A View of the Election of 1960 From Abroad

Today’s post is written by David Langbart, an Archivist in the Textual Records Division at the National Archives at College Park.

While the Foreign Service reporting found in Department of State files is mostly about the countries in which the U.S. has overseas representation or about U.S. relations with those countries, the files include a modicum of documentation reporting on foreign official and unofficial commentary about events in the U.S.  One topic that usually attracts attention is a U.S. presidential election.

The election of 1960 was one in which foreign policy and national security issues played a major part, most notably the question of the (non-existent) missile gap between the U.S. and the USSR.  Other foreign policy issues included the off-shore islands between mainland China and Formosa/Taiwan and Cuba.

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Elbridge Gerry and the Constitution, 1787-1788

Today’s post is written by Dr. Greg Bradsher, Senior Archivist at the National Archives at College Park.

It had been a long, hot summer for Elbridge Gerry, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, and his colleagues in 1787 at Philadelphia’s Independence Hall. They had come to Philadelphia in May to improve upon the Articles of Confederation, which Gerry had signed in 1778, and ended up drafting a Constitution. Gerry had spoken often at the Convention, in fact, the sixth most times. Sometimes his colleagues agreed with him, sometimes not. However, he did not give up in expressing his views regarding government, hoping his colleagues would agree. Finally, during the second week of September he called for reconsideration of certain provisions, including measures to protect individual rights and to curtail the power of the central government. On September 12, believing there was nothing else he could do to stop the proposed constitution from being adopted by the Convention, he moved that a national bill of rights be incorporated into it. He was seconded by George Mason. When his motion was rejected, Gerry unsuccessfully offered numerous specific provisions to guarantee individual liberties.


Elbridge Gerry (center) can be seen in the mural of the members of the Constitutional Convention hanging in the Rotunda of the National Archives Building in Washington, D.C.

On September 15, after the members had gone over the final draft, Edmund Randolph, Mason, and Gerry spoke in opposition to the proposed constitution. Gerry, after detailing his minor objections, told the Convention that he could live with them if individual rights had not been rendered insecure by the power of the government to make laws it may call necessary and proper, to raise armies and money without limit, and to establish tribunals without juries. He then joined Mason and Randolph in calling for a second constitutional convention where measures could be adopted to adequately protect individual rights. Continue reading

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Stories of American Escapees from Prisoner of War Camp 59, Servigliano, Part II

Today’s post is written by Dr. Greg Bradsher, Senior Archivist at the National Archives at College Park.

While many American escapees returned to Allied lines in 1943, once having escaped from Camp 59, as was seen in Part I, many were not able to return until 1944. These are some of their stories.

PFC Richard A. Wombacher, 168th Infantry Regiment, 34th Infantry Division, had been captured on December 1, 1942, when taking part in a landing near Bizerte behind the German lines in an attempt to cut the main road. Before reaching the road they were attacked and surrounded by the enemy and forced to surrender after a few hours fighting.  On September 14, Wombacher left Camp 59 in company with five other American soldiers. The party walked south until they reached Falarone where they stayed with Italian families until November 27. During this time truckloads of German SS troops combed the countryside for escaped POWs, but Wombacher and his companions managed to evade them.  On November 27 the party set out again and walked for four days until they reached San Vittoria and here they stayed for a month due to bad weather and fatigue.  At the end of this time, in spite of continued bad weather, Womacher, accompanied by T/4 John Ford, managed his way to Corvara. Here they were snowbound for 21 days in nine feet of snow.  They stayed in a hay barn on the outskirts of the village and were given food by the townspeople. On January 22, Wombacher and Ford left Corvara, walking eight or nine days to Gagliano going cross-country and avoiding villages. They spent from February 3 to March 23 in caves near this town and received food from the villagers. One day Ford and a South African who had joined them, went to Sulmona and contacted an escape organization.  They were provided with clothes, shoes, maps and a compass and returned to Gagliano. After resting for a day and a half they and Womabcher returned to Sulmona and spent two nights there at the headquarters of the organization. Another group of escapees arrived meanwhile and on March 23 Wombacher, Ford and a party of 29 others left with a guide.  They walked part of the evening and all that night, taking a route over Monte Maiella. The going was extremely difficult through deep snow and, being too weak to continue, Wombacher had to drop out.  He and an American Air Force officer, 2nd Lt. Ellis A. Ruppelt (a pilot of a B-25 that had been shot down on August 27, 1943, and who had escaped by parachute from his burning aircraft over Benevento, Italy), made their way to Campo di Giove and remained there four days and nights in an abandoned church. The weather then improved and they again attempted to cross the Maiella Mountains. They walked all night and at dawn found themselves overlooking Palena which was occupied by the Germans.  They hid in a cave all day and at 4pm on March 30 started down the road but almost immediately encountered a patrol of three Germans. They skirted back to the side of the mountain and walked four miles through an abandoned aqueduct arriving at dusk at a point above the village of Torricella Peligna. After dark they followed a road into Lama dei Peligni and encountered a British outpost.[1]

