An Unforgettable Visit to USS Iowa 73 Years On

McCrea Reading, no hatJCT Historic Portrait Venue IA Bridge

(Captain John McCrea reading on the bridge of Iowa in 1944; me sitting in the same place in 2017.)

In late September 2017, my husband and I flew west from New York City to pay a visit to USS Iowa, now a museum ship in San Pedro, CA, the port of Los Angeles. David Way, the ship’s curator, had invited me to give a talk about Captain McCrea’s War in the ship’s wardroom and to have a guided tour of the ship. This was my first real introduction to the ship. I was joined on this adventure by a few enthusiastic John McCrea fans: a cousin from Boston and a former neighbor now in Oregon, who had both known John personally; and a few others who had come to know him through his memoir.

Dave Way met us on the pier at the aft gangway. Bubbling with enthusiasm and overflowing with knowledge about the ship and its history, Dave led us on a remarkable 3-hour tour from bow to stern, from the tops to deep within the ship. Coming to Iowa from different perspectives, Dave and I each had WW II/McCrea tales to tell, and we had many interesting and humorous exchanges.

Dave showed us to a number of parts of the ship that I had heard much about: the captain’s in port cabin occupied by FDR when John had transported the president and the Joint Chiefs to North Africa in late 1943; the special bathtub installed for FDR in the captain’s bathroom; the 16″ gun turrets and 5” gun mounts; the flag bridge; and the navigation bridge with its heavily armored wheel house (“citadel”) and the enclosure for navigation operations. A sharp-eyed friend pointed out where John had been photographed reading on the bridge in 1944, so I had my photo taken there, too–73 years later. It was a thrill!

Everywhere, I was impressed by the engineering that went into making Iowa a mighty fighting ship: the tubes through which shells were lifted from magazines deep below decks to the guns many levels above; the guns; a sophisticated post-WW II communications room; machinery for raising and lowering the anchors; and tomahawk missiles, another post-WW II development that replaced the old anti-aircraft guns. We also visited venues that reflected the daily lives of the crew: the mess hall and bakery; the claustrophobic bunks used by enlisted men; the hallway leading to the officers’ quarters; and a rather dismal dental office.

You may be surprised to learn that my first impression of Iowa was how small she was. We had spent the previous night on the Queen Mary in neighboring Long Beach, and in comparison to the QueenIowa seemed like a toy. But once on board, that impression faded fast. The decks were vast, and the guns enormous. Moreover, our tour, which took us up and down many steep stairways and over multiple high door jambs, proved to be a workout worthy of a gym. It left us with a hard-earned appreciation of the substantial size of Iowa.

After a much needed lunch break, I gave an illustrated book talk in the officers’ wardroom to a group of Iowa museum volunteers and members of the Pacific Battleship Center, which operates the ship. In the discussions afterward, I had the sense that John McCrea is still fondly remembered in Iowa so many years after he served as first commanding officer. One volunteer tour guide, who brought his copy of the memoir for me to sign, remarked how much he enjoyed John (presumably from the book) and how he spoke of him often on his tours. Another palpable presence from the McCrea era is Vicky, the family dog John brought aboard in 1943, and who became the ship’s beloved mascot throughout WW II. Photos of Vicky in his official uniform are posted everywhere as part of a game for young Iowa visitors.

(Dave Way and me after my talk; Vicky, short for “victory,” in his official uniform as Mascot First Class of Iowa.)

As I descended Iowa’s gangway that afternoon, I felt a new appreciation of the might and technological resources of the ship. More important, I was impressed by the warmth of the connection between those who work on the ship today and John. I had a sense of the esprit de corps that John was able to generate when he was commanding officer, and I understood the pride his men must have felt in their ship and in their ability to operate her. It had been a memorable and moving day on Iowa, the first of the four largest battleships ever built by the United States.


USS Iowa: A City Afloat

When Captain John L. McCrea was the commanding officer of USS Iowa (1943-1944), the ship was like a small city. These pictures taken during that period will give you an idea of the ship’s amenities.

IA soda fountain 7:44There was a soda fountain…

IA bakery 7:44 3And a bakery, although there was no case of goodies for customers to admire.

