in operational matters, and the military had some partial responsibility and a lot of interest in administrative matters. Thus there was a lot of tension between the Deputy Chiefs of Staff and the Assistant Secretaries, while the Secretary and the Chief of Staff were mostly cordial. All the discord took place at the second tiers and Gene Zuckert set the original ground rules at that level and got most things smoothed out. Another Assistant Secretary was Roswell Gilpatric, though my mind’s a blank as to when he came in, but I got to know him, too, and he was more of an intellectual than the others and did a lot to enunciate and clarify Air Force thinking in those early days.
   
Anyway, the Colonels and a couple other civilians in the office were mainly occupied in doing things for the brass – the Secretary and Asst Secs and also the Chief – writing speeches, and preparing congressional testimony. Remember, on top of everything else, the war in Korea was just getting underway and the Air Force was scrambling to get into it. Busy as the office was, they turned over the less important stuff to me, the newest member of the staff. By the way, two other people were hired at the same time as I. One, Louise Gronniger, stayed on with me until she retired, a few years before I did.

So, like I said, I got the less important odd jobs thrown at me. One was the newspaper clipping service which became the Current News. Another was the requirement, which some congressman wrote into the law – the National Security Act, I believe – that each Agency must submit an Annual Report. So the Secretary told the Chief to prepare a draft and the Air Staff set up a historical office to write Air Force Histories and then the Chief told the Secretary to prepare a history of the Secretariat to include in the official Air Force History … so, this round robin led to me being assigned to write not only the Annual Reports, which I did for many years, but also a classified history of the Office of the Secretary of the Air Force, which I also did for many years. That, in turn, led to me being asked to write an annual account of USAF progress/history each year for various encyclopedias. And that, in turn, led to me being asked to write articles for various magazines, which I did a lot of on my own time at home so I could get paid with a clear conscience. But that’s another story.

By the end of the 1950s, the Current News had grown substantially. We were now getting more newspapers and doing more screening and clipping and putting out more pages in the morning.  I think it was in 1959 or 1960 that we went from 6 to 8 pages. By this time the Air Force Printing Plant was in operation. They had a lithograph printing press. And they had a machine that could take a picture of a Current News page and make a plastic/paper mat which could be put on the press and inked up and reproduced in hundreds of copies. We were making and distributing about 500 copies each morning. And it was no longer exclusively for the Air Force – mostly but not exclusively. We were giving copies to the Secretary of the Army, Sec/Navy, Sec/Def, and Joint Staff. Plus, all kinds of people were coming into the office to pick up any extra copies laying around, if possible.

Harry (right front) with office crew, 1960s
Lots of things were happening in 1960, not only in our office. Eisenhower was finishing up his eight years as President and a new campaign was getting started. Kennedy was entering the national scene, this young Senator from Massachusetts, and Nixon was hoping to graduate from Vice President to President to succeed Ike. Those were exciting times and our office was getting busier. But let’s back up a bit.

During the decade of the 1950s, several organizational things happened. We were still the Special Projects Office and there was always a Colonel at the head of it with a civilian as the second in command. The civilian was Murray Green, also a Reserve Colonel in the Air Force. Now, the Colonel had a military staff, usually three or four officers helping him with all the writing he did for the top brass. The civilian had a half dozen of us helping, also, with writing and other projects for the brass. I was pretty much the number two civilian, running the clipping service and writing the histories, etc., and also helping with the writing chores. Every now and then I was assigned the major responsibility for writing a Secretarial speech. But, mainly, I was administratively running the office. That is, keeping the time and attendance records, making sure all the personnel matters were attended to, etc., taking care of all the performance evaluations, writing up the award and commendation recommendations, and, also handling disciplinary matters, as well. I still had several, three to five, enlisted personnel working for me as well as a few civilians.

Harry appears as the photo-bomber in several old Pentagon shots
When the top two Colonels left and another was assigned, there was some organizational turmoil between the Secretary and the Chief and for a while the Chief of Info was assigned to the Secretary and my office was assigned to Info. (Later they changed their name to Public Affairs, as opposed to Private Affairs or Secret Affairs.) Then for a while Public Affairs was assigned to the Secretary and my office to the Administrative Assistant to the Secretary. There it remained until after I retired. Public Affairs, on the other hand, bounced back and forth between the Secretary and the Chief of Staff until they finally decided that it worked for both, and I guess it’s still reporting to both.

* * *

The next page of reflections in Harrys files I had already prepared as a blog post (in two parts) in 2015. It refers to his role in a McCarthy-era case while he was working at the Pentagon in the 1950s and living in Greenbelt, MD. That page begins like this: 

If I repeat myself in these looks back, it’s because as things occur to me, I get a different perspective in my reflections. Anyway, in the early ’50s, my office was moved to the Public Relations office for maybe six months or a year and then back to the Secretary’s office, although our work was for both the Secretary and the Chief – it’s just that their staffs kept juggling things around before they finally settled down and we were placed under the Administrative Assistant to the Secretary. At that time, the AA was John McLaughlin, who had been there from the beginning in 1948. In 1953, I came forcefully to the attention of the Secretary. Here’s what happened.
  
