Reporting the Death of the President, 1865

On April 14, 1865, President Abraham Lincoln attended a performance of “Our American Cousin” at Ford’s Theater.  While there, he was shot in the head by John Wilkes Booth.  He died the next morning. As part of the same murderous conspiracy, Secretary of State William Henry Seward was attacked at his home and seriously wounded.

It was imperative that the Department of State notify its representatives abroad of those events.  Perhaps no such notification was as important as that to the American Minister to Great Britain, Charles Francis Adams.  The U.S. relationship with Great Britain during the period of the Civil War had been fraught with danger.  At several points over the previous four years, the relationship came close to breaking.

On April 15, William Hunter, the Acting Secretary of State, sent Minister Adams a short notification of the assassination of the President and the attack on the Secretary of State.  The same day, Edwin M. Stanton, the Secretary of War, sent Adams a long communication informing him of the circumstances of the attack on the President and the Secretary of State.  On April 17, the Department sent the following circular to all U.S. representatives abroad.  Note the black border on the first page.

Department Instruction 1352.1

Circular from the Department of State to U.S. representatives abroad informing them of the assassination of President Lincoln.

Department Instruction 1352.2

Circular from the Department of State to U.S. representatives abroad informing them of the assassination of President Lincoln, page 2.

Source: Department of State to U.S. Legation Great Britain, April 17, 1865, Notes [Instructions] From the Department, Records of the U.S. Legation and Embassy Great Britain, RG 84: Records of Foreign Service Posts of the Department of State, National Archives.

Upon receipt of the Department’s circular, Minister Adams communicated the news of the President’s death to British Foreign Secretary Russell.  Russell responded with the following note.

FO Note.1

Lord Russell to Minister Charles Francis Adams, May 1, 1865

FO Note.2

Lord Russell to Minister Charles Francis Adams, page 2.

FO Note.3

Lord Russell to Minister Charles Francis Adams, page 3.

Source: Lord Russell to Minister Charles Francis Adams, May 1, 1865, Notes From the Foreign Office, Records of the U.S. Legation and Embassy Great Britain, RG 84: Records of Foreign Service Posts of the Department of State, National Archives.

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Baseball Patents

Today’s post is written by archivist David Pfeiffer.

Yes, spring is here.  Major League Baseball’s opening day is Monday, April 6.  Finally.  It has been a long cold winter.  As Hall of Famer Rogers Hornsby once said “People ask me what I do in winter when there’s no baseball.  I’ll tell you what I do.  I stare out the window and wait for spring.”  In light of this, let’s talk about some baseball records in NARA.

In the records of the Patent and Trademark Office (Record Group 241) there are several invention patents relating to baseball, such as the patents for the baseball bat, glove, catcher’s mask, and the baseball itself. John A. Hillerich of Louisville, Kentucky, applied for and received many patents for the baseball bat. Hillerich was the owner of J. F. Hillerich and Sons, later to become Hillerich & Bradsby Company, manufacturer of the famous Louisville Slugger bats. One application, dated October 31, 1902 (Patent #716,541) for improvements in baseball bats involved the hardening of the surface of the bat. The purpose of this application was to promote the batter’s ability to drive the ball for more distance, to preserve the body of the bat from chipping and splintering easily and finally to improve the finish and appearance of the bat. This invention was patented on December 23, 1902.

Patent for improvements in baseball bats (Patent 716,541)

John A. Hillerich, owner of J.F. Hillerich and Sons (later Hillerich & Bradsby Company), applied for and received this patent for improvements to baseball bats. Patent number 716,541.

Another of Hillerich’s patent applications, dated June 8, 1904, declared as its objective to decrease the hitting of foul balls by the batter and to increase the number of fair balls hit (Patent #771,247, patented on October 4, 1904). Hillerich proposed modifying the hitting surface of the bat with regular indentations.

Design for a baseball bat (Patent 771247)

Design for a baseball bat by John A. Hillerich of Louisville, Kentucky. Patented October 4, 1904. Patent number 771,247

Other famous names appear in invention patents. George A. Rawlings, owner of a well-known sporting goods store in St. Louis and later manufacturer of a line of sporting goods, invented improvements in the baseball glove. In an application, patented on September 8, 1885 (Patent #325,968), Rawlings proposed the use of padding in the fingers, thumb, and the palm of the gloves for the “prevention of the bruising of the hands when catching the ball.” The felt/rubber combination in the padding provided for increased flexibility and thus improved protection from bruising.

Proposed improvements to the baseball glove by George Rawlings. Patent 325,968.

Proposed improvements to the baseball glove by George Rawlings. Patent 325,968.

Benjamin F. Shibe, one of the original owners of the Philadelphia Athletics and the person after which Shibe Park in Philadelphia was named, patented on February 27, 1883, an improvement to the baseball itself (Patent #272,984). By carefully combining the ingredients of yarn, India-rubber, and cement, Shibe claimed that his invention would better maintain the spherical shape of the ball even after repeated hits by baseball bats. Part of the improvements involved the tighter winding of the yarn and integrating the yarn in the cement to maintain the integrity of the sphere.

Design for a baseball By Benjamin F. Shibe, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Patented February 27, 1883 Patent number 272,984.

Design for a baseball by Benjamin F. Shibe, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Patented February 27, 1883. Patent number 272,984.

An improvement to the catcher’s mask was patented by Alexander K. Schaap, of Richmond, Virginia, on October 23, 1883 (Patent #287,331). Because catchers had difficulty removing their masks when a foul ball above the plate was hit, Schaap added a hinge to the upper part of the mask.

Design for Masks for Base Ball Catchers By Alexander K. Schaap of Richmond, Virginia Patented October 23, 1883

Design for Masks for Base Ball Catchers y Alexander K. Schaap of Richmond, Virginia. Patented October 23, 1883. Patent number 287,331.

Perhaps one of the most bizarre baseball-related inventions was the invention of the “baseball catcher” by James E. Bennett (Patent #755,209), patented on March 22, 1904. This contraption basically replaced the catcher’s mitt with a wire cage placed on the catcher’s chest. The object of the invention was to protect the catcher’s hands so that the hands would not come in contact with the ball until it was time to throw it back to the pitcher.

The invention was a rectangular open-wire frame body reinforced by slotted walls of wood. The impact of the ball on the catcher’s chest is protected by springs on the rear wall of the device. After the ball has passed through the open front end, it closes automatically. At the bottom of the device is an opening where the ball passes into a pocket where it is retrieved by the catcher. The device also includes a wire mesh on the top to protect the catcher’s face. The patent drawings do an excellent job of illustrating this device.


Patent for “baseball catcher” by James Bennett. Patent 755,209.


All 89,000+ linear feet of the Patent Case Files that are in the custody of the National Archives are now at the Lenexa, Kansas, records storage facility.  The records transfer from Archives II began in 2007 and was completed in 2012.  The National Archives in Kansas City does the reference on these records.  With the PTO now transferring the files from the WNRC in Suitland directly to Lenexa, there are over three million case files at that facility, dating from 1836 to after 1968.

A good place to start research in these records is Google Patents online.  Google Patents will give you the patent drawings, specifications, and possibly claims.


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The Monuments Men in March 1945: Ronald Balfour and Walker Hancock

Today’s post is written by Dr. Greg Bradsher

March 1945 would be a busy and eventful time for the Monuments Men officers, as the Allied armies advanced into Germany.  This was especially true for two of them: Ronald Balfour and Walker Hancock.

During combat operations in February 1945, Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives (MFA&A) officer, British Maj. Ronald E. Balfour, serving with the First Canadian Army, 21st Army Group, in several German cities, helped to recover and protect archival collections.  At Goch he successfully persuaded Canadian commanders not to destroy the 14th century stone entrance gate as they attempted to enter the town.  While in Goch he also found the abandoned archives from the Collegiate Church of Cleve, which he transferred to a monastery in Spyck for safekeeping.

In a report, filed March 3, 1945, he described his work in the church in Cleve: “Fragments of two large 16th century retables of carved and painted wood have been collected and removed to safety. Parish archives found in a blasted safe and strewn over the floor of the wrecked sacristy have also been removed for safekeeping.”  On that same day he wrote Lt. Col. Geoffrey Webb, in charge of the Monuments Men, that:

 It was a splendid week for my job – certainly the best since I came over. On the one hand there is the tragedy of real destruction, much of it completely unnecessary; on the other the comforting feeling of having done something solid myself.

There are no civilian officials to annoy one; the cares of quick decisions are left to oneself. Added to that, is the excitement of being right in the firing line. I met a battalion of my Regiment one day and ate my sandwiches with them at RHQ less than a mile from the front and I was actually sitting in a building when it was hit by a shell.