IA barber shop 7:44There was a barber shop, but the men didn’t have much choice in hair styles.

IA galley 7:44The galley prepared meals, but the dining service wasn’t great. You had to wait…

IA chowlinein a chow line and serve yourself.

IA sick bay 13 May 43For the treatment of medical problems, there was the “hospital” known as sick bay. Private rooms were unavailable. For the care of teeth…

IA dental officethere was a dental office. Not too much privacy there either.

As far as I know, Iowa didn’t have a gym, but the men managed to get their exercise anyway…

IA P.E, p. Marianas 2The men did calisthenics on the quarterdeck…

IA swabbing for field day 7:44And there was plenty of deck swabbing to keep them fit.


Photos from the National Archives in College Park, MD.

A Portrait of USS Iowa: The Exterior 1942-1944

This is a group of photos from the National Archives and John McCrea’s personal collection showing the ship during the early days of WW II.

Picture 33 IA christening 8.27.42(The wife of U.S. Vice President Henry A. Wallace, an Iowa resident, prepares to christen Iowa at the New York Navy Yard in Brooklyn, NY on August 27, 1942.)

Picture 34 IA(Iowa slides down the launch way.)

Picture 37(Tugs control Iowa after her hull enters the water.)

17-IA Commssng 80-G-K-825.jpg(Iowa is commissioned at the New York Navy Yard on February 22, 1943.  The ceremonies took place on the ship’s quarterdeck under the 16″ guns of turret 3, the stern turret.)

notebook40004 IA bow.jpg(Iowa‘s bow displays the ship’s hull number “61”)

Picture 25 IA superstr(A view of Iowa‘s superstructure.)

IA bow from sky patrol:no men(Iowa‘s bow viewed from the sky patrol post. The 16″ guns of turrets 1 and 2 are visible.)

IA P.E, p. Marianas 2(A photo of an officer leading calisthenics on the quarterdeck while the ship’s band practices immediately below him. At the stern there are 2 OS2U float planes mounted on catapults that were used for observation purposes.)

IA at Majuro 8 aug 44(This photo taken from an aircraft carrier shows Iowa at Majuro in 1944. Majuro was a forward operating base where ships rested and re-provisioned between operations.)

Talk on board USS Iowa

IA anti air craft guns(USS Iowa’s anti-aircraft guns in the Pacific 1944)

I have been honored with an invitation to give a talk about my stepfather’s WWII memoir, Captain McCrea’s War, on board the battleship USS Iowa on September 23, 2017 at 3pm. My stepfather was Vice Admiral John L. McCrea, the first commanding officer of Iowa, commissioned on Washington’s birthday in 1943. Under McCrea’s command, she carried President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the US Joint Chiefs of Staff across the Atlantic to North Africa and then fought with the Fast Carrier Task Force in the Pacific. The ship is now a museum in San Pedro, CA, the harbor of Los Angeles. Iowa is the first of the four largest battleships ever built by the United States. It was on Iowa’s sister ship, USS Missouri, that the Japanese surrendered on September 2, 1945 in Tokyo Bay.


I am excited by the opportunity to tour the ship that I have heard so much about. I am eager to see the massive superstructure; the huge 16” guns capable of essentially hurling a VW bug for 20 miles; the special bathtub installed for President Roosevelt in the captain’s cabin; the bridge where my stepfather’s favorite portrait was photographed; and the decks where Iowa’s mascot, Vickie the dog, played fetch with the bluejackets. In this blog [] during the next few weeks I will be posting photos of the ship taken in 1943 and -44.

Ego, Entitlement, and Failed Public Service


(Rose and Joseph P. Kennedy, U.S. Ambassador to the Court of St. James’s, 1940)

            Ambassador Joseph P. Kennedy’s shocking remarks before the Navy’s General Board in the fall of 1940 (see part 1 of this blog) raise a host of questions. What kind of man was Kennedy? Why did he have such a low opinion of the British and the competence of their government? Why did President Franklin D. Roosevelt appoint him as British ambassador and why didn’t FDR fire him? And how was it that such a man as Kennedy could have raised an admired son like John F. Kennedy, our 35th president. In this second part of my blog on Kennedy, I will attempt to shed some light on these questions based on his personal history, character, and public service.

