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23 December 2004. One of the Eyeball Series

For the upcoming second inauguration of President Bush, this presents a  survey of presidential protection, assassinations and attempts, at inauguration platforms, White House and its underground bunkers, the Oval Office and presidential retreats, limousines and motorcades, Air Force 1 and Helicopter 1, yacht and fishing boats, golf courses, campaign trails, running and bicycling tracks, world travels and related protection personnel and systems.

George W. Bush William Clinton James Carter
Gerald Ford
John Kennedy
Dwight Eisenhower
Herbert Hoover
Calvin Coolidge
Warren Harding
Woodrow Wilson
William Taft
William McKinley
Abraham Lincoln
William Harrison
George W. Bush on 9/11

George H. W. Bush
Ronald Reagan
Richard Nixon
Lyndon Johnson
Harry Truman
Franklin Roosevelt

Harry Truman


Harry Truman, with two Los Angeles city detectives tailing him like the Secret Service used to do, leads newsmen on a couple of fast laps around the deck of the S.S. President Cleveland in Los Angeles harbor, March 23, 1953. The ship stopped off en route to Hawaii, where the former President, along with Mrs. Truman and Margaret, will take his first real vacation in 30 years. He didn't appear on deck until 9:31 a.m., considerably later than the time of his Washington constitutionals. (AP Photo)


Puerto Rican nationalist Oscar Collazo lies wounded at the base of the steps to Blair House, President Truman's temporary residence in Washington, D.C., after a failed attempt to assassinate Truman Nov. 1, 1950. Collazo's accomplice and a Secret Service agent were both killed in the gun fight outside the residence. The president was never in serious danger during the attack. (AP Photo/ Harvey Georges)

Oral History Interview Number 2 with DAVID H. STOWE.
From the Truman Library.

Bethesda, Maryland
June 24, 1989
by Niel M. Johnson, Harry S. Truman Library


JOHNSON: I don't think there's been anything in particular in these other interviews that deal with renovation of the White House. Did you have anything that you wanted to add about the renovation that we might put on record?

STOWE: One or two anecdotes. The President, after he had built the Court House out in Kansas City I guess fancied himself as quite a construction expert. He very wisely had set up a commission, because, as he said, if people didn't like what was being done, they'd blame him. This way, Congress appointed a commission and if the people didn't like it, they'd blame the commission. But he used to go over there almost every day after work and look around and check the job out, until General [Major General Glen E.] Edgerton called me once or twice and said, "For goodness sake, can't you keep him away; he thinks he's rebuilding the court house out there." There's another anecdote. I went over on many of these trips with him because one of the things I wanted to see each time was how they were doing with the shelter. I remember we were up in what later would be his bedroom, and as I recall it, the bathroom was sort of a long room with washbasins and a commode that ran like a little ell. I think I'm correct in that. Anyway, I heard him one day in there just plain explode, "Who the hell thought this up?" I go in there and in the little ell where the commode was, they had placed a safe in the wall, so the only way you could get at the combination would be to sit on the commode and turn the combination. Now, I don't know whether he had that taken out or not, but he sure thought that was the dumbest thing he ever saw in his life. It may still be there for all I know.

JOHNSON: Anything else about renovation before we leave that subject?

STOWE: I think he was really very, very much concerned that it be put back exactly as it was. Edgerton, I think, did a magnificent job of marking everything and putting it back. My understanding is that with the exception of one or two minor pieces, and the major change in the grand stairway, which was a great advantage, the house, when it was put back in, was almost exactly as it was before.

JOHNSON: You mentioned that when Mr. Truman was at the Blair House, there was a place where he would read the morning paper before he went out on his stroll. Do you want to describe the situation there and then that attempted assassination which got you into the security picture again?

