Interviewer's Name: M. Scott Sosebee & Paul J. P. Sandul
Interview Date and Location: The interview was conducted on August 15, 2011 in Sam W. Allison's parent's home in Waco, Texas.
Context Notes: Interview and transcription completed in conjunction with the Charlie Wilson Oral History Project.
The interview began with Sam W. Allison, but midway through his father and, a bit later, his mother participate in the discussion. Also, Natosha Layland Sandul, interviewer Paul J. P. Sandul's wife, is present and can sometimes be heard in the background (as she is not participating in the interview discussion, her words are not transcribed). Also note a ringing chain sound can be heard on the audio, as well as pacing claws on the floor; this is Susie, the Wilson family dog. Likewise, a bing-noise is often heard, which is a cell phone. Finally, at the end of the interview there is about a two-minute conversation about an upcoming interview Sosebee and Sandul were about to conduct. That part of the conversation was not transcribed but is fully available on the audio recording.
Tapes and Interview Record: The original recordings of the interview and a full transcript are held by the East Texas Research Center, R. W. Steen Library, Stephen F. Austin State University, Nacogdoches, Texas.
Transcription Notes: The policy of the Charlie Wilson Oral History Project has been to eliminate false starts and crutch words from transcriptions when determined not to affect the meaning and flow of the spoken word. Obviously, and admittedly, this is a subjective endeavor and all care was taken to maintain the integrity of the interview.
The interviewers M. Scott Sosebee and Paul J. P. Sandul are identified as SOSEBEE and SANDUL, respectively. Sam Allison is identified as ALLISON. Sam W. Allison is identified as ALLISON, his father Sam Allison as SAM, and his mother Sharon Wilson Allison as SHARON.
SANDUL: . . . well, it is August 15, 2011 and we're here in the home of Sam and Sharon ALLISON, talking with Sam
ALLISON: [Sam and Sharon's son and Wilson's nephew]. So, Sam, we're obviously here as part of the Charlie Wilson Oral History Project, and thank you again for taking time to talk to us. But, before we launch into, I guess, a more, some detail-specific questions about Charlie Wilson, is maybe you can tell us a little about yourself, and a little about your background.
ALLISON: Okay. Well, I'm Sam ALLISON. I'm 42 years old. I work in the insurance and bonding business. As far as any sort of public service, governmental, when I was in high school I was a page in Washington, and went to college, and hit the working world there.
SANDUL: Okay. Now where did you go to college?
ALLISON: University of Texas at Austin.
SANDUL: Okay. I thought I saw, a little longhorn thing out there. . . . Well that's, you know, speaking of some of this background, the perfect place to start. Because we had heard you were a page. And, can you tell us a little bit about that experience, how it came about, and any stories you'd be willing to share about that time? [Laughter.]
ALLISON: Very few stories I'm willing to share.
SANDUL: Okay [laughs].
ALLISON: At least none of the good ones.
SANDUL: Fair enough.
ALLISON: Let's see. Charlie, obviously being my uncle, I had a lot of exposure to current events, and talking with him, and the House of Representatives and all that. So, I just thought it'd be great to be able to go up there one year. He and, at that time our local representative Marvin Lee appointed me and I was accepted to be a page. That was the 99th Congress, 1985-86 school year. And it was just, actually, ironically, this past week, the House decided to discontinue the page program.
SANDUL: I saw that.
ALLISON: Yeah, I did too. It was very, a lot of emails between some of the former pages and I all discussing that. But, it was a wonderful, wonderful program in terms of high-school juniors from all over the country coming together, and living together, working together, and really seeing the politics up close and personal. And a lot of the pages that I was in school with have gone on to some public service-type things. In fact, this past year, one of President [Barrack] Obama's attempted judicial appointments was Goodwin Liu,* to the Federal Appeals Court, I believe, in California. And, anyway, he was a page with me. He looks exactly the same, too [everybody laughs]. And, actually I do have a Goodwin Liu story there, but, I imagine you actually want more Charlie stories. [*Liu is a lawyer and professor currently serving as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of California. Before that he was Associate Dean and Professor of Law at the University of California, Berkeley School of Law.]
SANDUL: Well, no. You and Charlie, anything, yes [laughs].
ALLISON: Well, let's see, I was appointed for the full school years of two semesters. Most of the appointments for just one semester. And, at the end of the first semester a lot of us had gotten very close, and so a lot of our friends were going home, a few of us were staying. We'd thought it'd be a wonderful idea if we all hopped on the eastern shuttle and went to New York for the weekend as kind of a last hoo-rah.
SOSEBEE: High school juniors [laughs].
ALLISON: High school juniors. [Laughter.]
