Vice Admiral William S. Sims, Commander, United States Naval Forces Operating in European Waters, to Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin D. Roosevelt
7 July 1918
My Dear Mr. Roosevelt,
Your letter of June 5th. was presented to me by Mr. Sheppard a couple of days ago.
I am sure that I need hardly say that I am very glad indeed to receive anybody sent by you, and I shall do everything in my power to help him out in his important work. We have had Major Lennard over here, who, as you know, has done excellent work in the way of enabling our men to take out insurance. Mr. Sheppard informs me that the difficulty has been that there are slips and irregularities of the usual unavoidable kind in handling the purely paper part of the work. He has familiarized himself with all the errors of administration that it is possible to make, and he is going to visit all of our stations and see that some one individual at each station, probably a paymaster, will receive all this information so as to keep these affairs straight in the future.
It has been most gratifying to witness the cordial co-operation of the Navy Department with our people over here at the Front. Nothing could have been finer that the assistance which all the Bureaus and Departments have given us, and not only the assistance, but the spirit in which it has been given is most encouraging and has been the means of untangling all sorts of matters which might have led to misunderstanding.
All the same our experience has shown it to be necessary to keep Liaison Officers in connection with the various Bureaus visiting Washington every two or three months. Our general practice is to send a notice to all of our Naval Bases that a Liaison Officer of the Pay Corps, the Construction Corps, or in connection with personnel is about to visit the stations preparatory to going home. We ask everybody to make notes of all their kicks and growls. The officer collects all these, takes home a basketful, and underruns the whole business in the various Departments, and brings back all the kicks and growls to us. This brings about a complete understanding on all these troublesome points for the time being, but our invariable experience is that at the end of a few months there is quite a crop of small misunderstandings that has to be cleared up, so we send another officer.
Most of these misunderstandings are simply due to the impracticability of making oneself completely understood by telegrams or letters. The man who writes the letter knows what he means, but the fellow who reads it on the other side, with his point of view, is liable to misinterpret it. If these misunderstandings are not promptly corrected, and if the visit of a liaison officer is not made to establish the personal touch, it would not be very long before the Navy Department would be cussing us out, and we would be doing the same to the Navy Department.
I have heard, from time to time, remarks that you were coming over to this side to have a look round. There can be no doubt at all that the visit of any one of our principal dignitaries to this side would be of advantage. Ask Admiral Benson how much his point of view was changed by a visit over here, and you will se what I mean. Perhaps one of these days, the Secretary will come over.
Quite independent of the advantage of the new point of view one gets from a visit to this side, is the psychological question of the personal touch. There can be no doubt that if any of the principal officials of the Navy Department make a visit to this side, even if he did nothing but show himself at the various Naval bases, it would have a good effect upon the spirit of our people. The mere presence of the official is an evidence of the interest taken in the work of the men.
I do not wish this to be interpreted that there is anything the matter with the spirit of our people over here, because it would be difficult to imagine anything higher and finer than it is at present.
We of the Navy of course realize that there is no real naval war going on over here; that we are, to all intents and purposes, a part of the lines of communication of the Army, or rather the defensive force keeping this line of communication open. General Pershing|5| and I both understand this perfectly, and are working, not only in entire harmony, but in entire sympathy.
Very sincerely yours,