Thursday, July 30, 2020

Investigating Hoffa: John Bartlow Martin and the Teamsters

Following Adlai Stevenson’s second loss running as the Democratic Party’s presidential candidate in 1956, one of his main speechwriters, John Bartlow Martin, who had also worked for Stevenson in his 1952 campaign, returned to his career writing thoughtful, longform articles for national magazines.

A series Martin did for the Saturday Evening Post on a government investigation of one of the country’s largest and most powerful unions—the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Chauffeurs, Warehousemen and Helpers of America, more commonly known as the Teamsters—put him in the middle of a titanic battle between two men: a determined (some said ruthless) investigator, Robert F. Kennedy, and a rough-and-tumble union man, James R. Hoffa.

Journalists had been investigating rumors that Teamster officials had been enriching themselves at the expense of their members, and gangsters, salivating over the union’s large pension fund ($250 million), had made inroads into its operations. During the 1956 California presidential primary, when Martin had found himself “swamped with too many speeches to write” for Stevenson, Pierre Salinger, a former newspaper reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle and then the West Coast correspondent for Collier’s magazine, offered his help.

According to Martin, Salinger produced a few speech drafts, from which he used little, but one day Salinger brought to Martin’s hotel room in San Francisco a Collier’s editor, who asked Martin to research and write an article on the Teamsters (the union was not then under investigation). “I told him I couldn’t undertake it till after the election; he said he couldn’t wait; I suggested he get Pierre Salinger to do it, and he did,” Martin recalled.

Salinger jumped at the chance to write about such a powerful organization. As one Teamster official told him, discussing the union’s firm grip on the country, “When a woman takes a cab to the hospital to have a baby, the cab is driven by a Teamster. When the baby grows old and dies, the hearse is driven by a Teamster. And in between we supply him with a lot of groceries.”

Unfortunately for Salinger, just when he finished his article, Collier’s went out of business. He had two job opportunities waiting for him—one as public relations director for the Teamsters, and the other as an investigator with a U.S. Senate subcommittee created on January 31, 1957, the Select Committee on Improper Activities in the Labor or ManagementField, which came to be widely known as the Rackets Committee. In addition to the Teamsters, the committee investigated other unions as well as the growing influence of the Mafia and the Chicago Syndicate.

Salinger went to work in February 1957 for the committee, chaired by conservative Democratic senator John L. McClellan of Arkansas, and shared what he had learned about the Teamsters with its chief counsel, Robert F. Kennedy, the younger brother of John Kennedy. Another journalist, Clark R. Mollenhoff, a Pulitzer Prize–winning reporter for the Des Moines Register, had for months been badgering Kennedy to probe the Teamsters possible illegal activities.

Martin had first become acquainted with Robert Kennedy during Stevenson’s 1956 presidential campaign, which Kennedy had joined to learn how to run such an organization in anticipation of his brother seeking the Democratic nomination for president in 1960. “He told me later he had learned how not to run one,” Martin noted. Robert Kennedy described the Stevenson effort to a friend over drinks as a disaster and told Martin he had never seen such a poorly run operation. “He should have seen 1952,” said Martin.

The two men’s paths crossed again when Martin received word from his editors at the Post that the magazine was interested in a series of articles on the Rackets Committee’s more than two-year-long investigation of the Teamsters and its top officials, including Dave Beck (convicted of federal tax evasion charges in 1959) and James R. Hoffa (convicted of bribing a grand juror in 1964, he disappeared from view in 1975, never to be seen alive again). When the committee held public hearings, newspapers had published “scrappy reports,” said Martin, but, as Rose pointed out, nobody had yet been able to “put the whole story together,” and he suggested Martin take on the task.

The resulting seven-part series, published in the Post from June 27 to August 8, 1959, was Martin’s longest yet, taking him nearly a year to put together, and setting a mileage record for his legwork, as he traveled 17,000 miles around the country. In conducting his research, Martin filled twenty 150-page notebooks and wrote a first draft that ran 1,500 pages and 336,000 words; his final manuscript totaled 40,000 words.

Martin had unearthed a remarkable study in power—the vast economic power wielded by the Teamsters, with its more than 1.5 million members the largest labor union in the world, versus the great political power wielded by the U.S. Senate. The resulting investigation stood as one of the largest by a government entity since the days of the Teapot Dome scandal of the President Warren G. Harding administration of the 1920s and the banking and security fraud inquiries of the 1930s. “They exposed wrongdoings in big business; the McClellan committee alone has gone after big labor,” said Martin.

The Rackets Committee’s work (1,366 witnesses questioned produced a printed record of testimony that ran to 20,000 pages) sent shockwaves through both political parties, as well as the labor movement in America, and raised essential questions still being argued about today—the use of and abuse of the Fifth Amendment, the authority of Congress to investigate, the rights of individual workingmen in a labor union, and the rights of an individual testifying before Congress.

The investigation also pitted the titanic personalities of two men, Robert Kennedy and Hoffa, who became “bitter antagonists,” noted Martin. Hoffa viewed Kennedy as a rich, “spoiled jerk,” while Kennedy’s determination to uncover the labor leader’s criminal activity became “a holy crusade” to him, one of his friends confided to Martin. Kennedy himself said the way Hoffa operated the Teamsters meant it no longer served as a bona fide union: “As Mr. Hoffa operates it, this is a conspiracy of evil.”

To report on the investigation, Martin traveled to Washington, D.C., staying there off and on for more than half a year and becoming a familiar presence at the Rackets Committee’s offices in Room 101 at the Old Senate Office Building. For his story he spent more time with Kennedy than with anyone else, sometimes visiting with him all day in his private office and going with him at day’s end to his home, Hickory Hill, in McLean, Virginia, for dinner—often a hair-raising ride, as Kennedy, recalled Martin, “loved to drive his big convertible fast from office to home, his hair flying.”

On weekends at Hickory Hill Martin played, “not very well,” he admitted, the traditional Kennedy family sport of touch football (at that time Kennedy and his wife, Ethel, had six children), swam with Kennedy in his pool, and accompanied him as he made trips around the country pursuing leads from whistleblowers in the union. “I liked Bobby Kennedy from the start,” said Martin. “Though born to wealth and power, he had about him not a trace of superiority or affectation.” 

Although dedicated to his work—Martin said he “seemed almost obsessed”—Kennedy infused his office with a youthful, lighthearted atmosphere. Martin remembered coming into Kennedy’s office and seeing him and Kenneth O’Donnell, his administrative assistant, passing a football back and forth as they discussed the investigation (the two men were on the football team together at Harvard University). “He moved fast, handling his body well, like an athlete,” Martin said of Kennedy. “He ran upstairs and downstairs. He scheduled himself remorselessly, and he drove his staff just as hard.”

Driving Kennedy’s determination was the worry in the back of his mind that if the investigation proved to be a flop, it might have a negative effect on his brother’s political future, both his reelection to the U.S. Senate in 1958 and his try for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1960. “A lot of people think he’s the Kennedy running the investigation,” Robert said of John, one of the four Democratic senators who served on the Rackets Committee. “As far as the public is concerned, one Kennedy is the same as another Kennedy.”

When Robert Kennedy’s work took him to the Chicago area, he and some of his investigators sometimes stayed with Martin at his home in Highland Park, including one trip when Kennedy and his men were in the area to dig up a body in a cornfield near Joliet, Illinois. Walter Sheridan, whom Martin considered to be one of Kennedy’s best investigators, later indicated that Kennedy and his staff had been looking for the body of a woman reporter from Joliet allegedly killed for daring to expose labor racketeering in the city. They had been tipped off by a convict in the prison there who said he knew where the body had been buried; it turned out to be a bogus tip, but Kennedy and those with him turned over a lot of earth in a farmer’s field before realizing “the prisoner was just stringing them along,” Sheridan said. “They did a lot of digging.”)

As Martin got deeper and deeper into his story, he discovered that there seemed to be two different Robert Kennedys (a theme picked up on by many other journalists during Kennedy’s subsequent career). There was the person few in the public saw—the family man who went home to Hickory Hill and loved having his children swarm over him when he opened the front door. Those who watched the Rackets Committee’s hearing on national television, however, only witnessed the relentless prosecutor, hectoring hostile witnesses who dodged his questions on Fifth Amendment grounds, earning for Kennedy a reputation for ruthlessness that dogged him until the end of his life. 

Instead of seeing a coldblooded individual, however, Martin thought of Kennedy as “hard driving, tenacious, aggressive, [and] competitive”—a person who said his long and eventually unsuccessful campaign with the Rackets Committee to put Hoffa behind bars was “a little like 1864, when [General Ulysses S.] Grant took over the Union Army to go back into the wilderness—to go back slugging it out.” Unlike some of his friends who were concerned about possible infringements of civil liberties, Martin did not believe Kennedy persecuted Hoffa or denied him his constitutional rights. “As a crime reporter, I had seen far worse prosecutions,” said Martin. “Indeed, I thought he treated Hoffa fairly, on the whole.”