The plundering is awful. Not only every house is forced open and searched but also every safe and every cupboard. All that I can do is to try and rescue as much as possible and put up signs of warning. We did that in Kalkar but I do not know whether they actually had any effect.

In the meantime I’ve spent several days arranging the staff I’ve collected. What I did with the Goch archives would make the archivists’ hair stand on end, but I saved them from complete destruction.

And my storage place in Cleves [Cleve] wouldn’t be exactly approved of by Washington as it’s an attic in a building occupied by troops and refugees. The house is without proper protection and shells fall ceaselessly in the neighbourhood but it’s the only building in the town that still has a roof, doors and windows. There’s a local monk there (the only civilian who’s allowed to move freely round the town) in whose charge I can leave the things when I go.

If all goes well, I hope to be back at my headquarters next week as I’ve got a good deal of long-term work to do there. I’ve also got most of my luggage in Holland. I’m afraid I’ll never see it again. Yours very sincerely Ronald.

He did not live to see his luggage again.  Balfour was killed by a shell burst in Cleve on March 10 while he and some other men were attempting to rescue pieces of a medieval altarpiece to safety. [1]

Meanwhile, during the first ten days of March, Bonn and Cologne were captured and the American forces poured across the Remagen Bridge.  Capt. Walker Hancock, MFA&A officer with the First United States Army and Lt. George Stout, USNR, MFA&A officer with the 12th Army Group visited Cologne on March 12.  A preliminary survey of the monuments of Cologne disclosed that approximately 75 percent were destroyed. With the exception of the Cathedral the destruction included nearly all of the famous churches and museums of the city.  They found that Cathedral had received some bomb damage and that much of its contents, including the stain glass windows, were preserved in a special air-raid shelter under the north tower. They also learned that Cathedral Treasury had been removed to the east of the Rhine.  They learned from Dr. Robert Grosche, Dean of the Cathedral, the location of depositories of works of art from all important Cologne churches. He also learned that at Siegen was the largest depository for Rhineland church property and that a very large part of a mine in that city had been prepared especially for the protection of works of art and that complete inventories were said to be in possession of Count Franz Wolff von Metternich, the provincial Konservator[2], and of his assistant, Herr Weyres and Fraulein Dr. Adenauer; the latter of whom it was said served as a curator for the mine depository at Siegen.  It was believed that at Bonn he could find in the office of Denkmalpfege[3] of the Rhine Province Metternich and his assistant.  Hancock then went to Bonn in mid-March to obtain information about repositories of cultural property.  There he learned that Metternich was in Westphalia, east of the Rhine, still behind the German lines, and Herr Weyres was in Bad Godesbeg. Hancock finally tracked down Weyres, an architect, who, though having no documents with him, said he remembered all the more important repositories and could help him located them on Hancock’s map.[4]

Weyres’ information indicated that the rich art treasures of Rhineland cities had been taken to many places, including a large number of castles and monasteries.  The ancient manuscripts and incunabula of the Archbishop of Cologne were placed in the vaults under the monastery of Steinfeld, the church of which had been restored some years before by Weyres himself.  According to Hancock, “hardly a Wasserburg [moated castle] in the Rhine Province or Westphalia did not now shelter some portion of the cultural or artistic heritage of Europe’s besieged civilization.”[5]  Weyres provided complete information about the works of art that were stored in a tunnel known as a copper mine under Siegen’s old citadel.  There were two entrances leading from opposite sides of the hill. The entrance nearer to the vaulted storage room was in the Huttenweg across from a factory that supplied the heat that regulated the humidity in the mine.[6]

From March 17 to 23, Hancock visited Aachen, surveying the situation and taking photographs.  On March 24 he visited the Abbey of Maria Laach (some 60 miles southeast of Aachen) splendid example of the Romanesque style, which contained a depository in the southwest tower.  On March 28 Hancock visited Racing Ring Hotel at Nürburg, where 300,000 volumes of the University of Bonn were stored. Rooms not used for storage of books were, he found, occupied by displaced persons and thing were “in great disorder.”  The books, none in cases, had suffered slightly from dampness and the weight of the large stacks in which they were piled. The following day, March 29, Hancock visited Schloss Satzvey, owned by Count Metternich. He talked to Countess Metternich. He found two rooms in the main house contained a number of statues from Cologne, also large collection of furniture, some from Cologne. He found two large statues were in the cellar.[7]

In late March Hancock, with a wealth of information about repositories in the First Army area found that its three corps were on the opposite bank of the Rhine within a few hours’ drive of each other.  He pinpointed on a map of each corps area the important repositories within, or likely to come within, the path of each, and set off on March 27 to visit the three headquarters to deliver the maps.  The three G-5s, he would later write, showed themselves eager to do all within their power to ensure the protection of the places, and instructions to the combat units were sent out the same day, and later visits by Hancock to some of the repositories showed that prompt action had indeed taken to protect them.[8] But this would not be the case with other repositories. Hancock wrote, of all the places he later inspected, almost none were without the guard of “Off Limits” warnings. He opined that “if personnel had been available to follow up and continue this course of action throughout the vast army area untold losses might have been avoided.”[9]  He wrote on April 1, that while guards may be posted during the combat phase and the period immediately following, it is manifestly impossible to maintain them long in situations such as the present one. Depositories in monasteries or other religious institutions, where member of the clergy were present, he believed, were relatively safe, and guards could be removed from these shortly after battle has past. On the other hand, collections stored in castles were in continuous danger.  Guards should be maintained in the neighborhood wherever possible. Posting “Off Limits” he observed was of questionable value as protection against itinerant looters, though the greater danger, that of military occupation, could at times be avoided by this means.[10]

In the latter part of March Hancock met with numerous museum and university officials who volunteered information about the existence of 109 repositories of cultural property. This, Hancock, would later write, brought to 230 the number known to exist within the area then assigned to the First Army.[11]   The 12th Army Group reported on March 31 that the total number of repositories known or reported to exist in the area of 12th Army Group up to the Rhine, as of March 28 were 757.  Of the 571 in Germany, it was estimated that 380 were subject to risks of damage and deterioration as a result of occupation.  Many of these, the 12th Army Group believed, would probably have been demolished; in many others occupation could doubtless be rightly authorized.  It observed that the need for advice of specialists in such cases remains and the demands on MFA&A personnel will be great. [12]

Hancock reported on April 1 that it was obvious that the MFA&A officer “is confronted with a hopeless task in the vast area now covered by this army.”  Fortunately, he observed, competent civilian personnel were then available.  He recommended that these trained men should be put promptly to work and given all possible responsibility and freedom of action. He reported that steps had been initiated to appoint the architect Willy Weyres Konservator of the Regierungsbezirk Cologne. Weyres, he wrote, directed the restoration of a number of the most important monuments of the Rhineland, notably the Abbey of Steinfeld and the Cathedral of Limburg. This work was done in a masterful manner. He was Count Metternich’s assistant as Konservator of the Rhein provinz and was better acquainted with the monuments of that region than anyone else now available, He recommended that Weyres should be appointed Konservator of the whole Rhine Province as soon as Military Government regulations permitted.[13]

In some respects, the work of the Monuments Men during the month was challenging and, for some, dangerous, but the month ended, without them finding the mine repository at Siegen nor the vast quantity of cultural property looted by the Germans at other repositories.  That would have to wait till April 1945.


[1] The American Commission for the Protection and Salvage of Artistic and Historic Monuments in War Areas, Report of The American Commission for the Protection and Salvage of Artistic and Historic Monuments in War Areas (Washington, D.C.: United States Government Printing Office, 1946), p. 128.

[2] The Landes- or Provinzialkonservator cooperated with ecclesiastical, municipal, or other local authorities.

[3] The actual supervision and protection of monuments were the responsibility of a Land, Provinz or Reichsgau bureau (Denkmalsfege) usually under the Ministry of a Department of Education, which was also generally in charge of cultural institutions.

[4] Report, Capt. Walker K. Hancock, MFA&A Specialist officer, MFA&A, Area of First United States Army, Semi-Monthly Report, March 16, 1945, File: AMG 294, Army B, Subject File Aug 1943-1945, Monuments, Fine Arts & Archives Section, Operations Branch, G-5 Division, General Staff, Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Forces (SHAEF), Allied Operational and Occupation Headquarters, World War II, RG 331; Walter Hancock, “Experiences of a Monuments Officer in Germany,” College Art Journal (vol. V. No. 4, May 1946), pp. 287-288.

[5] Walter Hancock, “Experiences of a Monuments Officer in Germany,” College Art Journal (vol. V. No. 4, May 1946), p. 288.

