By TIMOTHY RILEY
One of the lesser-known stories surrounding Winston Churchill’s March 5, 1946, visit to Westminster College, where he delivered his “Iron Curtain” speech, concerns President Harry S. Truman making certain that the former Prime Minister received a little fortification before delivering his oration.
Following a luncheon in the home of Westminster College President Franc McCluer, Churchill was escorted upstairs to put on his robes in preparation for the ceremony. Once Churchill was gone, it occurred to Truman that his guest, who was known as widely for his enjoyment of alcohol as for his passionate orations, might be ready for a drink.
The President therefore called Major General Harry Vaughan, his military aide and a 1916 graduate of Westminster, to his side and told him: “the Prime Minister hasn’t had a drink in at least three hours, and that’s not par for the course for him. You better get one.”
Vaughan was not sure on the spur of the moment where he might look for a shot of whiskey on a good Presbyterian college campus, but he ventured out onto the crowded front lawn of the house to conduct a search. Out of the sea of faces, he found a friend and local alumnus who he felt comfortable asking where he might find a pint of Scotch for Churchill.
The man told Vaughan not to go away and that he would return soon. And return he did, mission accomplished. The man had come back from the neighborhood with a pint of whisky in his pocket.
Major General Vaughan went to the kitchen, prepared a small bowl of ice with a glass and a little pitcher of water on a silver tray. He went up the stairs, took the cap off the bottle, set the tray on a table in the upstairs hall, and knocked on the door.
Churchill told him to come in, and when Vaughan opened the door he found Churchill sitting in full academic regalia. Vaughan said: “Mr. Prime Minister, the President seems to think that you need a little sustenance before you go over to make that speech.”
To this Churchill replied: “General, I am certainly delighted to see that. I was sitting here cogitating whether I was in Fulton, Missouri, or Fulton, Sahara.”
Timothy Riley is the Sandra L. and Monroe E. Trout Director and Chief Curator of the National Churchill Museum at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri