Even prior to the confrontation with Talbott and the additional complication it had raised with the policy to disperse military industries, Gardner and Schriever had decided they had to make an end run around the Air Force and Department of Defense bureaucracies. They were going to have to do what Gardner had said all along would be necessary. They had to reach President Eisenhower and convince him to underwrite the project with his personal support. Despite the advances Schriever and Ramo and their teams had made, they were not moving nearly fast enough to meet Gardner’s June 1958 deadline for a “Ph.D. type” capability of two launching sites and four operational missiles, let alone his major deterrent of twenty launching sites and a stockpile of one hundred missiles by June 1960. Dealing with the Department of Defense and Air Force bureaucracies meant navigating an obstacle course. Bennie had his staff count up the number of agencies or offices from which, depending on the nature of the request, they had to seek prior approval. The total came to forty-two. Merely to obtain an air-conditioning unit to protect a computer the Ramo-Wooldridge team was purchasing from the Southern California heat became a hassle.
AN IMMIGRANT BOY
Elizabeth Milch, Schriever’s mother, as a young woman in New York not long before she met his father, Adolph Schriever. She had left Germany as a teenager to work for a German family who owned a pharmacy in lower Manhattan and moved back to Germany after marrying Adolph. COURTESY OF BARBARA SCHRIEVER ALLAN
The street-corner building in Bremen, Germany, where, in one of the apartments above the shop, Bernard Adolph Schriever was born on September 14, 1910. COURTESY OF BARBARA SCHRIEVER ALLAN
Adolph Schriever, in his engineer officer’s uniform on board the North German Lloyd Company’s passenger liner George Washington. During a cruise in 1914, the ship was trapped in New York Harbor by the outbreak of the First World War that August. The United States was then neutral, but Britain’s Royal Navy waited outside the harbor to seize German ships. COURTESY OF BARBARA SCHRIEVER ALLAN
A strong woman who would not wait for the war to end to be reunited with her husband: Elizabeth Milch Schriever with her two sons, six-year-old Bernard (left) and four-year-old Gerhard (middle). Holland remained neutral throughout the war, so they boarded the Dutch liner Noordam at Rotterdam in January 1917, just a little more than two months before a U.S. declaration of war against Germany would have blocked their coming. CCOURTESY OF BARBARA SCHRIEVER ALLAN
TEXAS AND THE ARMY AIR CORPS
Pluck and enterprise: “The Oaks,” the soft drink and homemade ham sandwich stand, erected under the shading branches of a grove of venerable live oak trees next to the twelfth green of the Brackenridge Park Golf Course in San Antonio, which Elizabeth Schriever established to support herself and her two boys. A sandwich cost fifteen cents and a glass of lemonade a nickel. COURTESY OF JONI JAMES SCHRIEVER
“Champ Gets Hot,” boasted a headline in one San Antonio newspaper: Bennie Schriever in 1931 as a senior at Texas A&M, playing a long shot while stylishly attired in the plus fours and two-tone golf shoes of the era. That year he won the Texas state junior amateur championship and the San Antonio city championship for the first of two times. Schriever’s prowess at golf not only would give him great pleasure but would also be a valuable asset in his military career. COURTESY OF JONI JAMES SCHRIEVER
Shiny boots and riding breeches: Schriever, in his senior year at Texas A&M, in the spit-and-polish uniform of an officer cadet in the horse-drawn field artillery. He would later joke that he chose airplanes because his legs were too long for the stirrups. COURTESY OF GENERAL BERNARD SCHRIEVER
Reaching for the sky: Bennie in the open cockpit of a trainer aircraft at Flying School at Randolph and Kelly Fields near San Antonio in 1932 or 1933. The washout rate was more than 50 percent, but he survived and received his wings and a second lieutenant’s commission in the Air Corps Reserve on June 29, 1933. COURTESY OF GENERAL BERNARD SCHRIEVER
A white scarf, goggles, and a leather helmet, the romantic regalia of the early 1930s, the open-cockpit era, when Schriever was a young pilot. “The gals sure liked it,” he said. “It was better than owning a convertible.” COURTESY OF JONI JAMES SCHRIEVER
