THE "WAR HERO"
L. RON HUBBARD AND THE U.S. NAVY, 1941-50
3.2 Joining Up
Anything you can do for Mr Hubbard will be appreciated.
- Representative Warren G. Magnuson (April 8, 1941)
Despite being the son of a Naval officer, the US Navy was not Hubbard's first port of call as war loomed in Europe. At the start of the 1930s, he had joined the US Marine Corps. On May 1, 1930, he enlisted with the 20th Marine Corps Reserve, a Reserve training unit connected to George Washington University in Washington, D.C. His duties were light in the extreme: on the day that he joined he was transferred to an inactive state and over the next 18 months performed only about five weeks' active duty (all for training) (DOCUMENT A). On October 22, 1931, Hubbard received an honourable discharge from the Marine Reserve. In another hand beneath this is written, "Not to be re-enlisted." There is no explanation of either statement. It did, however, have the effect of permanently debarring Hubbard from further service with the USMC. There is no record of him trying to enlist again.
Hubbard's next brush with the military was with the US Army Air Corps, not an unexpected move from a man who had been a keen glider pilot in the early 1930s. The Assistant Editor of National Aeronautics magazine, H. Latane Lewis III, at whose house Hubbard appears to have been boarding at the time, wrote to Brigadier General Walter G. Kilner to recommend Hubbard's services. Lewis was highly complimentary of "Captain Hubbard" who, he said, was a member of the Explorers Club, a frequent speaker at Harvard and George Washington Universities and a holder of two aviation records. Nothing came of this; perhaps the Air Corps had discovered that Hubbard was not a Captain, not a member of the Explorers Club, not a lecturer, held no flying records and had never addressed Harvard (at least in any official capacity).
The following year, on the day Hitler invaded Poland, Hubbard applied to join the War Department:
Because of the possibility that our nation may, in the near future, find itself at war and because I well know the difficulty of finding trained men at the height of such a crisis, I wish to offer my services to my government in whatever capacity they might be of the greatest use ...
(Source: Hubbard letter to the War Department, September 1, 1939)
In what respect Hubbard had been "trained" was not clear. Once again, he was turned down.
In March 1941 he tried for the first time to join the US Navy, enlisting his friends to write letters of support for him. Jimmy Brittan, owner of KGBU Radio in Alaska, wrote on March 15 to praise Hubbard as "a man of intelligence, courage and good breeding as well as one of the most versatile personalities I have ever known." Brittan also referred to the sterling work which Hubbard had performed in tracking down "a German saboteur who had devised it to be in his power to cut off Alaska from communication with the United States in time of war through the sabotage of Signal Corps signals." (DOCUMENT B) This particular incident has never been documented save in Hubbard's own statements.
Ten days later Commander W.E. McCain, a friend of the Hubbard family who had shown the young Hubbard around Manilla on a visit in 1927, added his recommendation:
This is to certify that I have personally known Mr L. Ron Hubbard for the past twenty years. I have been associated with him as a boy growing up and observed him closely. I have found him to be of excellent character, honest, ambitious and always very anxious to improve himself to better enable him to become a more useful citizen . . . I do not hesitate to recommend him to anyone needing the services of a man of his qualifications. (DOCUMENT C)
Meanwhile, Hubbard had also enlisted the help of his Congressman, Warren G. Magnuson, who was a member of the Committee on Naval Affairs. He had suggested to Magnuson that the US Navy should set up its own Bureau of Information, both to improve the Navy's public relations and to counter the "defeatist propaganda" about naval affairs which he claimed was "flooding the press". Magnuson had been favourably impressed with the proposal. A letter purportedly from Magnuson was also sent to no less a personage than President Roosevelt himself, praising Hubbard in eye-catching terms:
May I recommend to you a gentleman of reputation? L. Ron Hubbard is a well-known writer under five different names. He is a respected explorer as Captain Bryan, Navy Hydrographer, will confirm.
Mr Hubbard was born into the Navy. He has marine masters papers for more types of vessels than any other man in the United States.
He has written for Hollywood, radio and newspapers and has published many millions of words of fact and fiction in novels and national magazines. In writing organizations he is a key figure, making him politically potent nationally.
An interesting trait is his distaste for personal publicity. He is both discreet and resourceful as his record should indicate.
Anything you can do for Mr Hubbard will be appreciated . . .
(Source: Letter from Senator Warren G. Magnuson to President Franklin D. Roosevelt) (DOCUMENT D)
Why "purportedly"? The reason is that Hubbard is known to have "forged" at least one of his letters of recommendation. An old friend from Washington State, Robert M. Ford, was now a Representative and Hubbard sought his assistance in joining the Navy. Ford evidently was not particularly bothered about protocol or propriety when it came to writing letters of recommendation. Decades later, he recalled:
He wanted a letter and I gave him a letter head and said, "You want a letter? Hell, you're the writer, you write it." I don't know why he wanted it.
