Manuscripts/Mixed Material Interview with Peter J. Skoufis
A lot of the veterans were artists who were going to art schools in Paris. Because of their temperament they were difficult to deal with; some were nearly impossible. A lot studied French; others just stayed there because Paris was just a nice place to be after the war. They all needed the $50 per month subsistence allowance. There were a number of future distinguished people among the beneficiaries—people like Art Buchwald, who had been a Marine who stayed to study French at the Alliance Frances because he enjoyed the place and he had a chance to write. I would say that 60-70% were serious students; the others were there for the thrill of being in Paris.
For most of our substantive work, we dealt directly with the VA in Washington. We started to send material through the State Department, but then found out that headquarters was not receiving our mail. There was no special office in the Department that was concerned with our operations so that much of our mail seemed to disappear. There was a woman in the Department that was supposed to act as the liaison with the VA, but she became overwhelmed by the workload. So we began to sent most of our reports—fiscal, etc—directly to the VA. We were spending its appropriations and it had to have these reports to maintain accountability. So we worked closely with the VA on the technical aspects of our work.
I got to Paris in 1947 and stayed for four years. As we gained experience, we developed a modus operandi with State Department—the Paris Embassy and the VA Office. The system worked very well; the Embassy became much more responsive to our problems in terms of space and administrative support in general. One indication of that was the fact that we were permitted to move into the Embassy. After my first year in Paris, the Embassy improved greatly in the administrative area with the arrival of Graham Martin as the chief administrative officer. He brought with him a team of administrative people who greatly improved the Embassy's operations and made it much more responsive to its clients' need including our own. We got space and people when we needed them. We were quite happy with Martin, Eddie Crouch, Seaborn Foster, Harvey Bufallo, Jack Herfurt—a whole succession of administrative types who were complete professionals. The administrative support became first rate and our relationships with the Embassy became very good. Although we were, as were all Staff Corps personnel, responsible for finding our own housing, but we were given lots of help.