An Irish Catholic born in 1888 into a political family in East Boston, MA, Joseph P. Kennedy was street-smart, supremely self-confident, hard-working, attractive, and a Democrat. As an Irish Catholic in Protestant Brahmin Boston, he was an outsider. Although he graduated from Harvard in 1912, the degree did not magically open doors for him, and he had to make his own path.

From his twenties onward, Kennedy was highly successful in business, and at a young age he amassed a substantial fortune in a variety of ventures, including banking, securities trading, the entertainment industry, real estate, and shipping. Kennedy’s success was entirely self-made. However, his business reputation was less than spotless, mostly because of shady securities trading practices. He engaged in market manipulation and trading on insider information at a time when those methods were not illegal. Although rumored to have bootlegged liquor during Prohibition, there is no support for such claims. Kennedy did legally import liquor after Prohibition’s end.

Kennedy married Rose Fitzgerald in 1914. The couple had 9 children, but Kennedy spent little time at home. He traveled extensively on business, and frequently vacationed separate from the family. He was always in the company of attractive women, and he had a notorious affair with actress Gloria Swanson. Despite his failings as a husband, he maintained a strong interest in his children.

In the presidential elections of 1932 and 1936, Kennedy supported Franklin D. Roosevelt. In recognition of Kennedy’s services in 1932, President Roosevelt awarded him two jobs in his first administration, 1st Chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, newly formed to regulate the securities markets, and subsequently 1st Chairman of the Maritime Commission, an agency charged with stimulating U.S. merchant shipbuilding. Kennedy served briefly and successfully in both posts, although, as a man of large ego, he thought he should have been awarded a cabinet post.

Kennedy provided more significant support to FDR in 1936. He was valuable to the president because of his influence with Irish Catholic voters, not a natural constituency for FDR. On re-election to a second term, FDR felt obligated to give Kennedy a significant administration position. Kennedy wanted to be Secretary of the Treasury, a job held by a close friend of FDR. Alternatively, he wanted to be Ambassador to the United Kingdom, the most prestigious of U.S. diplomatic posts. Although FDR offered him Secretary of Commerce, a cabinet position that would have utilized his business expertise, Kennedy insisted on the ambassadorship, which he felt would bring prestige to his family. Roosevelt ultimately agreed.

Kennedy had the fortune to sustain the financial obligations of the ambassadorship, but he had no foreign policy or diplomatic experience. Indeed, he was known to be remarkably undiplomatic, typically blunt, and outspoken. Used to being in charge and throwing his weight around, Kennedy had little experience at being part of a team subordinate to the secretary of state and the president.

Kennedy arrived in Britain in February 1938, just as Hitler was threatening to invade Austria. Kennedy was an ardent isolationist, who believed that the U.S. should stay out of European disputes and wars so that American business could regain its footing after the Depression. Within two weeks of his arrival, Kennedy told the British the U.S. would not provide material or other support to them should they enter any conflicts; he tried to influence British internal politics by voicing support for the appeasement policies of Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain over the opposition views of Winston Churchill; and he directly challenged the position of his boss, Secretary of State Cordell Hull, on U.S.-British relations. In relatively short order, Kennedy lost the confidence of Secretary Hull and President Roosevelt through intemperate, independent action. In his eagerness to avoid war, he even explored, without State Department authorization, the possibility of negotiations with persons close to Hitler. Increasingly, Hull and Roosevelt sidelined him by working around him and withholding information from him.

The British view of Kennedy was scarcely more positive than that of his superiors in Washington. Kennedy was welcomed in the social whirl of London and among those British who favored the appeasement of Hitler. However, Kennedy was convinced that the German war machine was invincible, and once war broke out, he became a defeatist. His attitude to towards the British soured, most likely because of his fear that the U.K. would draw the U.S. into war and that his children would be drafted to fight. He thought the British were too inept to avoid war. He impugned British motives in opposing Hitler, indicating their only concern was the survival of empire, not the preservation of democracy. He offended the British by his opposition to U.S. military and economic aid to them. During the blitz, he was scorned for decamping to the countryside while the British government and other ambassadors remained in London. British MP Josiah Wedgwood said of Kennedy:

We have a rich man, untrained in diplomacy, unlearned in history and politics, who is a great publicity seeker and who apparently is ambitious to be the first Catholic president of the U.S.

