Harry H. Vaughan, 87, a retired major general in the Army Reserves and a White House aide in the Truman administration, died of cardiac and respiratory arrest Wednesday at DeWitt Army Hospital at Fort Belvoir.
Gen. Vaughan and President Truman became friends when both were field artillery officers in World War I. The future general and the future president remained close in the years of Truman's election to the Senate and then to the vice presidency as President Franklin D. Roosevelt's running mate in 1944. As vice president, Truman asked that Gen. Vaughan, then a colonel, be appointed his military aide. When he succeeded Roosevelt in the White House in 1945, he took Col. Vaughan with him. Two months later, the colonel was promoted to brigadier general. In 1946, he was promoted to major general. He remained on the White House staff until Truman left office in 1953.
During his public life, Gen. Vaughan became a figure of controversy -- and of fun -- and the source of some embarrassment to powerful figures in the Truman administration, if not to the president himself. He was investigated by a Senate subcommittee headed by the late Sen. Joseph R. McCarthy (R-Wis.) in connection with alleged influence peddling. In fact, Gen. Vaughan had accepted a deep freezer costing $520 from persons interested in expediting the freeing of some European oil from war-time regulations. No wrongdoing was uncovered. Later, he was criticized for accepting a decoration from president Juan Peron of Argentina. In 1957, during the Eisenhower administration, Congress passed a law permitting officials to wear such honors.
Through it all, Truman remained the steadfast friend and shield of his fellow-Missourian.
At a dinner in Arlington at which the general was to be honored, the president made a speech in which he said, "No S.O.B. is going to tell me who to have on my staff or in my cabinet."
In 1946, Truman acceded to a request from his aide that Winston Churchill be persuaded to speak at Westminster College in Fulton, Mo., the general's alma mater and where he had played center on the football team. The wartime prime minister of Britian complied. What he said there has entered the language: "From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic an iron curtain has descended across the continent," his famous warning against Soviet expansion in Europe.
Gen. Vaughan, whose loyalty to his chief once was described as like that of a St. Bernard to his master, apparently believed that the greatest service he could perform for Truman was to provide occasional relief from the burdens of office. If critics of the administration said Gen. Vaughan had "hoof-and-mouth disease" when it came to some of his statements on public policy, few denied that he was a gifted story-teller and after-dinner speaker.
"The president and I discussed numerous things, but my influence over him is doubtful," he once said. "I don't suppose anyone gives him more advice than I do -- or has less of it used."
On another occasion, Gen. Vaughan told a reporter, "I may not be the best military aide in history, but . . . if I can give (the president) one belly laugh a day, I think I have earned my pay."
Some of his pranks would have done credit to a college fraternity pledge. He once turned a pig loose in the office of J. Edgar Hoover, the late director of the FBI. Some years after Truman had left office, Gen. Vaughan called Dean Acheson, who had been secretary of state, and said he had a friend who was out of work. Acheson agreed to see him and Gen. Vaughan arrived with his friend, who turned out to be Truman.
After he left the White House, Gen. Vaughan lived in retirement in Alexandria and occupied himself in behalf of his church and numerous veterans and fraternal groups of which he was a member. But the deep freezer that he had accepted became one of the symbols with which the Republicans sought to discredit the Truman years. (Another was a mink coat given to the wife of an official of the Reconstruction Finance Corporation).
The crux of this aspect of the GOP effort was alleged influence peddling.
In their most virulent form, influence peddlers received 5 percent of the value of contracts awarded to their clients by reason of their access to government officials. Thus, they became known as "5 percenters."
Gen. Vaughan survived the attacks with his reputation intact. In 1956, he won a $10,000 libel judgment from the Curtis Publishing Company for an article by the late columnist Drew Pearson entitled, "Confessions of an S.O.B."
Harry Hawkins Vaughan was born in Glasgow, Mo., and grew up in St. Louis. After graduating from Westminster College, he enlisted in the National Guard and served on the Mexican Border. When the United States entered World War I, he was commissioned in the field artillery.
It is said that his friendship with Truman began at Fort Sill, Okla. Truman was being dressed down for some infraction at an officers' call. Lt. Vaughan arrived late and thereby distracted the wrath of the training officer from Truman to himself. The two young officers served in France together. Later, when both were starting their civilian careers, they commanded units in the Missouri National Guard.
In 1940, when Truman was running for reelection to the Senate, Gen. Vaughan was his campaign treasurer. Early in World War II, the general was sent to Australia, where he spent a period as provost marshal of Brisbane. In 1943, he was injured in a plane crash and was sent to Walter Reed Hospital. When he had recuperated, Truman put him on the staff of a Senate committee he chaired that was investigating wartime expenditures.
The two worked together until Truman left the White House.
Gen. Vaughan was a member of Westminster Presbyterian Church in Alexandria, where he was an elder and taught Sunday school and Bible classes. He also was a member of the Society of American Legion Founders and of many other veterans groups. He was a Mason and a Shriner.
His wife, the former Margaret Pilcher, whom he married in 1920, died in 1975.
Survivors included a son, David, of Atlanta, and a daughter, Janet, of Alexandria, and three grandchildren.
The family suggests that expressions of sympathy be in the form of contributions to Westminister Presbyterian Church, 2701 Cameron Mills Rd., Alexandria