The future General of the Air Force: Schriever’s idol, Henry Harley “Hap” Arnold, then a lieutenant colonel, about to take off in a Boeing P-12 biplane fighter with a load of mail during the air mail catastrophe of 1934. Arnold was commander of the operation’s Western Region, with Salt Lake City as his headquarters. Schriever was one of his pilots. ARMY AIR CORPS PHOTO COURTESY OF GENERAL BERNARD SCHRIEVER
Bennie with his prize: Dora Brett and Bernard Schriever aboard a ship traveling from the Panama Canal Zone to San Francisco in August 1937, he to head for Seattle to begin flying for Northwest Airlines, she to proceed on to Washington, where they were to be wed at Hap Arnold’s home on January 3, 1938. “Wonderful trip,” Dora wrote in her scrapbook. COURTESY OF BARBARA SCHRIEVER ALLAN
AT WAR IN THE PACIFIC
The daring of the young: Major Bernard Schriever and Major John “Jack” Dougherty, back at their home base in northeastern Australia after their wild “dive-bombing” attack in a B-17 on Japanese shipping in Rabaul Harbor on New Britain Island on the night of September 23, 1942. COURTESY OF GENERAL BERNARD SCHRIEVER
Keeping ’em flying, New Guinea, 1943: Schriever, as chief of maintenance and engineering for General George Kenney’s Fifth Air Force, supervising the repair of an engine. Schriever’s honesty and efficiency won over Kenney’s irascible deputy for combat operations, Brigadier General Ennis “Ennis the Menace” Whitehead. ARMY AIR CORPS PHOTO COURTESY OF GENERAL BERNARD SCHRIEVER
A wartime reunion: Bennie and Gerhard (right), who had acquired the nickname “Gerry” in his boyhood, visiting their mother in San Antonio during Bennie’s brief trip home in the fall of 1943. Both were lieutenant colonels by then, Gerry commanding an engineering unit at Tinker Field in Oklahoma. Behind is the little white house on Terry Court in which they grew up. COURTESY OF JONI JAMES SCHRIEVER
BUILDING THE UNSTOPPABLE
Where it all began: the Schoolhouse, the vacant Roman Catholic boys’ school in the Los Angeles suburb of Inglewood, as it was when Schriever and his band of rocket pioneers began secretly assembling there in July 1954 to launch the project to build the intercontinental ballistic missile. The former chapel, the small structure in the middle with stained-glass windows depicting the saints, was the site of their briefing room. U.S. AIR FORCE PHOTO COURTESY OF THE SPACE AND MISSILE SYSTEMS CENTER
“The wild Welshman”: Trevor Gardner, the brash, brave visionary to whom Schriever first turned to get the enterprise started. COURTESY OF TREVOR GARDNER, JR.
Gardner, left, being briefed on another of his secret high-technology projects. Looking over Gardner’s shoulder is his then assistant, Lieutenant Colonel Vincent “Vince” Ford, dubbed “the Gray Ghost” by Schriever’s staff because of his capacity for behind-the-curtain maneuvering. His talent for it was crucial in arranging the White House briefing that won Eisenhower’s backing for the missile program. The briefer is unidentified. COURTESY OF GENERAL BERNARD SCHRIEVER
A future cardinal of the military-industrial complex: Simon Ramo, center, who would rise to become the R in TRW, Inc., conferring with Schriever. On the right is Dr. Louis Dunn, Ramo’s deputy for the missile effort. Both Schriever and Gardner knew Ramo was indispensable for assembling the array of engineering and scientific talent needed to overcome the technological obstacles. COURTESY OF GENERAL BERNARD SCHRIEVER
Cold War forgiveness: John von Neumann (right), a Jewish exile from Hitler’s Europe, conferring with Wernher von Braun, a former SS officer, Nazi Party member, and the führer’s V-2 missile man, during a visit to the Army’s Redstone Arsenal in Alabama. A mathematician and mathematical physicist with a mind second only to Albert Einstein’s, von Neumann headed the scientific advisory committee for the ICBM and lent the project his prestige. JOHN VON NEUMANN PAPERS, MANUSCRIPT DIVISION, LIBRARY OF CONGRESS
The heartlessness of an early end: Seven months after immensely impressing Eisenhower at the July 28, 1955, White House briefing on the missile project, “Johnny” von Neumann had been driven to a wheelchair by the ravages of his cancer. Ike awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom in February 1956. “I wish I could be around long enough to deserve this honor,” Johnny said to the president. He died approximately a year later, on February 8, 1957, at the age of fifty-three. WHITE HOUSE PHOTO, JOHN VONNEUMANN PAPERS, MANUSCRIPT DIVISION, LIBRARY OF CONGRESS