Kennedy returned to the United States in October 1940. No doubt concerned about Kennedy’s power to damage his bid for an unprecedented third term that November, FDR maintained cordial relations with Kennedy, even though FDR did not trust him or want him to continue as ambassador. In December, after FDR’s reelection, Kennedy resigned. Kennedy had essentially been frozen out of the responsibilities of ambassador because of his outspoken independence. His defeatism and dislike of the British had damaged his reputation, and because he could not be trusted to carry out someone else’s policy, he had destroyed any prospects for future public service.

Reading about Kennedy and his ambassadorship, I was repeatedly struck by parallels to Donald J. Trump and his presidency. MP Josiah Wedgwood’s description of Kennedy (quoted above) leaped off the page as equally descriptive of Trump. Both Kennedy and Trump grew up as outsiders, Kennedy as Irish in Brahmin Boston and Trump as a boy from Queens. In order to succeed, both were willing to engage in less-than-ethical business practices. At the time they sought public office, both were buoyed by wealth, felt entitled to power, and were motivated by outsized ego and ambition. Each wanted a prestigious job for which he was ill-prepared and temperamentally unsuited. Both were used to being in charge, and the independence that may have served each man in business did not play well in government. But while FDR was able maneuver Kennedy out of office, there is unfortunately no simple remedy for the destructive impact of Trump’s grand ambition to be president.

A final word about Kennedy and his role as a father. While Kennedy was rarely at the family home, he played an active role in his children’s upbringing. He followed their progress in school, was in touch with their teachers, and urged them to develop their skills and interests so that they could do something useful with their lives. He regularly wrote them warm letters of encouragement and used his many contacts to open doors to enriching and educational experiences for them. Thus, it is not surprising that Jack Kennedy developed into a balanced, well-grounded adult. And when Jack started to run for public office, Joe recognized that his controversial reputation might damage Jack’s chances so he remained strictly in the background. He provided financing and advice behind the scenes, but stayed out of the public eye.



Nasaw, David, The Patriarch, The Remarkable Life and Turbulent Times of Joseph P. Kennedy, New York: The Penguin Press, 2012.

“Joseph P. Kennedy Sr.,” Wikipedia, last accessed 8.23.17,


Ambassador Joseph P. Kennedy Speaks His Mind


(Joseph P. Kennedy, U.S. ambassador to the Court of St. James’s, in 1938.)

This is a two-part blog about Joseph P. Kennedy, businessman, one-time ambassador to the United Kingdom, and father of John F. Kennedy, the 35th president of the United States. I became intrigued by “Joe” when I read John McCrea’s description of a talk Kennedy delivered in late 1940 when he was U.S. ambassador to the United Kingdom, known formally in the U.K. as the ambassador of the United States to the Court of St. James’s. That talk—a shocking display of views about the close ally to which he was ambassador–will be the subject of part 1 of this blog. The talk made me interested to know more about a person who would hold such views and how he came to be ambassador, so I did some research on Kennedy. Part 2 of this blog will address Kennedy’s personal history, personality, and his ambassadorship. My findings included some disturbing similarities to our president, Donald Trump.

In the fall of 1942, Ambassador Kennedy was invited to speak before the Navy’s General Board, a small group of influential senior officers. At the time, Captain John McCrea was serving as aide to Chief of Naval Operations Harold R. Stark. Because of a schedule conflict, Admiral Stark asked John to attend the ambassador’s talk in his stead and to report back about what Kennedy said.

At the time of the talk, Kennedy had been ambassador for a little more than two years. Britain had declared war on Germany about a year earlier. France and the western European nations had fallen by June 1940, and since July, Germany had been waging war against England by air. First was the Battle of Britain, where the British Air Force successfully repelled German air attack. Starting in September, came the blitz, the German bombing of civilian targets in England. Kennedy had witnessed the outbreak and enlargement of the war, and the Navy brass were expecting, no doubt, to hear some first-hand impressions of these developments and possibly the British view of them.

