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George Elsey's 'Unplanned Life'
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George Elsey's 'Unplanned Life'

George Elsey's 'Unplanned Life'

George Elsey's 'Unplanned Life'
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Presidential aides George M. Elsey and Charles Murphy. Credit: Bettmann/CORBIS. i

Truman aide George M. Elsey (right), chats in 1951 with Charles Murphy, the president's counsel, outside their quarters in Key West. Elsey had just announced that he was leaving the White House. Bettmann/CORBIS hide caption

toggle caption Bettmann/CORBIS
Presidential aides George M. Elsey and Charles Murphy. Credit: Bettmann/CORBIS.

Truman aide George M. Elsey (right), chats in 1951 with Charles Murphy, the president's counsel, outside their quarters in Key West. Elsey had just announced that he was leaving the White House.

Bettmann/CORBIS
The 1916 U.S. presidential flag. Credit: U.S. National Archives. i

In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson signed an order that standardized the design for a Presidential flag. It showed the Presidential seal in its center on a blue background with a white star in each of the four corners. U.S. National Archives hide caption

toggle caption U.S. National Archives
The 1916 U.S. presidential flag. Credit: U.S. National Archives.

In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson signed an order that standardized the design for a Presidential flag. It showed the Presidential seal in its center on a blue background with a white star in each of the four corners.

U.S. National Archives
The presidential seal. Credit: White House.

The presidential seal, the basis for the presidential flag, was changed by President Truman in 1945. George Elsey helped push through the changes. The eagle's head was turned toward the olive branch and 48 stars (later 50) were added around the bird. White House hide caption

toggle caption White House

George McKee Elsey quietly witnessed and participated in the making of American history as an aide to two presidents. Now 88, he has told his story in An Unplanned Life. Elsey writes about working in war and peace under Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman.

Elsey started out as a young U.S. Naval Reserve officer working for Roosevelt in the Map Room — the White House communications and intelligence operation. He handled Roosevelt’s cabled exchanges with Winston Churchill, Joseph Stalin, and Chiang Kai-shek. When Truman took office, Elsey ended up decoding and delivering the report to the president that the atomic bomb had been dropped on Japan.

Elsey was more than just a go-between. He briefed and advised the men he served. Eventually he became a trusted civilian aide to President Truman.

After his long and eventful career in government was over, Elsey went on to serve as president of the American Red Cross.

As another intstallment of The Long View series of conversations, Steve Inskeep talks with Elsey about the the life he's lived, and the lessons he's learned.

Books Featured In This Story

An Unplanned Life

A Memoir

by George Mckee Elsey

Hardcover, 276 pages |

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