A powerful opponent: Curtis LeMay, the formidable bomber leader who created the Strategic Air Command and directed it for nearly nine years, was a relentless foe of the ICBM program. Nicknamed “the Cigar” for the stogie he had perpetually in hand or clenched between his teeth, LeMay mocked the first of Schriever’s ICBMs, the Atlas, as “a fucking firecracker.” COURTESY OF THE NATIONAL MUSEUM OF THE U.S. AIR FORCE
An essential ally: General Thomas “Tommy” Power (right) gives a souvenir handshake to Technical Sergeant Anderson in December 1957 at the “Thor Show” Major Jamie Wallace staged in Los Angeles, under the guise of a Development Engineering Inspection, to promote the Air Force’s intermediate-range ballistic missile. Initially alarmed by Schriever while heading the Air Force Research and Development Command, Power, who succeeded LeMay as commander in chief of the Strategic Air Command, was won over and became a staunch supporter. U.S. AIR FORCE PHOTOCOURTESY OF JAMIE WALLACE
Going public in style: Schriever makes the cover of Time, then the nation’s leading newsmagazine, in April 1957. TIME MAGAZINE
Bennie in his element: testing missiles at Cape Canaveral in 1958. U.S. AIR FORCE PHOTO COURTESY OF JONI JAMES SCHRIEVER
The younger brother who betrayed: the Los Alamos identification badge of Theodore Hall, the Harvard physics prodigy who, along with Klaus Fuchs, was one of the Soviet Union’s two important spies at the atomic bomb laboratory. Hall apparently did not bother to have the mistake in the spelling of his first name corrected. COURTESY OF LOS ALAMOS NATIONAL LABORATORY
The guru of rockets: Lieutenant Colonel Edward Hall, the rocketry genius who devised Minuteman, the missile that crowned the mission to deter the Soviets from any attempt at a surprise attack. U.S. AIR FORCE PHOTO COURTESY OF SHEILA HALL
All systems go: the first successful training launch of an Atlas D-model ICBM by a Strategic Air Command crew at Vandenberg Air Force Base, on April 22, 1960. The missile is raised from its protective concrete shelter, fueled, and fired into space. U.S. AIRFORCE PHOTO
Try and try again to put a spy in the sky: After the thirteenth attempt, Lieutenant Colonel Charles “Moose” Mathison presents the first capsule retrieved from a would-be photoreconnaissance satellite, Discoverer XIII, which had been flung into orbit around the earth, to a jubilant Schriever and General Thomas White, chief of staff of the Air Force, at Andrews Air Force Base, August 13, 1960. LOCKHEED MISSILES AND SPACE DIVISION PHOTO COURTESY OF GENERAL BERNARD SCHRIEVER
Fulfillment: Bennie Schriever with four stars amid his missiles, circa 1962. HISTORY OFFICE, U.S. AIR FORCE SPACE COMMAND
The Schriever family at Barbara’s “sweet sixteen” birthday party at Andrews Air Force Base on June 11, 1965. Left to right: Brett, an Air Force navigator, with his captain’s bars; Barbara; General Schriever; Dora; Dodie; and Dodie’s pilot husband, Theodore Moeller, then also a captain. U.S. AIR FORCE PHOTO COURTESY OF BARBARA SCHRIEVER ALLAN
A LAST SALUTE
The Generals of the Air Force salute Schriever’s coffin on July 12, 2005, as it is carried up the slope of a knoll at Arlington National Cemetery to rest, as he wished, near Hap Arnold. He was buried with the honors due a chief of staff. U.S. AIR FORCE PHOTO COURTESY OF JONI JAMES SCHRIEVER
HAPPINESS IN THE EVENING
The Schriever luck holds: Joni James and Bernard Schriever on honeymoon in southern France after their wedding, which took place on October 5, 1997. COURTESY OF JONI JAMES SCHRIEVER
Having been awarded the Air Force’s highest development priority was fine, but it turned out that this did not absolve them from competing against other high-priority projects for funds. Their overall budget for each fiscal year also had to be approved by, in turn, the budget committees of the ARDC and the Air Matériel Command, and then by the Air Staff, the Air Force Budget Advisory Committee, the Air Force Council, the secretary of the Air Force, the Office of the Secretary of Defense, and the Bureau of the Budget. What they needed was a streamlined decision-making process, their own separate budget, and a designation of the highest national—not just Air Force or Department of Defense—priority, which would enable them to override everything else. Only Eisenhower could give them these privileges. The question was, how were they to get to him?
