Paul H


John F.




INT: How did it feel to tell the President of the United States that he couldn't go back to his meeting?

JFS: Well, I had that responsibility, and you do what you have to do, so I would have rather said, you know, "We can make this happen," but I felt, from the safety of the ship and the crew of the boat, and certainly first and foremost the President, that that was the recommendation. And so, Saturday evening became... instead of a state dinner, became a sort of another relaxing evening. And the President was wonderful: he had a chance to truly relax and to get out and meet the crew, walked all over the ship, and in fact I have a kind of a funny memory of that. He was walking around the ship, and we had an interior communication system, so I had a sort of a presidential early-warning system on the ship, where they would tell me "The President is now in a berthing compartment," or "The President is on the mess decks," or "The President is doing this" or "The President is doing that." And toward the evening, after the sun had gone down, I got a report: "The President is on the fo'c's'le [ph]," which is the front part of the ship, and it was so... the rain was so hard up there - it was coming down sideways - and the winds and so forth were so high, that... normally when you're at anchor, you have a young man watching the anchor, the anchor watch, and he was... it's normally a four-hour watch; I was relieving those people every half hour because it was so violent up there. The President went up there, much to the dismay of the secret service, but he went up there to meet the guy who was standing watch on the fo'c's'le and talk to him during that. So he was very relaxed, very comfortable. The ship, on the other hand, was rolling violently, papers were strewn everywhere, and the rest of the President's team, who were Mr. Baker, the Secretary of State; General Scowcroft, the National Security Adviser; and Mr. Sununu, the Chief of Staff, were not happy at all. But the President was perfectly happy and perfectly relaxed. So it was interesting.

INT: ... How did he take the news in the afternoon that he couldn't go back to his meeting? What did he say when you said to him that it was going to be impossible to get him back there?

JFS: He understood, and he received the news with "That's... (Overlap) that's the way it works."

(Request for full answer)

JFS: Well, I had to tell the President that my recommendation was that he not go back because of the high seas and particularly the violent pitching of the boat when it was alongside the ship; I didn't feel it was safe. He received that news as well as could be expected: he understood completely. Of course, the President had been in the navy, heunderstood my responsibility, so again, while it was news I didn't really want to give him, he understood that it was my responsibility and took it quite well, I thought.

INT: And how did he spend the afternoon?

JFS:They had more strategy discussions, because they had had the meeting in the morning. And one of the issues that was discussed - and I recall this, having been in the meeting - was where the next venue would be and ... when the storm finally died down, and I remember this distinctly... was all kinds of recommendations: "Well, we need to really make them come to the US ship, because we've been on the Russian ship," and those were the recommendations that went to the President. And I remember the President saying, when all the discussion was finished - he said, "You know, we're here to discuss peace, we're not here to decide where this has to be, and so we'll go to the Russian ship again if that's the best outcome." So it was very decisive, and after that everybody said, "Fine," and in fact that's what happened.

INT: Did he spend the afternoon watching the storm?

JFS: He came out, and I've got some pictures in my scrapbook of the President and me standing looking over the side and giving advice on what was going on. And again he was walking all over the ship, and a-as I said earlier, he was very comfortable with it, the storm didn't bother him personally at all, that I could tell. So, I think he was very relaxed. In fact, I got information afterwards that part of the reason the President was so relaxed was because the pressure was off a little bit for a little while, and there were, you know, no media around and all those kinds of things, so he just had a chance to kind of relax in an atmosphere in which he was comfortable.

INT: OK. You had a banquet planned for that evening. How many people... given the fact that only you and your staff and the President were feeling all right, how many people were going to participate?

JFS: We had a banquet planned, and I recall that my cooks were going to do the majority of the cooking, but there was part of the White House staff there to ensure that it was done in the right style and manner befitting heads of state. And I seem to recall that they were going to have Maine lobsters, and I do remember, because I still have a souvenir bottle, that they had champagne bottles with the presidential seal on them, and so it was going to be grand dinner. The storm made everybody feel - except again for my crew, who were used to it, and the President - made everybody feel ill enough so they really didn't want to eat, so all this wonderful food... not all was prepared, of course, because we knew we had cancelled the dinner, but some of the things that would spoil otherwise were prepared, and we had... those of us who could still eat, had a great meal. (Laughs) But it was, unfortunately, limited to just a minority of the people who were aboard. But it would have been a wonderful dinner.

INT: Now on the morning of the third day, it had quieted down a little bit, and the President was able to go back. What were the feelings on board the boat - relief?

JFS: Once again, because I had been on the bridge for about 35 hours, along with my most trusted people, to keep the ship safe, and we had to steam into the seas just to keep the ship from dragging its anchor on to shore, all night - and interestingly, I should have a note here that the worst part of the storm happened at about 2 in the morning, and so the part that you see during the... that we have seen during the news film, was not the part that was the worst part of it; fortunately, you couldn't see the part that was really, really violent - but we had been so focused on just keeping the ship safe in this very violent port... storm in port, the worst that I had ever been in port, that we really... the time went by very fast, but of course we were really exhausted and sort of relieved only because the weather was finally starting to abate. We weren't thinking much about the summit at that point, we were thinking about, again, safety of the ship and safety of the President. So the ship's crew was really relieved that the storm was passing by. I think certainly the President and his team were relieved that they were going to be able to get back to these very, very important talks that they were getting ready to have. So there was great relief all across the ship, but I think for different reasons.