[6] Historical Report, G-5, 12th Army Group April 1945 [April 30, 1945], File 17.16, Jacket 10, Historical Report-12th Army Group-April 1945, Numeric-Subject Operations File 1943-July 1945, Historical Section, Information Branch, G-5 Division, General Staff, Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Forces (SHAEF), Allied Operational and Occupation Headquarters, World War II, RG 331; Walter Hancock, “Experiences of a Monuments Officer in Germany,” College Art Journal (vol. V. No. 4, May 1946), p. 288.

[7] Report, Capt. Walker K. Hancock, MFA&A Specialist Officer, First U.S. Army, Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives Area of First United States Army, Semi-Monthly Report, April 1, 1945, File: AMG 294, Army B, Subject File Aug 1943-1945, Monuments, Fine Arts & Archives Section, Operations Branch, G-5 Division, General Staff, Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Forces (SHAEF), Allied Operational and Occupation Headquarters, World War II, RG 331.

[8] Report, Capt. Walker K. Hancock, MFA&A Specialist Officer, First U.S. Army, Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives Area of First United States Army, Semi-Monthly Report, April 1, 1945, File: AMG 294, Army B, Subject File Aug 1943-1945, Monuments, Fine Arts & Archives Section, Operations Branch, G-5 Division, General Staff, Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Forces (SHAEF), Allied Operational and Occupation Headquarters, World War II, RG 331; Walter Hancock, “Experiences of a Monuments Officer in Germany,” College Art Journal (vol. V. No. 4, May 1946), p. 288.

[9] Walter Hancock, “Experiences of a Monuments Officer in Germany,” College Art Journal (vol. V. No. 4, May 1946), p. 289.

[10] Report, Capt. Walker K. Hancock, MFA&A Specialist Officer, First U.S. Army, Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives Area of First United States Army, Semi-Monthly Report, April 1, 1945, File: AMG 294, Army B, Subject File Aug 1943-1945, Monuments, Fine Arts & Archives Section, Operations Branch, G-5 Division, General Staff, Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Forces (SHAEF), Allied Operational and Occupation Headquarters, World War II, RG 331.

[11] Walter Hancock, “Experiences of a Monuments Officer in Germany,” College Art Journal (vol. V. No. 4, May 1946), p. 288.

[12] Memorandum, Lt. Col. Walter Sczudlo, Assistant Adjutant General, HQs, 12th Army Group to SHAEF, Attn: Assistant Chief of Staff, G-5, Subject: Monthly Report on Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives, March 31, 1945, File: AMG 292, 12 Army GP, Subject File Aug 1943-1945, Monuments, Fine Arts & Archives Section, Operations Branch, G-5 Division, General Staff, Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Forces (SHAEF), Allied Operational and Occupation Headquarters, World War II, RG 331.

[13] Report, Capt. Walker K. Hancock, MFA&A Specialist Officer, First U.S. Army, Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives Area of First United States Army, Semi-Monthly Report, April 1, 1945, File: AMG 294, Army B, Subject File Aug 1943-1945, Monuments, Fine Arts & Archives Section, Operations Branch, G-5 Division, General Staff, Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Forces (SHAEF), Allied Operational and Occupation Headquarters, World War II, RG 331.

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Bipartisanship in Foreign Policy, 1953

The development of the Cold War after World War II and America’s ascension to a position as the leading World power with its attendant dangers and complications led to somewhat of a removal of partisan politics from foreign policy issues.  Underlying this move, referred to as bi-partisanship, was the idea that the President and Executive Branch agencies would work with Congress to develop foreign policies that could receive support from Republicans and Democrats alike.  Republican Senator Arthur Vandenberg was perhaps the key proponent of bipartisanship.  He famously asserted that “politics stops at the water’s edge.”

During the period from 1945 to 1949, bipartisanship in foreign policy reached a high point, although partisan politics did intrude.  Among the bipartisan successes are U.S. membership in the United Nations, implementation of the Marshall Plan for European recovery, and the creation of NATO.  The death of Vandenberg, the rise of McCarthyism, the controversy over the “loss” of China, disagreement over the handling of the war in Korea, and unilateral foreign policy actions by the Truman Administration all led to a rise in partisanship in foreign policy during Harry Truman’s second term in office.  Even though the bi-partisan consensus broke down, there was continued paying of lip-service to the idea, but by the 1952 presidential election, the idea of bi-partisanship had itself taken on a partisan taint.

On February 12, 1953, at one of the first meetings of Republican President Dwight Eisenhower’s Cabinet, Henry Cabot Lodge, the new U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, raised the issue of bipartisanship.  He noted Senator Vandenberg’s distinction between Congressional matters and Executive action.  There was comment that Democratic leaders practiced bipartisanship only for matters involving Congress.  At the end of the discussion, Secretary of Defense Charles Wilson requested preparation of a memorandum on the subject of bipartisanship “to clarify the practice for all Cabinet Members” and responsibility for that was placed on Secretary of State John Foster Dulles.  Subsequent to the meeting, Dulles and Lodge discussed the issue with the end result that on February 23, Lodge sent the Secretary of State a “Dear Foster” note enclosing the following memorandum on “Bi-Partisanship in Executive-Congressional Relations”.

711.2[2-2353.2 711.2[2-2353.3 711.2[2-2353.4

Dulles acknowledged receipt of Lodge’s memorandum and then distributed it to the entire Cabinet under cover of a letter he personally drafted.  The following is the letter to Attorney General Herbert Brownell, Jr.:


Identical letters went to the following officials:

  • Secretary of the Treasury George M. Humphrey
  • Secretary of Defense Charles Wilson
  • Postmaster General Arthur E. Summerfield
  • Secretary of Agriculture Ezra Taft Benson
  • Secretary of Commerce Sinclair Weeks
  • Secretary of the Interior Douglas McKay
  • Secretary of Labor Martin Durkin
  • Director of Mutual Security Harold E. Stassen
  • Federal Security Administrator Oveta Culp Hobby

Sources:  Documentation on the meeting of the Cabinet is found in Cabinet Meeting of February 12, 1953; Box 1; Cabinet Series, Dwight D. Eisenhower Papers as President; Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library.  The Lodge note to Dulles and enclosed memorandum, Dulles’s acknowledgement, and Dulles’s referrals to the Cabinet are under file 711.2/2-2353, 1950-54 Central Decimal File, RG 59: General Records of the Department of State, National Archives.  I thank my colleagues Karl Weissenbach and Valoise Armstrong at the Eisenhower Library for their assistance.

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Leaks in the Department of State, 1963

In recent years, the subject of leaks of classified information from U.S. Government agencies has received a great deal of attention.  This is not a new problem; I have seen references to such leaks as early as World War I.  In the early 1960s, however, the Department of State suffered a spate of leaks.  The problem was significant enough that President John F. Kennedy discussed the matter with Under Secretary of State George W. Ball (the Department’s #2 official).  In response, the Under Secretary personally prepared the following memorandum to the President discussing how to deal with the issue.


Along with the memo, Ball sent an 8-page outline of the proposed seminar (best copy available).

The problem of leaks has never gone away.  Attempts by the Nixon Administration to deal with that issue led to some of the Watergate-era abuses.

Source: Under Secretary of State George W. Ball to President John F. Kennedy, November 8, 1963, file PR 11, 1963 Subject-Numeric File (NAID 590618), RG 59: General Records of the Department of State, National Archives.


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Foreign Policy and Domestic Discrimination

As the Department of State noted in a major 1950 publication “There is no longer any real distinction between ‘domestic’ and ‘foreign’ affairs.”  (Our Foreign Policy, Department of State Publication 3972, released September 1950).  In the post-World War II Twentieth Century, perhaps no issue better illustrates that statement than the movement for civil rights in the U.S.

In two eloquent letters, the first in 1946 and the second in 1952, the Department of State explained how discrimination within the United States presented an obstacle to America’s foreign policy goals.

The first letter came in response to an informal April 1946, request from Malcolm Ross, chairman of the President’s Committee of Fair Employment Practice.  The Committee was preparing the final report on its activities during World War II and making recommendations on post-war governmental policy relating to industry discrimination “because of race, creed, color, or national origin.”  Ross noted that the report planned to note in a general way that domestic discrimination affected U.S. international affairs and suggested that the Department “might wish to make a statement in support of the thesis that the existence of racial discrimination is a handicap and that Government should take thought how best to eliminate it.”

In response, the Department sent the following letter signed by Acting Secretary of State Dean Acheson.  The letter was later featured in To Secure These Rights, the 1947 final report of the President’s Committee on Civil Rights, and in legal briefs prepared by the Department of Justice in a number of cases.