It was a task made for Vincent Thaddeus Ford, a man to whom duplicity was second nature, an adept backdoor operative whom Schriever’s staff was to nickname “the Gray Ghost.” He was an odd, neurotic man. He had been born in Winstead, Connecticut, in 1907 and grown up there until, in his mid-high-school years, his father had developed chronic chest problems of colds and pneumonia and been warned by a doctor that if he wanted to live, he had better move to a warmer and dryer climate. The family had shifted to the community of Alhambra in Southern California southeast of Los Angeles, where Vince had completed high school and studied engineering for two years at UCLA. To support himself, he also worked part-time as a meteorologist for one of the original airlines, Western, which had a contract to fly the mail. He got to know a number of the pilots and discovered that they were all college graduates, some from prestigious schools like Stanford and the University of California at Berkeley, who had taken up flying for the sheer love of it. One pilot, he recalled, always tossed in his bag of golf clubs along with the mail sack so that he could play at stopovers.
This, Vince decided, was a pretty good way to earn a living, and he became fascinated with flying himself. With the two years at UCLA to qualify him, he was accepted by the Army Air Corps and reported to Randolph Field, Texas, in the fall of 1931, just as Schriever was to do in July of the following year. He survived the 50 percent washout rate, received his wings and the gold bars of a second lieutenant in the Air Corps Reserve, and in 1932 reported for a year of active duty, again as Bennie was subsequently to do, at March Field, California. Hap Arnold was already there as base and overall wing commander. Unlike Schriever, however, Ford managed to avoid bombers and to gain a coveted assignment to one of the pursuit, or fighter, squadrons. His was the 34th, commanded by then Captain Ira Eaker and equipped with Boeing P-12 biplane fighters.
On April 14, 1933, while the 34th was practicing formation flying for its part in an air show the March Field units were to stage at the forthcoming annual air races at Santa Monica, turbulence either flung Ford’s plane down on the aircraft below or tossed the plane below up into his. They had been flying at about 10,000 feet, so Ford had plenty of time to unbuckle his seat belt, push away from the tumbling plane, and pull the rip cord on his parachute. Then he passed out. His left leg was shattered by the propeller of the plane below, which had ripped right through the skin of the P-12’s fuselage. He was flown to the Letterman Army Hospital at the Presidio of San Francisco and spent the next two years and two weeks there. The leg also became infected. The infection was ultimately cured, a lengthy process in these years before antibiotics, but bone grafts were then required to get the fragmented leg to calcify and knit back together again. By the time this had occurred, the left ankle, so long in a cast and with the foot turned off at a crazy angle to the outside, had also frozen and calcified, and so in order to walk on it he had to wear a custom-made boot with steel braces at the ankle.
Over the next few years, however, the leg itself, which had healed fairly straight, strengthened and the knee was fine. Friends would later urge him to have the ankle and foot amputated, so that a false foot could be fitted to the stump of the leg and he could lead a normal life. Edward Teller, for example, had lost a foot when he slid under a Budapest tram as a youth, but no stranger would ever know it watching him walk. Ford always refused, preferring to hop about on the dreadful souvenir of his accident. Acquaintances decided that he clung to the deformed foot because he thought it elicited sympathy.
