« iepriekšējāTurpināt »
met the Army people who ran the canal, and Gene had a chance to operate a lock as a ship was passing through. Then we flew on to Caracas, Venezuela, where we stayed with the ambassador. This was the first time we were made aware of terrorism firsthand. When we went to a local club for some tennis, we were escorted by a station wagon in front of us and another just behind, both carrying heavily armed bodyguards. Guns could be seen sticking out of the two vehicles in all directions. While we played, there were men on all sides of the court holding drawn guns. Our ambassador told us that he always carried cyanide pills, in the event he was taken hostage.
From there we flew to Rio de Janeiro, Brasília, and Buenos Aires, where a general strike was in progress. We could not get a car through to our embassy, so Ambassador John Lodge (brother of Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr.) came over to our hotel to chat with us. The president of the country kindly loaned us his plane so that we could fly to Cordova, location of the training facility for Argentinean pilots. The next day the Lodges gave us a very elegant dinner party. Ambassador Lodge, who was so handsome he could have been a movie actor, had a beautiful voice and loved to sing at parties. After he sang for us, he unexpectedly called on Gene. She stood up in front of that group of seventy-five jeweled strangers, with her foot in a cast and the musicians poised. Then, God bless her, no words came out! (She later admitted to stage fright.) My military assistant, Colonel Cook, who also had a very nice voice, immediately jumped up and sang "Hello, Dolly!" with her, saving the day. From Buenos Aires we traveled to Lima, Peru, where the Peruvian government flew us to join a National Geographic trip to Cuzco and Machu Picchu.
Another time we went together to Mexico City. Gene and I knew the ambassador, Bob McBride, a personal friend of the president of Mexico. The president finally said he would see me, but only as a friend of the ambassador, not in my capacity as the secretary of the Air Force. The McBrides took us over to call on him. As it was customary to exchange gifts on such occasions, Gene had brought along a hooked rug and a quilted pillow from a store in Georgetown, Massachusettscrafts she especially enjoyed giving on our various foreign trips. She had written a description and history of them and, before a given trip, had it translated into the languages of the countries we would be
visiting. When the president and his wife opened their package, things changed. All of a sudden they were very open and friendly, offering to show us the presidential mansion and, a Mexican custom, the family shrine in their basement honoring their dead.
The POWs Come Home
One of the biggest heartaches during my term as secretary of the Air Force was knowing that around 700 American flyers were incarcerated in Hanoi and were being treated badly. Yet the POW (prisoner of war) crisis also resulted in one of my most satisfying Air Force experiences, one I wouldn't have fully enjoyed if I had resigned when Elliot Richardson and I first discussed the matter.
Our family took a ski vacation to Vail in 1970. There were nine of us in the party, which meant there was always an odd person out when we paired up for the two-passenger chairlifts. Once when I was the odd person, I paired up by accident with a handsome woman named Joan Pollard. She asked me what I did. I said I worked in Washington.
"As what?" "Secretary."
"Secretary of what?"
"Of the Air Force."
By the time we had reached the top, she had told me that her husband, Ben, was an Air Force navigator, that he had been captured by the North Vietnamese six years before, and that she was head of the Colorado POW-MIA (missing in action) families. Joan Pollard was a very interesting person, and getting to know a POW wife brought the tragedy even closer to home. We corresponded, and when she came to Washington on POW-MIA business, I invited her to my office. We were telling the families everything we could, but it was nice for me, and I hope for her, to have this personal contact.
Finally the great day came-February 14, 1973-when the Air Force was allowed to send C-141s into Hanoi to pick up our prisoners of war. For each planeload there was a manifest, which was relayed to me as soon as a plane left the ground in Hanoi. I checked list after list without finding Ben's name. Then on the very last
manifest-there it was! I called Joan in Colorado and said very emotionally, "Ben has left Hanoi."
A week or two after I had left the Air Force, a large White House dinner was held for the POWs and service people involved in their release. John McLucas, the new secretary of the Air Force, felt very strongly that I should be invited, but H. R. Haldemann was absolutely adamant that I not be included. Though I would have been very gratified to share in the moment, considering all that came later I consider Haldemann's rejection a great compliment. We have stayed in touch with the Pollards and greatly admire not only Ben's conduct in prison-where he somehow managed secretly to build a slide rule and teach engineering to his fellow inmates— but also his adjustment to freedom and his renewed family life.
Leaving the Air Force
By law, the secretaries of the Army, Navy, and Air Force are in charge of managing their departments—overseeing budgets, development and procurement of equipment, training of forces, and so on. They are not, however, in the chain of command on military operations, which passes from the President through the secretary of defense and the Joint Chiefs of Staff to the forces in the field. So while I shared in the responsibility, I was not directly involved in decisions on national policy or the conduct of the war.