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Stories of American Escapees from Prisoner of War Camp 59, Servigliano, Italy – Part I

Today’s post is written by Dr. Greg Bradsher, Senior Archivist at the National Archives at College Park.

At the time of the Italian Armistice on September 8, 1943, there were almost 80,000 Allied prisoners of war in Italian camps.  Among these prisoners of war were 1,310 Americans; many were soldiers captured in North Africa and airmen shot down over Italy.[1]

Most of the American prisoners of war were confined at Camp 59, at Servigliano. This camp, 15 miles north of Ascoli, in the foothills of the Apennines, held perhaps as many as 3,000 prisoners, mostly Allied enlisted personnel. Although the camp was well-guarded and thorough searches frequent, numerous tunneling projects were continually in progress. There were quite a few escapes, but most of the prisoners were recaptured. [2]

When the Allied prisoners of war learned of the Armistice, most were in a quandary as to what action to take.  Under orders received earlier in the summer, most remained in their camps under the mistaken impression that Allied forces would soon liberate them. Italian camp authorities also faced their own quandaries.  Without clear orders as to what to do, many simply opened the gates to allow the prisoners to leave their camps. During the first days after the Armistice, perhaps as many as 50,000 prisoners remained in their camps and quickly became prisoners of the Germans. Another 30,000 left their camps.  Some 16,000 were recaptured and 4,000 found safety in Switzerland.  The remaining 10,000 found safety in hiding with the help of Italians, and many found their way back to Allied lines.

The Camp 59 Commandant, apparently a hard-core Fascist, at the Armistice placed his guards around the walls of the Camp, ostensibly to “protect” the prisoners from the Germans but, in reality to detain them until the arrival of the Germans.[3]  On September 14, it was rumored in the camp that the Germans were close by and at 10pm the Senior British Officer (SBO) gave the order to evacuate the camp. As the prisoners started towards the gate, the guards opened fire and the SBO went to the Commandant and asked (or perhaps threatened) that the guards be ordered to cease fire. The order was given over the loudspeaker system and the gates were opened. [4]

With the gates opened, the prisoners took off to get as far away as possible before the Germans arrived in the area.  What follows are stories of some of the American soldiers and airmen who escaped from Camp 59 on September 14.  All of them made it to the Allied lines, some in 1943 and others in 1944.  During the process, some were recaptured, but escaped again to reach the Allied lines.  As will be noticed, all of them received help from Italians.  Without this help many of the escapees would have been recaptured and most likely ended up in a German prisoner of war camp for the duration of the war.

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Theodore Roosevelt Schools the Department of State, 1908

Today’s post is written by David Langbart, an Archivist in the Textual Records Division at the National Archives at College Park.

In December 1908, President Theodore Roosevelt sent the Department of State a letter in which he admonished that agency for preparing a set of remarks for his use in greeting a foreign visitor that were “fatuous and absurd.”

