As the shadow of life grows longer, one reflects on the highlights of his or her history. I have several stemming from my time as navigator of the presidential yacht Williamsburg (AGC-369) in the early 1950s. Before sailing in the ship, my wife and I had met President Harry S. Truman at a Washington reception. My first time under way in the presidential yacht, I was again introduced to him, by Captain Donald J. MacDonald, who noted that I was the navigator. The President asked where I was from, and it didn't hurt that I came from Missouri and pronounced it as a native-Missoura. His parting words were to "keep her off the stumps," and thereafter I was identified as the "stump jumper."
I had many encounters with the President while on board. He quite often came to the bridge when things had settled down after getting under way. Other times he would appear just to chat with the watch, sometimes saying he had slept like a log. The only time I recall the President showing a bit of temper was when a message was delivered to him on the bridge concerning some antics of Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh. Turning a bit red, he grabbed the message, wadded it up, and swiftly left the bridge.
A courtesy I shall never forget was his having the Williamsburg officers to the Oval Office, where he gave us Christmas cards from him and Mrs. Truman that bore greetings for 1951. They depicted the Blair House, where the couple lived during the 1949-52 White House renovation.
While serving in the presidential yacht, I had the opportunity to meet other high U.S. officeholders-Chief Justice Fred M. Vinson, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Omar Bradley, Fleet Admiral William D. Leahy, and Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn, as well as other notables who were the President's friends. It was naturally a heady experience. I stood in awe of these gentlemen but soon learned to keep my composure when in their presence.
My poise, however, was put to the test on 5 January 1952 when the Williamsburg was the setting for a private, informal meeting of great magnitude. Early that morning, Winston Churchill, who less than three months earlier had again come to power in Britain, and members of his government had arrived in the United States for high-level talks with the Truman administration about a wide range of topics, including defense issues and Middle and Far East policy.
The Williamsburg was moored at the Naval Gun Factory (present-day Washington Navy Yard) when, at about 1800, President Truman came aboard with honors rendered. Shortly thereafter Prime Minister Churchill came aboard, also receiving honors. Other dignitaries had already arrived, including Secretary of State Dean Acheson, Secretary of the Treasury John Snyder, Secretary of Defense Robert Lovett, General Bradley, and Averill Harriman, then serving as director of the Mutual Security Agency. On the British side there were Foreign Minister Sir Anthony Eden, Paymaster General Lord Cherwell, Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations Lord Ismay, and Ambassador Sir Oliver Franks. With everyone on board, the President and Prime Minister were escorted to the presidential sitting room, where they were joined by the other officials, and their meeting began.
The talks lasted until about midnight, when the guests began to depart. Because I was the officer of the deck, the commanding officer, Captain Edwin S. Miller, told me to be alert to the departure of Mr. Churchill and to escort him down the gangway. When the great man appeared on deck, I chop-chopped up to him and asked his permission to escort him down the gangway. With a huge cigar in hand, he looked up at me and with that powerful and wonderful voice asked why I thought he needed an escort. "Prime Minister, the captain ordered me to do it," I said. "Then young man, you had better do it," he replied. Down the gangway we went to his Rolls-Royce, and he was gone. Meeting and serving as an escort for one of history's greatest men was an event I will always cherish, a memory that is still very special in my advancing years.
Much later, in July 1957, I had the honor to visit President Truman at his presidential library in Independence, Missouri. I was traveling to Stanford University and prior to leaving Washington had set up the visit through Secretary of the Senate Leslie Biffle. I called the library at about 0900, assuming a secretary would answer the phone, but the President himself did so. He told me he was expecting the "stump jumper" and to come on down, but to use the side door because the library was not open. He gave me a one-on-one tour of the facility lasting about an hour and closed with the remark that history would treat him kindly. It certainly has.
In July 1961, I again called on him at the library, this time with my wife, brother, and sister-in-law in tow. He gave us about 15 minutes of his time, autographing some documents for us and saying that history was beginning to treat him better. This visit ended my association with the "Man from Missouri" other than through the mail. I often wrote him on his birthday, and the last note for which a reply was received was written on 7 May 1970 from Naples, Italy, when I was in command of the USS Albany (CG-10). His final reply was dated 23 May 1970. From beginning to end, my association with President Truman was one of my life's brightest highlights.