(Source: Russell Miller interview with Robert MacDonald Ford, Olympia, Washington, September 1, 1986)
Hubbard certainly did not err on the side of modesty in praising himself, which he did in terms suspiciously similar to those in the letter purportedly sent by Representative Magnuson:
This will introduce one of the most brilliant men I have ever known: Captain L. Ron Hubbard.
He writes under six names in a diversity of fields from political economy to action fiction and if he would make at least one of his pen names public he would have little difficult entering anywhere. He has published many millions of words and some fourteen movies.
In exploration he has honorably carried the flag of the Explorers Club and has extended geographical and mineralogical knowledge. He is well known in many parts of the world and has considerable influence in the Caribbean and Alaska.
As a key figure in writing organizations he has considerable political worth and in the Northwest he is a powerful influence.
I have known him for many years and have found him discreet, loyal, honest and without peer in the art of getting things done swiftly.
If Captain Hubbard requests help, be assured that it will benefit others more than himself.
For courage and ability I cannot too strongly recommend him.
(Source: Letter from L. Ron Hubbard (pro per Rep. Robert MacDonald Ford) to the Secretary of the Navy, May 1, 1941) (DOCUMENT F)
Hubbard's former professor, the Dean of the School of Civil Engineering at George Washington University, chipped in with a generous letter praising Hubbard's leadership, ingenuity, resourcefulness and personality. His failure to graduate and poor grades were an unavoidable issue, but were put down to "the obvious fact that he had started in the wrong career. They do not reflect his great ability." (DOCUMENT G) The legendary science-fiction editor John W. Campbell, a friend and occasional purchaser of Hubbard's short stories, also wrote, largely confining himself to praise of Hubbard's ability to turn in a story on time, but adding: "In personal relationships, I have the highest opinion of him as a thoroughly American gentleman."
At the same time, Hubbard was busying himself in demonstrating that he was a man of great strategic vision. During June 1941 he wrote to Senator Pat McCarran with a plan for a Department of Aviation and a United States Air Force - hardly original suggestions - which the Senator obligingly made into a bill, S.1635. He also wrote to the War Department General Staff with a "brief on pre-battle conditioning", perhaps drawing on the "pioneering" psychological theories which he had mentioned in his 1939 letter to the Department. It was received politely but there is no indication that his scheme was ever implemented.
With all of this support it was no doubt a great disappointment to Hubbard when he failed his physical examination. His eyesight was inadequate, and he was rejected on medical grounds in April 1941. He did not give up, however. Time was on his side as the war intensified in Europe. On May 27, 1941, President Roosevelt declared an Unlimited National Emergency in response to the carnage being wrought by German U-Boats in the North Atlantic. The entry of the United States into World War 2 was now clearly only a matter of time; however, two decade of isolationist policies had left the Navy in a seriously weakened state and in urgent need of manpower. Naval Intelligence was in a particularly parlous state.
A week after the President's declaration, Hubbard's application was re-examined by the Washington, D.C. Navy Yard. The Yard's resident Intelligence Officer wrote:
Although the subject Applicant is deficient in academic educational background, it is considered that his professional experience in newspaper work and travel compensates for his deficiency in the academic.
(Source: Memo from Cdr Lucius C. Dunn, June 4, 1941) (DOCUMENT H)
Crucially for Hubbard, it was also decided that his physical defects should be waived. He had applied for a commission as a Lieutenant Senior Grade in the Naval Reserve but, at 30 years old, was under age for this rank. Instead, he was offered - and accepted - a Lieutenant (junior grade) commission. (DOCUMENT I) On July 2, 1941, Hubbard received his Articles of Commission issued on behalf of the President and couched in splendidly resonant terms:
Know Ye, that reposing special Trust and Confidence in the Patriotism, Valor, Fidelity and Abilities of LAFAYETTE RONALD HUBBARD, I do appoint him LIEUTENANT (JUNIOR GRADE) in the Naval Reserve of the United States Navy to rank from the TWENTY-FIFTH day of JUNE 1941. (DOCUMENT J)
Hubbard's patriotism, valor and fidelity were not in doubt, but the following four years were to tax his abilities to - and beyond - their limits.
|E. L. Ron Hubbard application for commission, April 18, 1941|
|G. Letter from Prof. Arthur F. Johnson and records of interviews with Prof. Johnson and Prof. Douglas Bement|