Malcolm Ross to Under Secretary of State Dean Acheson, April 3, 1946, Acting Secretary of State Dean Acheson to Malcolm Ross, May 8, 1946, file 811.504/11-1352, 1945-49, Central Decimal File, 1910-1963 (NAID 302021) Record Group 59: General Records of the Department of State.

The second letter resulted from a November 1952, request by Attorney General James McGranery to now-Secretary of State Acheson.  McGranery explained that the Department of Justice was preparing an amicus curiae brief to file with the Supreme Court in several of the cases leading up to the decision on segregation in public schools in Brown v. Board of Education.  The Attorney General noted that the brief “would be immeasurably enhanced” if it contained an “authoritative statement” of the impact of domestic racial discrimination on U.S. foreign relations.  Quoting from Acheson’s earlier letter, McGranery explained that a letter describing the situation as it stood in 1952 “would be of inestimable value in affording the Court a better appreciation of the broader international implications of the question presented in these cases.”

In response, the Department sent the following letter.




Attorney General James McGranery to Secretary of State Dean Acheson, November 13, 1952, Secretary of State Dean Acheson to Attorney General James McGranery, file 811.411/11-1352, 1950-54, Central Decimal File, 1910-1963 (NAID 302021) Record Group 59: General Records of the Department of State.

As the leading biographer of Dean Acheson notes, however, despite the eloquence of the letters, the Department of State did little to contest domestic racist practices nor did the U.S. as a matter of its foreign policy do so overseas.  Later in life, Acheson was a supporter of white power regimes in Africa and made overtly racist statements (Robert L. Beisner, Dean Acheson: A Life in the Cold War).  Nevertheless, the letters remain accurate statements of the impact of domestic discrimination on U.S. foreign policy.



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The Monuments Men During February 1945: Locating Repositories of Looted and German Cultural Property

Today’s post was written by Dr. Greg Bradsher, archivist at the National Archives in College Park.

At the end of January, Lt. Gen. Omar N. Bradley, head of the 12th Army Group, wrote the G-5s of his four Armies (First, Third, Ninth, and Fifteenth) regarding the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives (MFA&A) Specialist Officers and their activities.  He noted that as a measure contributing to the eventual restitution of works of art and objects of a scientific or historical importance which may have been looted from United Nations governments or nationals, the MFA&A officers would investigate all information of such nature and inspect all repositories of such works falling within the area of the command to which they were assigned or attached, and report their findings. Of course, in late January, the Monuments Men were not, with the exception of the Aachen area, in a physical position to seek out looted cultural property, nor German cultural treasures that had been evacuated eastward for protection.

But during February 1945, as the Allied forces pushed further east, the MFA&A officers had greater opportunity to seek out information about the location of German and looted cultural treasures.  By that time they already knew, based on information from MFA&A officers who entered Germany in the latter part of 1944 and the first months of 1945, that they had many challenges ahead, given the large, and increasing, number of repositories containing loot and German-owned cultural property, which were being identified. Information was being obtained from German museum personnel, from British and American sources in Paris, and from prisoner of war interrogations.

During February Capt. Walter J. Huchthausen, MFA&A officer with the Ninth U.S. Army obtained a German report, dated December 9, 1943, on a meeting of Rheinprovinz officials, October 22, 1943, the purpose of which was to discuss measures pertaining to disposition of art collections. The report provided information on thirty repositories. One was at Ehrenbreitstein Fortress on the mountain of the same name on the east bank of the Rhine opposite the town of Koblenz, where art treasures from Cologne, Dusseldorf, and Koblenz were kept in tunnels and where the building of another tunnel had been authorized for storing more art objects.  Another place identified was the salt mine at Kochendorf, near Heilbronn, which purportedly held art objects from many places.  In Aachen he found a group of papers that identified 10 repositories, including Kochendorf.  He reported that there was much correspondence regarding Kochendorf being an ideal art repository because of its depth (150 meters) and dry conditions.  From interrogations of Germans Huchthausen also learned about a repository at Siegen, east of Cologne, in south Westphalia.

Based upon the information that the MFA&A officers and other Allied personnel were obtaining about repositories, SHAEF (Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force) on February 11 issued its first listing of German repositories holding loot and German-owned property. The list included a repository at Siegen, which was reported to contain 104 paintings and 48 pieces of sculpture from Aachen and also the Cathedral Treasure from Metz which had been sent there on August 30, 1944.  The list also included a storage location somewhere in Bad Wildungen (some 35 miles northeast of Marburg) and the salt mines at Heilbronn and Kochendorf.

While Huchthausen and other MFA&A officers attached to the Armies under the 12th Army Group were trying to pinpoint the location of repositories, Capt. Marvin C. Ross, USMCR, with MFA&A, G-5 Operations Branch, SHAEF, during mid-February visited 12th Army Group and the four armies under it to discuss intelligence on repositories of works of art and to coordinate the information obtained.  This information would be incorporated into the next issue of the SHAEF listing of repositories, issued on March 11.

At the end of February, Lt. George Stout, USNR, MFA&A office at the 12th Army Group produced a listing of additional repositories and had it provided to SHAEF.  In his listings, Stout noted that the Siegen mine and its vicinity were said to be used as repositories for work of art.

The Siegen copper mine, some 60 miles southeast of Cologne, had first come to the attention of the MFA&A officers in late 1944.  Capt. Robert K. Posey, with the Third U. S. Army, had issued a report, dated December 29, 1944, indicating that the Metz Cathedral treasures were at Seigen [Siegen] in Germany.  Upon reading this Ross wrote Stout at 12th Army Group that he could not find any trace of a Seigen [Siegen] in his Gazetteer and asked him to check with Posey about his information. Two days later Ross again wrote Stout, indicating that Lt. Col. Geoffrey Webb, Adviser, MFA&A, G-5 Operations Branch, SHAEF, had straightened him out about the place where the repository was—Siegen—Posey had the letters transposed.  It is interesting to note that the Office of Strategic Services reported on January 1 that it was probable that part of the Treasury of Aachen Cathedral had been taken to “Singen in Westphalia, a town not otherwise known.”

It would not be until spring that the MFA&A officers would finally get to Siegen and discover what art works and other cultural property it contained.  In the meantime, during February and March, they would continue gathering information about the location of repositories and their contents.  Of course, they would continue with their mission of protecting cultural property.  As will be noted in future blog postings, two of them would be killed in action trying to save German cultural treasures.


The full-citation version of this post can be found here.


Archival Sources:

Activity Reports, 1945-1951 (Entry A1 496, NAID 2435804), Records of the Wiesbaden Central Collecting Point, Records of the Office of Military Government (U.S.) OMGUS, Records of United States Occupation Headquarters, World War II, RG 260 (Roll 54 of National Archives Microfilm Publication M-1947)

Records Relating to Status of Monuments, Museums, and Archives, 1945-1950 (Entry A1 497, NAID 2435815), Records of the Wiesbaden Central Collecting Point, Records of the Office of Military Government (U.S.) OMGUS, Records of United States Occupation Headquarters, World War II, RG 260 (Roll 62 of National Archives Microfilm Publication M-1947).

Subject Files, 8/1943-1945 (Entry UD-55B, NAID 612714), Monuments, Fine Arts & Archives Section, Operations Branch, G-5 Division, General Staff, Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Forces (SHAEF), Allied Operational and Occupation Headquarters, World War II, RG 331.

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Operation Clarion: February 22-23, 1945

Today’s post was written by Dr. Greg Bradsher, archivist at the National Archives in College Park.

In mid-September 1944 General Henry H. ( “Hap”) Arnold, commander of the U.S. Army Air Force, proposed that every available British and American airplane be used on some clear day to swarm all over the German Reich, attacking military objectives in towns that had hitherto been unmolested by the air forces. This type of operation, he felt, would afford the Germans an opportunity to witness at firsthand the might of the Allies and to reflect on their own helplessness.  But clear days that opened up the entire expanse of Germany to such a venture were rarities, especially during the autumn, and during the winter the Allied air forces were tied up, in part, with the German counter-offense in the Ardennes, and, in part, giving first priority to attacking German oil targets.