STOWE: There was a little room on the front of the Blair House, or Blair-Lee, which is on the corner right next to the Court of Claims. There was a desk and a chair, a few things in a small room; he would go in there and read his morning paper before he went on walks with the Secret Service. The Secret Service had become concerned that the Blair House was susceptible [to assault], since there were only about ten feet and nothing but a little picket fence between the sidewalk and the house. They were concerned that somebody might throw things into the window, a Molotov cocktail or something of that nature. They had been experimenting with how they could protect the first floor particularly, and part of the second floor, because of the angles they had discovered from atop Old State and from an office building back on the back side, which might permit a sharpshooting type of thing. They'd been working on this, and they finally called me up one day, and I guess that was because I had found some money for them one other time because of my former budget connections, or maybe because we had been working together; I don't recall at that time exactly what our relationships were in this area. They said that they had found a screen--they couldn't put glass in because it was too heavy for the house--but they had found a screen that they could put on those front windows that would withstand whatever poundage that they were concerned about somebody throwing things in. So I asked them the name of the company and they said it was called, as I remember, the Psychiatric Screen Company. At that point I said, "No way, we're not going to put up psychiatric screens on the Blair House because the newspaper people would get ahold of it and they'll say, 'Hey, they've got the President behind psychiatric screens.' Forget it, and try to find something else that will serve your purpose." About two weeks later I was in Jack Hunt's restaurant, which is just a block up on Pennsylvania Avenue, when a waiter came back and said, "Mr. Stowe, there's been a shooting down the street." "Let them shoot." He said, "But Mr. Stowe, it's at the Blair House." With that, I got out of that restaurant in a hurry; Jack swears I turned over two tables going out. I got on down the street and instead of stopping at the Blair House I rushed right up to my office in Old State; I got the president of the company that manufactured the Psychiatric screens and told him I guess he'd heard it on the radio by then, but told him about our problem. He said he'd have a man down the next morning to measure the windows and that he would then stop the factory and make a run, a special run of screens for the Blair House. Then I could relax, because I had visions of something happening and that thing being pigeon-holed on my desk.

JOHNSON: So those were put up then rather promptly?


JOHNSON: Those special screens that fit on the outside of the windows?


JOHNSON: Were any special provisions made in the White House for windows that were . . .

STOWE: No. Because they were so far away from the street you couldn't . . .

Oral History Interview with Admiral Robert L. Dennison
Graduate of U.S. Naval Academy, 1923; Assistant Chief of Naval Operations, 1945-47; Commander of the U.S.S. Missouri, 1947-48; Naval Aide to President Harry S. Truman,1948-53; Commander in Chief of the Atlantic Command, Commander of the Atlantic Fleet, and Supreme Allied Commander, Atlantic, 1960-63.

Washington, D.C.
October 6, 1971
By Jerry N. Hess


HESS: Did you go with the President on his trips to Shangri-La  [renamed Camp David by Eisenhower] and also aboard the [presidential yacht] Williamsburg usually?

DENNISON: Yes, always, because--and remember, obviously the Williamsburg was part of the Navy installation and so was Shangri-La run by the Navy and both were really command posts.

HESS: I understand one time Commander Rigdon had to get his boys to cut down some of the trees up there and, as he told me, it was a rather odd task for sailors, but he had them do it anyway.

DENNISON: Well, the reason back of it was that Roosevelt had had this setup and it is an odd place for sailors. Sailors are pretty talented--some of them, most of them--and they can do anything.

HESS: Versatile people.

DENNISON: You're so right. Incidentally, Shangri-La is not just one place. It's a series of small cabins and they are related to some project of Roosevelt's having to do with national parks or something like that. The main cabin was three or four of these smaller ones put together to make a galley, a living room and, as I recall it, four bedrooms and two or three baths, not large. The elevation is somewhere around 1800 feet so it was cooler than the valley floor. We had a pool but it wasn't heated and the water was icy cold. But the cabin was a miserable place because there was no outside terrace. The trees were grown up so you couldn't see anything. You looked into a dense bank of foliage.You couldn 't breathe in it. So I asked the President if he would mind if I changed it a little bit.

And, as usual, he said, "Sure, go ahead." so I had them strip out all the underbrush and open the place up. We put in a terrace so you could sit out there and look over this beautiful valley, and we opened up the front of the property so we had quite a large lawn down to the edge of trees that you could look over from where you sat. It was delightful. We did quite a bit of, you wouldn't call it landscaping, but clearing out underbrush and all that kind of stuff to open it up.

The President didn't use Shangri-La nearly as much as he did the Williamsburg, but quite a bit. He was extremely generous and if any of the staff wanted to use it for a weekend or something, they'd come and tell me. The President had already told me that anybody who wanted to use it (any of the staff, not anybody), it would be fine with him.


But he did this on weekends and this was an illusion too. The reason that I was along was not to play cards, but again, to stand between him and communications. The Williamsburg was really a floating command post and somebody had to be there, somebody trusted, to handle matters. Of course, he knew that we had this communications facility and that it was a good one. It had to be, and it was tied in to part of our emergency planning of "where does the Government go in case of an atomic attack?"