SANDUL: High school juniors, yeah, yeah, yeah. So you're 17? 16? 17?
ALLISON: Yep, 16 and 17. And, I mean what could possibly go wrong? [Laughter.] And, one of our cohorts had an uncle who lived in New York. Turns out he lived in Poughkeepsie, which, come to find out, is nowhere near New York City [laughter]. However, there we were in New York City. With uncle, without uncle, who cared? So, we figured it was safer to, you know, stay in New York City than, you know, brave the traffic and everything to go up to Poughkeepsie. So there's about a half dozen of us staying at a hotel there. Yeah, we saw all the sites. Of course, plenty of pictures of the Statue of Liberty, doing all the good tourist-y things. Then when we get back, turns out, lo and behold, we're in trouble. Because Goodwin Liu had decided that he really wanted to play tennis. He had never played tennis the entire first semester, but he decided he wanted to play tennis that weekend and wanted to borrow my tennis racket and just thought that he really, really needed to call up to the number we had left to ask my permission to use my tennis racket. And, anyway, the short and long of it is, those of us who stayed for the second semester were on what they called "restriction," which meant that at 7 o'clock every night, Monday through Sunday, every night that entire semester, we had to be back in our dorm rooms, and lights out at 9.
SOSEBEE: Oh really, thank you Goodwin.
SANDUL: Thank you sir.
ALLISON: Thanks Goodwin; so sorry that judicial appointment didn't work out for you.
SOSEBEE: "You had it coming" [spoken as ALLISON to Liu].
SANDUL: Yeah, exactly [laughter]. So what kind of experiences did you have while you were there with your uncle?
ALLISON: Well that whole story there is actually the first time I really got to see some very personal congressional negotiations going on because they, initially, instead of just putting us on room restriction; they wanted to kick us all out because this was a year and a half after the big page scandal in '83.* And, a lot of very uptight people involved in the page program at that point. But, anyway, Charlie, when I had to sit down and tell him what happened, I was like, you know, "They're kicking us out," etc. "So tell me the whole story again." So I told him the entire story. "Okay, so what was the bad part? They wanted to kick you out for that?" So he started working the phones, and, there was a page board with, at that time, I believe, it was 3 or 4 Representatives and then the Sergeant-in-Arms of the House and the Clerk of the House, I believe, were also on the page board. Anyway, so Charlie making deals with this one and that one, and one of the pages that was staying was very well placed, and that she was [Kansas Republican] Senator [Robert "Bob"] Dole's page, and at that time I believe he was the Majority Leader of the Senate [he was; from 1985-87; and again from 1995-96], so between Charlie and Senator Dole, we got the compromise, instead of getting kicked out, you're just on restriction. [*During the summer of 1983 the US House Committee on Ethics (then known as the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct; and one year after Wilson served on the Committee in the 97th Congress from 1981-82) recommended that Representative Dan Crane (R-IL) and Representative Gerry Studds (D-MA) be reprimanded for having engaged in sexual relationships with minors, 17-year-old congressional pages. Washington, DC law, however, specifies the age of consent at 16, meaning the relationships were legal. Nevertheless, the committee felt "any sexual relationship between a member of the House of Representatives and a congressional page, or any sexual advance by a member to a page, represents a serious breach of duty."]
SOSEBEE: Well then it was a very bipartisan effort?
ALLISON: It was very bipartisan. Isn't it good to know that Washington can still come together, for a good cause? [Laughter.]
SOSEBEE: What other congressmen did you interact with, or that you could remember from their times, and maybe something that you could relate?
ALLISON: Sure, well just from that one, there was [Republican] Congressman [Jim] Colby from Arizona who I believe is retired now from the House. And, gosh, [Democratic Representative] Dale Kildee who, from Michigan, he was the head of the page board I believe. And, then in terms of just outside of that, I mean, literally, you have, we'd have interactions with pretty much all the representatives, as a House page now, on the Senate side not so many, just cause they had the Senate pages and then House pages…
SOSEBEE: Was there an actual demarcation between you're a Senate page and you're a House page, and the never the twain shall meet?
ALLISON: Well, we all lived in the same dorm and went to the same school, and, in fact, two of my roommates were Senate pages. But we had the better dress code [laughter]. They had to wear all navy blue, navy blue tie, navy blue suit, white shirt, where, you know, we had the blue blazers and grey slacks, and this really great burgundy tie, that may be the most hideous burgundy tie ever…
SANDUL: Yeah, I was going to say. Okay, you said that with such enthusiasm.
SOSEBEE: You still have that tie?
ALLISON: You know what I probably still do back in the closet somewhere.
SOSEBEE: What is the day in the life of the typical House page; or was, I guess now we can say was . . .
SANDUL: . . . .unfortunately . . .