INT: And in that time, in the early hours of the morning, what sort of danger was the ship in? Could you just tell me that it was the worst part of the storm and the ship was in danger of... whatever?

JFS: Well, the ship was in danger of dragging its anchor and actually going aground, because the Marsalox was a very small harbor, and to have two ships of that size at anchor was not a normal situation. In a calm situation, it wouldn't have been a problem, but we were (unclear), and so we were fairly close to the shoreline, just a few hundred yards, and if we had dragged the anchor, we could have gone aground. Now, in terms of the ship capsizing, or any real danger to the President, there really wasn't, but in terms of danger to the ship, there really was, and so that was really our objective, was to, so to speak, keep the ship off the rocks. And I had gone through a series of what I call decision points, which were things that I had to do if the weather got worse and worse and worse; and I had eight of them. The last one was to get underway and actually go to sea, which would have been extremely difficult, one I really didn't want to do if I could avoid it, because the seas outside the harbor were in the 20-foot range, and that would have been very, very dangerous, to try and get underway, try to get past the Russian ship and go to sea, but that was the only one I had left; I had actually gone through seven of the other decision points, and they were things like... we had two anchors when we started out; we had to let one of those anchors go, and that sort of thing. So we'd been through all of the...

INT: How high were the waves?

JFS: They were around 10 to 12 feet...

(Request for full answer)

JFS: Oh. The waves were around 10 to 12 feet inside the harbor. Again, they were 20 feet outside the harbor. But the sea wall there knocked the waves down. But 10 to 12 feet, again with the wind coming 90 degrees off the plane that the waves are coming from, really is a violent situation, because the waves were hitting us right on the side of the ship, as opposed to coming down on the bow. If they'd come down on the bow, we would have kind of rocked a little bit, but it would have been manageable, but coming on the side of the ship, the ship was doing about 20-degree rolls. And just to put that in perspective, a 20-degree roll puts you over to about like this, and when you look out the window, you're looking at water. So it was... And this happened, as I say, at about 2 in the morning.

(Beginning of question - interruption. Cut.)

(A bit of preliminary talk)

JFS: The progression of the weather was... Saturday night was really the worst part, and it was interesting...

(Interruption - start again. A bit of talk.)

JFS: Saturday night, the weather was really violent, as has been reported, and as I said earlier, it really peaked about 2 in the morning, and then it started to abate. It was interesting: during the storm, there would be... we had... the meteorologist for the Sixth Fleet was on board - it was a lieutenant commander - and he was on the bridge with me quite a bit of the time, and was very helpful because he could tell me what was happening as the storm progressed. There would be periods of calm, and right in the middle of all this violence, all of a sudden it would calm down, it would calm down for about 10 or 15 minutes, and then start up again. And so we weren't quite sure when it was really coming down and going to be "this is it, it's over", and that didn't start happening till really first light on Sunday morning. The church service on board the ship was held, and by thetime that happened, things were calm enough so that I felt free to leave the bridge. Well, right as I was getting ready to leave the bridge and go to the church service with the President and his team and our crew, the ship did a swing in the complete opposite direction that it had been all night, and it got closer to the shoal water, so I had to stay back on the bridge, even though the water had come down quite a bit and it was really much calmer out, and get us out of that particular situation, so I unfortunately missed the church service. But by that time, we knew that boating was going to be available again. It was still rough, but it was nothing... none of the violence that we had experienced all night. So by the early morning hours, we really knew that they would be able to go back and start their talks again, which they did again, because of the President's decision, on the Gorky.

INT: And how was the President when he came back? They had a morning session, they had the press conference, and then presumably you welcomed him back on board after lunch?

JFS: When he left the ship, that was the last time he left; when he left to go to the meeting on Sunday, he left for good. In fact, he had a very short press conference, and press had gotten out because the seas had come down enough; there were some limited numbers of press who could come to the ship, and they'd gotten out there. So as he was preparing to leave the ship for the last time, he had a very short press conference right on the quarter deck, right at the top of the brow, before going down and getting on the boat to go to the meeting. And that one was recorded, and I've seen that on tape a few times. And he was very positive at that point; things were progressing very well, and the spirit was one that some real progress had been made. He left the ship at that point, after this very short press conference. We got him safely on the boat, and the boat headed off. And interestingly, he... because the Russian ship had been out of the complete process, I had the President of the United States on board, but Mr. Gorbachev was staying on board the cruise liner, so the Russian cruiser was sort of neglected during this whole time, with the exception of having to fight the seas, like we did. The President had his launch go and do a circle around the Russian ship, and waved to the Russian sailors and so forth, which was well received over there. He then went in and had his meeting, so I went back to the stateroom I was staying in, because Mr. Baker was staying in my room, and essentially collapsed, because the storm was over.

INT: Was it the best or the worst day, do you think, of your life?

JFS: Well, it was the best of times and the worst of times. It was a tremendous feeling to be part of that. Of course, we were a small part of it, but it was... just to be a part of that history, really the start of the end of the Cold War, was just a tremendous feeling, and one where you just felt very lucky to be there. And at the same time, to have this tremendous storm, that was really putting the ship in danger - again, the President was really never in personal danger, but the ship was really...there were things happening in terms of the storm that really could have put the ship in real danger, and that just kind of took all the glow away from what otherwise would have been just a fabulous time for us.