Manuscripts/Mixed Material Interview with John H. Kelly
In Bangkok, I was asked to write a speech for the President because by that point exhaustion had long overtaken members of his traveling party. LBJ would give several speeches during the course of a day and his writers were completely out of words. I happened to be in one of the control rooms with Idar and Bill Crockett, the Deputy Under Secretary for Administration and the chief State Department honcho of Presidential trips. Johnson was in one of his usual piques because he didn't like the draft he had been given. Someone asked me whether I could write. I said I would try. So I wrote a speech which the President delivered the next day and everyone patted me on the back. I don't think it was a particularly good speech, but it was different from the last dozens he had given and it was used. That was enough! Johnson stayed in Bangkok for four days; he was stretching out his Asia trip for electoral purposes. The trip in general was much longer that it needed to be for pure international affairs reasons.
Another of my tasks in Bangkok was to be the “gifts” officer. That was a last moment assignment because the official who was supposed to have that task—he had accompanied the Presidential group throughout Asia—got drunk and was out of combat. So I suddenly became the “gifts” officer which entailed accompanying the President and Mrs. Johnson to all their calls, with a satchel full of gifts. My task was to pull the right one out for the right person at the right moment. The gifts were all engraved and I had to be sure that there were no slip ups, inadvertent or otherwise. So I felt like a valet to elected royalty. I found it a lot of fun and not at all demeaning.
In Bangkok, I had an occasional opportunity to watch Graham Martin in action. I remember how magisterial he was. During the “advance” period, I attended a meeting in Martin's office which included members of the White House's and State's advance teams during which an argument had arisen about which Embassy's offices would be turned over to the Presidential party, which included the Secretary of State. Graham Martin insisted that no Embassy offices would be turned over to the any member of the President's party and that the Secretary of State could certainly not be accommodated at the Embassy. He and others in the visiting party could work out of their hotel rooms. The S/S representative found that very hard to swallow; he wanted the Secretary to have an office in the Chancery. But Martin would not give. I had not been exposed to many ambassadors, but I wondered how any ambassador refuse to have the Secretary of State stay in his or her Chancery. That gave me a sense of who Graham Martin really was.
In any case, I spent a month on the road advancing and supporting Johnson's trip. I along with all others got our White House cufflinks, pens, tie clasps and other souvenirs. Mrs. Johnson, who is a very gracious lady, called me into the Presidential suite at the end of the Bangkok tour; she had noticed that I had been at several events during their various stops. She gave another set of cufflinks—better than the ones that were being passed around. In any case, those Presidential visits were a real learning experience; I put that knowledge to good use in later assignments when the President, or the Secretary of State or some other high ranking official would drop in on my post of assignment.