The evening of Sept. 7, members of the public had the chance to hear from members of the White House Communications Agency.
They gathered in Abilene for an annual get-together and, on Thursday night, held a forum at the Abilene Public Library.
They spoke to a packed house.
Harland Priddle, a Haven, Kansas native who served four years under President Richard Nixon, was a panelist at Thursday evening’s gathering.
“I enjoyed the opportunity to visit a famous presidential library, but the real issue of the event is getting former White House (Communication) guys together as a reunion to share their memories and their experiences,” he said. “Because you know, at this stage of life, that’s all we’ve got left — that’s really it. And we’re just thrilled to death we’ve got them from nine states and all the way from President Kennedy up to Clinton.”
Priddle, who went to the White House in 1970 and remained there until 1974, endured the Watergate scandal during his time with the White House.
He talked about what it was like to serve before and during that scandal and about the fallout from Watergate.
“As a result of those tapes, they captured many conversations which the president was actually recorded in saying things to cover up and obstruct justice, resulting in his resignation,” Priddle said. “We think it’s sad, but you know the system worked. No matter how high you get up in this country, you’re not above the law.”
Mike Ebbing who served two years under President Richard Nixon during which time he was the chief switchboard operator at Camp David.
During the public gathering, Ebbing played back recordings of himself speaking with Nixon that were secretly recorded during his time working for the White House — the sort of phone calls the president had on a routine basis.
“All of us were pretty much out of college back then,” he said. “We were in our early 20s and you can imagine working with the President of the United States when you’re in your early 20s.”
It was a lot of pressure, Ebbing said.
“We felt like we had a mission to do,” he said. “Wonderful memories, wonderful experiences.”
Ebbing entered the White House because he was drafted and left after two years, but he enjoyed his time as chief switchboard operator.
By the time the Watergate scandal broke in Nixon’s second term, Ebbing had exited the White House and was back in Iowa working as a sports writer.
The reunion routinely takes place at Presidential libraries. Last year, it took place at Gerald Ford’s Presidential Library. Ebbing said he was pleased to bring the reunion to Abilene this year. Thursday was the first time a presentation about their time working for different United States presidents took place for the public at one of their reunions.
“The reception we’ve received in Abilene is second to none,” Ebbing said. “I can understand why you’re so proud of the city here. It’s an honor for us.”
Aside from Priddle and Ebbing, several other White House Communications Agency veterans shared anecdotes.
Tom Glotzbach, who served under President John F. Kennedy, spoke about Kennedy’s assassination. He was not present for the assassination, having left two days before the Kennedys went to Dallas. If he hadn’t, Glotzbach would likely have been in Dallas with them.
Mark Danielson of Henderson, Nebraska and his son Ben Danielson attended because his dad had been part of the White House Communications Agency.
“Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon — (he served under) five presidents,” Mark Danielson said. “He died when I was pretty young and so I’m coming here to perhaps meet with some of the people and hear their stories — the stories that my father would have participated in.”
“I’d heard about previous reunions and then looked one up a couple weeks ago and saw that it was only a couple hours away,” Ben Danielson said.
The two hope to return to Abilene one day to tour the Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum which they walked the grounds of Thursday but did not have the chance to enter. Mark Danielson has mementos from the Eisenhower era, passed down from his mother. He feels a strong connection with Eisenhower because of that.
“The history is part of my family,” Mark Danielson said.