By the middle of February the several Allied land armies were prepared to resume the offensive toward the Rhine which the Germans had interrupted in December. The Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF) requested the air forces to utilize all available Anglo-American air power in a blow at German rail and water transportation facilities which would result in an immediate disruption of the German lines of communication and transportation system in general, and that the impact would be of direct and immediate benefit to the ground forces.  SHAEF desired British-American bombers and fighters to range over most of Germany simultaneously on a clear day to attack all sorts of transportation targets: grade crossings, stations, barges, docks, signals, tracks, bridges, and marshalling yards. Most of the objectives were located in small towns that had never been bombed before. Hence they would not be well defended and injury to Germany’s economy might, at its best, produce a demoralizing effect on the Germans, and perhaps the precipitation of a crisis among railroad personnel, on the eve of the land offensive. Lt. Gen. Carl Spaatz, commander of U.S. Strategic Air Forces in Europe, agreed to the concept and the Allied air planners developed a plan to implement SHAEF’s desires.  Each of the Allied air commands which participated was given an area for attack, secondary targets and targets of opportunity to be chosen in the same general area as the primaries if the latter could not be seen.   The operation was code-named “Clarion.”

The opportunity to launch Operation Clarion came on February 22, when most of Germany was expected to be vulnerable to visual-bombing attacks. The tactical air forces received assignments in western and northwestern Germany.  The Fifteenth Air Force, based in Italy, was to operate over a wide area in southern Germany, Royal Air Force (RAF) Bomber Command retained its semi-monopoly over the Ruhr, and the Eighth Air Force planned to bomb several dozen towns in the middle and north central part of Germany. The Eighth Air Force had to depart from its usual operating procedures in several respects. Most important of all, the heavy bombers were to attack from about 10,000feet or even lower instead of the customary 20,000-25,000-foot altitudes. Also, they were to form small attacking units instead of organizing into the usual large formations.  All the Eighth’s fighters were to go along, mainly for independent strafing and bombing operations.

On February 22 the Eight Air Force effectively sortied 1,372 bombers (B-17s and B-24s) and 677 Fighter escorts.  These bombers would drop 3,895.1 tons on assigned targets and numerous targets of opportunity. Eighty-five of the bombers sustained battle damage from flak, which was not surprising in view of the low bombing altitudes.  Luftwaffe (the German Air Force) opposition to the bombers was very meager, with only one bomber being lost in air action, a straggler shot down by a Me-262.  The escorting fighters engaged more than 25 Fw-190s and a few Me-109s southwest of Bremen; six Me-262s in Stetting area; more than 12 Me-262s in Stendal-Brandenburg area; one Me-262 southeast of Salzwede; four Me-262s in the vicinity of Stendal; 15 Me-262s southwest of Berlin; and two Me-262s south of Helmstedt.  The escorting fighters claimed to have downed two Me-262s and the fighters engaged in fighter sweeps claimed two Me-262s.  The hardest hit targets during the day were Ansbach (420 tons); Ulm (232.5 tons); Wittenberge (216 tons); Stendal (over 214 tons); Ulzen (over 214 tons); Salzwedel (over 197 tons);  and the marshalling yards at Bamberg (187 tons), Hildesheim (over 148 tons), Peine (over 142 tons), Ludwigslust (over 136 tons), Kreinsen (over 131 tons), Northeim (over 124 tons), Luneburg (over 115 tons), and, Halberstadt (over 113 tons). Those targets receiving 20 to 99 tons were marshalling yards at Aalen, Gottingen, Celle, Ottergen, Neustadt, Nordhausen, Singen, Schwenningen, Eschwege, Villingen, Wallhausen;and cities of Donaueschingen, Reutlingen, Freiburg, Hafingen,Wittstock, Grabow, Kobbelitz, Dannenberg, Klotze, Sangerhausen, and, Vienenburg. Those targets bombed with less than 20 tons were the marshalling yards at Kitzingen, Oker, and, Zwickau.  

The escorting fighters attacked targets on the ground, claiming to have destroyed or damaged 44 German aircraft, 104 locomotives, 22 oil tank cars, and 232 railcars.  Meanwhile two groups of P-51s making fighter sweeps claimed to have destroyed or damaged 31 locomotive and 74 railcars.

The Fifteenth Air Force sortied 231 B-17s and 543 B-24s, escorted by 99 P-38s and 201 P-51s, against communication targets in an area 300 miles long and 100 miles wide in southwest Germany.  They would bomb 32 marshalling yards and staffing attacks after the bombing, destroyed or damaged 110 locomotives, 40 oil tank cars, and 300 railroad cars.  Also on February 22 the Ninth Air Force sortied 465 bombers and 1,053 fighters as part of the attack on transportation targets.  The Ninth Bomb Division attacked 44 railroad bridges, rail sidings, rail junctions, and, eleven marshalling yards, dropping 850 tons.  The Ninth Tactical Air Command dropped 136 tons on rail targets, carried out in the Giessen-Freiburg area. The Nineteenth Tactical Air Command dropped 79 tons on numerous rail targets and strafed rail traffic in the Bingen area. And the Twenty Ninth Tactical Air Command dropped 161 tons on rail targets in the Dusseldorf-Cologne area. The Ninth Air Force claimed to have destroyed or damaged 183 motor vehicles, 28 armored vehicles and tanks, 118 locomotives, 1,407 railroad cars; damaged 3 bridges; and, made 185 rail cuts. During the day the Ninth Air Force aircraft claimed shooting down 17 German aircraft in the air, while losing three bombers and 12 fighters.

During February 22 the First Tactical Air Command sortied 171 bombers and 782 fighters and fighter bombers to attack rail targets in northwest and western Germany.  During the day, while losing 8 bombers and 2 fighters, they claimed to have destroyed at least 9 German aircraft in the air and destroyed or damaged 38 locomotives, 536 railroad cars, ten bridges, as well as making 170 rail cuts.  Also during the day the RAF Second Tactical Air Command sortied nearly 1,700 aircraft to attack marshalling yards, railroad stations, and rail traffic in northwest Germany. They would lose 21 Mosquitoes (de Havilland DH.98) and 12 fighters, while claiming to have shot down six German aircraft, and destroying or damaging 252 motor vehicles, 166 locomotives, 877 railroad cars, 94 barges, as well as making 110 rail cuts.

On February 22, thirty-four RAF Lancasters, escorted by 115 P-51s, bombed the railway viaducts at Altenbeken and Bielefeld, without losing any aircraft.  Also during the day, 85 Lancasters, escorted by 49 Spitfires, while losing one aircraft, dropped over 383 tons on the town area and a Benzol plant at Gelsenkirchen. Seventy-five RAF Lancasters, escorted by 48 Spitfires and P-51s, suffered no losses and dropped over 333 tons on the Benzol plant at Osterfeld.

This first Clarion operation was judged so successful that a repeat was ordered for February 23, though on a smaller scale.  On that date the Eight Air Force effectively sortied 1,211 bombers and 492 Fighter escorts to attack rail centers in central Germany. While encountering almost no Luftwaffe opposition, they dropped 3,316.4 tons on assigned targets and numerous targets of opportunity.  More than 110 tons were dropped on each of eight marshalling yards (Treuchtlin, Crailsheim, Neumarkt, Ansback, Kitzingen, Weimar, Gera, and Plauen. Also heavily bombed were Nordlingem, Schwabisch Hall, Winterhausen, Meiningen, Adelsberg, Hildburghausen, Lichtenfels, Schweinfurt, Ellingen, Ottingen, Wurzburg, Crailsheim, Jena, Osnabruck, Schluchter, Fritzler, Reichenbach, Steinau, and Paderborn, and the marshalling yards at Fulda and the railroad bridge at Kitzingen.  Only two bombers failed to return to base, one ditching in the North Sea and the other having its crew parachuted safely in friendly territory.  During the day the escorting P-51s claimed to have shot down seven German planes with the loss of one plane to Flak.  The Fighter escorts also claimed to have destroyed or damaged 31 locomotives, 141 railroad cars, and 17 oil tank cars.  Also during the day, three groups of fighters made sweeps, strafing airfields at Neuburg, Landsburg and Leipheim, rail and road traffic near Augsburg and near Frankfort.  While losing one P-51 while strafing they claimed to have destroyed or damaged 23 German aircraft on the ground, 17 locomotives, 58 railroad cars, and 16 oil tank cars.  And in a special operation, twenty-four B-24s dropped nearly 60 tons on the marshalling yards at Neuss.  

On February 23 the Ninth Air Force sortied over 2,300 medium bombers, fighters and fighter bombers.  The Ninth Bomb Division dropped nearly 600 ton on communication centers in western Germany. The Ninth Tactical Air Command conducted armed reconnaissance north and south of Stockheim and north of Duren and provided air cooperation to ground forces. The Nineteenth Tactical Air Command provided armed reconnaissance in Cologne, Trier, Bonn, Mannheim, and Homburg areas. The Twenty-Ninth Tactical Air Command provided armed reconnaissance in Venlo area and provided air cooperation to ground forces.  They claimed to have destroyed or damaged six German aircraft in the air, 123 locomotives, 3,027 railroad cars, 1,317 motor vehicles, 305 armored fighting vehicles, 9 bridges, 20 barges, as well as making 115 rail cuts.  During the day the First Tactical Air Command sortied over 905 aircraft to make fighter sweeps, armed reconnaissance, rail interdiction, and to attack bridges, fuel dumps, and gun positions in western Germany.  During the day they claimed to have destroyed or damaged 17 German aircraft in the air, as well as destroying or damaging 7 locomotives, 323 railroad cars, as well as making 67 rail cuts.  The RAF Second Tactical Air Command sortied 179 aircraft to make armed reconnaissance in Dulmen, Paderborn, Cologne, Duren, Munster areas and to attack railroad bridges and ammunition depots.