ALLISON: . . . on restriction or not on restriction?
SOSEBEE: Not on restriction? That you haven't done anything bad.
ALLISON: Yeah. Well school started, as I recall, about 5:15/5:20 every morning, which that's early for a 16 or 17 year old. And school was in basically the attic of the Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress. And most of the teachers were actually college professors that were on sabbatical for a year researching at the Library of Congress for, you know, two years or something. And it was kind of part of their deal to be there, was, "Okay, we'll support you a little bit but you got to teach these kids something." And we would, it was four or five classes, it was pretty sparse. It was just the basics, cause, you know, no extra-curriculars, because we would then be over at the House by about 9:30 or 10 o'clock if I recall. And then from there, there were different duties that the pages did and we kind of rotated. Which, the neatest I had was called "Documentarian," which was the, when you see the State of Union or something, you're looking at the President or whoever's speaking, and off to your right, there's two little kids kind of sitting down there behind a desk; those are the Documentarians. There're the ones that ring the bells calling the House to session or calling on votes or, as I use to say, we get to declare war too; because there was a certain series of bells that you would do that meant we'd declared war. But the coolest thing about it was, as the Documentarian, was one of your duties each morning was, when the House was in session, was to go up on to the roof of the Capital and put up the flag. And, you go through all these, almost catacombs, of little crawl spaces up through there to get to the hatch, and pages from eons gone by had all written stuff there on the walls.
SANDUL: That's something that needs to be recorded . . . pictures of that.
ALLISON: I don't even remember, but I'm sure it was deep [laughter].
SANDUL: Did you get the chance, then, there, I know . . . you didn't get to declare war . . .
ALLISON: To declare war? No.
SOSEBEE: Were you tempted? Perhaps you got to see Charlie work and see him in action, if you will, in Congress. What was that like? What was his style?
ALLISON: That's really interesting, because at first I was quite disappointed [laughter], and he would laugh at this. But the thing that everybody sees, people getting up making speeches, you know I yield to the gentleman from here, and floor speeches. I think I only saw Charlie ever do one floor speech live, and it was on, it actually was not on Afghanistan, it was . . . I believe it was something to do with . . .and it wasn't long, it was just a few minutes. But then there was one that was more heated and I believe it was also on Iran Contra, or perhaps it was Afghanistan, it's been a while. But that one I saw on C-SPAN and I don't know that . . . are we getting salty on these?
SANDUL: Sure, we can always edit, place restrictions.
ALLISON: He had an adjective that he used quite often for Turk people. Kind of a compound word. Started with a "C."
SANDUL: I know exactly which one you're talking about.
ALLISON: And it surprisingly sounds a lot like colleague at times.
SOSEBEE: If you say it real fast and the right way.
ALLISON: Well he was making his point and one of the guys who was always up making floor speeches interrupted him from the Republican side. And kinda did the gentleman yield and didn't wait and just started talking, and the camera's still on Charlie, and says "Well, I will yield to the distinguished co-" and I happened to be in Charlie's office at the time and we were all gathered around the TV because he never made floor speeches hardly, and we all knew exactly the word that was coming out of his mouth and he just, "co-," and he just stops, everybody turns and looks at him . . . in camera view . . . because everybody knew what was coming out of his mouth, and "co-league from Pennsylvania," [laughter] or wherever, and that was the most memorable thing of him on the floor. Other than coming to vote, he was rarely there, on the floor. Instead, where he always was, was in committee or on the phone, and that's what I came to find out is where all the stuff's really done. Everything else on the floor is typically just kind of for show and the guys that are out there that talk the most are the ones that people seem to listen to the least. And the years since, at the time I had no clue what all he was doing. Looking back, there was about half the time I'd go into his office late in the day and there would be guys who didn't look like they had a lot of sense of humor and they weren't elected, and they weren't on committees. But it turned out that one of them was [CIA agent and key player in helping Wilson with Afghanistan] Gust Avrakotos who was there a lot.
SOSEBEE: You were there during all this time it's going on. But you never got any sense . . . ?
ALLISON: No clue and he never said, I mean, I knew he was doing, you know, eh was very open about, you know, "We got to help these people and I'm doing everything I can." I had no idea the extent. None whatsoever until later.
SOSEBEE: It's amazing that he kept secrets that long. So, I mean, I think there's a perception that congressmen don't work very hard. But you being there, you know that they do. Its not 40 hours a week, it's a lot of work. Kind of the same thing, give us the day of a, not just Charlie, of a typical congressman. What is the day of a typical congressmen like?