What Martin could not understand was Kennedy’s conviction that the labor leader represented America’s biggest problem—a notion that sounded odd to someone who had only recently been involved in a presidential campaign concerned with helping reign in the worldwide threat of nuclear destruction. Kennedy believed that if someone did not do something about Hoffa’s damaging influence on the Teamsters, gangsters would soon have a stranglehold on the country’s economy. 

During the investigation Kennedy had also grown to admire the rank-and-file members of the Teamsters, and he believed that Hoffa had engaged in sweetheart contracts with employers, receiving kickbacks in return and denying workers their fair due. Kennedy also possessed, like some politicians Martin had known, an almost mystical faith in the democratic system—a faith readers of the Post likely shared. “Like them [other politicians],” noted Martin, “he links it with the righteousness of his own cause. He feels that, although Hoffa may win a battle, he can never win the war, because justice and right will prevail, owing to the excellence of this democratic system and the good sense and decency of the American people.”

Martin held a much harsher opinion of the investigators who worked for Kennedy. Most of them were in their late twenties and early thirties and had previously worked as newspapermen, FBI agents, or policemen. Kennedy had, at the inquiry’s peak, forty-two investigators on his staff, aided by forty men from the government’s General Accounting Office. “These men,” Martin noted in his articles for the Post, “condemn wrongdoing unequivocally. For many of them the crusade against Hoffa is their first cause, important as first love. There is something a little chilling about their moral certitude and zeal.” They lacked, Martin later reflected, the tolerance for human weakness he had seen in the work of big-city detectives he had known.

The investigators’ ardor for justice did translate into meticulous evidence gathering. Kennedy told Martin that for every witness called to testify before the committee, twenty-five people had been interviewed and they examined tens of thousands of documents for every one placed into the record. During one inquiry, Salinger and two other investigators went through more than 600,000 checks from one company alone. Sheridan noted that as long as those on staff did their work to the best of their abilities, they could always count on the leader’s support—something he had not had in his previous job. “The big difference—it was just a phenomenal difference to me—of going from the FBI to work for Robert Kennedy was that with the FBI you knew that J. Edgar Hoover would never back you up,” said Sheridan, “and with Robert Kennedy you knew that he would. It was all the difference in the world.”

Kennedy’s cooperation with Martin was part of the chief counsel’s ongoing effort to cultivate good relations with the press, especially with columnists and magazine writers. Edwin O. Guthman, a reporter with the Seattle Times who later became Kennedy’s press secretary at the Justice Department, said that in his journalism career he had never encountered someone in public life who had answered his questions “as candidly and completely as he [Kennedy] did,” and he often briefed reporters in considerable detail about the evidence to be presented at a committee hearing. Kennedy developed “special relationships” with certain reporters, noted Guthman during the investigation of Beck, and these writers always had access to him and received tips on stories and verification of information when needed.

As a reporter, Martin said it made him “a little nervous” to see journalists who had completed independent investigations on the Teamsters, such as Mollenhoff, exchanging information with Kennedy about what they had uncovered. In a draft for his Post series Martin had included a passage, cut from the published piece, pointing out that some newspapermen had become so close to the investigation that they attended committee staff parties almost like members of the staff themselves and some shared their “zeal for getting Jimmy Hoffa.” As a representative of the Post, one of the country’s leading magazines, Martin said he could count on Kennedy’s full cooperation, as he “was anxious that the Post story come out well; it was the first full-dress account that tried to pull the whole investigation together.”

To gain a broader perspective on the Teamsters investigation, Martin also talked to some of the senators serving on the Rackets Committee, including McClellan and the leading Republican member of the panel, Barry M. Goldwater of Arizona, who he found to be “an amusing, engaging man.” Martin found himself spending a lot of his time with John Kennedy, seeing him alone in his Senate office, having breakfast with him at a New York hotel, and eating dinner with him and his wife, Jacqueline, in Washington, D.C. When they were alone together, Martin remembered that he and the Massachusetts senator “talked politics almost entirely.” Kennedy had been gearing up to run for president in 1960 and the primaries were about to begin in little more than a year. Although winning primary races did not translate into a clear path to the nomination, they were important to Kennedy as a way of showing to party leaders skeptical of his youth and religion, as well as grassroot Democrats, that he could win support from a broad spectrum of voters.

Knowing of Martin’s experience in Stevenson’s two presidential efforts, Kennedy picked his brain on what kind of campaign staff he might need, his opinion on various issues, and how to connect with the academic world when it came to developing policy ideas and position papers. “Jack Kennedy struck me as an extremely attractive and extremely intelligent young man,” Martin said. “He presented a lighthearted funny exterior, sometimes almost frivolous, but inwardly he was deadly serious and he had an astonishing fund of information about all manner of subjects, such as France’s problems in Algeria and the number of Nigerian exchange students in the United States.” He also seemed, unlike Stevenson, to “welcome challenges, not be burdened by them,” Martin noted. Many people Martin ran into that spring and summer in Washington, D.C., including some former Stevenson supporters, had begun to proselytize on Kennedy’s behalf. Martin still had his doubts about Kennedy, as he was unsure if he was presidential material, noting, “He was so young.”

For the other part of his story for the Post, Martin had to somehow convince a suspicious and hostile Hoffa to talk with him. It would not be the first time in his journalism career that Martin had come up against a recalcitrant Teamsters official. During his time as a young reporter with the Indianapolis Times, Martin had covered a truck strike and attempted to interview Daniel J. Tobin, then the Teamsters president, at the union’s headquarters at 222 East Michigan Street in Indianapolis (the union moved its headquarters to Washington, D.C., in 1953). Martin remembered that Tobin’s office had a door that “was locked and steel-barred, like a prison cell.” He had to stand in the corridor and shout his questions at the union leader, who yelled his answers back to Martin, usually responding with such curt statements as, “No,” “No comment,” or, simply, “Go to hell.” No reporter, Martin ruefully noted, had ever “got much out of the Teamsters.”


With this experience behind him, Martin decided to use the prestige of his status as a reporter with the Post, and the possibility of finally telling his side of the story in an unbiased manner to the American people, to convince Hoffa to open up to him about his life and work. He adopted the stratagem of calling Hoffa not from his home, but from the Post’s Chicago advertising office, having the switchboard operator place the call, and leaving the Post’s telephone number for Hoffa to call back. “Moreover,” said Martin, “this kept my home telephone number, and hence my address, out of Teamsters headquarters, which seemed only prudent in view of the reputation of Hoffa’s associates.” The strategy worked; after a week of telephone calls, Hoffa finally called Martin back and agreed to an interview at Teamsters headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Ushered into Hoffa’s plush office, Martin spent two hours interviewing the Teamsters president, mindful that their talk was probably being recorded. He was able to convince Hoffa that he wanted to hear his point of view on the union controversy, and Hoffa agreed to tell other union officials to talk to Martin and allowed the reporter to follow him as he did his job, including negotiating contracts with Midwest truckers in Chicago and accompanying him on a flight from Chicago to Miami for the Teamsters’ annual meeting. Martin, who refused to accept an airline ticket bought for him by Hoffa (Martin had anticipated such a move and had bought his own), sat by him for the entire flight, and the two men talked all night with few interruptions, except for one by a stewardess who recognized Hoffa, “which secretly pleased him,” noted Martin.

Instead of asking questions about the investigation, which he knew Hoffa would either be unresponsive about or refuse to answer, Martin concentrated on details about the union leader’s life and his views about the U.S. labor movement. “I liked him,” he said of Hoffa, perhaps because the two men viewed themselves as fighting for the underdog. At one point in his life Hoffa had been arrested eighteen times in one day for his union activities, but he persevered to become president of Teamsters Local 299 in Detroit. The local served as his power base as he clawed his way to the union presidency using, along the way, often brutal tactics and counting on allies who had no qualms about using force to get their way. “I’m no damn angel,” Hoffa said.

As Martin insightfully pointed out in his Post series, the image of Hoffa as “the cocky little underdog battling the United States Government is not false; it is his natural role.” In fact, he went on to write, if Robert Kennedy of the Rackets Committee had not existed, Hoffa “would have had to invent him.” A man without hobbies who neither smoked nor drank, Hoffa, a devoted family man, concentrated all his efforts on behalf of the Teamsters, working to gain its members better working conditions and more money. “Running a union is just like running a business,” Hoffa told Martin. “We’re in the business of selling labor. We’re going to get the best price we can.”