Admiral William Sexton, the president of the General Board, introduced the ambassador. At the end of his introduction he remarked that the ambassador had been assured that his talk was off the record so he could be as frank as he chose in expressing his opinions. The following is John McCrea’s recollection of the talk:

            The ambassador, remaining seated, stated his pleasure in having so small an audience and an audience of military men who understood war and the politics of war.  He told us of his delight at being selected by President Roosevelt for the important post of ambassador.  He recognized its great importance to our country and said that it meant much to him and to his family to represent the United States in what many considered the most important of all United States diplomatic posts.

It didn’t take long for the ambassador to get to the war.  He covered the ballpark, and his views were expressed with emphasis.  He had seen the war develop.  He thought the British could have avoided it, but because of inept leadership, they had not.  “They literally stumbled into this war, and now they wonder how they got there.  And they’re also wondering how to get out of it.

“As I read public opinion,” said he, “the British are far from being of one mind about the situation in which they find themselves.  Of one thing I am certain, however.  They want us in this war.  In my judgment, it would be a great mistake for the United States to get involved in a second European war within 25 years.  This is a European quarrel, the settlement of which should be left to the Europeans to handle.  I admit that much is happening on the continent of which I do not approve, but much of it is none of our business.  In my judgment, Europe is due for a big shakeup after this war is over, no matter who wins.  And who at this time can forecast the victor?

“Another thing of which I am equally certain is that the British Empire is coming apart, whether the Allies win or lose this war.  In other words, the British Empire has had its day.  No wonder they want us in the war to help bolster their waning fortunes.

“For my part, I counsel keeping out of this war, no matter what happens to our British friends.  Many, no doubt, will disagree with me.  But as I see it, the British are a decadent race, and because of their decadence, they are certain to lose this war unless, of course, they can persuade us to get into it with them.  And if we do get into this war, mark my word, we will be committing this country to carry the major burden of the Allied cause.

“I also have a personal reason for wanting to keep out of this war.  Mrs. Kennedy and I have given nine hostages to civilization.  I refer to our children.  If war comes to us, those of military age are bound to be called up.  I rebel at the idea of my children being tossed into a world war, with all its attendant dangers, for the purpose of saving this decadent people.”

When the ambassador started his talk, he was mild in manner and spoke pleasantly and calmly.  As his talk progressed, the earnestness of his position was apparent from his rapid, forceful, staccato delivery.  By the time he had reached the decadence of the British and the possible military service of his children, he was really on fire, seated on the edge of his chair, articulating vigorously for emphasis.

At this point, the ambassador apparently realized that he had been most outspoken.  Recovering his composure, he quietly reminded Admiral Sexton that he had been told he could express himself freely and frankly, and he had done just that.  Few questions were asked.  No doubt those present were sobered, as was I, with the vigorousness of his expression.  Following a few minutes of informal discussion, Admiral Sexton thanked the ambassador for sharing his views, and the meeting was at an end.

I made an oral report to Admiral Stark about the ambassador’s talk, remarking on the ambassador’s extraordinary outburst about the war in general and the British in particular. Admiral Stark expressed surprise as to the nature of the ambassador’s remarks. He wanted to know if I really thought the ambassador intended to be as critical of the British as I seemed to think he was. My reply was that, if the ambassador had remarked only once about the decadence of the British, I might have thought it a slip of the tongue, but since he chose to emphasize that point a number of times, I had come to the conclusion that he really meant what he was saying.

Of course, in 1940, there was powerful isolationist sentiment in the United States, so the ambassador’s views about staying out of the European conflict were not so extraordinary. However, his view of the people in the country to which he was accredited as ambassador was remarkable. As a postscript, not long after his talk before the General Board, Kennedy resigned as ambassador and was replaced by John G. Winant. Two years later, when John was serving as FDR’s naval aide, John described Kennedy’s talk to the president. The president responded, “You know, that doesn’t surprise me in the least. Joe just didn’t like the British. He was almost violent about them. We just had to get him out of there.”