In 1908, China sent Tang Shao-yi to the United States as a Special Envoy. His mission was to carry the thanks of the Chinese Emperor for the return of a portion of the Boxer indemnity, levied on China as payment for damages during the Boxer Rebellion, and to inquire into various American administrative methods, particularly to study the currency question. Tang departed from China in late September and was expected to arrive in Washington in December, where he planned to stay for several months. Between the dates of departure and arrival in Washington, the Emperor and the Empress Dowager of China died.

Diplomatic protocol demanded that the Special Envoy present his credentials to the President during a ceremony at which both men would make appropriate comments. At the time, the Department of State handled protocol matters, including the preparation of such comments, on behalf of the White House. President Roosevelt was not happy with the remarks drafted for him by the Department of State and prepared his own.[1] Subsequent to the ceremonial visit, the President sent the Department the following letter:

President Theodore Roosevelt to the Department of State, December 2, 1908, file 2413/201-202, 1906-1910 Numerical File, Record Group 59: General Records of the Department of State, U.S. National Archives.  Available on National Archives Microfilm Publication M862 roll 242 and online (images 629-632).

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T.V. Pearson and the Parachute Scheme

Today’s post is written by Richard Elsom, an Archives Technician at the National Archives at Denver.

In the West, wildland fire is a regular threat to populated spaces as well as the rugged backcountry found in forests and wilderness areas. In 1939, in an effort to improve response time on fires in remote areas, the U.S. Forest Service began to experiment with dropping firefighters from aircraft. These early parachute tests conducted in Washington State were so successful that they spawned a new type of wildland firefighter that still serves today, the smokejumper.

1939 Jumper

From Parachute Jumping in Forest Fire Control: Report of Field Experiments, Forest Service Region 6, Fall 1939

However, 1939 was not the first time the Forest Service tested the idea of dropping firefighters by parachute. The History of Smokejumping, produced by Region 1 of the Forest Service in 1976, states that T.V. Pearson “proposed and initiated” the first parachute tests in 1934 in the Intermountain Region (also known as Region 4), but the project stalled due to a belief it was too risky.[1]

At the National Archives at Denver, we have documents relating to this first test in Record Group 95: Records of the Forest Service, within the series Historical Files, 1901-1962 (NAID 23944420). While Pearson may have proposed parachute tests in 1934, there is no mention of it among the files of that year. However, there is evidence of Pearson’s parachute experiments beginning in 1935. Continue reading

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“Let’s Make a Movie:” The Allied Screening Commission (Italy) and the documentary Onore al Merito (To Whom Honor is Due), 1946

Today’s post is written by Dr. Greg Bradsher, Senior Archivist at the National Archives at College Park.

During World War II, over 100,000 Italians helped at least 10,000 Allied escapees and evaders, by providing material and financial assistance to them in their efforts in avoiding being seized by the Germans and Fascists, as well as their efforts to reach the Allied lines.  In late April 1944, in Bern, Switzerland, Ignazio Silone (pseudonym of Secondino Tranquilli), an Italian author and Socialist Party leader, talked to Allen Dulles, head of the Office of Strategic Services in Switzerland, about an idea for a movie about the Italian helpers.  Dulles cabled his bosses in London and Washington:

The following is for Washington: 475 [Silone] is wiring Harper Bros. in New York that he is readying a story as the foundation for a movie depicting the brotherhood existing between Americans and Italians as shown by the experiences of escaped Britishers and Americans who were both helped and hidden by northern Italian peasants. Because of the psychological value of such a movie as well as my wish to help 475, would appreciate it if Harpers could be discreetly contacted, on basis of 475’s direct wire, in an effort to discover, if the material can be delivered to them, whether they would be interested. [1]