In evaluating the Rackets Committee’s investigation of the Teamsters, Martin reported that it produced a demand for reform legislation to stem in part the influence of racketeers in the labor movement, and he also had an overall good opinion of the work done by Robert Kennedy and his staff. “There was remarkably little politics in the committee’s work,” Martin wrote. “McClellan stood firm against pressure and made no mistakes. Indeed, had all congressional committees conducted themselves so well, congressional committees would have received less criticism in recent years.” But the federal investigators had failed in one task—Hoffa remained Teamsters president and had been acquitted in the two criminal trials resulting from the committee’s work.

In his time with both Kennedy and Hoffa, Martin also discovered that the two fearsome antagonists shared similar qualities, as they were both “aggressive, competitive, hard-driving, authoritarian, suspicious, temperate, at times congenial and at others curt.” They were also physical men who sought to keep in shape, often by doing push-ups, and in spite of their wealth and power “eschewed frivolity or indulgence and both seemed oblivious of their surroundings. Both were serious men and, in their own ways, dedicated,” Martin later observed. As for their opinions on the long investigation, Martin wrote that Hoffa shrugged off the committee’s relentless focus on his union, saying, “You just put in your time. And when they get tired of kicking us around they’ll adjourn and forget about it.” Kennedy admitted to the writer, “It’s been a real struggle.”

When he had finished his story, Martin offered to show his manuscript to both Hoffa and Kennedy so they could correct any factual errors, but not his interpretations of events. Although Hoffa turned down Martin’s offer, Kennedy spent the better part of a day and well into the night going over the manuscript point by point with Martin at the writer’s hotel room in New York. It proved to be “not an easy negotiation,” said Martin, as Kennedy was as tenacious with the reporter as he had been with reluctant witnesses appearing before the Rackets Committee. “What bothered him the most about the MS [manuscript], I think, were the similarities I noted in the piece between him and Hoffa,” said Martin. “He was amazed and simply could not understand; it had never occurred to him; he had thought of himself as good and Hoffa as evil; I was looking at them from a different angle.”

Once during their discussion Kennedy asked Martin why he had not included statements that could be damaging to Hoffa. “I asked if he could prove them by sworn testimony,” Martin noted. “He said he could not but he knew they were true, he couldn’t understand why I wouldn’t put them in.” The reason Martin was so cautious of course was because of the possibility of a damaging libel action against the Post by Hoffa and the Teamsters. As a lawyer himself, Kennedy should have known this, but Martin put this misunderstanding down to the chief counsel’s youth.

The sometimes contentious back and forth between Kennedy and Martin on the Hoffa story did not diminish Martin’s respect for the investigator, or Kennedy’s esteem for the reporter. Years later, Martin reflected that no matter how much Kennedy viewed Hoffa “as evil and himself as good, he never once objected to my attempts at impartiality. Nor did he ever let those attempts impair our own personal relationship.”

Friday, July 24, 2020

Landing Amelia: Amelia Earhart at Purdue University

In his more than twenty years as Purdue University’s president, Doctor Edward Charles Elliott made many changes to the West Lafayette campus, making it one of the country’s leading technical and engineering institutions. As the university’s leader, Elliott operated under what he called “a doctrine of chance.” He noted that “chance meetings, unexpected conversations, all play a more important part of an individual’s life than do most planned and carefully executed experiences.”
  
One of the “chance meetings” Elliott described resulted in a major coup for Purdue when, in June 1935, the president announced the appointment of a visiting faculty member as a career counselor for the university’s female students. The new addition to the staff had already achieved worldwide fame but passed into legend following her stint at the Hoosier school. Purdue had landed Amelia Earhart.
  
Although Earhart, dubbed “Lady Lindy” for both her resemblance to Charles Lindbergh and her accomplishments both as a flier in the 1920s and 1930s, spent only a short time at Purdue, both she and the university benefited from the relationship. Along with the mountains of publicity garnered from her presence on the faculty, Purdue also became the beneficiary of Earhart’s person-to-person talents as she encouraged female students to embark on careers normally reserved for men.
  
In Earhart’s case, her husband, George P. Putnam, convinced Elliott and the university to help fund a “flying laboratory” for his wife’s use. Through the Purdue University Research Foundation, and donations from Hoosier businessmen David Ross, J. K. Lilly Sr., and others, the university established in April 1936 an Amelia Earhart Fund for Aeronautical Research that aided the aviatrix in purchasing the twin-motored Lockheed Electra airplane Earhart used on her ill-fated “Round-the-World” flight, from which she vanished in July 1937.
  
Already famous for her daring aerial exploits, including being the first woman passenger on a transatlantic flight and the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean, Earhart and Purdue’s paths first crossed in September 1934 when she addressed the fourth annual “Women and the Changing World” conference sponsored by the New York Herald Tribune. Present at the conference to speak about “New Frontiers for Youth,” Elliott stayed to hear Earhart’s remarks on aviation’s future and the role women might play in its advancement.
 
Intrigued by the flier’s speech, Elliott arranged a meeting with Earhart and Putnam. A born promoter and a person who regularly hobnobbed with America’s elite, Putnam was immediately impressed with Elliott’s style. “He is a lean, powerful man who combines the brisk attributes of a dynamo with the important qualities of scholarship and human vision. He has a habit of referring to himself with humorous depreciation, as just a Hoosier schoolmaster, but not gentleman from Indiana ever knew his way about more competently than he,” said Putnam.
  
After the trio dined at the Coffee House Club in New York, Elliott came straight to the point. According to Putnam’s version of the meeting, Elliott told Earhart: “We want you at Purdue.” Earhart expressed little surprise at the offer, merely replying, “I’d like that if it can be arranged. What would you think I should do?” The university president replied that he envisioned Earhart’s role as passing along to Purdue’s approximately eight hundred female students “the inspirational opportunities” open to them in America’s changing society. “I think you could supply some spark which would help to take up the lag between the swift eddying of the world around modern women and the tardier echoes of the schoolroom,” Elliott remarked to Earhart.
  
With the offer made the three spent the next two hours developing the idea into a workable plan. With her busy schedule, Earhart could not be a full-time faculty member at Purdue but would attempt to spend at least a month at the university during the school year as a career consultant for women. For her efforts she received from Purdue a $2,000 salary. Along with guiding women students toward new careers she also served as a technical adviser in aeronautics to Purdue, which was, at that time, the only university in the country equipped with its own airport.
   
To Earhart, however, the “problems and opportunities of these girls [at Purdue] were quite as much my concern as aviation matters” when she agreed to take the job. Writing about her time at the university in her posthumously published book Last Flight, Earhart admitted that she had “something of a chip on my shoulder when it comes to modern feminine education.” She noted that women, especially those whose tastes are outside the normal routine, often did not get a fair chance to develop their talents. “I have known girls who should be tinkering with mechanical things instead of making dresses, and boys who would do better at cooking than engineering.” Purdue, which she called “my kind of school, a technical school where all instruction has practicality,” offered her a chance to test those beliefs.
  
In announcing Earhart’s appointment on June 2, 1935, Elliott termed her acceptance as “gratifying to the university and significant to education.” Emphasizing the flier’s interest in educating women for the future, he added that Earhart represented “better than any young woman of this generation the spirit and the courageous skill of what may be called the new pioneering. At no other point in our educational system is there greater need for courageous pioneering and constructive planning than woman’s education.” Earhart, the Purdue scholar believed, as what he called “a creative artist in the great art of human adventure,” could help the university successfully attack the “most important modern unsolved problem of higher education—the effective education of young women.”
  
Earhart, fresh from a lecture tour that saw her give twenty-nine speeches in one month, arrived on Purdue’s West Lafayette campus to assume her duties on November 6, 1935. The Lafayette Journal and Courier heralded the famous flier’s arrival in Indiana with a page-one headlines declaring “Amelia Earhart Leaves Air to Guide Purdue Girls in Careers.” With Earhart scheduled to be at the university only three weeks, the newspaper noted that she would “have little opportunity for leisure during her sojourn on the campus.”
  
The reporter’s prediction quickly came to pass. In her first few days at Purdue, Earhart attended a luncheon for the home economics department, served as guest of honor at a Mortar Board luncheon, met the student body at an afternoon tea in the Memorial Union building, and spoke at a special convocation at the Memorial gymnasium.
  
Given workspace in the dean of women’s office and living in South Hall, Earhart became a familiar sight on campus. Students flocked to the flier’s side, especially at dinnertime, and tried not only to imitate her style of dress (which was casual, to say the least), but her mannerisms as well. “These were the days when table manners were considered somewhat important,” noted Helen Schleman, in charge of the dormitory where Earhart stayed. “Amelia’s posture at table, when she was deep in conversation, was apt to be sitting forward on the edge of her chair—both elbows on the table—and chin cupped in hands. Naturally, the question was ‘If Miss Earhart can do it why can’t we?’ The stock reply was ‘As soon as you fly the Atlantic, you may!’”
  