During the day 324 RAF bombers, escorted by 119 Spitfires and P-51s, while suffering the lost of one Halifax bomber, dropped over 1,170 tons on Essen and 130 Lancasters, escorted by 33 Spitfires, while suffering no losses, dropped nearly 580 tons on the Benzol plant at Gelsenkirchen.  The Fifteenth Air Force sent 455 heavy bombers to attack eight transportation targets in southern Germany.

Two days of Operation Clarion, which saw bombing accuracy unexpectedly high and losses slight, resulted in the Allied air forces demonstrating for the Germans ample evidence of Allied air power and its control of the skies.  The German transportation system was dealt a heavy blow.  Yet, it appears the rail traffic throughout the area affected had been radically reduced for only three days and that the attacks had not prevented the Germans from continuing the movement of high priority traffic.  The Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) concluded that the Clarion Operation had not seriously affected Germany’s capacity to resist, and Air Marshal Charles Portal, RAF Chief of Staff, in indorsing this opinion, advised against any further attempts with this type of operation. Spaatz; Air Marshal Sir Arthur Tedder, the Deputy Supreme Commander at SHAEF; and Lt. Gen. James Doolittle, commander of the Eight Air Force, were inclined to disagree with the JIC conclusion, but they launched no further Clarion operations.



Transportation Division, United States Strategic Bombing Survey, The Effects of Strategic Bombing on German Transportation, November 20, 1945, pp. 15, 16, File: 200 The Effects of Strategic Bombing on German Transportation (Final Report), European Survey Published Reports and Supporting Records, 1937-1945 (Entry I-10 6, NAID 560340), Records of the U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey, RG 243.

Military Analysis Division, U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey, The Impact of the Allied Air Effort on German Logistics, Second Edition, January 1947, p. 60, File: 64A The Impact of the Allied Air Effort on German Logistics (Final Report), European Survey Published Reports and Supporting Records, 1937-1945 (Entry I-10 6, NAID 560340), Records of the U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey, RG 243.

Headquarters, Eight Air Force, INTOPS Summary No. 298 and INTOPS Summary No. 299, February 22 and 23, 1945, File: 2A(5)(g), VIII AAF INTOPS Summaries, 1 Feb. 1945-31 Mar. 1945, Vol. 7, Narrative and Statistical Operational Reports of U.S. Army Air Forces in Europe, 1942-1945 (Entry I-10 25, NAID 561306), Records of the U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey, RG 243.

Statistical Section, Air Ministry War Room, War Room Monthly Summary of Bomber Command Operations, Month of January 1945, n.d., pp. 9, 11,14, 15, 20, File: 2N(2) (e) Bomber Command Operations 1 Jan 45-1 May45, Statistical Operational Reports of the Royal Air Force Bomber and Fighter Commands in Europe, 1941-1945 (Entry I-10 26, NAID 561308), Records of the U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey, RG 243.

Eight Air Force Monthly Summary of Operations, February, 1945, March 11, 1945, pp. 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 39, 43, 69, 70, 77, File: 2A(4)(l) Eight Air Force Monthly Summary of Operations, February 1945, Narrative and Statistical Operational Reports of U.S. Army Air Forces in Europe, 1942-1945 (Entry I-10 25, NAID 561306), Records of the U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey, RG 243.

Memorandum, Military Analysis Division, U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey to All Division Directors and all Division Chiefs, USSBS, Subject: Milestones of Strategic Bombing, August 3, 1945, File: 64AC Milestones of Strategic Bombing, European Survey Published Reports and Supporting Records, 1937-1945 (Entry I-10 6, NAID 560340), Records of the U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey, RG 243.

Maj. Gen. K.W.D. Strong, Assistant Chief of Staff, G-2, SHAEF, Transport Intelligence Bulletin No. 2, May 31, 1945, File: Transport Intelligence Bulletins, Compilations of Intelligence Reports 1942-1945 (Entry NM-8 13, NAID 572508), Records of the Allied Operational and Occupation Headquarters, World War II, RG 331.

Wesley Frank Craven and James Lea Gate, eds., The Army Air Forces in World War II; Volume Three, Europe: Argument to V-E Day January 1944 to May 1945 (Washington, D.C.: Office of Air Force History), pp. 639, 732-735, 761-762.


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Baby, It’s Cold Inside!

Today’s post is written by Daniel Dancis, an archivist at the National Archives in College Park, Maryland.

As most of the eastern seaboard is experiencing record setting low temperatures this week, it is timely to look back at a letter written by then-Senator Joseph R. Biden, Jr. to the Office of the Sergeant At Arms of the United States Senate.

In the letter, dated November 30, 1983, the Delaware Senator gives precise details about the uncomfortably low temperatures inside the Boggs Federal Building, where he and his staff perform their duties.   He goes on to diagnose the problem and request a solution.  A follow up letter from the General Services Administration explains the temperature settings and action taken in response to the Senator’s letter, including correcting a drafty window.





This letter struck a chord with me as I came across it while working in the temperature-controlled stacks at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) building in College Park, MD.  Controlling temperature and humidity is very important for preserving records and extending their lifetime, something that is given a lot of attention at NARA.  It can also lead to energy savings as detailed in this paper by our Preservation Staff.

While this might be of little comfort to Senate office workers from 1983, I am warmed by the thought that every effort is made to protect our nation’s records, even if it means that I wear an extra layer of clothing when I’m processing them.

This correspondence and other congressional correspondence can be found in Reading Files Pertaining to Congressional Correspondence of the Office of Congressional Affairs, 1979-1983 (Entry A1 28), RG 269: General Records of the General Services Administration (GSA), 1922-1989, 1994.

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Firefly Project and the 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion (“Smoke Jumpers”)

 Today’s post was written by Dr. Greg Bradsher and Dr. Sylvia Naylor, archivists at the National Archives in College Park. This post is also featured on our Rediscovering Black History blog.

In April 1945 the 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion received orders to move to the West Coast for a special assignment.  Members of this all African American unit hoped to finally see combat during World War II in the Pacific Theater of Operations.

The battalion had its origins in a recommendation made in December 1942 by the Advisory Committee on Negro Troop Policies, chaired by the Assistant Secretary of War, John J. McCloy. Chief of Staff General George C. Marshall approved the committee’s recommendation for a black parachute battalion.  He decided to start with a company, which resulted in the constitution of the 555th Parachute Infantry Company on February 25, 1943.  Headquarters, Army Ground Forces authorized the activation of the company as an all-black unit with black officers as well as black enlisted men on December 19, 1943. All unit members were to be volunteers from other organizations, with an enlisted cadre to be selected from personnel of the African American 92nd Infantry Division (the Buffalo Division which went on to serve with distinction in Italy in 1944 and 1945) at Fort Huachuca, Arizona. The company was officially activated on December 30, 1943 at Fort Benning, Georgia. In mid-July 1944, after several months of training, the company departed for Camp Mackall, North Carolina (south of the town of Southern Pines).  It was reorganized and redesignated on November 25, 1944 as Company A of the newly-activated 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion. This battalion, under the command of Capt. James H. Porter, consisted of ten officers and 155 enlisted men.

16 Soldiers who recently became paratroopers of the 555th at Ft Benning (NAID 535719)

16 Soldiers who recently became paratroopers of the 555th at Ft Benning (NAID 535719)

In December 1944, the organization was instructed to detail to the Parachute School, Fort Benning, Georgia, for parachutist qualification training.  Training took place during December and the early months of 1945.

