Manuscripts/Mixed Material Interview with Robert E. Barbour
BARBOUR: Lyndon Johnson, December 1967, had gone to the funeral of the Australian Prime Minister who died while swimming. While there he felt he had to return by way of Vietnam, none of this had anything to do with Rome. In the third week of December, I suppose, Harry Shlaudeman, who was working for the Secretary then, showed up in Rome and was seen in and out of the Ambassador's office several times. I think, in retrospect, Harry had been sent there by the Secretary to tell Reinhardt very privately that something might happen. Sure enough, in Vietnam, by this time it was about December 21st or 22nd, the President had the brainstorm of thinking that in the context of Vietnam what could be better than to be in Rome with the Pope on Christmas Eve. Horace Busby and somebody else showed up in Rome and took rooms in the hotel across from the Embassy, where they stayed; no contact. On about the 22nd, I think, they came over and informed the Ambassador that the President had decided to visit the Pope on Christmas Eve and make an appeal for peace in Vietnam, but we were not to say anything to the Italians. I guess at that particular moment both Frank Malloy and Sam Gavin were away and I was sort of sitting in the DCM's office for reasons I am not sure, so I was in that meeting. Reinhardt said, “He can't come to Italy without seeing the President of Italy.” One of them said that he didn't like that at all, he knew Johnson's mind, Johnson wanted to see the Pope, come in and leave. Reinhardt made his point again, it would be a national insult, he could not just come in and go without touching Italian base. One of them said, “I think we have to remember for whom we are working.” Reinhardt said, “I know full well, I do not need to be told, for whom I am working; but he cannot come here without seeing the President of Italy.” “So be it, but do not tell the Italians.” This was at most three days before he was due to arrive.
Before long, the Italians were on to it themselves, in principle if not in detail; then we were authorized to discuss arrangements. Yes, he would go out to see the President of Italy at his Villa out near Fiumicino. But some of the details, such as where he would land were not to be revealed because a decision had not been made whether he would land at Fiumicino or Ciampino. All the vast machinery was set in place; the White House had sent some White House helicopters to Spain where they awaited orders, a vehicle was to be dropped at the airport, etc. So we began planning; by now it was the 23rd of December and he was due the next day.
Q: Italy sort of turns off around Christmas.