I was asked to write about some of the more interesting events in my life, and as I reviewed my experiences, I remembered a major event that happened when I was 19 years old.
During my second year at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, I was secretary for a patriotic organization known as Students for America. Bob Munger was the president and a good friend. Some of the movie colony became aware of the group and helped it financially, allowing us to open chapters on other campuses. At this time, there was a nationally known newspaper and radio columnist, Walter Winchell, who gave us publicity and we were suddenly giving press interviews ourselves.
One day Bob and I sat in our office and said, “We need to have a nationally known figure be our organization’s national director.” We tossed around a few names and at one point I said, “How about Gen. Douglas MacArthur?” We both agreed this was the guy to represent us nationally.
We wrote a letter to the general and two weeks later we received a letter from Gen. Courtney Whitney, MacArthur’s aide-de-camp from the Second World War to the present. The letter stated that MacArthur would be proud to be our national director and that he would welcome a visit in the near future.
The Easter holiday was only a few days away, so we asked the general if we could meet him in New York during that time. A return response said fine and we were to meet MacArthur at his residence in the Waldorf Towers at 9:15 a.m. on the Saturday of the Easter holiday weekend.
Excited, we flew to New York from Los Angeles on TWA and checked into the Waldorf Astoria Hotel on Friday. The next morning at 9 a.m., we went to Whitney’s apartment in the Towers where we introduced ourselves over a cup of coffee. At 9:15 a.m. we took an elevator to an upper floor of the Towers and walked a short distance to MacArthur’s apartment. Whitney knocked on the door and MacArthur opened it and welcomed us in.
I was very nervous, as was Bob; in fact, I was probably shaking. This was the most important person I had met to date. Only six months or so prior, President Truman had fired MacArthur from his duties in the Korean conflict, which brought him home to his apartment in New York and with that, he formally retired from the U.S. Army.
We were escorted to the very large living room and then Whitney excused himself, leaving us alone with MacArthur. We had remembered him in photos with the corn cob pipe and the hat he always wore. Now, I saw an old man who seemed gentle and unimposing sitting across from me. I was still scared!
The general asked a few questions about our organization and our progress in opening new chapters on other campuses across the nation. He stated that he was proud to be our national director and we continued with small talk which soon moved to college football. USC was doing well that season and he was particularly interested in our school’s progress. The fact was, neither Bob nor I knew much about USC football or college football in general. So, we both acted most interested in the subject and faked it as best we could. We were scheduled to have only 15 minutes with the general, but our visit lasted an hour and 45 minutes.
Walter Winchell had scheduled us for some other meetings in Manhattan that day, so we thanked the general and departed.
As I think about it now, it still excites me that I had a few private minutes with one of the greatest generals of the 20th century. A person who was responsible for many decisions that helped us win the war. Remember his line “I shall return” to the Philippine people? He ran Japan after the surrender and then moved on to the Korean conflict.
That same evening, Winchell had arranged for a private dinner in the home of a Mrs. Crane who had inherited the Crane Plumbing fortune. At 7 p.m. we arrived at her brownstone home in suit and tie. The butler escorted us to the living room where Mr. Winchell stood with a lady friend and on the other side of the room was ... Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, now president-elect with his wife Mamie! I nearly fell over in shock!
This couldn’t be happening to a 19-year-old!
For a few minutes we enjoyed conversation, then Mrs. Crane asked us all into her kitchen. There were two cooks working away, but Mrs. Crane wanted to add a few ingredients to some dish while we stood around. Then, it was back to the living room for another drink and soon we heard “dinner is served!”
We proceeded to the dining room and began dinner. I remember the conversation was pleasant, but little else. I was still in shock!
Early the next morning we checked out of the Waldorf and took a taxi to the airport for our return flight home to Los Angeles. During the flight neither Bob nor I could believe what had occurred. I almost can’t today. It is fun to remember.