The movie was never made.  But the idea for such a movie did not end.  Lt. Col. Hugo Graham De Burgh, O.B.E., the commanding officer of the Allied Screening Commission (Italy) and a former escapee himself, in early 1946, was interested in discussions taking place in Rome about the possibility of a movie being made about the Italian helpers, those they helped, and the work of the Commission.  In fact, he may have begun such discussions. He probably discussed the matter with Renzo Lucidi, an Italian film maker, who, with his wife Adrienne, was amongst the foremost helpers in Rome during the war, and after the liberation of Rome, worked for a year for the Allied Screening Commission (Italy).  In 1946, Lucidi was, as a film editor, working with producer John Stafford, on the British-Italian thriller film Teheran. Continue reading

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John Foster Dulles Enters Duty as Secretary of State

Today’s post is written by David Langbart, an Archivist in the Textual Records Division at the National Archives at College Park.

John Foster Dulles became Secretary of State on January 21, 1953.  By the time he attained that position, Dulles had amassed considerable foreign policy experience both in and out of government.  The grandson of Secretary of State John W. Foster and the nephew by marriage of Secretary of State Robert Lansing, Dulles graduated from Princeton University in 1908.  His governmental work included time on the staff of the American Commission to Negotiate Peace at the end of World War I, serving on the U.S. delegation to the United Nations in the late 1940s, and leading the negotiation of the peace treaty with Japan at the end of World War II (1950-52).  Out of government, he worked at the law firm of Sullivan & Cromwell, where he handled many foreign issues, and in 1944 and 1948 he was the chief foreign policy adviser to Thomas E. Dewey, the Republican candidate for president.

Upon entering into office as Secretary of State, Dulles issued the following memorandum to the Department of State and the Foreign Service.

Dulles Statement

Memo from John Foster Dulles to the Department of State and the Foreign Service, Jan 22, 1953.

Source: John Foster Dulles Memorandum to the Department of State and the Foreign Service, January 22, 1953, file US: Government, 1947-1955 (NAID 2647582), Central Subject Files, U.S. Mission to the United Nations, RG 84: Records of Foreign Service Posts, U.S. National Archives.   Also released to the public as Department of State Press Release No. 40, January 22, 1953

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The Council of National Defense: Now a Little Known or Appreciated World War I Federal Agency

Today’s post is written by Dr. Greg Bradsher, Senior Archivist at the National Archives at College Park.

Among the wonderful sources at the National Archives for the study of World War I are the records of the Council of National Defense (Record Group 62). This Council touched the lives of every American, whether they realized it or not. The records, contained within one thousand boxes, provide a wealth of information about gearing up for war and about the home front during the war, particularly efforts for the mobilization of industries, resources, and the people of the United States for the effective conduct of the war.

The Council of National Defense was established by section 2 of the Army Appropriation Act of August 29, 1916 (39 Stat. 649), to coordinate industries and resources for the national security and welfare. The Council was to investigate and make recommendations regarding the availability, production, and increase of war supplies and transportation. It was the first of the large emergency Government agencies of World War I and became, in turn, the parent organization of most of the other special war agencies. The Council and an Advisory Commission, to be nominated later, were headed by a Chairman, and the administrative duties were exercised by a Director and a secretary.

The Council consisted of six Cabinet members: the Secretaries of Agriculture— David F. Houston, 1916-20, and Edwin T. Meredith, 1920-21; Commerce— William C. Redfield, 1916-19, and Joshua W. Alexander, 1919-21; the Interior— Franklin K. Lane, 1916-20, and John Barton Payne, 1920-21; Labor— William B. Wilson, 1916-21; the Navy— Josephus Daniels, 1916-21; and War— Newton Baker, 1916-21.  Secretary of War Baker was Chairman of the Council.

