Beginning in March 1974 I had the great pleasure and high honor of interning with the Secretary of the Senate, Francis R. Valeo. Valeo served because of his close relationship with the Majority Leader, Mike Mansfield, and working in Valeo’s office put one on the Mansfield team. In an era before serious security with magnetometers in Washington’s public buildings — we didn’t even have photo identification cards then — Mike Mansfield’s signature on my staff card got me anywhere I wanted to go in Washington, including the White House.
People who knew Mansfield held him in very high regard. I often tell people he was the best politician to work for, but in reality, he’s probably the best leader I ever worked with in any enterprise. He respected every senator as a representative of the people of one of the 50 states, and that respect was returned.
In his office one afternoon he met with the a couple of members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the big bigwigs from the Pentagon. Mansfield was a former sailor, marine and soldier — he had served in the Navy, Army and Marines. He lied about his age the first time. He had served in China and the Philippines, producing a life-long interest and deep expertise in U.S. affairs in the Pacific and Far East.
But this was 1974. Mansfield had turned against supporting corrupt Vietnamese politicians early in the U.S. involvement in Vietnam. Originally a supporter of Nixon’s policies, by 1974 his opposition to the war was the chief part of their relationship. Still the military guys loved him. An Army Colonel accompanying the group was anxious to explain to the young intern part of the mystique.
“You should see Mansfield in the formal meetings. Everybody is always introduced, and their full rank is laid on the table. ‘General Muckamuck. West Point ’33, Columbia Law. Admiral Bigship. General Soandso, who recently got his third star.'”
“And then they get to Mansfield. He’s the Senate Majority Leader. And he introduces himself as ‘Mike Mansfield, Private First Class.'”
I asked Mansfield about it later. He smiled, and said he might have done that a time or two. He said that the big brass in the military need to remember as every senator does that they work for the American people. Rank doesn’t make you right, he said.
Looking up a minor fact on Mansfield this morning I ran into this statement, which I’d never heard [quoting now from Wikipedia]:
This gentleman went from snuffy to national and international prominence. And when he died in 2001, he was rightly buried in Arlington. If you want to visit his grave, don’t look for him near the “Kennedy Eternal Flame”, where so many politicians are laid to rest. Look for a small, common marker shared by the majority of our heroes. Look for the marker that says “Michael J. Mansfield, Pfc. U.S. Marine Corps.”
Remarks by Col. James Michael Lowe, USMC, October 20, 2004.
The burial plot of Senator and Mrs. Mansfield can be found in section 2, marker 49-69F of Arlington National Cemetery.
For the sake of accuracy, I would like to know the occasion of Col. Lowe’s remarks, and who Col. Lowe is. The link at Wikipedia is dead. Does anyone know?
- The portrait is by Aaron Shikler (b. 1922 or 1925?), who also painted the official portrait of President Kennedy. More works at Davis and Langdale, Co. And here, at Time Magazine (Hillary Clinton). And here (Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis). And here (Ladybird Johnson). The painting of Mansfield hangs in the Mike Mansfield Room, S-207, in the Capitol, contrary to Mansfield’s stated wishes to be forgotten after his death.