Leaders in Crisis

Alonzo Fields - Dinner for the President and His Advisors, 1950

On Saturday, June 24, 1950, while enjoying a family weekend in Independence, Missouri, President Harry S. Truman learned that North Korea had invaded South Korea. The next day, he flew back to Washington, DC, and called an emergency meeting of senior officials to be held at Blair House that evening. (Blair House was the President’s official residence while the White House was undergoing renovation.)

The President’s emergency meeting precipitated a crisis for another leader in the nation’s capital, Alonzo Fields, Chief Butler at the White House, who also had been enjoying the afternoon off; with the President and First Family out of town, Fields had dismissed the White House kitchen staff until Monday morning. At 4 p.m., Fields received a call from the White House usher, informing him that fourteen of the President’s senior advisors would soon assemble at Blair House for dinner. The guests would arrive for cocktails and hors d’oeuvres at 8 p.m.; dinner would be served at 8:30 p.m., when the President was expected to arrive.

Fields sprang into action. Marshaling his forces with the help of Washington, DC, police who located two of the White House cooks, he headed to Blair House, composing along the way a menu based on his recollection of the food supplies on hand. The butler who was to help Fields serve the meal arrived only five minutes before the guests.

Notes of Alonzo Fields, Chief White House Butler, on the June 25, 1950, dinner for the President and his advisors

While the President, the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and eight other officials discussed the crisis in Korea that evening, they dined on fruit cup, fried chicken, shoestring potatoes, buttered asparagus, scalloped tomatoes, hot biscuits, hearts of lettuce, vanilla ice cream with chocolate sauce, and cupcakes. Within days, the American people learned that the United States had committed its military forces to help defend South Korea. Alonzo Fields wrote these notes on the preparations for that historic dinner.

National Archives, Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum, Independence, Missouri


“At about 4:P.M. Sunday, June 25 . . . the usher on duty called me excitedly saying the President was returning and wanted cocktails and dinner at 8:00 P.M. . . .”

—Alonzo Fields, Chief Butler at the White House, 1950


Alonzo Fields, not dated

Alonzo Fields was butler, chief butler, and maitre d’ at the White House from 1931 to 1953. With a young family to support, Alonzo Fields, who had trained as a classical singer at the New England Conservatory of Music, gave up his chance of a musical career and took a job as a butler at the White House in 1931. During his tenure there, he considered himself privileged to observe the most influential people of the time at close range.

But his dream of a singing career persisted. He looked back at his twenty-one years of White House service and remembered as his greatest thrill, the day he performed in the East Room of the White House, at the Christmas Party held in 1932 for the mansion’s domestic staff.

Courtesy of the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, Washington, DC