McCrea, Vice Adm. John L., A Naval Life, edited by Julia C. Tobey (2012) (unpublished pdf document), pp. 431-433.

“Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr.,” Wikipedia, last visited 8.14.17,

Scottish Spirit: A Memory of Fala

During the spring or summer of 1942, John McCrea visited the home of President Roosevelt at Hyde Park. On that occasion, the president decided to give John a personally guided tour of the area. For this outing, the president took the wheel of his automobile, specially fitted with controls that allowed him to operate the accelerator, brake and clutch by hand. John sat in the front seat next to the president. In the back seat were Charlie Fredericks, the president’s Secret Service bodyguard, and Fala, his Scottish terrier.

The president thought John should see the Vanderbilt Mansion near the village of Hyde Park. Here I will let John take up his story:

Off we went at what I thought was a pretty good rate of speed, all things considered. … On arrival at the Vanderbilt mansion, just a short distance north of the village of Hyde Park, the president thought I should go into the house. He said that, at the very least, I should look at the elegant ground floor. This I did.

The president decided that this was a good chance for Fala to have a run. From the high rate of speed at which the dog took off, he evidently thought well of the idea, too. On my return from a quick tour of the Vanderbilt mansion—indeed, it was a mansion— the president indicated that we should be getting on. He called to Fala. Charlie Fredericks called to Fala. But Fala either didn’t hear or, hearing, thought little of returning to the car.

Finally, Charlie Fredericks took off after Fala. He cornered him under a low-branched pine tree, picked him up, and returned him to the car. Charlie, who was slightly on the stout side, was puffing. The Scottish Terrier was so little winded by the chase that the president gaily remarked, “You know, Charlie, I think Fala is in a lot better shape than you.” The three of us had a good laugh. Fala, the silent one, only wore a pleased look.

Perhaps he was enjoying the thought that he’d shown the President of the United States that dogs have a Declaration of Independence, too.

Source: Captain McCrea’s War, pp. 80-81.



This Ship Was Named for a Joke


(USS Shangri-La CV-38), an Essex-class aircraft carrier in August 1946)

This U.S. aircraft carrier is the USS Shangri-La, built during World War II and commissioned on 15 September 1944. Most aircraft carriers are named after battles or earlier U.S. Navy ships. Why was this one named after a fictitious place in a novel, the book Lost Horizon by James Hilton? The answer lies in President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s sense of humor and the daring “Doolittle Raid” on Tokyo on 18 April 1944.

The early months of U.S. involvement in the Pacific war were marked by Japanese advances and Allied defeats. To shake Japan’s sense of invincibility and boost U.S. morale at home, the Navy developed a plan to bomb Tokyo and other targets in the Japanese homeland by launching bombers from an aircraft carrier. This project was no mean feat. The bombers—U.S. Army B-25B Mitchell medium bombers—were land-based planes that had to be significantly modified to carry out the mission. Most particularly, they had to be fitted with larger fuel capacity for their long range deployment. The crews of the planes, all volunteers, were specially trained to take off on a short runway. The planes were too big to land on an aircraft carrier so after delivering their payload, they were supposed to fly to Allied fields in China to land.

On 18 April, sixteen bombers, led by Lieutenant Colonel James Doolittle of the U.S. Army Air Corps, took off from the aircraft carrier USS Hornet. They dropped their bombs over Japan, doing little physical damage but delivering a psychic blow to the Japanese and a lift to the American public. Then the planes flew on to China and the Soviet Union. Because the planes had had to launch further east of Japan than initially planned, they didn’t have enough fuel to reach their target air fields, and most of their crews had to crash land or bail out. Despite all, most of the plane crews survived the war.

President Roosevelt was at Hyde Park on the day of the raid. John McCrea, his naval aide, called him from Washington the following day to deliver his morning briefing. In Captain McCrea’s War, McCrea described their conversations about the raid:

“The most important item of the morning’s report, Mr. President, is that U.S. planes made an air attack on Tokyo.”

“Really?” said the president with a laugh. Of course, he was privy to the whole operation, and the raid was no surprise to him. “And where, John, do you suppose those planes came from?”

