Manuscripts/Mixed Material Interview with Robert L. Nichols
NICHOLS: He was the lawyer for Pepsi-Cola, I believe. Cables announcing his visit came into the consulate general in Hong Kong. When he was vice president, he had been in Hong Kong, and somebody had persuaded him to endow a library with some books and perhaps some money. It had become known as the Nixon Library. On this trip to Hong Kong, the consulate general wasn't too anxious to handle Mr. Nixon. He was not in public office. They didn't know what to do with him, but they knew they couldn't ignore him.
So the consul general said, “We've got an out. The Nixon Library and the cultural officer, they make a pair.” Well, Bob Nichols was made the control officer for Richard Nixon when he was in Hong Kong. Of course, Nixon got a lot of attention, press attention and so forth. I was sent down to brief him on the local situation.
I remember the consul general called me in early in the morning and said, “For God's sake, Bob, make sure he understands what's going on, the problems in Hong Kong we have on Vietnam and with Peking.” He was referring to the fact that Peking was accusing the United States of using Hong Kong as a base for its Vietnam operations. Of course, it was an R & R place for the U.S. Navy, and also the Army. The fleet was visiting all the time, and soldiers were flying in from Saigon daily.
Just prior to Nixon's arrival, one of the R & R planes had crashed at the end of the runway at Kaitak Airport in Hong Kong. Everybody on board was killed. It was a headline story and also drew attention to the fact that Hong Kong was being used by the U.S. military to send its troops from Vietnam. I was to make sure that Mr. Nixon understood the sensitivities on this score, and that when he met the press, to be aware of the problem. Of course, I had heard all these things about how Nixon didn't like the press, and I knew I was going to have to run a press conference for him.
I spent a day and a half with him, and the second day we went out to the Nixon Library. He asked a lot of questions. It was just Nixon and myself in the car, along with a congressman from California named Pat Hillings.
Q: What were your impressions of Nixon the man at that time?