Earhart managed to fit in well with dormitory life at Purdue. Marian Frazier, who lived in the same dorm as the flier, remembered that it seemed as though Earhart was always “terribly busy,” noting that she heard Earhart working away at her typewriter as late as midnight. Frazier also recalled studying one night when Earhart suddenly appeared and asked to borrow a pen for a short time. The excited Frazier could not keep the news to herself so, when her celebrity neighbor returned the borrowed pen, she was greeted by a roomful of coeds, all wanting to catch a glimpse of the celebrated pilot.
  
The flyer’s casual style and dress (slacks instead of skirts) became the envy of Purdue’s coeds and raised others’ eyebrows. Robert Topping, in his history of the university, reported that some faculty wives—the “local guardians of mores and morals in the conservative 1930s atmosphere of West Lafayette”—were scandalized by one incident when Earhart, dressed in her usual slacks, went into town one afternoon and visited Bartlett’s Drug Store. Not only did Earhart have the temerity to wear improper clothing, she further shocked the wives by sitting (unescorted by a man) at a stool, ordering a soda and smoking a cigarette. “Such hussy behavior was barely tolerable in a conservative campus town,” Topping wrote.
  
Along with facing the faculty wives’ wrath, Earhart also had to endure questions from some faculty members about whether she was qualified for her job. A. A. Potter, Purdue’s dean of engineering, said that he did not think Earhart belonged at the university because she lacked the proper education (although she had enrolled at Columbia University as a premed student, she never graduated). Acknowledging Earhart’s courage, Potter nevertheless told a reporter that the flier “had too poor an educational foundation to utilize her courage and that was her disadvantage.” Another faculty member, a woman, had an answer ready for Potter: “The dean is a scholar and he doesn’t understand that you have to motivate kids before you can get them to be scholars.”
  
Despite these challenges, Earhart stuck to her main task—counseling Purdue’s women students about potential careers. Toward that end, she prepared a questionnaire seeking answers from them about such issues as why they were in college, if they wanted a career, how marriage might affect their choices, and what part a husband might play in their life. Of those responding to the questionnaire, Earhart found that approximately 92 percent indicated that they wanted a career. According to Putnam, his wife wanted to find out about the student’s after-college plans to help university officials in reconstructing courses so that they might be more beneficial. “She thought too that such exploration might help the students themselves to clarify their own thinking, to agree with themselves on a general objective, perhaps even a specific one,” Putnam noted.
  
Earhart discussed with Purdue administrators the possibility of creating a “household engineering” course for those women who wanted to remain homemakers. “Many a stay-at-home girl,” said Earhart, “would welcome practical training in what to do when the doorbell fails to function, the plumbing clogs . . . and the thousand-and-one other mechanical indispositions that can occur about the house, often easily enough fixed if one has rudimentary knowledge how to fix them.” Disliking discrimination between men’s work and women’s work, she also pointed out the need for male students to gather some experience in homemaking, noting that most men “enter into marriage with little training in domestic economy, know little about food and how it should be prepared, little about child training and their duties as parents. What, I wonder, is going to be done about all that.”
  
In her personal dealings with student, Earhart, using her own experiences as a trendsetter, painted no rosy picture of instant acceptance for women entering new careers. Marguerite Coll, who studied electrical engineering at Purdue, recalled Earhart clearly explaining to her and two other female students “what some of the obstacles are in the way of women who want to go into what’s always been known as a man’s field. She was encouraging though. She didn’t see why, if a woman had special talents along that line, she couldn’t gout and show ’em!” 
  
That kind of advice worried some people. According to Putnam, one Purdue professor declared that if Earhart kept on encouraging the university’s coeds to pursue careers they “won’t be willing to get married and lead the quiet life for which Nature intended them.” In one regard the male professor might have been right. As an unidentified female student proclaimed after Earhart’s stay at the university had ended: “No one every pepped us up so.”
  
Talking with students, Earhart developed what she called “surface impressions” about the university that she shared with the school’s administrators. She noted that there appeared to exist at Purdue rigid boundary lines between different disciplines. “It seems to me there should be much more interchange of instructors and subjects between these, which would lead to the education of people rather than to the selected specimens numbered and tagged Home Ec[onomics] or EE [Electrical Engineering] or what-not,” said Earhart. She added that lowering the walls between schools might help eliminate the “condescending attitude” on the part of male students toward their female counterparts. “Today,” said Earhart, “it is almost as if the subjects themselves had sex so firm is the line drawn between what girls and boys should study.”
  
Although she only spent a short time at the university, Earhart’s ties to Purdue played a key role in securing for her the money and equipment necessary for attempting what became her final flight. On April 19, 1936, the university announced the establishment of the Amelia Earhart Fund for Aeronautical Research, made possible by the Purdue Research Foundation. With contributions totaling $50,000 from such philanthropists as J. K. Lilly Sr. and David Ross, and later donations of cash and equipment from such companies as Western Electric, Goodyear, and Goodrich, Earhart purchased a “flying laboratory”—a twin-motored, ten-passenger Lockheed Electra aircraft. The plane, built in Burbank, California, included such special features as extra gasoline tanks for extended flight, an automatic pilot, and a two-way radio.
  
The announcement received nationwide attention, as newspapers from New York to Los Angeles trumpeted Earhart’s “flying laboratory” to their readers. Noting that “aviation is a business to me and my ambition is that the project shall provide practical results,” Earhart first planned to use the plane for a year to gather research material on such areas as speed and fuel consumption, oxygen use, radio communication and navigation, and the effect of prolonged flight on humans. After completing her research, Earhart then hoped to make an “interesting” flight in the all-metal Electra. “But circumstances,” she noted, “made it appear wise to postpone the research and attempt the flight first.”
  
The flight Earhart so offhandedly mentioned turned into a monumental undertaking—an attempt to become the first woman to fly around the world. Once that feat had been accomplished, the plane would become the Purdue Research Foundation’s property. Royalties from a book Earhart expected to write about the experience and moneys from exhibiting the aircraft were to have been used by the foundation to further pure and applied scientific research in aeronautics. As preparations for the flight were being made, Earhart was asked time and time again why she had decided to attempt the flight. Her answer came right to the point: “Because I want to.” She called the trip a “shining adventure, beckoning with new experiences, added knowledge of flying, of peoples—of myself.” Also, Earhart noted that with the flight behind her, she would become more useful to herself and to the aeronautical program at Purdue. 
  
On June 1, 1937, Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan, took off from Miami, Florida, in the Electra on the first leg of a planned around-the-world flight. The trip proceeded smoothly until the difficult 2,570-mile flight from Lae, New Guinea, to Howland Island. The two never reached their destination. In spite of a massive search, no trace could then be found of the plane and its crew. On the day she disappeared Earhart had been scheduled to deliver a lecture at Purdue on the subject, “What Next in the Air?” Two weeks after Earhart disappeared, Elliott telegraphed Putnam the following message: “George, she would not want us to grieve or weep; she would have been a heroine in any age.”
  
Although Purdue’s investment had crashed somewhere in the Pacific Ocean, the university received tangible benefits from its association with Earhart, including nationwide publicity. Also, Purdue’s female students had a unique opportunity to interact with a person who typified women’s changing role in modern society. As for Earhart, her time at the Hoosier university offered her a chance to test both her skills as a pilot and educator. Looking back at that short period in his wife’s career, Putnam said that Earhart’s job at Purdue provided her with “one of the most satisfying adventures of her life.”


Thursday, July 23, 2020

On the Road to Tokyo with Richard Tregaskis

The evening before the USS Ticonderoga’s July 24, 1945, strike mission against the ships of the Imperial Japanese Navy at the Kure Naval Arsenal on the island of Honshu, one of the men scheduled to fly with Torpedo Squadron 87 had a visitor to his cabin. The squadron’s safety officer, Lieutenant Algie Stuart Jr., regaled the crewman with unsettling stories about pilots who had been shot down, had ditched their planes in the Pacific, and had been imprisoned by the Japanese.

The two men agreed that fundamentally there were two possibilities facing those making the flight the next morning—either they would be back aboard the carrier tomorrow afternoon, or they would not. The Avenger crewman thought about the risks he faced and went to sleep with surprising ease in his stuffy cabin. “But I woke up at regular intervals during the night, automatically, to check the luminous dial of my watch, to be sure I wasn’t oversleeping,” he recalled.

One unusual aspect of the mission was that the crewman had not been carefully selected and trained for the task ahead. He was, in fact, a civilian war correspondent, Richard Tregaskis, who was covering the final days of action in the Pacific for his “Road to Tokyo” series for the Saturday Evening Post. The reporter, best known to readers for his best-selling book Guadalcanal Diary, had returned to the Pacific after witnessing the breakout from the Normandy Beachhead in Europe, and experiencing brutal street fighting with the U.S. Army’s First Division in Aachen, Germany.