“That, Mr. President, is what the Japanese want to know. According to our intelligence sources, that question is on the lips of everyone in Tokyo.” I moved on to the other items of my report.

About one o’clock that afternoon, the president called me. “I think I can answer the Japanese who are asking where the air raid came from. Ask Ernie King if he doesn’t think it would be a good idea to say the raid came from Shangri-La. If we do, when this story reaches Japan, every Japanese will be busy looking at his or her equivalent of the Rand-McNally Atlas trying to find Shangri-La.”

I called Admiral King and told him what the president had said. Admiral King laughed softly and said he thought rather well of the idea. Soon a press release was issued stating that it was “rumored” that the attack planes were from their base in Shangri-La.

The name of the carrier USS Shangri-La derives from FDR’s little joke on the Japanese people. When the carrier was launched on 24 February 1944, the ship was christened by Mrs. James H. Doolittle, wife of the leader of the Doolittle Raid.



McCrea, Vice Adm. John L. Captain McCrea’s War: etc. New York: Skyhorse Publishing, 2016. Pp. 89-90.

 “Doolittle Raid,” Wikipedia,, last accessed 4.19.2017.

“USS Shangri-La (CV-38),” Wikipedia,, last accessed 4.19.2017.

Mr. Molotov is Photographed at the White House

John McCrea was personally involved in arranging for the photograph of President Roosevelt and Vyacheslav Molotov, the minister of foreign affairs of the Soviet Union, in the president’s office. McCrea vividly described how he managed to find a photographer to take the picture and still preserve the secrecy of Molotov’s visit.

Molotov visited the United States in June 1942. He came to meet with President Roosevelt to discuss Lend-Lease aid and the opening a second front in the war. The visit was top secret, and Molotov traveled incognito under the name of Mr. Brown. On his last morning in Washington, Molotov went to the White House to say his goodbyes to the president. From here McCrea takes up the story.


[Mr. Molotov] was accompanied by his bodyguards, a tough-looking three or four, who were carrying sidearms, much to the distress of the Secret Service chaps on duty. Mr. Molotov presented this group to the President.

Shortly before Mr. Molotov’s arrival at the White House, the President called me on the telephone, and here is about the way it went. “Mr. Brown will be in my second floor study in half an hour. I want a picture made of this event. Get a photographer from the pressroom whom you can trust. Bring him upstairs and have him stand by to photograph our meeting on signal.”

“I recognize the secrecy connected with this occasion, Mr. President. I know no photographers in the pressroom, let alone one who could be trusted. And this being Saturday morning, there may not be any photographers in the pressroom anyway. But rest assured, Mr. President, I will have a photographer here when you give me the signal.”

I immediately rang up Captain Leland Lovette, the head of the Navy public relations office. I told him I wanted a photographer at the White House at once. Lovette replied that he only had one photographer on duty, and at that moment, he was in the outer office of the Secretary of the Navy, standing by to photograph the Secretary awarding a Navy Cross to someone who had distinguished himself during the Pearl Harbor raid.

“Leland,” said I, “grab that guy, get him and his equipment in a taxi, and send him to the northwest gate of the White House. Do this at once. I will meet him there and give him his instructions. This is an urgent assignment, and under no circumstances are you to question the photographer as to its nature. Do you understand?” Leland replied that he did.

I met the photographer at the Pennsylvania Avenue northwest gate. We walked up the gravel drive to the White House. As we came through the front door, the chief usher, Howell Crim, said that the President wished to see me at once. On the way up to the second floor, I briefed the photographer. “After the photographs are taken, you are to return to your laboratory, develop your film, make no prints, and bring the film to my office on the second floor of the Navy Department, front corridor. You are not to volunteer any information as to the nature of this assignment, nor answer any questions about it. Captain Lovette, your chief, has been similarly instructed by me in this matter.”

The photographer and I went directly to the President’s study. The President introduced me to “Mr. Brown.” The pictures were quickly taken. I sent the photographer back to the Navy Department in my Navy-chauffeured Pontiac and returned to the President’s study. Shortly afterwards, I took off with the official party for the Anacostia Naval Air Station where a Russian plane was ready to fly Mr. Molotov and his associates back to Russia.