The Second World War saved him from an empty life back in Alhambra. Contemporaries from his Air Corps days were suddenly lieutenant colonels and colonels. He hitched a ride to Washington aboard a plane being flown there from the Douglas Aircraft plant and went to see a Flying School mate who was now a full colonel in charge of all filmmaking for the Army Air Forces. He had Ford assigned as a lieutenant to the 1st Motion Picture Unit at the old Mack Sennett studios in Culver City, California. Ronald Reagan, who had obtained a lieutenant’s commission in the Cavalry Reserve after he discovered that he liked riding horses while a young radio sportscaster in Iowa, had also been assigned to the unit and promoted to captain. Ford offered to take him out to a nearby airfield on weekends to hitch rides on planes for fun, but Reagan declined. He said that the sixteen hands measurement of an average horse’s height was as high as he wanted to go.
For a man who had known the company of serious airmen, making movies in Culver City was not a satisfactory way to spend the war. Ford returned to his catalogue of classmates and one of them arranged an assignment to the Air Transport Command in England and a post as assistant operations officer for a C-47 transport squadron at Bovingdon, just northwest of London. The work was hardly exciting, but it was worthy. The surrender of Japan in August 1945 soon brought banishment to civilian life once more. By 1948, an unhappy Ford was again banging on the gate. A persistent effort led from connection to connection until a Colonel Bernard Schriever hired him. Bennie had heard of Ford’s accident after his own arrival at March Field in 1933, but the two had never met until a mutual acquaintance introduced them fifteen years later. It was the beginning of a relationship that was to last the rest of their long lives.
Although Schriever and Ford became friends and Ford felt indebted to Schriever for a renewed professional life, he had no intention of becoming Schriever’s Sancho Panza. Ford had his own agenda. He was a shrewd man who enjoyed wielding power and influencing events. He was zealous to promote causes in which he believed. But because of the limitations life had imposed on him, he had to do this through other men with rank and status. Lacking both himself, had he sought center stage, his ambition would have been regarded as ludicrous and he would have found himself back in Alhambra. His personality and character fitted him for his behind-the-scenes role. He had a smile that disarmed and great capacity for charm. He rarely showed irritation or anger and was never confrontational. The rub was that the affability might mean he was in sympathy with someone or it might mean that he was just putting them off, for Ford wore it as a mask in all seasons.
His initial move upward from being just another member of Schriever’s staff came in September 1950, when William Burden was appointed the first special assistant to the secretary of the Air Force for research and development. Through Teddy Walkowicz, who was then working for Doolittle, Vince gained an introduction to Burden and the job as his executive assistant. This had put him in position for the meeting with Gardner and the adventures that followed after Gardner appeared in the office doorway on that fateful day in March 1953.
Beginning in December 1954, Gardner and Schriever set Ford to work secretly briefing Henry Jackson, the Democratic senator from Washington State, on the impediments the ICBM program was encountering. Ford met Jackson in restaurants that were not frequented by other politicians or military officers, who might get curious. The objective was to gain Jackson’s assistance in reaching Eisenhower. They would have been hard put to find a senator more willing to help them. Scoop Jackson was not merely anti-Communist, he was ferociously anti-Soviet and, like von Neumann, a believer in “maximum armament.” He was also well placed to assist because he held the chairmanship of the Military Applications Subcommittee of the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy, the joint Senate and House committee that oversaw the Atomic Energy Commission and all nuclear activities, including the manufacture of nuclear weapons. In addition, he was a member of the Subcommittee on the Air Force of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Schriever and Gardner had invited him out to WDD the previous fall and he had been impressed. It was common in the 1950s for the military to surreptitiously appeal to friendly legislators with an end-run play like this when the need arose. There was risk, but Bennie was hardly risk-averse when the goal was worthy of the danger, and he would also have been a moral coward to have let Gardner assume sole responsibility for the plot.