Before joining the Ticonderoga, Tregaskis had flown five missions on a B-29 Superfortress bomber based on Guam—missions that had included strikes against the Japanese Homeland. Back onboard a carrier at sea and reviewing his notes in his hot cabin located just under the flight deck, Tregaskis could hear a “Stravinskian concert of sound,” including the “periodic, melancholy roaring of the planes taking off from the deck just over my head, one after another—the hornet-like drone of the fighters, the deeper toned bass of the dive-bombers and torpedo planes; rough blobs of sound strung like beads of an abacus on the background of the whirring of fans.”

Tregaskis had observed a few changes in the naval air war since the last time he had been on a carrier, observing the Battle of Midway from the deck of the USS Hornet. Some of the obvious changes included larger, more powerful aircraft; “mules,” small tractors used to haul the planes around the flight deck, “replacing the muscular effort expended in the old days by deck crewmen who manhandled the planes into position”; and improvements in the ship’s navigational techniques and radar equipment.

Lieutenant Commander Walt Haas, an early navy ace now second in command of the ship’s air group, also pointed out to the reporter that there existed a basic change in the whole feeling of the war. “A lot less never-wracking [sic] now,” Haas noted. In the early days, he added, U.S. forces were sometimes exceeded in numbers and skill by the enemy, but now the Americans overwhelmed the Japanese both in quantity and quality.

The Ticonderoga was one of the carriers, along with the Essex, Randolph, Monterey, and Bataan, that made up Task Force 38.3, which also included the battleships North Carolina and Alabama and several screening destroyers. On his fourth day aboard the Ticonderoga, Tregaskis took his first flight, a warm-up to get the feeling of flying from a carrier, onboard a Grumman TBM Avenger torpedo bomber, the largest of the carrier aircraft. It proved to be quite different from what he had experienced with the bomber crew on Guam. “I learned how small and relatively slow the carrier planes are; learned the feeling of insecurity that comes from operating from a moveable airfield, with only water, elsewhere, to land in,” he recalled.

Lieutenant Commander Bill Miles, the skipper of the torpedo squadron, made sure the correspondent flew with a competent pilot, assigning him to his wingman, Ensign Paul R. Stephens of Topeka, Kansas, known as Steve to his friends on the ship. Tregasis would be taking the place of one of the three-man crew; the enlisted man onboard had to do double duty with both radio and gunnery. Aviation Radioman Third Class Eugene Egumnoff, age twenty-one, from Vineland, New Jersey, joined Tregaskis on the Avenger, while its other usual crew member, Bob Pierpaoli, only nineteen, who had been in school before the war in Yuma, Arizona, flew with another Avenger pilot for the Kure attack.

“He was always attentive in the pre-mission briefings,” Tregaskis said of Stephens, “sitting in one of the first few rows of the overstuffed airline chairs in the ready room where instruction sessions were held; always paying attention and making careful notes.”

The twenty-four-year-old pilot with thinning hair was so conscientious about his duties that he passed up participating in card games—practically the sole source of amusement among the young pilots—in favor of getting a good night’s rest. The carrier’s air group were “eager beavers,” Tregaskis remembered. They were new to war, coming out from Hawaii three months before. Since then they had flown only a few missions, including practice strikes against Japanese bases in the Marshall Islands and supporting ground operations in the final stages of the Battle of Okinawa.

Although single-minded and determined when it came to combat, Tregaskis found Stephens to be pleasant company off duty. The pilot possessed a “pleasant voice and modest way of speaking, with his head held rather low. He had a winning way of giving you all of his attention while you were talking; while he looked at you with level, wide-spaced light blue eyes. He also smiled easily—an ingenuous, sidewise smile.”

Before launching from the Ticonderoga’s flight deck for his mission with Stephens and Egumnoff, Tregaskis remembered that the squadron had its main target changed three times. “Almost always, in my experience, there seem to be such last-minute changes in a military or naval operation; especially in a job as big as the one they were planning for us,” he noted. Rumors abounded that the squadron would be attacking antiaircraft positions, then came reports that they would be hitting Japanese ships, but with torpedoes. The last mission sounded to Tregaskis like “a fairly efficient way to commit suicide; skimming in a slow-speed, cumbersome torpedo plane through a land-locked harbor with all the guns of Japan’s great naval arsenal shooting at you.”

Gallows humor abounded among the pilots. When one, very young-looking ensign, said he did not mind getting hit by enemy fire, but did not want to be shot down, one of his friends joked: “Hell, they [the Japanese] only cut your head off—that’s a quick way to die.” Finally, the squadron learned that it would be carrying four 500-pound bombs instead of torpedoes, and their target would be the battleship Hyūga, which had been adapted for use as an aircraft carrier with the addition of a flight deck to its stern. The enemy ship was berthed off the island of Nasake Shima, just outside the harbor, in shallow water. To Tregaskis, the changes meant that the chances for his survival seemed far better than they had been just a few days before.

Tregaskis awoke for the July 24 mission at 5:00 a.m. and went to the wardroom for an early breakfast of eggs, bacon, oranges, apples, toast, and coffee. He found himself thinking as he ate, as he always did on such occasions: “The condemned man ate a hearty meal.” Egumnoff suggested that he and Tregaskis go up on deck and get into their plane. They ducked through the carrier’s low hatches, climbed onto the flight deck and into the morning sunlight, and, after some investigation among the close-packed aircraft, found the Avenger they had been assigned for their day’s work.

A few minutes later, Stephens arrived from the ready room and climbed into the pilot’s cockpit. “He seemed harassed and serious,” Tregaskis remembered, “apparently his usual mental attitude before a flight.” The reporter swiveled, twisted, and shoved his elbows, knees, shoulders, and feet into the cramped position in the rear turret, where he would sit during the Avenger’s approach to the target. When the plane began its descent before making its final dive on its target, Egumnoff would leave his radio position, in the lower section (the bilge), and take Tregaskis’s place in the turret in case any enemy fighters jumped them. “And as we lost altitude and ran in to drop our missles [sic] on the Hyuga, I’d climb up into the middle cockpit, whence a good view of the target and our drop on it, would be afforded,” Tregaskis noted. He felt lucky that there was always a need for making such mechanical arrangements before an attack, as it “helped to keep one’s imagination from working too hard.”

Tregaskis heard his Avenger’s engine roaring full blast and the plane was rolling down the deck. “I braced against the headrest of the gunner’s seat, saw the busy figures of the deck crews slide by, and in a second knew that we were off the deck, away from the ship,” he remembered. “The floating island which had been our home and base became a ridiculous toy, with increasing distance—a model ploughing a white, high bow wave in the clear blue water.” 

As his Avenger gained altitude, he could look out on a score of warships that were part of the task force, strung out to the horizon, as well as numerous dots of planes rising everywhere from the many carriers. The Avengers led the Ticonderoga air group, with the Helldiver dive-bombers and the Hellcat fighters (“our guardian angels,” noted Tregaskis) that would escort them into the target falling in behind.

Approaching Japan, Tregaskis could hear garbled voices in his headphones, with reports about American bombers making their runs. He heard something about enemy airfields being open and presenting themselves as good targets, and another voice, clearly stating, “I don’t know what it is, but I hit it.” Looking down he spied through a rift in the clouds a group of rock islands—Japan. Over the intercom came Egumnoff’s tenor voice: “In about five minutes we can attack, Mr. Stephens. We’re about nine minutes from our target.”

Passing over a large city, heading for the Inland Sea, Tregaskis imagined the panic below as the Japanese spotted the American planes and knew they were about to be attacked. “Once I had sat under Japanese bombers, on Guadalcanal, and watched them line up for a deliberate run in bright sunlight,” Tregaskis noted. “The wheel had turned full circle, now. And I wrote, impetuously, in my notebook: They know by now they’re under attack, by God.” Switching positions with Egumnoff, the correspondent saw smoke rising from the surrounding rugged land, possibly from antiaircraft positions that had been hit.

As Tregaskis’s plane neared its target, bursts of flak smudged the sky around them, and he could see the “flashes of the guns on the ground, blinking like lights.” A plane next to them discharged silvery sheets of some material from a side port, “strings of something like Christmas tree rain,” he noted, which was chaff, thin pieces of aluminum scattered in the sky to confuse Japanese radar.
             
As his Avenger flew through the spent bursts of antiaircraft fire, Tregaskis felt the aircraft diving, rushing headlong toward the water below, causing him to gasp for air as the g-forces built up. The experience was overwhelming. He later wrote:

I couldn’t get enough air; my mouth reached out wide for air, as if I were shouting and couldn’t shout, and the force of the dive pushed me forward until my forehead was pressed against the back of the pilot’s headrest. Things were going too fast. I couldn’t think. Were we under control? Was this right? Would I know if we were hit? Whatever we were going to get, whatever was going to happen, this was it. Then I saw the ship down there, the width and the great bulk, the gray color of it. It seemed smooth on top—the flight deck? The Hyuga? I saw a tall geyser of a bomb splash in the same instant, a tall column springing from the water, close to the ship. Beyond it, a shorter, smallish splash, a green geyser. I tried to shout and get air; couldn’t. Our dive went on. Down and down. Too long? Was Steve alive? Had he been hit?