I had to do with the Executive Office, or Executive Department plans, related to the President. Dave Stowe was the head man in arranging for all the other departments. We had places all over the countryside for various parts of our Government to go. Greenbriar, for example, tied into where Congress would go, not the executive branch, obviously, and we had a very sophisticated, for that time, microwave communications link all over the place. There was a bomb shelter in the White House and I had to do with that.

HESS: Were you also in charge of what records would be removed from the White House and taken to wherever the President was going to go?

DENNISON: Oh, I suppose I was because there was nobody else to do it. The problem in any of these temporary command posts was to have facilities for the President to communicate on some kind of a broadcasting system--television if you could do it--and radio certainly. The laying of cables and all of these matters was a very, very complicated problem, and also the interconnection between the President, the Vice President and the Cabinet. This had to be pretty secure and pretty good. But we had the Williamsburg. We had railway trains on either side of the river and plenty of automobiles. We had a number of different options for evacuation. I was appointed by the President to handle this end of it. We had as sophisticated a plan as we could conceive, and I worked quite closely with Stowe, of course, and on paper our plans looked pretty good. We never had a drill because it would have thrown the country into a complete uproar if the whole damn Government had moved out of Washington.

But one day the President told me something which is so characteristic of him. He said, "Of course, you've got to go ahead with all of this planning and all of these arrangements, but I want to tell you one thing. If a situation ever develops where execution seems to be indicated, I don't intend to leave the White House." He said, "I am going to be right here."

And then I said, "Well, I expected that, knowing you. "

He said, "I would like to be as sure as I can that there's some way that I can get on the air to talk to the people of the United States, to assure them that I am here, that I'm not up in the hills some place, and to tell them what I can of the situation." Of course, I never told anybody that because we had to take this.planning seriously.

HESS: Was it ever discussed with President Truman that it might have been the best thing for him to leave town?

DENNISON: Look, I knew President Truman better than that. Actually, there was no point in my ever bringing up that subject, to say, "I believe that you, as Commander in Chief, ought to be protected." In his mind, and I'm not one to say that he's wrong, the primary requirement was for the people of this country to realize that he was not going to run any place, that he was doing business so long as he could, right where he always had. If he survived the first attack, fine. If he didn't, the whole thing was academic anyhow, but if he did the chances were that there wouldn't be a recurring attack, at least so we thought in those days. Even now I doubt, if this horrible thing ever came to pass, that there would be waves of attack on the same target. I don't think it would be necessary. The lethal radius of these hydrogen bombs is tremendous.

But at any rate, that's the way he believed, and by God, you had better believe along with him.

HESS: Where were the points out of town that had been selected for him to move to?

DENNISON: Well, Shangri-La was one. The Williamsburg, of course, was another. Those are the only two in this area. We had other places. I've forgotten now where they were, probably the Homestead, or some place like that. But it was a very complete plan, and of course, if you're interested in that, the whole executive branch part of it, Dave Stowe has it.

I had a tape, which I think I sent to the Truman Library, of a briefing that Stowe gave, and if I recall it's based in part on my part of this plan. I was there anyhow, and I think that's in the Truman Library. It's a seven inch reel or whatever the standard size is.

But all these plans of moving by train or by car, or by ship, or whatever, really didn't appeal to the President. He wanted everybody else the hell out of there obviously.

Well, nobody was going to leave him in the White House, but he wanted to be sure that somewhere, somehow, the Government was going to continue. But as far as he was concerned, he looked on himself as being expendable, provided the machinery for operating the Government still existed somewhere.

Oral History Interview with Ted J. Sanders
A longtime friend of the Truman family, local WPA administrator, farmer, and horse-trader.
From the Truman Library.

Cameron, Missouri
July 23, 1982
by Niel M. Johnson


JOHNSON: Okay, I've got a date of April 19, 1945. That would be only a week after he [Truman] became President.

SANDERS: Well, that could be it then.

JOHNSON: This must be it?

SANDERS: It could be it. It was soon after he was President. The Roosevelts had just moved out.

JOHNSON: Yes, right. You mentioned the Blair House. That was when they were living in the Blair House waiting for the Roosevelts to move out.

SANDERS: That's right.