In earlier posts, Harry refers to this movie (IMDb photo)
This has nothing to do with my Air Force career. You may recall that this was the era of Senator Joe McCarthy, who accused the State Department and the Defense Department of harboring a bunch of communists. Security considerations took precedence over everything else in DOD. Early in 1953, the Navy Department fired five people as security risks. ...

You can read the rest of that page of reflections in posts on this blog from July 2015: "Harry recounts McCarthy-era case in our Greenbelt, MD, hometown" 

(Stay tuned for the last page of Harrys historical notes on his early years at the Pentagon.) 

Copyright 2017, Elaine Blackman

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Harry recounts ’50s-era Pentagon publishing – Part 2

Harry’s notes below appear to be continued from those in the previous post on this blog. There he recounted how the Early Bird, the Pentagon’s former signature publication, got its name in the 1950s, and the start of the long-time Current News. I found these last edited April 3, 2009. So, who in the world will be interested in this bit of Pentagon history? Possibly the Pentagon historians – and those of us who still marvel at learning more about Harry’s remarkable life.


In the early ’50s, the demand for our daily clips grew beyond our ability to produce it. The problem was reproduction. The Secretary of Defense wanted a copy and the Joint Staff, too (this was before there was a Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff), so we were buying multiple copies of the newspapers and cutting five copies of articles and pasting up five copies of the Current News. 

In addition, we were making a few more copies on the Photostat machine, but I kept looking around for other ways to reproduce it. Of course, we could get it printed just like newspapers, but that would mean setting up a printing plant, with presses and all, which was impractical if not impossible. I looked at mimeograph machines and that would work if we retyped everything on those mimeograph wax-sheet stencils, but that was also impractical. 

Harry (with moustache) and Pentagon colleagues, 1950s
Then I found a mimeograph machine that would work. It was a German machine, a Gestetner, that used a rubber stencil. The way it worked was, there was a separate machine that was used to copy anything on to a rubber mimeograph stencil. It could copy newsprint and sketches or drawings okay (pictures, too, but with poor resolution), so we still had to paste up our pages, then copy them on a stencil and then run them off on the mimeograph machine. The only drawback was that it took about five or six minutes to make each stencil, so, for four pages it would take a half hour, including the time to change stencils, etc. We were doing all this at about 6:00 a.m., trying to get copies ready to give the Secretary, et al. at 7:00 a.m., when they got to the office. Each stencil, by the way, was good to run off about 100 copies, which I thought would be more than we would ever need. Little did I know!!

When I demonstrated the wonders of these machines to the blueprint department where they were using the Photostat machines, they were so impressed that they bought several of them and started replacing their Photostat machines, and I got a special price from Gestetner to buy a second stencil-making machine and a second mimeograph machine. With the two machines, we were able to make all the copies we needed and still meet our deadlines. This worked pretty well for several years in the early and mid-50s.

He earned the highest civilian award many times (sample medals below)
We were now printing very legible multiple copies that looked very professional, and getting to be known as the Current News. And, as our capacity to reproduce copies increased, the demand for copies increased as well. We were doing this almost exclusively for the Air Force, though we were giving a few copies to the Secretary of Defense and the Joint Staff. Then the Secretary of the Air Force wanted all the Assistant Secretaries to get it, and the Chief of Staff wanted all the Deputy Chiefs of Staff to get it, and all of them wanted their Execs to get it, and their office staffs, etc, etc. Then suddenly we found ourselves running off a couple hundred copies using both machines and still not able to meet the total demand. An interesting sidelight is that the stencils, which were guaranteed or advertised as good for about 100 copies, started stretching and warping at about the 125th copy. They were, after all, a very thin rubber, and we spoiled a lot of them when we first started using them just in the handling. So we worked with the Gestetner reps in helping them improve their products. 

I had never paid much attention to organizational arrangements, but suddenly I was confronted with an unexpected problem. My office was a separate division under the Administrative Assistant to the Secretary of the Air Force. Next door to me was another division that handled all the mail coming in to the Secretariat as well as several other things and, in one of the many reorganizations taking place in those early days (remember, the Air Force as a separate Service was only two years old and still trying to organize itself), that division was transferred to the Air Staff, specifically to the Asst Chief of Staff, I think. That organization claimed responsibility for all Air Force printing requirements in the Pentagon, including the Current News. They wanted to appropriate my Gestetner machines and take over all my reproduction needs, and I told them to go to hell. (Ever the diplomat, me.) It escalated right up to the Secretary and the Chief of Staff, who agreed to let me retain my machines and do my own printing, until the Air Staff could come up with an improvement on my operation.

So … the Air Staff took over a block of space next to my office and set up a reproduction facility which eventually became the Air Force Printing Plant. They invested several million dollars in strengthening the floors there to hold hundreds of tons of printing equipment, which rivaled the Navy Printing Plant down in the Basement of the building. And, in time, they did, indeed, come up with a better system, at which time I was happy to turn over the printing business to them. It was, however, agreed to between the Secretary and the Chief of Staff – in writing that I had a copy of in my files – that the first priority in that Plant was the Current News.