The photograph was released by Steve Early, the president’s press secretary, after Molotov had arrived back in the Soviet Union

The President vs. The Press

FDR at Press Conf 1

Every administration attempts to shape coverage in the press. President Trump does so by tweeting, having virtually given up press conferences. Trump’s press secretary supports the boss’s message by defending and validating his tweets. Stung by press criticism of tweets loosely connected to fact, the administration regards the media as the “opposition party,” and the president’s press secretary has attempted to limit the attendance and questions of the mainstream press at White House news briefings. The Trump approach seems focused on damping voices that disagree.

John McCrea described quite different press relations at the White House in 1942, during the first year of WW II. Franklin Roosevelt regarded the press as essential to getting his message out to the country. Unlike Trump, he could not reach people directly and easily through a medium like Twitter, although he did make occasional radio broadcasts to the country. To be sure there were tensions about the quality of reporting and the amount of information released by the administration, but the relationship between president and press was more mutually beneficial than adversarial.

FDR held two press conferences a week, one for the morning papers and one for the evening ones. About 150 reporters attended. FDR enjoyed bantering with the reporters. Most of their questions were impromptu, but complicated ones requiring special briefing for the president could be submitted in advance to Steve Early, the president’s press secretary. Most of the reporters were respectful. McCrea knew of only one incident when a reporter’s insolence and his abusive and inaccurate columns made the president angry enough to consider excluding him from the conferences.

Since it was wartime, the president had to withhold information on matters that might harm the country’s war effort. Once FDR dispatched McCrea, his naval aide, to try to explain to a reporter why the president could not respond to his persistent questioning. Here I quote from Captain McCrea’s War about the incident:

In the late thirties and early forties, Elmer Davis was a well- known newsman and news broadcaster with a considerable following. Mr. Davis was one of the regular attendees of the president’s news conferences, and his pointed questions and remarks reflected criticism of the quantity and quality of the war news released by the administration. He was particularly persistent in asking about U.S. war losses. The president, as always, was exceedingly tactful in handling Mr. Davis.

I vividly recall the distress in the president’s voice one day after a press conference when he said: “John, catch Elmer Davis before he gets away. Take him aside and see if you can get across to him the idea that he can’t publish everything he wants to about our losses. Steve Early [the president’s press secretary] tells me he can make no headway with him, and I haven’t the time to take him on.”

I caught Mr. Davis and tried to explain that the release of information about war losses, particularly those unknown to the enemy, created serious problems for the administration and the armed services. Mr. Davis was, I thought, remarkably naïve. He responded, “The American public has a right to know what’s going on. If the administration released a daily summary of U.S. losses, the information would only be covered in the U.S. press, and the enemy would know nothing about it. I suspect you fellows in the military have something to cover up if you don’t want your losses known in this country.”

“Mr. Davis,” said I, “I don’t know you well, but you have a fine reputation among the news fraternity, and there is hardly anyone in your profession who has a greater following. I have in mind something to tell you, but I shan’t do so unless you are willing to promise that you will never repeat or make reference to it in your writing, broadcasting, or your private conversation or correspondence. If you give me this assurance, I will tell you. If not, we might as well forget any future conversations.” After a moment’s hesitation, Mr. Davis agreed to my terms.

I continued, “You have told me that a daily press report of U.S. losses could not benefit the enemy. You are absolutely wrong in this. Nightly, an embassy here in Washington sends a coded dispatch to its government’s foreign office containing a digest of all military news in our press. The country engaged in this activity is supposedly neutral, but we have proof positive that the military information transmitted by its embassy is reaching the Axis powers. I am not going to name the neutral country or tell you how we know the information is reaching the enemy. You will have to take my word for it. However, I am sure that you, as a patriotic American, would not want to give aid and comfort to our enemies. Do you need further proof of the wisdom of censoring our losses?”

“Well, no. But we can’t let censorship take over.” Mr. Davis still felt the people had a right to know, although he allowed that the issue of “when” they were entitled to know might be relevant. I do not recall that Mr. Davis ever again asked about our country’s losses at a presidential news conference.