Then we were pulling out of our dive, turning sharply. I saw the enemy ship behind us over a wingtip; saw one, two, three, four bombs spring geysers, the green water, straddling the gray hull, sandwiching it. Violent single columns of water were striking around it, explosive fingers stabbing towards the sky. Another brace of four violent fingers, four bombs, smashed from the water around the ship, the innermost fingers striking her sharply at her edge, turning up smoke, churning the shallow water green and brown. They were braces of bombs from the planes of our squadron: four bombs for each plane. Another brace struck the water, one in the water, the second a blast of quick fire, a direct hit, that glared in the middle of the steel hull; the others, over, splashing on the other side. And then we had turned so far, and were jinking, vacillating, turning so sharply that I could see no more of the target.
           
The squadron rendezvoused farther out into the bay for the return to the Ticonderoga. One by one, the Avengers, Helldivers, and Hellcats joined up, while Tregaskis nervously scanned the surrounding land masses and harbors straining to see if enemy fighters would appear seeking vengeance. Finally, after about fifteen minutes, the group set off for home, with the fighters weaving back and forth over the Avengers’ tails to offer protection.

Scrambling down into the bilge to talk to Egumnoff, Tregaskis heard him shout over the roar of the engine that he had seen a couple of “good hits” on the Hyūga. As they neared the Ticonderoga, the weather worsened. A low, gray rain squall grew so thick that “we lost sight of our ship each time we swung in a landing circle. I saw Steve slide his canopy back so that he could see better through the driving rain, felt the drops whipping through the small openings between his cockpit and mine,” Tregaskis wrote.

The Avenger circled the ship twice, finally making its approach on its third try and jolting to a stop. As they came even with the carrier’s island structure, the correspondent saw the “sad, sunken form of a Helldiver which had crashed on deck,” an obstacle that Stephens had just enough space to pass. Upon climbing out of his cockpit, Stephens, Tregaskis recalled, took a deep breath of air before commenting, “That was pretty rugged,” squatting down to fondly pat the wet boards of the flight deck. “We wouldn’t know the full story of the success or losses of our group until later when results were compiled, but at least we were certain of this: we, Steve, Gene and I, were home,” noted a relieved Tregaskis.

That evening, after supper, Lieutenant Bill Kummer, one of the ship’s flight surgeons, passed out “medicinal” whiskey to the pilots, jigger by jigger, with ice and water. Tregaskis sat with Stephens, who declined the alcohol, saying he did not feel like it and besides, he was scheduled to return to Kure the next day and wanted his head to be clear for the mission. Tregaskis decided not to accompany Stephens and Egumnoff, instead hoping to fly with them on a planned future sortie against airfields and other installations near Tokyo. After the Ticonderoga spent some time refueling and giving its crew a rest, the attack on the airfields was scrapped in favor of another go at Kure and the ships still afloat in the harbor; Tregaskis decided to remain behind.

The Ticonderoga had lost pilots and crewmen on the mission. As he had noticed when he was on the USS Hornet for the Battle of Midway, those who survived appeared to react to the death of their colleagues with little or no emotion, adjusting “without noticeable effort, when suddenly there were empty chairs at the table,” Tregaskis noted. Someone might comment about an absent aviator, saying he had been “a good guy,” and there would be a moment of soberness, but then the conversation would return to “where it had been before, and if there was humor in the conversation, that was not sacrilegious or disrespectful.” Deaths were expected in war and it was best, the correspondent pointed out, to “put the thing in the back of your mind, and not allow yourself to feel badly about it; at least, not to say so, for the sake of the morale of the others who were also still alive.”

For the return mission to Kure on July 28, Stephens flew with his regular crew, Egumnoff and Pierpaoli. Tregaskis watched them prepare for the mission in the ready room, with Stephens working industriously over his plotting board, as usual, while the others gathered their flight gear. In the back of the room, the correspondent saw a group of radiomen/gunners kidding each other about the danger they faced, as they had just heard over the speaker system from the combat intelligence center that the task force’s fighters, the first to reach the target, reported “plenty of bogies (enemy planes) in the air and some of them were being shot down

At lunch the officer who usually sat across the table from Tregaskis told him that he had heard that one of the torpedo bombers had spun in and crashed during the mission. The reporter asked what crew it had been, but the man said he did not know. After finishing his meal, Tregaskis wandered down to the torpedo squadron’s ready room. Most of the squadron’s members were being interrogated by the intelligence officer, Lieutenant Charlie Bartlett. Some had finished answering questions about the mission and were gathered in a pantry equipped with coffee, sandwiches, and ice cream. Tregaskis scanned their faces and could not find Stephens. “I wondered if he had been here, finished with his interrogation, and gone to his sack to rest,” he recalled.

Asking what had happened, Tregaskis learned from a shaken pilot, Lieutenant Dick Gale, that he had seen the Avenger with Stephens, Egumnoff, and Pierpaoli aboard crash into the sea. Apparently, while climbing through a thick overcast, both Stephens and Gale had lost their bearings, suffered vertigo, and fell into tight spins. Gale recovered from his spin; Stephens had not. After regaining control of his aircraft, Gale had seen Stephens, about two miles away, and watched as the other Avenger’s wing started to disintegrate. “Then it broke off,” Gale told Tregaskis. “The plane went straight in. I orbited the place and had my radioman look, but there were no survivors; only some smoke bombs and some dye marker. They must have broken loose when the plane broke up.”

Later that evening, Tregaskis sought solitude on the flight deck. His reverie was interrupted by one of the torpedo squadron’s radiomen, who said to him that he wanted the correspondent to know how badly they all felt about Stephens’s death. “Bob and Gene were good boys,” Tregaskis responded. “It’s a damn shame.” But he realized that there were no words he could utter that would “really make it better,” except that perhaps those who paid the ultimate price, by dying while engaged in combat overseas, became important, much more important to history, in fact, than “any individual would normally be if he lived and died normally: and that furthermore, that they died as any man should, with honor.”



Thursday, July 16, 2020

Campaigning with Kennedy: John Bartlow Martin and the 1960 Election

In June 1960, as Democrats prepared to gather in Los Angeles, California, to nominate their candidate for president, a respected freelance reporter, John Bartlow Martin, sat down and typed out a ten-page memorandum with suggestions for one of the leading candidates for the nomination, U.S. Senator John F. Kennedy of Massachusetts, about how a speechwriting group for a presidential campaign should be organized. Martin, whose work often appeared in the Saturday Evening Post, produced his memo after meeting with the candidate’s campaign manager and brother, Robert Kennedy, who had been asking Martin to serve as a speechwriter if John Kennedy captured the nomination.

From the outset, Martin, who had been a speechwriter for Adlai Stevenson’s presidential efforts in 1952 and 1956, warned that no matter how carefully advance preparations were made, a campaign was “a fast-developing constantly changing affair, and so most speeches that get delivered are, with a few exceptions . . . written almost immediately before delivery. Therefore, a certain amount of helter-skelter confusion is inevitable.”

In addition to establishing a competent research staff at campaign headquarters, which Martin assumed would be in Washington, D.C., he said that when it came to speechwriters, too many “writers-in-residence are an embarrassment, and they tend to talk, not write.” He advised having no more than six full-time writers on the campaign staff, with two based at headquarters producing major speeches a week in advance of their delivery by the candidate. Another two writers should travel with the candidate, revising speech drafts “in the light of current developments.” These writers, noted Martin, often might have to set aside a prepared speech and produce a new one at a moment’s notice. “It will probably turn out that a great deal of what actually gets delivered will be written by these writers who travel with the candidate, particularly as the pace increases toward the end of the campaign,” he said.

The final two speechwriters, whom he described as “legmen and writers,” would be responsible for the position Martin pioneered while with Stevenson in the 1956 California primary—editorial advance. They would be responsible for talking to local political leaders and other sources to find out what should be discussed in a speech, what local luminaries to mention, what kind of crowd to expect, what the physical surroundings would be, and “what the local pitfalls and beartraps are,” Martin explained.

Although it might not seem so at first, the work of these writers “is extraordinarily important,” he said, as a candidate could not deliver a thoughtful speech on a difficult subject if he had been scheduled to appear at, for example, a boiler factory. If the editorial advance men did not do their jobs well, “the headquarters writer may dump the candidate into this trap.” Martin also counseled Kennedy to be open to accepting speech drafts from writers who were not part of the staff, particularly during the end of the campaign. “At that time everybody is exhausted, running out of ideas, running dry on language; and it is extremely helpful during the last two weeks of October to be able to call on somebody wholly new,” Martin said.