He sent his executive officer, Lieutenant Colonel Beryl Boatman, to join Ford at the clandestine rendezvous with Jackson and to regularly pass the senator copies of his latest classified reports. Had the gambit gone awry, Gardner’s authority would not have saved Schriever, particularly given the antipathy toward Gardner within much of the senior ranks of the Air Force. Years later, LeMay accused Bennie of sneaking around behind the chief of staff’s back. Schriever called the accusation “a goddamn lie” and claimed that he had kept Twining informed of everything. This is doubtful. Both Twining and White, the vice chief, were supporters of the missile program. What probably happened is that they learned something of what was occurring through the grapevine—such covert maneuvering is always difficult to keep entirely hidden within the armed services—and tacitly approved by not interfering. Twining later showed his hand by invariably protecting Bennie whenever he did get into trouble. Power also apparently learned what was going on and said nothing. The unobtrusive briefings of Jackson continued for six months. The senator used the ammunition Ford and Boatman provided to hold fifteen closed hearings by his subcommittee. Gardner naturally appeared as a witness and von Neumann, ever prepared to pitch in, volunteered to testify as well. From March 1955 onward, Johnny carried the additional prestige of being one of the five commissioners on the Atomic Energy Commission, the first foreign-born scientist to be nominated to the post.
All the while, Ford had been boring another tunnel into the White House. Near the end of March 1954, Eisenhower met with a group of eminent scientists who constituted the Presidential Science Advisory Committee, PSAC for short. Its chairman was Lee DuBridge, by then president of Caltech. Eisenhower asked them to undertake a study of the nuclear Pearl Harbor nightmare that was always foremost in his mind. He was convinced, the president said, that modern weapons had increased the danger of such a surprise attack on the nation and wanted them to suggest measures through which science and technology might reduce the peril. A subcommittee subsequently entitled the Technological Capabilities Panel, and commonly known as the Killian Committee, was formed under James Killian, the president of MIT. Gardner gave the panel its first briefing, focusing on the ICBM. And Ford got himself appointed a member of the Killian Committee staff.
He managed this maneuver through a friendship he had struck up with another unsung, toiling-in-the-wings figure like himself, David Beckler, the executive director of PSAC. When the subcommittee officially began its inquiry in August 1954 after Eisenhower had reviewed and approved its agenda—which Gardner and Ford also helped to draft—Beckler needed an experienced staff man to assist the panel and to act as its liaison with the Air Force. With Ford prompting, Gardner offered the services of his executive assistant. The offer was not accepted without second thoughts. While the panel members admired Gardner, they were also wary of his zealotry and thus of Ford as his agent. Beckler’s private investigation through his own sources at the Pentagon elicited the response that, although Ford might work for Gardner, he was by nature loyal, honest in reporting, and invariably discreet. Ford did not disappoint Beckler, and Killian and the other panel members praised his “exceptional” contribution to their report. He received a letter of commendation on behalf of the president as well. But in retrospect there is also no doubt that, character reference notwithstanding, Ford never wavered from what had become his central mission in life. He did his best to put his finger on the Killian Committee’s scale.
The panel’s report, delivered in mid-February 1955 to the president and the National Security Council, did address Eisenhower’s concern with a surprise attack. It urged reducing SAC’s vulnerability by dispersal of its bombers and the creation of a substantial airborne alert. In a separate and ultrasecret recommendation, it also urged the building of the U-2, which, through the lenses of its spy cameras when it began overflights on the Fourth of July 1956, was to ease Eisenhower’s worry by providing the first good look into the closed interior of the Soviet Union. The most striking element in the panel’s mid-February report, however, was its warning of the strategic consequences if the Soviets achieved an ICBM capability before the United States. “The intercontinental ballistic missile can profoundly affect the military posture of either country,” the report said. The panel recommended something without precedent. The NSC had never previously lent its endorsement to a specific weapon system. The panel urged that this now be done, that the council single out the ICBM project “as a nationally supported effort of highest priority.” Gardner, Ford, von Neumann, and Schriever were elated, but then nothing happened. Nobody at the top did anything to rescue them from their plight. They learned to their chagrin that it was not enough to lay a report before the president and the National Security Council. One had to follow up by persuading the council and the president that the matter was sufficiently urgent to warrant an NSC Action Memorandum, signed by the president, and spelling out a specific measure or measures, in order to shake the bureaucracy out of its complacency. Otherwise, the system continued on in its blithely obstructionist fashion. Killian and his associates had failed to do this and Eisenhower, apparently still unaware that the Soviets would beat the United States to the launch if corrective steps were not taken, was content to leave ICBMs to the Air Force and the Department of Defense.