SANDERS: This was so great. This is a pretty big story I'm telling you. I've never heard anybody else refer to those things. This man said, "I'm going to show you something very few people know we have; that's the bomb shelter." He said, "We stopped all building in Washington when we built this bomb shelter. We took all the concrete and steel there was in Washington. These walls have three feet of concrete and steel; the top has three feet of concrete and steel, a space of three feet, then another three feet of concrete and steel." I went in it. This motor is supposed to filter this air for 48 hours to take care of 200 people. Then he said, "Here's the motion picture room." Now I'm just not straight on this. I walked up among the machinery, and as I recall, I believe they were using the bomb shelter as a hall for the pictures. I don't remember.


This double-layer of stub girders shown in the White House reconstruction (1948-52) appears to fit the description of the top of a double-layered bomb shelter:

"We stopped all building in Washington when we built this bomb shelter. We took all the concrete and steel there was in Washington. These walls have three feet of concrete and steel; the top has three feet of concrete and steel, a space of three feet, then another three feet of concrete and steel." I went in it. This motor is supposed to filter this air for 48 hours to take care of 200 people. -- Ted J. Sanders


White House reconstruction 1948-52.

"Over the years, there have been several additions made to the main building, including the west wing (1902), the east wing (1942), and a penthouse and a bomb shelter (1952). The west wing, which contains the president's oval office and the offices of his staff, is the center of activity at the White House. During Harry Truman's presidency, from Dec. 1948 to March 1952, the interior of the White House was rebuilt, and the outer walls were strengthened. Nevertheless, the exterior stone walls are the same ones that were first put in place when the White House was constructed two centuries ago." -- Department of the Interior, U.S. National Park Service via Infoplease.


White House movie theater.


White House movie theater.

Then he said, "Here's the motion picture room." Now
I'm just not straight on this. I walked up among the
machinery, and as I recall, I believe they were using
the bomb shelter as a hall for the pictures. I don't
remember. -- Ted J. Sanders


White House reconstruction 1948-52.

Franklin Roosevelt


U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, center, Admiral William W. Pratt, left, and first lady Eleanor Roosevelt, right, watch the inaugural parade from the reviewing stand in front of the White House in Washington, D.C., March 4, 1933. (AP Photo)


An estimated crowd of 250,000 Americans gather to witness President Franklin D. Roosevelt declare his leadership after taking the oath of office on the rostrum during inaugural ceremonies at Immense Plaza in Washington, D.C., March 4, 1933. (AP Photo)


Riding in an open automobile despite warnings by the Secret Service for extreme protection, Franklin D. Roosevelt leaves his Mayflower Hotel home for the White House and the Presidency, January 1933. (AP Photo)


Traveling through the Great Smokey Mountains en route from Knoxville, Tenn., to Charlotte, N.C., President Franklin D. Roosevelt visits the Cherokee Indian Reservation in N.C., on Sept. 10, 1936. (AP Photo)


President Franklin Roosevelt is at the Grand Coulee Dam site in Washington on October 2, 1937, during his tour of inspection of federal projects in the northwest. The $200,000,000 structure will provide irrigation and power for 1,200,000 acres of Columbia River basin land. The President is seated in the rear of car at the left. (AP Photo)


** FILE ** Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his wife Eleanor Roosevelt are seen in the back seat of an open limousine arriving at the White House in Washington following his inauguration in 1941. Among the 43 presidents, Roosevelt is said to have been one of the greats in inaugural oratory. (AP Photo/Jerry Shoemaker, The Mobile Register)


Treasury Was Prepared as Presidential Bunker During World War II

A great many people are aware that the Treasury Building served as the temporary White House for President Andrew Johnson immediately following the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. While Mary Todd Lincoln was permitted to settle her personal affairs and to deal with her personal grief in the White House for several weeks, the Secretary of the Treasury provided an office to the new President. In this room, currently the reception room for the Under Secretary for International Affairs, the state funeral arrangements for President Lincoln were developed, the warrant for the arrest of President of the Confederacy Jefferson Davis was prepared and the amnesty document that permitted the men of the Southern states to rejoin the Union as citizens without prejudice for their fighting against the Federal government was issued.

While the Johnson temporary White House in the Treasury Building is well known, not many are aware of the arrangements that were made to provide temporary White House office space in the Treasury Building for President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. In the early days of World War II, there were great fears that there might be enemy air attacks on the city of Washington, particularly on the White House and other governmental buildings. The Secret Service doubled the size of its White House protective forces and the iron fence surrounding the President’s House was constructed.