Just a few days after receiving Martin’s memo, Robert Kennedy responded, saying what he had provided was “very helpful and much appreciated. It brought back some vivid memories of the [Stevenson] campaign.” Kennedy also added that his brother was “very enthusiastic” when he told him Martin might work on a draft of an acceptance speech to be given in Los Angeles.

On July 11 the Democratic National Convention began in Los Angeles. Although Kennedy and his supporters were urging the 4,509 delegates and alternates gathered at the Sports Arena that it was “time for a new generation of leadership,” the old guard seemed unwilling to depart the stage. Former President Harry Truman said Kennedy lacked “maturity and experience,” and Johnson had announced six days before the convention opened that he, too, would seek the nomination. Those wishing to stop Kennedy from winning the nomination on the first ballot—Johnson, Symington, and Stevenson—believed that by doing so many delegates would abandon the Kennedy cause and look to one of them as the Democratic Party’s nominee.

There were signs, however, that Kennedy was quite near obtaining the 761 delegates needed to win the nomination, as both the vital Pennsylvania and Illinois delegations had broken in his favor, with Stevenson’s home state pledging him only two delegates to fifty-nine for Kennedy. Those working on Kennedy’s behalf were optimistic that even if he failed on the first ballot, their candidate had enough strength to eventually win the nomination. Although there were wild, clamorous demonstrations on the convention floor and in the galleries on Stevenson’s behalf, the outpourings of emotion for the party’s two-time presidential candidate failed to change the outcome, and Stevenson himself did little to push the issue—a grave disappointment to his devoted supporters. Late on Wednesday evening, July 13, near the end of the roll call vote, Wyoming pledged its fifteen delegates to Kennedy, clinching for him the nomination.

From the beginning of Robert Kennedy’s approach to him about being part of his brother’s speechwriting team, Martin had expressed some uneasiness. It seemed to him that Theodore Sorensen, who had joined John Kennedy’s staff as his chief legislative aide when he started his work in the U.S. Senate in 1953, had already become Kennedy’s main writer through his close contact with the senator as the two of them had traveled around the country wooing local party leaders for the past several years. “Bob said that situation would have to change—Sorensen simply could not, in a presidential campaign, remain the only one [speechwriter], and he intended to persuade Jack of this,” said Martin. At the campaign’s outset there did seem to be a division of labor that followed the speechwriting operation as outlined by Martin in his memo to Robert Kennedy.

Shortly after the convention ended, Archibald Cox, a Harvard University law professor who had headed an academic advisory group for John Kennedy before his nomination, met with the candidate at his home in Georgetown. Kennedy asked him if he “would spend full time heading up a unit which would be sort of an intellectual apparatus, preparing speeches,” Cox recalled. “And he was very candid in talking about Ted Sorensen and Ted Sorensen’s fear that somebody was going to elbow his way in between him and Kennedy, and did I think I could get on with Ted Sorensen. And I didn’t see why not, that I could think of only one person in my life that I hadn’t been able to get on with at all. So why shouldn’t I be able to get on with Sorensen?”

Cox established a speechwriting and research team based in offices at 1737 L Street in Washington, D.C., and he hired a staff that included William Atwood, a former Stevenson speechwriter and editor at Look magazine; Joseph Kraft, a former reporter with the New York Times and Washington Post; James Sundquist, a former Truman speechwriter; and Robert Yoakum, a newspaper columnist. The plan, said Kraft, was to try to set up in advance “certain fixed speeches, and he [Cox] assigned those out as soon as we got there. The idea was that these would be done in August before the Senator went on the road.”

Longtime Kennedy assistant Myer “Mike” Feldman headed of the research team, housed in the same building as Cox’s group, and collected reams of material on their Republican opponent, Vice President Richard Nixon. Sorensen and his chief assistant, Richard N. Goodwin, who had joined the Kennedy staff in the fall of 1959 after working as special counsel for a congressional investigation of improprieties in television quiz shows, handled speechwriting chores for Kennedy while he traveled on his private plane, a Convair 240 series twin-engine propeller aircraft named Caroline in honor of his daughter. The plush, for the times, sixteen-seat aircraft did yeoman work during the 1960 presidential campaign, transporting the candidate, his staff, and selected members of the press on flights totaling 225,000 miles.  

The Kennedy team did not forget Martin’s editorial advance idea. They sent Goodwin to Martin’s home in Highland Park, Illinois, to talk to him about issues and positions for the fall campaign, as well as informing him that John Kennedy wanted to try out his system during a whistle-stop trip down California’s Central Valley in mid-September. Martin spent a week in California doing legwork and writing briefing sheets in advance of Kennedy’s visit.

Once done on the West Coast, he journeyed to Detroit to do the same thing for Kennedy in Michigan. “On Labor Day, I stood in the crowd in Cadillac Square, watching Kennedy speak, as I had watched Stevenson speak,” Martin said, “and I was struck by how much more forceful, even aggressive, Kennedy was. He seemed to assume this labor crowd was with him, and if it wasn’t he would convert it, and he did, to cheers.” Martin accompanied Kennedy aboard the Southern Pacific’s New Frontier Special (named for the theme Kennedy had outlined in his acceptance speech at the convention) as it hauled the fifteen-car campaign train for its two-day trip through the Central Valley, with stops in Redding, Sacramento, Richmond, Roseville, Oakland, Bakersfield, and ending with a Democratic rally jammed with 7,000 supporters and another 2,000 waiting outside the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles. At each of the whistle-stops, Kennedy gave a five-minute speech from a platform at the train’s rear, and before each Martin supplied him with the briefing sheet he had prepared for the occasion. Kennedy liked what Martin had done with the briefing sheets he provided and asked him to continue doing so throughout the rest of the campaign.

In the end, Martin spent about half of his time out ahead of Kennedy doing his editorial advance work, and the rest of the time with the candidate on the Caroline. There was plenty of work for the speechwriters, noted Sorensen, as Kennedy spoke eight to ten times a day, sometimes in four or five states. In one week of eighteen- to twenty-hour days, the candidate visited twenty-seven states. On the first full campaign weekend alone Kennedy visited Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine, California, Alaska, and Michigan. Looking at the packed schedule for the next few months up to Election Day, Martin realized he could never do all the briefing sheets by himself, and so trained Kraft, whom he described as “very bright, a good writer, a good reporter,” to do the work. Kraft, who got on well with both Sorensen and Goodwin, turned out to be an excellent pupil, and he joined Martin in the editorial advance assignment the second week of the campaign during a tour of Texas.

Kraft had been a Kennedy supporter since seeing him at a meeting of Maryland Democrats in January 1960, so when he received the call from Cox to join his “speech factory,” he was glad to offer his assistance. After doing the editorial advance work in Texas, Kraft returned to Los Angeles with the idea that he would be shuttling back and forth from the Cox group to the speechwriting team (Sorensen, Goodwin, and Martin) with Kennedy on the campaign trail. “I never went back to the Cox factory,” Kraft recalled. “I stayed doing the advances and largely being on the plane all the way through the campaign.” He and Martin played leapfrog, with one of them doing advance work in a state, then accompanying the candidate as he made his campaign appearances there, while the other writer did the same in a different state.

Kraft said both Martin and Sorensen advised him on people to see and reporters in the area also offered suggestions. There were some difficulties in the beginning for Kraft, particularly during his first trip into Texas, where he remembered Kennedy saying to him, after one visit, “You can’t leave me naked here like that.” An appearance in Lubbock, Texas, had turned into a near-disaster because Kraft failed to tell Kennedy how to pronounce the name of the town. “He knew about the German town on the Baltic [Sea] and started out . . . saying, ‘It’s great to be here in Lubeck.’” Kraft, however, soon developed a better feel for his position, and it became easier and more routine for him. “A large part of my job was getting to know Sorensen and Goodwin, getting to relax with them, getting to relax with the Senator,” Kraft noted. “He [Kennedy] really liked a relaxed relationship, and you had to know him a little bit in order to achieve it. I only achieved it with time.” The editorial advance system meshed well with the candidate, said Kraft, as Kennedy proved to be adept “at taking a fast briefing, just very, very good at switching gears and picking up something.”

In addition to finding an editorial advance partner in Kraft, Martin had discovered, by the end of the California trip that he had a candidate for president he truly believed in. He had begun his work with some misgivings about Kennedy, a man younger than he was and who appeared to be “a totally different man from Stevenson, and I had admired Stevenson so long. Transferring political loyalty is not easy.”

Sometimes when he watched Kennedy delivering a speech, Martin felt nostalgic for Stevenson’s “graceful prose.” He soon realized, however, that Kennedy was far more effective than Stevenson had been in rallying the country behind his candidacy and, unlike the man from Illinois, spent less time agonizing about the content of his speeches and more time meeting with local politicians. Kennedy also did not mind repeating the same stump speech over and over again. In working for Stevenson, his speechwriters had placed their emphasis on good writing, Martin observed, while for Kennedy, the emphasis was placed on the speech’s political effect. “His speeches did not soar and capture the imagination as has Stevenson’s 1952 speeches,” Martin said of Kennedy, “but they got his message across—that he was young, vigorous, and could get this country moving again.”

