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PART III SHAPER OF THE POST-WAR WORLD 331 CHAPTER 11 The Veterans Administration “Infiltration and encirclement as practiced in Washington” After Victory, Eagle TAC, Wiesbaden, Germany, 14 May 1945 Late in the afternoon on 14 May 1945, a week after the German surrender to SHAEF at a schoolhouse in Reims, Omar Bradley treated eight officers, including Major Bigland, to a celebratory dinner and musical review in London hosted by Ike. It was the first time Brad been able to indulge his love of musical theater since his only trip back to America in September 1943. Later that evening at a BBC press reception, Brig. Gen. Edwin Sibert, Bradley’s intelligence chief, told Bigland that just before the Bulge he bet Monty five pounds sterling that the war would be over before 1 June 1945. Still depressed by the failure at Arnhem and frustrated by SHAEF’s broad-­ front strategy, Monty accepted. Now Sibert asked Bigland to collect: “When I approached Monty, he got out the betting book which he kept, crossed the bet out, put ‘paid’ and asked me whether he should pay by checque, by cash, or with one of the splendid big old ‘fivers.’ I said I was sure that to sign an old ‘fiver’ would be best and would be overpaying!” Sibert framed the note, and within hours there were hundreds of photos of the memento circulating. Victory did not curb the intense rivalry or the preliminary jockeying about who won the war.1 At a press conference the next day in Washington, DC, President Harry Truman—­ in office for only a few weeks, unsure of himself, and facing decisions everywhere—­ responded to a host of controversies swirling around the Veterans Administration. Agreeing that “modernization” of the agency was a top priority, he suggested that there would be no immediate changes.2 This was certainly reasonable, given the number of serious matters competing for the president’s attention, but in fact he was on the verge of initiating a stunning shakeup. An earlier idea that a single powerful figure, enjoying universal 332 Part III Shaper of the Post-War World goodwill and with the full backing of the executive branch, could implement demobilization and take care of the veterans, was about to take an entirely different turn. In such a volatile political environment, the key was presidential backing and Harry Truman, a veteran of the Great War and onetime captain of Battery D, 129th Field Artillery, was facing a skeptical citizenry long accustomed to a strong, tested, and beloved wartime leader who had suddenly been ripped from the scene. Through three and a half years of hardship, sacrifice , defeats, and victories, the people believed that FDR would not only guide them to the end but also care for them in the years after. Now a stranger was leading them, “a cardboard cutout; a dapper prairie-­ state politician in a bow tie and double-­ breasted suit who spoke flippantly in a twangy, earthy vernacular that contrasted gratingly with the cultured elegance of FDR.”3 President Truman, seemingly on the defensive, reacted like an aggressive general determined to seize the initiative. By making one of the most important appointments of his entire presidency, he set the course along which veterans’ policy has traveled since. A day after the press conference, Truman told Marshall that he wanted Bradley to run the Veterans Administration. Anticipating the proud general’s disappointment at being rebuffed for a field or figure 11.1. President Harry Truman and Omar Bradley forged one of the longest and most important relationships between president and general in American history (ARMY Magazine). Chapter 11 The Veterans Administration 333 military government command, the president stressed to all intermediaries that Bradley be assured his military career would be enhanced. On the same day that Truman conveyed his decision to Marshall, Bradley was preparing to host a luncheon reception at his headquarters for Soviet marshal and army group commander Ivan Konev, the “Conqueror of Berlin.” Reciprocating an earlier visit to the 3rd Ukrainian Front HQ, the Americans had not yet given way to Cold War hostility, and the victorious generals were busy decorating, entertaining, and exchanging gifts with each other, though wariness was growing.4 Eisenhower phoned that morning. “‘Bradley, I know you’re entertaining Konev today, but as soon as he leaves, jump on a plane and come on back and spend the night with me. I have something to take up with you.’ Those were the words he used...


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