The Council had its first meeting on December 6, 1916.[1] The Council nominated to the President for appointment to an Advisory Commission seven persons, “each of whom shall have special knowledge of some industry, public utility, or the development of some natural resource, or be otherwise specifically qualified.” The Advisory Commission was to advise and assist the Council in the execution of its functions and to create relations that would render possible the immediate concentration and utilization of the resources of the Nation. The seven members of the Advisory Commission, appointed by the President on October 11, 1916, were Bernard Baruch, financier; Howard E. Coffin, vice president of the Hudson Motor Co.; Hollis Godfrey, president of the Drexel Institute; Samuel Gompers, president of the American Federation of Labor; Franklin H. Martin, secretary-general of the American College of Surgeons; Julius Rosenwald, president of Sears, Roebuck & Co.; and Daniel Willard, president of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad. The Advisory Commission had its first meeting on December 6, 1916, and Godfrey served as Chairman of the Advisory Commission until March 3, 1917, when he was replaced by Willard.

Walter S. Gifford, chief statistician of the American Telephone & Telegraph Co., served as temporary Director from December 7, 1916, to March 3, 1917, becoming permanent Director on the latter date. Gifford was succeeded in October 1918 by Grosvenor B. Clarkson, who was followed by Herbert N. Shenton in March 1920 and by Emmons K. Ellsworth who served from November 1920 until June 1921. Baruch served as secretary pro tempore of the Council and the Advisory Commission for the first two meetings on December 6 and 7, 1916, until he was succeeded by D. Dana Bartlett on December 16, 1916, who served as temporary secretary until Clarkson became permanent secretary on March 3, 1917. Upon Clarkson’s appointment as Director, in October 1918, the position of secretary was abolished and the Director assumed its duties. Gifford, Clarkson, and Advisory Commission member Coffin had served together in 1916 as secretary, assistant to the Chairman, and Chairman, respectively, of the U.S. Naval Consulting Board’s Committee on Production, Organization, Manufacturing, and Standardization. This body, which was better known as the Committee on Initial Preparedness, not only served as a model for the Council of National Defense but, on the Committee’s termination during the winter of 1916-17, provided many of its personnel to committees created by the Council and Advisory Commission.


Council of National Defense and Advisory Commission. Seated left to right, Secy. David F. Houston, (Agriculture) Secy. Josephus Daniels (Navy) Secy. Newton d. Baker, (War) Secy. Franklin K. Lane (Interior) Secy. Wm. B. Wilson (Labor), Standing: Grosvenor B. Clarkson, Secy, Julius Rosenwald, Bernard N. Baruch, Daniel Willard, Dr. F.H. Martin, Dr. Hollis Godfrey, Howard E. Coffin and W. S. Gifford, Director. (NAID 26432759)

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Department of State Visa Records in the National Archives

Today’s post is written by David Langbart, an Archivist in the Textual Records Division at the National Archives at College Park.

Among the more popular genealogical-type records among the files of the Department of State are those relating to visas. Except for a brief time during the American Civil War (1861-1865), alien visitors did not require visaed passports in order to enter the United States. The practice of requiring all aliens to obtain visas from U.S. officials abroad before departure for the United States began in 1917 as a war measure during World War I. That procedure was continued under an act of May 22, 1918 (40 Stat. 559), amended in 1921 (41 Stat. 1217). U.S. consuls were directed to refuse visas to aliens whose entrance might threaten the public safety and were required to warn applicants for visas who were liable to be legally excluded from the United States upon their arrival at ports of entry. Under the Immigration Act of 1924, which continued the quota system for immigrants to the United States established in 1921, consuls were responsible for denying visas to applicants inadmissible under that system.

Visa activities in the Department of State were at first handled by the Visa Office, established as part of the Division of Passport Control by a departmental order in August 1918. In November 1919, a subsequent departmental order made the Visa Office a separate unit; 11 years later, under another order, the Visa Office became the Visa Division. In 1952, the Immigration and Nationality Act, established in the Department of State the Bureau of Security and Consular Affairs and raised the Visa Division to the status of an Office within that Bureau.

Records of headquarters-level visa operations are found in RG 59: General Records of the Department of State. Certain file categories in the Department’s central files were assigned for use by the visa organization but the records were kept separate from the main series of the Department’s central files. Recordkeeping for files relating to visa matters now in the National Archives falls into three main periods of time: Continue reading

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