Kennedy, who rarely followed the prepared text word for word, did not seem to mind whether or not people admired him for his oratorical skills, but he did care “a great deal about whether his speeches made people want to follow him, to vote for him,” Martin noted. The candidate also had a keen ear on what language worked in a speech, and what failed to move audiences.” When a line proved successful at one stop,” recalled Sorensen, “whether planned or improvised, he [Kennedy] used it at the next and many times thereafter.” Ironically, Stevenson perfectly captured the difference between Kennedy and himself when, introducing the candidate at a rally, he had pointed out that in classical times when Cicero finished speaking people remembered how well he spoke, but when Demosthenes finished speaking people were moved to take action. “It was so apt it stung,” Martin recalled.

Martin found Kennedy much easier to work with than Stevenson, as Kennedy maintained an even keel during the campaign’s rigors and proved to be far more accessible. “He took advice more readily, made decisions faster,” Martin said. “He wasted no time. He used his staff well.”

Connecting with the candidate was not the only hurdle Martin had to face during the campaign. He also had to forge a relationship with Sorensen, who zealously guarded his closeness with Kennedy and wrote, re-wrote, or reviewed every speech. When he had first gone aboard the candidate’s plane, Martin recalled that Sorensen had taken him aside to remind him, “A Kennedy speech has to have class.” In a memorandum to speechwriters he distributed in late July 1960, Sorensen had established the basic theme for campaign speeches that included “the action, summoning every segment of our society; the result, to restore America’s relative strength as a free nation; and the purpose, in order to regain our security and leadership in a fast-changing world menaced by communism.” He continued that a speech should leave behind with an audience the general impression that a Kennedy administration, unlike a Nixon one, could “be trusted to ‘get things done’ on all the new problems that are coming up on ‘the new frontier’ of the 60’s . . . through specific steps that require effort by all the people as well as vigorous Presidential leadership, characterized by both courage and compassion.”

Sorensen and Kennedy had developed such a symbiotic relationship that they communicated “almost by shorthand,” said Martin. He remembered how, when the Caroline stopped for brief appearances at local airports, Kennedy, who viewed Sorensen as “indispensable,” paused before his speech for a word or two from Sorensen, who would “look up at him [Kennedy] and utter a sentence or two, suggesting a speech theme, and Kennedy would think, nod, remember, and go out and deliver it.” Some of the most eloquent campaign prose in his time came from Kennedy, said Martin, who particularly admired the ending of his speeches, which he compared to parables. And when the candidate spoke about such weighty issues as foreign affairs, he did not seem to be tentative and burdened as Stevenson had been. Instead, Kennedy appeared to know “exactly where we should go and how we should get there,” said Martin.

Sentiment played no role during the campaign. “The Kennedys played with a hard ball,” said Martin. He remembered how Sorensen sat outside the door to the senator’s private cabin on the Caroline, “the keeper of the portal,” personally approving anyone who entered. “It was a no-nonsense campaign, work to be done, no time wasted on people’s feelings,” said Martin. He had received a call from his old friend Arthur Schlesinger Jr., offering his speechwriting assistance on Kennedy’s travels. Martin passed the request along to Sorensen, but he nixed the idea, believing the candidate might be criticized by the Republicans (in his speeches Nixon had denounced the Democrats as “the party of Galbraith and Schlesinger and [Chester] Bowles) and the press as being a captive of the liberal Americans for Democratic Action, a group with whom Schlesinger had long been associated. “It was a hardboiled political decision,” said Martin.

Schlesinger said he had offered to do anything the candidate wanted, including joining him on tour, and Sorensen had reacted by telling him he wanted him to do some major speech drafts, but “it was evident that he wished them done at a distance.” Sorensen and Goodwin had “managed to maintain a stranglehold on the speech situation,” Schlesinger said, including blocking for the most part speeches from the Cox group. Cox tried to funnel ideas through Kraft, but it never worked. “A lot of it was spitballing, it had to be spitballed. It would have been impossible really to integrate the Cox operation with the plane operation,” said Kraft. “In a sense it would have been like trying to funnel Niagara into a hose.” It was not, Cox recalled, a “happy time” in his life. Goodwin did note that the material provided by the Cox group made a valuable contribution during the campaign, as it became a sort of traveling library that he carried along on the Caroline in a Sears and Roebuck footlocker and a suitcase. “I don’t know what the hell we would have talked about without it,” Goodwin said.

The pragmatic Martin must have passed muster with Sorensen, as he became, as Kraft noted, the only person closely associated with writing for Stevenson to be a regular part of the Kennedy speechwriting team on the plane. Sorensen had complained that at times the candidate believed the material arriving from the Cox group in Washington, D.C., had not been “responsive to what he wanted.” Still, Kennedy, Sorensen said in his memoirs, had insisted that he find some way to accommodate the speeches Cox and his group produced. “I very much wanted to do so,” said Sorensen. “But Archie was many miles away, out of touch with the every-changing tempo of the campaign.”

The same could not be said of the information provided by the able editorial advance team of Martin and Kraft, collecting, as they were, Sorensen noted, local color, opinion, and commentary, as well as providing “draft introductions, notes, conclusions, and themes for the final speeches to be delivered by the candidate. We almost always made good use of their material.” Pierre Salinger, who handled press relations for the Kennedy campaign, noted that Martin’s local speech inserts were often given more attention by the community’s reporters in their news stories than had the central theme of the candidate’s remarks.

Amidst the endless toil of the campaign trail, there were some lighthearted moments, particularly at the expense of Kennedy’s opponent. On September 26, Kennedy and Nixon faced off in the first-ever televised debate, which was witnessed by an estimated 70 million people; by this time 88 percent of American families owned television sets. “We knew the first televised debate was important,” said Sorensen, “but we had no idea how important it was going to turn out.” Kennedy, tanned from campaigning outdoors, refused makeup, as did Nixon initially. His advisers, however, realizing something needed to be done, used some shave stick to cover up his five o’clock shadow.  It did not work; viewers could see on their television sets a tanned, calm, and confident Kennedy, while Nixon, who had injured his knee during the campaign slamming it on a car door, appeared ill and sweaty under the harsh glare of the television lights. Journalist White, whose book on the campaign, The Making of the President, 1960, became an instant classic, was astounded about the contrast between the two candidate’s faces, with Nixon appearing “tense, almost frightened, at turns glowering and, occasionally haggard-looking to the point of sickness.”

On election night, November 8, Martin and his wife were at the Kennedy compound in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts, where they spent a long and tense evening watching and waiting to see if their candidate won. Campaign staff converted Robert Kennedy’s house, next to his father’s mansion and across the back lawn from John Kennedy’s cottage, noted O’Donnell, into a “communications and vote analysis center that included an array of telephones staffed by fourteen operators to keep in touch with party leaders and poll watchers from across the country.”

The operators, all women, were kept quite busy that night. Although the ballot counting went on into December, Kennedy won a narrow 112,803-vote victory over Nixon out of the nearly 69 million votes cast; the Democrat’s margin was greater in the Electoral College, where he had 303 votes to 219 for Nixon. The vice president had captured more states (twenty-six to twenty-three) than Kennedy, but the Democrat’s strategy of focusing attention on the more populous states had paid off, as he won Illinois, Texas, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and New York. Kennedy’s controversial choice of Johnson for vice president proved to be a fortunate one, as the Democrats won back some of the southern states they had lost to Eisenhower in previous elections, with the big prize being Johnson’s home state of Texas. The Kennedy-Johnson ticket also won in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Missouri.

On his third try, Martin had finally been on the winning side of a presidential contest. He spent less time in celebrating Kennedy’s victory, however, than in pondering what his time with the campaign had done to him. In a sense, he said, he had “grown up politically” during his work for Kennedy. Looking back on Stevenson’s 1952 presidential campaign, and even during his time as governor of Illinois, Stevenson had maintained, according to Martin, a particular “amateur attitude toward politics,” an attitude most certainly not shared by the Democratic candidate in 1960. “From him [Kennedy] and his staff and his campaign strategy, I learned hard politics. And this was backed up by what I had learned writing about politics,” Martin noted. For the first time, he began thinking of himself as, while not a professional politician, “at least no longer an amateur.” 

The only regret Martin had after Kennedy had been confirmed as the nation’s thirty-fifth president and he and Fran had been on hand in Washington, D.C., for the inauguration, was that his father had not lived just a few months longer to see another Democrat in the White House. And, as Franklin D. Roosevelt had been the president of his father’s life, Kennedy became the president with whom Martin most identified.