In later years, I had a lot of run-ins with Air Staff Reps, and one recurring one was when they wanted to delay the Current News printing in order to print something else with greater urgency, in their view, and I objected. The poor guy who ran the Plant had to do what his boss told him to do, and when he told me so, I had to go over his boss’s head either to the Chief of Staff or the Secretary, and I always won and they hated me for that.


He also saved the wall plaque below, like the one on the wall above


(Stay tuned for Parts 3 and 4 of Harry’s historical notes.)
 
Copyright 2017, Elaine Blackman

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Memories for the Pentagon historians - Part 1

Since I began this blog in May 2015, I’ve focused on paying tribute to my dad through writings discovered in his files. In so doing I’ve delighted in connecting or reconnecting with family and friends who knew him, as well as many who didn’t. Another reason for this blog: to “file” Harry’s writings in a permanent, searchable space – even writings that may interest few. So, perhaps somewhere out there, someone is wondering how the Early Bird – one of the Pentagon’s bygone signature publications – got its start. Harry may have sent these reflections to a colleague for a 1998 book. (See photos at end of this page.) Here is the first of four pages from his files. Stay tuned in coming weeks for the next three.


Here’s a story I’ve only told to a couple people, and I’m not even sure who any more. How the Early Bird got its name. In 1950 we started the Current News, just two copies – one for the Secretary and one for the Chief of Staff. The Secretary was Finletter, and the Chief was Hoyt Vandenberg. They were both fully occupied with what the press called the B-36 Hearings – really, the Hearings by the Armed Services Committees of the House and the Senate. Basically, it was about the roles and missions of the Armed Services. The Air Force wanted the nuclear bombing mission with the B-36 to carry it out – long range strategic bombing. The Navy wanted it, too, but with aircraft carriers and submarines. Missiles were still on the drawing boards. 

Harry (far left) in his Pentagon office, 1950s
Anyway, the office I had just been hired to work in was being expanded a little – it was called the Special Projects Office which worked directly for the Secretary of the Air Force, and a couple of high-profile Colonels ran it together. Mainly, they wrote speeches for both the Secretary and the Chief of Staff, and they did all kinds of other odd jobs when called on. They also had some high-profile Reservists who came in from time to time to help out. Anyway, I was assigned to brief the Secretary each morning on what the newspapers were saying about the Hearings. Now, the Korean War was just getting started and the whole Pentagon was scrambling to figure out what the U.S. military was gonna do about Korea and we were just starting to send people and equipment to the Pacific to bolster what was already in Japan and on Okinawa. 

Harry got awards in the 1950s and regularly during his career
There was no such thing as a Xerox machine. What I did each day was cut out articles from The Washington Post and the NY Times and the Wall Street Journal and a couple afternoon papers from the day before – the Washington Times Herald and the Washington Daily News. I got several copies of each paper so I could cut out two copies of each article and paste them up in what subsequently became our standard format. If the Colonel wanted a copy, I had to cut out a third copy of each article. Well, what with the Hearings and the war heating up in Korea, the DOD and the Air Force was starting to get more and more coverage in the press and pretty soon it was more than I could handle and still get it to the Secretary and the Chief of Staff early in the morning. 

He often was crowned the “Pentagon Poet Laureate”
So, a couple enlisted people were assigned to help me; one of them was the oldest enlisted woman in the Air Force who had been one of the first women to enlist when WWII started. She was 60 then, which I thought was ancient (I was 29), and the Secretary had to sign a waiver to extend her because 60 was the mandatory retirement age. She was a Master Sgt and her name was Amabel Earley. She stayed for two years and she was great. When she retired she went to live in the distaff retirement home. One of the newspapers, I think the Post but I’m not sure, ran a big story on her when she retired, a glowing story really complimentary, and I remember how mad she was because they called her the oldest enlisted woman in the Air Force. Well, she was the one who put the Current News together for a couple years mostly, and while it was still called the Current News, we began referring to it as Earley’s Sheet, which soon became Earley’s Bird, which eventually became the Early Bird

Right from the beginning, I was trying to figure out how to reproduce it. I found the office in the Pentagon that maintained all the drawings and architectural sketches of the building and those things were reproduced on a Photostat machine, which they let me use. The trouble with that was that everything came out of that machine as white on black and some as black on gray, which made them hard to read. But we were able to make four or five copies that way, which was still better than cut and paste.    

It wasn’t until several years later that we put the title Early Bird on it, and I’ll tell you that story another time. 

Copyright 2017, Elaine Blackman 


These snapshots show the 1998 book cover and some of the pages that recount Harry’s work in the Pentagon. When I contacted author Steve Aubin, he commented: I’d be honored to have parts of my book chapter used to help tell Harry’s Pentagon story. He gave me a file folder of original documents that helped me write that chapter. I thought it was a story and a part of history that needed to be preserved. Participating in a small part of that history when I worked for Harry made a huge impression on me personally and professionally. (Click on photos to enlarge.)