DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:
Where I'm from, fried chicken is a crisis food. It's what you take to help feed the crowd after a funeral or what you sneak into a friend's fridge when she's going through a rocky patch. Well, it turns out fried chicken was on the menu at the White House during a crisis for President Truman, the night he begin planning America's role in the Korean War.
Ms. STACEY BREDHOFF (Senior Curator, National Archives): They had fruit cup, fried chicken, shoestring potatoes, buttered asparagus, scalloped tomatoes, hot biscuits, hearts of lettuce, vanilla ice cream with chocolate sauce, and cupcakes.
ELLIOTT: Before dinner, President Truman's War Cabinet had cocktails and hors d'oeuvres, all pulled together at the last minute by Alonzo Fields. Mr. Fields was the chief White House butler during the Truman administration, and his typewritten work notes from that day are part of a new display at the National Archives.
Unidentified Reader: Sunday, June 25, 1950, was like so many days in June in Washington: hot and muggy.
ELLIOTT: The day before, North Korea had invaded its neighbor to the south. President Truman was at home in Independence, Missouri for the weekend, and Mr. Fields had given his staff the weekend off as well, leaving him without his regular cast of cooks, servers and butlers when he was suddenly called in.
Unidentified Reader: At about 4 p.m., Mr. Clunch(ph), the usher on duty, called me excitedly, saying that the president was returning and wanted cocktails and dinner at 8:00 o'clock p.m. for the secretary of state and the Army, Navy and Air Force chiefs of staff.
Ms. BREDHOFF: This sent him into a, you know, frenzy of activity.
ELLIOTT: Stacey Bredhoff is a senior curator at the National Archives.
Ms. BREDHOFF: He hopped in a cab and headed downtown. He got the help of the D.C. police to help round up some of the other White House kitchen staff, you know, because, of course, you know, before cell phones they had no way to really get in touch with people quickly.
Unidentified Reader: I planned dinner in the cab on my way to the White House, in respect to the supplies I had on hand. I cooked, set the table, made canapés for cocktails, until the first cook arrived at 6:00 o'clock p.m., which gave me leave to continue setting the table.
My first butler arrived at 7:45, and the guests started to arrive at 7:50. Secretary Acheson and General Omar Bradley were the first to arrive. The president arrived at 8:30, and we proceeded with the dinner that started the conference in making the decision to take police action in Korea.
ELLIOTT: The words of chief White House butler Alonzo Fields. He got a behind-the-scenes look at this historic moment, but only up to a point. As Secretary of State Dean Acheson recalled, President Truman didn't want waiters around when they began discussing the situation in the Far East. After dinner, President Truman dismissed the servants and with full stomachs his War Cabinet started to map out its response to the invasion of South Korea.
Alonzo Fields' work notes of June 25, 1950 are now on view as part of the exhibit Eye Witness: American Originals from the National Archives. It's now in Washington but will tour the country next year.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.