However, I could and did make my views known. In my second year in the Air Force, I was invited to the White House to discuss the Pentagon budget with the President, Henry Kissinger, Mel Laird, and the other service secretaries. Resor, Chafee, and I were given six minutes each to make presentations. The Air Force, being youngest of the armed services, always goes last; so I waited while Resor and Chafee talked. Their discussions concerned morale and a perceived need for some sort of White House ceremony to honor our military heroes.
I felt that, with the country groaning out loud over Vietnam, we ought to be able to have a candid discussion about what was really going on. I said at the meeting that it ought to be recognized at the policy level that we were paying a heavy price for what was happening in Southeast Asia and that our national security was being jeopardized. The simple way of looking at it, I said, was that we were providing the
South Vietnamese people with all kinds of equipment, which we would not have available to us in the event of a flare-up elsewhere in the world. Perhaps more important, I said, was the difficulty we were having recruiting good people. ROTC (Reserve Officers' Training Corps) programs were being canceled at our best universities.
When I was through, I got a twenty-five-minute sermon from the President on the domino theory and other theoretical justifications for the war. He ended by saying that if I didn't feel I could handle the job of secretary of the Air Force, there were plenty of other people who could.
After two years at the Air Force, I considered resigning. For me, it was a question of how much longer I wanted to participate, how much longer I felt I could contribute. While skiing at Vail, I drafted a letter, which I read to our assembled family. It wasn't a letter of resignation. Instead, it said that unless America made every effort to disengage itself from Vietnam at the earliest possible date, I would resign. I gave the letter to Laird. He liked the fact that I was willing to take a stand and told me so. In fact, he told me that he was putting what weight he could behind the notion of an early and speedy disengagement.
In 1972, just before Nixon's reelection, Robert N. Ginsburg, the twostar general in charge of Air Force public affairs, felt that both General Jack Ryan (the chief of staff) and I should individually meet "off the record" with key members of the media. We invited some leading members of the press to a cocktail-dinner party at Ginsburg's house. After dinner, we sat around in Bob's living room, and they fired questions at me.
At about eleven o'clock, someone said he had just one more question before leaving. What was the chance that, if we were to meet here three years later, the war would still be on? If I had had any sense, I would have said, "You may be here, but I won't." Instead, I recapitulated the reasons why I thought we would be pulling out soon-Vietnamization, the peace negotiations, and so on. Then I added, “If you ask me, 'Is there any possible chance we'll be there three years from now,' I'd have to say, 'Yes, there is that possibility.'
On my way home in the car, the radio news announced that a high-ranking civilian in the Air Force said there was a good chance America would be in Southeast Asia another three years. Subsequent stories embellished this one. By the time the next issue of Time magazine came out, it stated categorically that Robert C. Seamans, Jr.,
secretary of the Air Force, predicted we would be in Southeast Asia for three years! I was on the White House blacklist thereafter.
About three days after Nixon's reelection, all presidential appointees within the Defense Department were called into Laird's office. He told us we were all receiving identical letters from the President, as were political appointees in every department and agency. He had the letter read to us. It asked for our resignations, so that the President would have the flexibility he needed to make his second term as effective as possible. Laird then advised us all to give him a signed note, tendering our resignations. He said he would then call the White House and say he had the resignations in hand. "Then," he told us, "when you really want to resign, write me an appropriate letter."
Laird himself resigned shortly afterward. I was en route to Southeast Asia and Antarctica' when I received a communiqué saying that Elliot Richardson had just been appointed to replace Laird and that he wanted to speak with me. I called him and told him my itinerary for the next two weeks. I told him I would turn around and come back if he needed to speak with me immediately.
He said, "No, that sounds like a great trip. By all means, go ahead with it. But," he added, "what's up between you and Haldemann?”10 "What do you mean?”
"Well, I find that the White House, in effect, wants your head." "As a matter of fact," I told him, "I do want to get out of the Air Force." “Well," he said, “I've heard that you have an opportunity to head the Sloan-Kettering Cancer Institute."
I told him that it wasn't definite but that I had been talking with Lawrence Rockefeller about the possibility.
When I returned from my trip, the Sloan-Kettering opportunity did not pan out. I told Elliot that I did not have an immediate need to resign. But early in 1973, I wrote him, saying that I wished to resign from the
Guy Stever and I met at the Air Force facility in Christ church, New Zealand. There we and our party were fitted out with the necessary boots, parkas, and other gear for the Antarctic. The flight to McMurdo Bay aboard a C-141 took four-anda-half hours. While there we visited a penguin rookery, the South Pole station, the Soviet base at Vostok, and the New Zealand station, while flying in a C-130 equipped with skis.
10 Nixon's chief of staff H.R. Haldeman.