While battalion members were undergoing training at Fort Benning during the winter of 1944-1945, the War Department was facing a new Japanese threat to the West Coast.  The Japanese military had begun launching incendiary-bearing balloons from Japan, which were carried eastward by high-altitude air currents.  By early December 1944, there had been several discoveries of balloons on American soil, including:

  • the recovery of a rubberized-silk balloon from the ocean near the coast of California on November 4
  • the recovery of a paper balloon from the water near Hawaii on November 14
  • the report of a mysterious bomb explosion in Wyoming on December 6
  • and the finding of a second paper balloon in Montana on December 11

Officials of the U.S. Army, U.S. Navy, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation began an investigation of the source and purpose of the free balloons, which determined that the balloons had come from Japan and carried bombs and incendiaries.  On January 29, 1945, the Assistant Chief of Staff, G-2 issued “General Report No. 1 on Free Balloons and Related Incidents,” in which it was noted that there had been found in the United States, Canada, Alaska, and Hawaii ten balloons believed to be of Japanese origin and that a number of other incidents and sightings possibly related, had been reported.

While the military authorities were trying to figure out how to deal with the balloon threat, the 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion received orders in March from higher headquarters to have some of the personnel undertake eight weeks of training for a probable combat mission.

By the spring of 1945, there was growing concern regarding the Japanese balloon threat in the American West.  The Military Intelligence Service reported 17 balloon incidents in March and another ten in April.  On April 7, the Commanding General, Army Service Forces (ASF) wrote the Assistant Chief of Staff, G-3 (Operations Division) with proposals for combating forest incendiaries caused by Japanese balloons in the United States.  The Assistant Chief of Staff, G-3 wrote the Commanding General, ASF on April 21 that the 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion would be assigned to fire-fighting duty.  Thus, after four weeks of a scheduled eight-week combat training program, the battalion was notified that it was being given “a security mission in the western portion of the United States.”  They were not informed of the nature of the mission.

On May 2 the Assistant Chief of Staff, G-3 informed the Commanding General, ASF that the request of the Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service for the use of military personnel for the purpose of combating forest fires from on or about June 1 to October 30 had been approved.  The 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion would be utilized in accordance with certain instructions, including continuing combat training when not engaged in fire-fighting.  In May the War Department designated “Firefly Project” as the short title for the military assistance to Federal and State Forest Fire Protective Agencies in the control of forest and grass fires in accordance with current Service Commands Fire Fighting Plans and the Western Defense Command-Fourth Air Force-Ninth Service Command, “Joint Air and Ground Assistance Forest Fire Fighting Plan.”

The 555th was scheduled to leave Camp Mackall for the Pendleton Army Air Field, Oregon, on May 5.  That same day around 5:20pm, ten miles northwest of Bly, Oregon, on Wooded Ridge (in the Quartz Pass area) Mrs. Elaine Mitchell, her husband, five children and two employees came across a balloon while on their way to Fishing Stream.  The bomb attached to the balloon exploded when one person unwittingly kicked or dropped it.  The explosion killed Mrs. Mitchell and the five children.  An investigation determined that the balloon was grounded approximately one month before recovery.

On May 5 the 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion departed for Pendleton.  The battalion was assigned the mission of the recovery and destruction of Japanese balloon bombs, with the added mission of the suppression of forest fires started by the bombs, as part of the “Firefly Project.”

Parachuting civilian personnel into areas to fight forest fires was a relatively new fire-suppression technique.  “Smoke jumping” had been first proposed in 1934 by a Forest Service Intermountain Regional Forester, as a means to quickly provide initial attack on forest fires. By parachuting in, self-sufficient firefighters could arrive fresh and ready for the strenuous work of fighting fires in rugged terrain. The smoke jumper program began in 1939 as an experiment in the Pacific Northwest Region, and the first fire jump was made in 1940 on Idaho’s Nez Perce National Forest.

On May 7 the Secretary of War wrote the commanding generals of all the major American Commands, the commanding officers of all appropriate posts, camps and stations within the Seventh and Ninth Service Commands, and the Provost Marshal Generals that:

Japanese balloons have been appearing over the western part of the continental United States during the last several months. It is probable that these mechanisms will drop quantities of incendiary bombs in the great forest regions and the watershed areas of Alaska and western Canada and the United States. Unless controlled, the resulting fires will cause great damage to vital natural resources and impede seriously the war effort of the nation.

The Secretary of War reported that the Forest Service was fully aware of the hazardous potentialities of the balloon-dropped incendiaries and that it had informed the War Department that the most critical season for forest, brush, and grassland fires could be expected to extend from May 15 to October 30.  Additionally, the various Federal, State and local forest fire protection agencies were normally prepared to cope with such fires, but during the coming fire season of 1945 these agencies would not be able to adequately discharge their responsibility, “particularly in the face of the increased hazard resulting from Japanese incendiaries.”  This was due to several reasons, including the loss of personnel to the war effort and below normal precipitation in the threatened areas, which resulted in an extremely flammable condition.  Thus, the Secretary of War laid out the policies and procedures for the U.S. Army to work with the Forest Service during the forthcoming fire seasons.

The 555th arrived at the Pendleton Army Air Field on May 12 and was assigned to Headquarters Ninth Service Command, Fort Douglas, Utah.  From May 12 to May 22, the battalion was engaged in a minimum of military training, as the battalion’s freight arrived at Pendleton some two weeks later.  In anticipation of carrying out its mission assignment, the battalion placed renewed emphasis on physical conditioning, leadership, first aid, and map reading.

The battalion was located on an army air base, and there was a severe lack of training facilities for any type of ground-troop training, such as firing ranges, training areas, and parade grounds.  During this period, the 555th coordinated with other “Firefly Project” agencies, including the U.S. Forest Service, Ninth Service Command, and Fourth Air Force, in an effort to establish procedures regarding the use of the battalion in fighting fires.

From May 22 to June 6, personnel were introduced by the Forest Service to the scope of the technique of foreign fire suppression and the use of Forest Service maps.  From June 8 to June 15, bomb disposal personnel from the Ninth Service Command conducted a “bomb disposal school.”  From June 18 onwards the battalion took part in jumps, some of which were in heavy timber.  Emphasis was put on training of six officers and ninety-four enlisted men to be placed on detached service at Chico Army Air Field in California.  This was accomplished and the detachment departed Pendleton via military aircraft, and arrived at Chico on July 7.  The Chico Detachment (as the detachment was designated) was assigned the mission of covering California, western portions of Nevada, Arizona, and the southern portion of Oregon.

“Smoke Jump” training for the remainder of the battalion continued through July 14, by which time, the majority of the battalion was qualified as “Smoke Jumpers.”  This training continued, with improvements made in “Smoke Jumping techniques.”  When eighty percent of the personnel had been thoroughly trained, the members of the 555th working out of Pendleton battalion were assigned the mission of covering Montana, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington.

The first fire call for the Pendleton group came on June 21, 1945.  Fifty men were sent to Deschutes National Forest and they remained there until June 25.  Fifty men were sent to Wenatchee National Forest on July 3 and another fifty to Chelan National Forest on July 8. On July 13, 100 men were sent to Wenatchee National Forest and on July 20 another fifty-five men were sent to Meadow Lake National Forest.  Two days later fifty-four men were sent to Colville National Forest and on July 28, 104 men were sent to Chelan National Forest.  The battalion would respond during August and September to twelve more calls for help, including Bitter Root, Cabinet, Salmon, Fayette, Siskiyou, Whitman, Mt. Baker, Chelan, and Wallowa National Forests.


General Order No. 9, 7/23/1945


General Order No. 9, 7/23/1945

Reports from two August operations should give the reader a sense of the battalion’s activities.  At 5pm on August 21 the battalion received a call for help with a fire at Mt. Baker National Forest.  The next morning, thirty-four enlisted men and two officers, under the command of 2nd Lt. Walter Morris, dropped into a meadow, 1,000 yards from the fire.  Three men were injured.  After evacuating the injured men, one officer and twenty-five men departed for the fire line at noon on August 24, and returned to camp at 5:30pm.  Rations arrived by pack train from the meadows.  Rain that night and the next day was enough to cool the fire down.  A fire line was completed on August 25 and the next day at 6pm they were relieved from their assignment.  At 6:30am on August 27 the group marched out of camp.  By 4pm they had marched twenty-three miles to the end of the trail, where they got on a bus that took them to Paine Field, Everett, Washington, arriving there just before 8pm.  They were assigned quarters and given rations at Paine Field.  They departed via a C-47 from Paine Field the next morning at 9am and arrived back at the Pendleton Army Air Field at 11am.

While the above operation was underway, another began.  At 9pm on August 22, the battalion was alerted about a fire at Chelan National Forest (which then also included the Okanogan National Forest).  At 3pm the next day one officer (2nd Lt. William F. Buford) and twenty-one enlisted men dropped in a drop zone some eight-hours march from the fire.  Several of the men were injured in the drop.  At 6am on the following morning the group marched eight hours up “impossible mountainous terrain” before arriving at a camp site.  They left behind two men injured on the jump and one man suffering from acute indigestion, who were picked up two days later by a pack train.

