Memorandum of Conversation, by Robert A. Thayer of the Bureau of Near Eastern, South Asian, and African Affairs

top secret


  • Continuation of Air Force Support of Roberts Field, Liberia


  • Mr. Frank Nash, Assistant Secretary of Defense
  • Mr. Henry A. Byroade, Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern, South Asian and African Affairs, Department of State
  • Rear Admiral Page Smith, Office of the Secretary of Defense
  • Major General Clark L. Ruffner, Office of the Secretary of Defense
  • Mr. Robert A. Thayer, NEA, Department of State
[Page 488]


The extent to which the U.S. Government should support the maintenance of Roberts Field, Liberia.

Action Required:

Further consideration of the problem.


Due to the financial inability of the Liberian Government to maintain Roberts Field, and the absence of other sources of U.S. financing, the U.S. Air Force has been bearing the expense of keeping the field open to civil aviation and in a standby status for possible military use. The current contract between MATS and Pan American Airways expired June 30. During a temporary extension of the terms of the contract the Department of Defense has been reviewing the question of the extent to which military appropriations should continue to be used for the support of Roberts Field. The Chief of Staff, United States Air Force, has estimated that the total cost for the support and maintenance of Roberts Field for fiscal year 1953 would amount to approximately $625,000 which includes, among other expenses, approximately $37,000 to cover additional equipment to be supplied by the Air Force, basic contract costs of $371,000 and an estimated cost of $211,000 for major construction. On August 29, 1952 the Joint Chiefs of Staff indicated that in their view military requirements did not justify an expenditure of this size from military appropriations. The Joint Chiefs recognized, however, that overriding economic and/or political considerations might dictate continuation of the contract with other than military appropriations. During Ambassador Dudley’s recent period of consultation in Washington, the President asked the Ambassador to prepare a memorandum with respect to the extent of U.S. Government interest in the continued operation of Roberts Field.1 This memorandum was referred by the President to the Secretary of Defense for comment, and the Department of Defense is now in the process of studying the matter preparatory to transmitting its views to the President.

Brief of the Conversation:

Mr. Byroade said the Department of State was of the conviction that political considerations require Roberts Field to be maintained under American and Liberian control, and that American flag air carrier services to Liberia be continued. He said he had been led to believe that in the final analysis the Department of Defense would probably arrive at a satisfactory solution of the problem, but he had however recently received the impression the Air Force contract under which the field is kept open might not be renewed. Juan Trippe of [Page 489] Pan American had been in to see him about this situation. Mr. Trippe had given the impression in confidence of a willingness on the part of Pan American to contribute substantially to the cost of certain construction required at the field.2

Mr. Nash reviewed the factors which had led to the recommendation of the Joint Chiefs of Staff that the cost of maintaining the field be defrayed from other than military appropriations on the grounds that military requirements for the use of the field are not sufficient to warrant the expenditures contemplated. Mr. Nash, as well as General Ruffner and Admiral Smith, appeared to feel overall U.S. interests indicate the desirability of continuing the contract for at least another year. The question of how this could best be done should, it was agreed, be further explored and it was suggested that Mr. Trippe be consulted at an appropriate time in order to determine to what extent Pan American is actually prepared to contribute.


In a subsequent telephone conversation between Mr. Thayer and Admiral Smith, it was learned that Mr. Nash’s office had gone into this matter in more detail following the meeting with Mr. Byroade. As a result, the Air Staff is being asked for additional comment and information for submission to Mr. Nash. Pending this review of the Air Force position, the Defense Department does not propose to consult with Mr. Trippe. Mr. Thayer informed Admiral Smith the Department would await further word from the Department of Defense on this matter.

  1. Dated July 10, p. 485.
  2. The meeting took place on June 25 and was summarized for Cyr by Byroade. (976.524/6–2552)