During this time, a permanent White House bomb shelter was seen as a necessity to protect the President of the United States. During the construction of the bomb shelter under the White House, which would take several months, the Secret Service decided that a temporary shelter was urgently needed.

In the basement of the Treasury Building is a group of 10 large vaults, each about 1,100 square feet, all protected by a enormous vault door two stories beneath the Cash Room in the North Wing. One of these vaults was outfitted as the President’s bedroom and office. A command center for his staff was also established there, consisting 12 desks that converted to beds and 12 telephone. Carpeting and wall drapes were installed to make the vault a bit more habitable, and food and water supplies were stockpiled for the President’s and his staff’s use. Fortunately, the bunker never needed to be used.

Oral History Interview Number 2 with DAVID H. STOWE
From the Truman Library.

Bethesda, Maryland
June 24, 1989
by Niel M. Johnson, Harry S. Truman Library


JOHNSON: We're going to discuss some anecdotes and some items that may not be on the other interviews that have been recorded in the past. We've been talking, Mr. Stowe, about some security things at the White House, and I thought perhaps I could start by asking you again about security provisions for President Roosevelt during World War II. You mentioned a ramp and a small shelter, I think, under what was it, the west wing?

STOWE: The east wing.

JOHNSON: I don't believe that's on tape anywhere. So, do you want to talk a little more about that again, about Roosevelt and provisions for him?

STOWE: Well, as I understand it, during World War II, there were no arrangements for bomb shelters in the White House itself, but that a tunnel had been constructed from the east wing of the White House over into the Treasury Department where there was a deep vault. Since it was a tunnel and on an incline, no stairs as I understood it, they could wheel the President, in his wheelchair into that in the event of necessity. I never saw it; I never went in it, but I understand it was still there at the time we renovated the White House.

JOHNSON: And a small shelter under that east wing?

STOWE: Under the east wing, there subsequently was built a relatively small shelter. It was about the equivalent of two rooms. It would have been adequate for a minor type of attack, but would have been useless in the point of view of a ground zero atomic attack.

JOHNSON: That was there until the renovation in 1948?

STOWE: Until the renovation.

JOHNSON: What about the Map Room? It's still not clear to me whether the Map Room was in one of these secure areas, or whether there was any special protection around the Map Room. Do you remember the Map Room at all?

STOWE: No, I don't. George Elsey and Clark Clifford were familiar with that.


** FILE ** An undated black-and-white file photo of unidentified
military aides in the White House Map Room during World War II.
|This is the only known photograph of President Franklin Roosevelt's
war time operation center. (AP Photo/Franklin D. Roosevelt Library)

Oral History Interview with Lois Bernhardt
Stenographer to James F. Byrnes , Office of War Mobilization, during World War II and from July to November, 1945 when Mr. Byrnes was Secretary of State.
From the Truman Library.

September 19, 1989
Niel M. Johnson


JOHNSON: Exactly where was the office in the White House?

BERNHARDT: In the East Wing. It's very different now. We were there several years ago.

JOHNSON: Now, the Oval Office is in the West Wing the southwest corner. In other words, you had to go a ways.

BERNHARDT: We had to go down through the middle part where the President's swimming pool was, and then go upstairs to the Oval Office then.

JOHNSON: How come he was so far away from the Oval Office? I would think he would have had an office closer to Roosevelt himself, considering . . .

BERNHARDT: That was where there was room. We were a Government agency, with nine people.


JOHNSON: Were you on the first floor of the East Wing?

BERNHARDT: Yes, we were on the first floor.

JOHNSON: And there was a basement floor underneath?

BERNHARDT: Right. I don't know if the basement was under the whole White House or just under the middle part, I'm not sure about that. We were down in the basement, only for blackouts and drills. We were issued gas masks.

JOHNSON: There was a bomb shelter under there.

BERNHARDT: There was a bomb shelter. There was an elevator down there so the President could go down by elevator.

JOHNSON: Was the swimming pool in the basement, or was that on the first floor?

BERNHARDT: No, it was on the first floor.

JOHNSON: So, it was easy for Roosevelt to use.

BERNHARDT: Easy for Roosevelt to use.

JOHNSON: That was built for Roosevelt's use, wasn't it?

BERNHARDT: Yes. He could do that exercise.

JOHNSON: He could swim.

BERNHARDT: Yes, and that was what was good for him, for his polio. The swimming pool isn't there anymore; I understand they took it out.

JOHNSON: That was boarded over.

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