WORLD FOCUS: He played poker with President Truman
In the wake of my recent column about historian David Mccullough and Roger Tubby, there was public demand to shed light on, how did I, a refugee from communist Czechoslovakia, become a friend and confidant of Tubby, who served as press secretary to the President Truman during the Korean War years.
After retirement from government service, Tubby became the co-owner and co-publisher, with Jim Loeb — another retired, high-ranking government official — of the Adirondack Daily Enterprise and the Lake Placid News. I served as a columnist, for both papers.
Prior to the 1980 Olympic Winter Games held in Lake Placid, Tubby and I teamed up to establish the Lake Placid Council on Foreign Policy. We organized monthly open forums in the Lake Placid Olympic Arena, and, through Tubby’s connections, managed to have top speakers.
Once, during a snow storm, people arrived on snowmobiles and in four-wheel trucks.
Tubby was a great storyteller, with a prodigious memory for details. But to make sure everything he said was accurate, he kept diaries over four decades. These were deposited at Yale University, his alma mater, with the stipulation that they not be available for research until the year 2000.
Obviously, they contained details about people in government, that he wanted to remain sealed during his lifetime. However, during our long conversations and interviews, Tubby, was ready to tell stories about his White House years.
He recalled how once Truman saved him from being a big loser at a Friday night poker game at the White House.
“He knew, I have four kids, and I couldn’t afford the loss,” Tubby said. “The president came to my rescue.”
But there have been more substantial memories that Tubby shared with me. He recalled, when he was recommended to Truman to be chosen as press secretary, he reminded the president that he used to be press secretary to Republican Sen. George Aiken of Vermont. The president replied, “If you were good for Sen. Aiken, you are good for me.”
According to Tubby, during informal meetings between the president, cabinet officers and friends, Truman was often asked about the hardest decision he had to make during his presidency. Truman, without hesitation, always said it was the decision to order the use of the atomic bomb.
“The president, however, never regretted the decision,” Tubby said, “because he weighted it, first against the danger of enormous casualties among young Americans, which had been predicted by military planners in an assault on Japanese home islands. Second, the prospect of Soviet intervention and eventual occupation of Japan loomed heavily.”
Tubby recalled that Truman, like his predecessor in the White House, Franklin D. Roosevelt, hoped for a peaceful post-war cooperation with the Soviet Union. But he soon realized that Stalin had other plans.
“When the Soviet Union reneged on the agreement to hold free elections in Poland, it became obvious that the U.S. would have to stand up to Moscow expansionist policies,” Tubby said.
According to Tubby, Truman never lacked decisiveness. This was acknowledged by no lesser personality than Winston Churchill.
Tubby was present at a dinner party at the White House, and he recalled, “We were sipping brandy, after dinner, when Churchill suddenly said, ‘You know, Mr. President, at the time of the Potsdam conference, I held you in very low regard. Since that time, sir, you more than any other single man have saved Western civilization. At the time when Britain could no longer hold out in Greece, and the communists were at the gates of Athens, you and you alone made the decision to help the Greeks and drive the communists out.'”
Churchill, Tubby said, went on to describe and acknowledge the many statesman-like decisions Truman had made during his tenure in office.
There may have been less flattering episodes that took place in the White House during Tubby’s service, and those are surely recorded in Tubby’s diaries deposited at Yale University.
(Frank Shatz is a former resident of Lake Placid and a current resident of Williamsburg, Virginia. He is the author of “Reports from a Distant Place,” a compilation of his columns. This column is used with permission by the Virginia Gazette.)