Noe Valley Voice June 2006

How I Helped Found the United Nations

By Dick Meister

You may have been reading and hearing of late about the founding conference of the United Nations in San Francisco 60 years ago this month. But don't be fooled. You're getting only part of the story.

Oh, sure, you're being told of the struggle between the United States and the Soviet Union over which nations should be admitted to the organization.

You're being told of the struggles among larger and smaller nations over the granting of veto power.

You're being told of Harry Truman's speechmaking and V. M. Molotov's belligerence.

You're being told about how, despite the intense factionalism and eight weeks of wrangling, delegates from 50 countries finally signed the U.N. charter back on June 26, 1945. Very important, those happenings. But that's not all that went on. Not by a long shot. There were two other matters of great importance, both of which happened to me, and both of which have been ignored by the news media in their retellings. There was:

1) The riding free on the Muni, and

2) The submitting of genuine credentials to steely-eyed guards.

Call me frivolous, but don't argue with me. I was only 12 years old, but I was there and as much a participant in the U.N.'s beginnings as was President Truman. At the time, in fact, I felt my role as a Boy Scout aide to be a bit more important than the role played by Mr. Truman.

And why not? There I was wandering among the world's mighty, catching the eye of them all with my impeccable Boy Scout manners and trappings. I was quite properly outfitted in regulation short pants, of course, and in one of those broad-brimmed campaign hats of the kind favored by Teddy Roosevelt, Smokey Bear, and other celebrated Americans.

But what people particularly noticed, I was certain, was the bright red neckerchief that identified the wearer as one of the 300 indispensable Scout aides at the conference. I had only the slightest idea of what the mighty were talking about. I didn't even bother to ask about the papers I was forever lugging around. (They undoubtedly were part of the many, many drafts that went into the making of the charter, some of the 300,000 sheets of paper that were circulated to delegates daily, in French, Spanish, English, Russian, and Chinese.)

What did it matter anyway, all that talk and all that writing? What mattered was that I could climb aboard a streetcar and ignore the fare box. That I could feel the hot stares of obviously jealous passengers who didn't wear the magical red neckerchief, the ticket to free rides all over town.

What did the talk and writing matter when I could march up to any of some 3,000 military guards, ramrod straight as any of them, and grandly flash my credentials while green-eyed would-be gate-crashers stood glumly by (slouching, of course)?

It warped my life. Almost never have I been able to drop my money into the fare box of a streetcar or bus without enviously recalling a 12-year-old wearing a bright red neckerchief.

And flashing a press card can be a severely depressing experience, when I think of the glorious days when showing credentials really meant something.

I have since learned, however, that Harry Truman did play a more important role in the U.N.'s founding. That, at least, is what I've been told.

Dick Meister is a Noe Valley writer who no longer wears short pants. You are welcome to contact him through his web site,

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