Upon arrival, the men discovered that there was no food or bed rolls waiting for them.  This food and equipment was supposed to have been dropped the morning of August 24.  The men were deployed in two groups and immediately set out to curb the fire.  Breakfast and supper were served in the fire camp, once food was brought up by pack train.  For two nights the men were forced to sleep in the driving rain without cover.  Two men were injured the evening of their arrival at the fire camp, and were sent out the following morning by pack train.  The majority of the men were fighting the fire in Canada in an effort to prevent the fire from coming into U.S. territory. The fire was actually under control two days prior to their departure. However, the men were sent out every day in mopping up operations and on August 28 three men were selected to go deep into Canada along some ridges to make a ground reconnaissance of the fire. “This was an extremely hazardous and fatiguing operation.”  At 8:15 on August 29, the men proceeded 15 miles on foot, accompanied by three horses, to Pasayten airport.  They arrived back at Pendleton Army Air Field at 6pm that day.

The Chico Detachment answered its first fire call at Klamath National Forest on July 14 with fifty-four enlisted men and two officers.  This detachment covered seventeen fire calls from July 14 to October 10 in the Klamath (July, August), Trinity (August, September, October), Modoc (August, October), and Mendocino (August, September) National Forests.  Its largest operation was at Trinity National Forest from October 6 to 10, when 75 men participated.

In all the battalion completed 36 missions involving 1,255 jumps. An accident resulted in the death of one of the men, a medic, who died on August 9, while attempting a let-down from a tree at Siskiyou National Forest near Roseburg, Oregon.  More than thirty suffered injuries.

Click here to view a video of the 555th Training Exercises. National Archives Identifier 14605, RG 111.

On September 2, 1945, the Western Defense Command notified the War Department that it was curtailing defensive operations against the Japanese balloons.  Two weeks later, the War Department informed the Western Defense Command that activities against Japanese free balloons in areas of Seventh, Eight, and Ninth Service Commands would be limited.  Future actions would involve the recovery of all balloons or parts thereof which were discovered and the disposal by qualified bomb disposal personnel of Japanese bombs and other explosive elements which had been dropped from, or landed with, the balloons.

The Forest Service greatly appreciated the help of the military in fighting fires during the summer of 1945.  In his fiscal year 1946 annual report, the Chief of Forest Service noted that his agency had been severely handicapped by the fact that national forest-fire organizations were seriously weakened by the shortage of trained men and fire-fighting labor and by deterioration of equipment kept in operation during the war years beyond its normal life.  He added that

Generous assistance from military forces helped to offset some of these difficulties. The ‘firefly’ project, in which the Army cooperated with Forest Service and State protection forces by assignment of parachute troops, was a valuable aid.  The project was set up on the west coast to meet the threat of Japanese incendiary balloons.  The Japanese abandoned their balloon barrage before the season of greatest fire danger, but the ‘firefly’ project proved invaluable in strengthening the fire-fighting forces of the west coast when fire conditions became critical.  The project was disbanded late in the fall of 1945.

In his fiscal year 1945 report, he stated that the Japanese incendiary bombs had “caused no fires of consequence.”  In a press release prepared early in 1946, the Army’s Bureau of Public Relations noted that of some 9,000 balloons had been released by the Japanese, the last being on April 20, 1945.  A total of 191 paper balloons and three rubberized-silk balloons, all of Japanese origin, were found in the United States, Canada, Alaska, Mexico, and the Pacific Ocean area during the period from November 1944 to February 1946.  In addition, there were 89 recoveries of small fragments of paper or other balloon parts, too incomplete to be classed as a balloon.  The press release stated that “negligible damage was caused by the incendiaries’ the only fires resulting being one or two small grass fires,” and stressed the following:

The Japanese expected that information on damage caused by the balloons would be available from normal press channels and radio broadcasts. However, after the first mention of the original balloons found, the press and radio of the United States and Canada maintained a very complete voluntary censorship at the request of the Army and navy through the Office of Censorship, and thus denied the Japanese information as to the numbers of balloons arriving and the landing points.

The press blackout regarding the balloons also had the effect of diminishing the news about the 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion’s mission and activities.  Nevertheless, the battalion was proud of its accomplishments on the west coast.  “We didn’t win any wars, but we did contribute,” Former 1st Sergeant Walter Morris recalled in 2000. “What we proved was that the color of a man had nothing to do with his ability.”

In October 1945, the battalion returned to Camp Mackall, and was assigned to the 27th Headquarters and Headquarters Special Troops, First U. S. Army, Fort Bragg, North Carolina.  In December the battalion moved to Fort Bragg and was assigned to the 13th Airborne Division.  The division was inactivated on February 26, 1946.  The combat personnel, including the 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion, were transferred to the command of the elite 82nd Airborne Division, under Maj. Gen. James M. Gavin, who one former member of the battalion described as “perhaps the most ‘color-blind’ Army officer in the entire service.”

On the morning of December 15, 1947 the battalion was ordered to march to an area designated for the 82nd Airborne Division. There, according to Charles Stevens, a former member of the battalion, they were to participate in one of the most significant milestones in military history. In battalion formation they were informed that they were being inactivated and that most of its personnel would be assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division’s 3rd Battalion, 505th Airborne Infantry Regiment.  “Everybody was crying,” Stevens said. “I think we were crying for two different reasons. We were glad that segregation was leaving the Army and we were sad we were losing our Triple Nickle colors” [“Triple Nickles” was the nickname given the battalion].  It was not until seven months later that President Harry Truman signed Executive Order 9981 (NAID 300009), establishing equality of treatment and opportunity in the Armed Services for people of all races, religions, or national origins.

The efforts of the 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion have been recognized by various means over the past two decades.  In 1994, several surviving members of the battalion were honored as guests on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. during a celebration for Smokey Bear’s 50th birthday.  In June 2000, at Redding, California, surviving members took part in the 60th anniversary commemoration of the establishment of the Smoke Jumpers.  In 2005, when General David Petreaus became commander of the Combined Arms Center and Fort Leavenworth, he proposed a tribute to the battalion.  The result was a monument dedicated to the battalion, located by the Buffalo Soldier Monument.  In the dedication ceremony on September 7, 2006, General Petreaus said “These great paratroopers walked point for their race and for our country, facing down discrimination by standing in the door as one and jumping into our nation’s history.”  Along the sculpture’s base is that statement, along with the 17 original members’ names.  In February 2013, the Forest Service honored the 555th by naming a conference room after the Triple Nickles in its newly renovated Yates Building, the agency’s national headquarters office in Washington, D.C.

The 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion personnel, like most African American soldiers during World War II, faced various forms of prejudice and discrimination.  The unit personnel overcame these hurdles and proved themselves to be excellent paratroopers and soldiers.  This story is covered on numerous websites, including the Center of Military History; the official website of the 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion; and “How Black Smokejumpers Helped Save the American West,” a National Public Radio blog published January 22, 2015.  An article by Don Thompson in The Seattle Times on June 25, 2000 entitled “First black paratroopers fought racism, fires” and the article “Jumping into History: The Army’s First African American Paratroopers,” in the February 3, 2014, issue of Soldiers: The Official U.S. Army Magazine.


File: Japanese Free Balloons (NAID 1410829), Subject Correspondence File 1942-1945, G-2, Section, General Staff, Records of Army Ground Forces, Record Group 337

File: INBN-555-03, Narrative, Unit Data-555th Parachute Infantry Battalion, 25 November 1944-November 1947, World War II Operations Reports, 1941-1948 (Entry 427, NAID 305275), Records of the Adjutant General’s Office, 1917-, Record Group 407

File: INBN-555-(1), General Orders-555th Parachute Infantry Battalion, 1944-1947, World War II Operations Reports, 1941-1948 (Entry 427, NAID 305275), Records of the Adjutant General’s Office, 1917-, Record Group 407.

Various files filed under the decimal AG 452.4 in the Classified Decimal File 1943-1945, Records of the Adjutant General’s Office, 1917-, Record Group 407.

“A Report on Japanese Free Balloons,” Joint Army-Navy Release, For Release on February 9, 1946, Press Branch, Bureau of Public Relations, War Department, File: 000.7 Press Releases, Newspaper Clippings, and Releases, Vol. II, Central Correspondence, 1942-1946, Wartime Civil Control Administration and Civil Affairs Division, Western Defense Command and Fourth Army, Records of U.S. Army Defense Commands (World War II), Record Group 499.

Report of the Chief of the Forest Service 1945 (Washington, D.C.: United States Department of Agriculture, 1945)

Report of the Chief of the Forest Service 1946 (Washington, D.C.: United States Department of Agriculture, 1946)

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