The crafty Ford was undaunted. He set in motion his third clandestine campaign. His new friend David Beckler helped him. With Gardner’s assent, he remained on Beckler’s PSAC staff in the Executive Office Building next to the White House. He had more freedom of action that way. The goal now was to get the subject of the ICBM itself placed on the agenda of the National Security Council so that the president could be fully informed on what needed to be done. The question was how to accomplish this. Arranging for a subject to be placed on the NSC agenda might sound like a trifling formality, but in the world of government bureaucracy, such formalities counted. It was a sine qua non if Schriever, Gardner, and von Neumann were ever to reach Eisenhower.
The NSC was the apex of the elaborate military-style staff system that Eisenhower had constructed to undergird his presidency. The council had originated with the National Security Act of 1947, which had also established the Department of Defense and reorganized the armed forces to provide for an independent U.S. Air Force. Truman had used it, as Paul Nitze’s famous NSC-68 policy paper of 1950 on the Soviet threat attests, but in limited fashion. Eisenhower transformed the council, making it his paramount body to formulate, evaluate, and guide military and foreign policy. The president was its chairman and its principal members were the heads of relevant cabinet departments, such as the secretaries of state, defense, and the Treasury, and those at the top of other concerned government organizations, like the chief of the CIA, the chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, and the chairman and members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The staff director was the president’s special assistant for national security affairs. Under him was a beehive of sections dealing with the multitude of subjects and issues of interest to the council. The most important element was the NSC Planning Board, because it set the council’s agenda. A representative of each of the NSC’s principal members sat on it. The Planning Board was, in effect, the back door to the council’s deliberations.
One of the board’s unwritten but long established rules was that a subject had to be referred to it by the department concerned, in this instance the Department of Defense. That was impossible in the case of the ICBM because Defense Secretary Wilson was opposed to singling out the missile project for special attention to the possible detriment of other high-priority projects. Beckler suggested that Ford resort to a flanking movement to get around this obstacle—going though the State Department’s Policy Planning Council, the new, more elegant name for the old Policy Planning Staff. Assistant Secretary of State Robert Bowie was chairman of the Planning Council and also sat on the NSC Planning Board as the representative of John Foster Dulles, Eisenhower’s secretary of state. Beckler introduced Ford to a civil servant who proved immensely helpful—Carlton Savage, executive secretary of State’s Planning Council. Tall, slim, and courtly, Savage was an old-timer at the State Department, a friend of Cordell Hull, Franklin Roosevelt’s secretary of state during the Second World War. He differed from many in the civil servant tribe, however, in that he had imagination and courage. As soon as he understood the importance of what Ford was about, he gave him his full support. At Ford’s request, he arranged a briefing by Gardner and von Neumann for his own superior, Robert Bowie, and a number of other senior State officials, including Robert Murphy, the deputy undersecretary of state for political affairs; Loy Henderson, the deputy undersecretary for administration; and Chip Bohlen, the Soviet specialist and current ambassador to Moscow, who happened to have been called home to assist with preparations for Eisenhower’s first summit meeting in Geneva in July with Stalin’s successors to the leadership of the Soviet Union. The objective was to make the diplomats realize the psychological and political repercussions on America’s European allies if the Soviets were able to threaten with a weapon like the ICBM and the United States had no equivalent to deter them. The briefing went extremely well and the State Department was won to the cause.
Ford was enjoying himself immensely at all of this maneuvering. Years later, he was to write of “the fun and excitement and challenge of roaming the Washington jungle when you’re hot on the trail of a major blow for freedom.” Throughout the period, unbeknownst to Beckler or Savage, Ford kept working the Senate angle, arranging more furtive meetings with Scoop Jackson. He saw to it that the senator always had a supply of fuel for his subcommittee hearings from Schriever’s classified reports delivered by Boatman. To cover his movements, Ford adopted various tricks, including the use of public telephone booths for calls he did not want anyone to be able to trace back to Beckler’s or Gardner’s offices. He jokingly referred to these afterward as “my many carefully staked out field offices around Washington—a telephone booth in the Pentagon, or over at State, or in the nearest bar, or perhaps my favorite field office on the lower deck of the Army-Navy Club—the phone booth right at the bottom of the stairs, not the other one.” (The anonymity of public phones in the 1950s appealed to others besides Ford. They were a favorite communications system of the Mafia.)
In addition to Savage, Beckler also introduced Ford to another figure who was to be of considerable aid in placing the ICBM on the agenda of the NSC. He was William Yandell Elliott, a professor of government at Harvard, who was in Washington on a temporary stint with a relatively unknown but influential organization called the Office of Defense Mobilization. It too was housed in the Executive Office Building. The Presidential Science Advisory Committee was, in fact, subordinate to it. The ODM was a successor to the Second World War’s Office of War Mobilization. During the Truman era it had become another of those skeletal formations to which Eisenhower was to give flesh and vitality. Its stated mission was to centralize management of mobilization activities in the event of conflict, but Eisenhower used it to provide him with general advice on a range of policies. Its head, Arthur Flemming, was a presidential confidant. He saw Eisenhower once a week for lunch, served on the president’s four-man Committee on Government Reorganization (an attempt at reform at which Eisenhower and his committee were not successful), and held a seat as a full member of the NSC.
Professor Elliott was Flemming’s representative on the NSC Planning Board. To impress Elliott, and a civil servant named Vincent Rock, who was Elliott’s alternate on the board, Ford brought to bear his full battery—briefings by Gardner, von Neumann, and Schriever. He had shied away from including Schriever in the State Department briefing, thinking the danger of exposure there too great for a military man. The EOB was less conspicuous. Elliott and Rock became committed partisans and in turn recruited James Lay, the executive secretary of the NSC. The result was that when the critical meeting of the NSC Planning Board took place that June of 1955, the Pentagon representatives found themselves outweighed by Bowie from the State Department, Elliott and Rock from the Office of Defense Mobilization, and Lay in the Secretariat. They backed down, the ICBM was placed on the NSC agenda, and the way was now open to speak directly to the president.
Had the road to the NSC on which Beckler had set Ford been blocked, he and Schriever, and Gardner and von Neumann, had another and so far hidden path prepared. On June 30, 1955, Eisenhower received a five-page letter signed by two senators. One was Jackson. The other was Clinton Anderson, a Democrat from New Mexico. If Jackson had clout, Anderson had a lot more. He was chairman of the Joint (House and Senate) Committee on Atomic Energy, to which Jackson’s Subcommittee on Military Applications belonged. He had also visited Schriever’s California organization in the fall of 1954 and reacted sympathetically to what he had seen and heard. He had then followed Jackson’s hearings and volunteered to co-sign the letter with him. There was no way the president could ignore the letter, even if he had wanted to do so. It described the obstacles the missile enterprise was encountering and recommended a series of radical changes to remove them. Among these were a separate budget for the ICBM independent of all other Air Force needs and an exemption from any Pentagon procurement regulation that hindered advancement. It also recommended that Eisenhower designate the program as carrying the highest national priority and that he arrange to be briefed on the project at the first opportunity. In short, the letter to the president contained all that Ford, Schriever, Gardner, and von Neumann could have wished, and with good reason. In a final act of legerdemain, Ford, Schriever, and Gardner had drafted it for Jackson and Anderson to sign. Eisenhower instructed Arthur Flemming to organize a briefing at the next meeting of the NSC. The briefing would have to wait until the end of July because Eisenhower was readying himself for his first summit confrontation in Geneva on July 18 with Stalin’s heirs.