ALLISON: Well then. You know, I would actually disagree a little, or at least parse a little bit of what you said. There were definitely members of Congress then that actually, you looked at, and you could tell they were kind of skating [laughter]. I mean, it was a different time, though. Now, they're not actually doing something legislatively, they're raising money, because they just have to. But ones that had causes, those were the ones that you would see just, you know, always working people. And you really get what the term lobbyist means. Although not truly lobbyists but, you know, one congressman lobbying another congressman out in the lobby, outside the floor vote, you'd see that going on a lot. But as far as how hard they worked, there were quite a few that, literally, lived at their office, lived in their office. And all of them were kind of creepy actually [laughter]. You know, you'd be going through one of the office buildings late at night doing something you probably shouldn't be doing [laughter]. Anyway, and all of a sudden there's a congressman kind of coming out, you recognize the face but he looks a little worse for wear or something. But, that was the time when there really was some bipartisanship. You actually did have certain Republicans hanging out with certain Democrats. You'd run into them at, you know, Bullfeathers [bar located on the southeast side of Capitol Hill], of course not us because we were under age.
SOSEBEE: And you were never there . . .
ALLISON: That's right. But you would see Congressmen hanging out together socially that, you know, they would be opposing each other on the floor earlier in the day and then having a beer later that evening. And you didn't have a lot of the personal vitriol that it seems is present now. It was very much collegial. And it did seem to be more of a public service thing than instead of "What's my next office?" Or, when you're working up on the Hill, you can see the ones who are actually there because they're wanting to be a Congressman doing this. Then there were others that you could see were there getting ready to make their Senate run, or trying to run for governor, or wanting to go to that next office.
SOSEBEE: Well this would apply to Charlie. I mean, think, just tell us, just give us an idea. How much of a day is spent working on constituent issues?
ALLISON: Well that was the one cardinal sin in Charlie's office that I learned was that if there was something that came up, you know, someone's social security check has been hung up, or whatever, that you did not go home until that issue was solved.
SOSEBEE: Is that right? That went to the front of the line every time?
SOSEBEE: That make you different? Is that an anomaly?
ALLISON: You know, I would like to think it's not, but the true answer is I don't know. I just saw it on that level because I was able to be in his office, so much whenever I wanted to be, and got to know a lot of his staff, and you could always tell when there was some issue back in the district because there would be two or three of his staff people, you know, staying late, that were more of the constituent issues people. And then there ones that more of the legislative affairs folks, and you could tell whenever there was, you know, again, not at the time, but looking back, when there was something going on in appropriations, or whatever.
SANDUL: Now, speaking of staff, a two part question, really is: of course, obviously, there's the iconic imagery now of "Charlie's Angels." So, especially as maybe a 16 or 17 year old boy, speaking to us…
ALLISON: That imagery doesn't do them justice at all [laughter].
SANDUL: Maybe comment a little bit about that. But also, you as an outsider really got to see his office and his staff working and maybe you could tell us a little bit about that office environment.
ALLISON: Okay. They were every bit as good looking as you've heard [laughter], if not, more so, especially to a 16/17 year old kid [laughter]. Without a doubt, there was never any problem getting other pages to hang out over at his office [laughter]. The tough part was getting them to just, you know, drop off whatever it is they were supposed to be dropping off and hit the road [laughter] getting to the next office. They were all truly very competent. Everybody worked. And they were all smart. And, one thing I do remember, too, is how fearless they would seem. Charlie, you know, he's my uncle, so I had that relationship. But most staffs were very differential. Kind of intimidated, or . . .
SOSEBEE: You hear famous stories how LBJ's staffers were terrified of him.
ALLISON: Yeah. And you'd see that every day. But not in his office. In fact, you'd hear them occasionally, "Charlie, no. Just sit down and here's why we got to do this."
SOSEBEE: Did he actually advocate that they be that way with him or did it come naturally?
ALLISON: Yeah. I mean it was obvious that it was, that he expected it, or that he just hired people that wouldn't even think otherwise, because he was a great listener. And, yeah, one of his points was, yeah, and this was with any Congressman, "I don't have time to read this bill cover to cover, who does? Oh wait, you do, that's why you're the legislative aid on this committee for me. So you tell me what it says and what we need to do about it." And, you know, he would not just go in cold. He would also have done some of his research too and put questions in there. But it was a very team effort, you could tell. And I think most of the . . . better legislative operators, I guess, I would imagine they would be like that too because there is just so much information or so much data that you got to glean down to what the information truly is. Who has time? Especially if you're sitting on three or four committees.
SOSEBEE: That must have been part of . . . your dad told us earlier . . . Charlie would call him say, "This is what I think. What do you think?" And he would almost be trying to coax out of him: tell me what you think. And you said that he would go ahead and do what he wanted to do anyway; didn't listen to you all the time. But he seemed to want to at least open to: "I wanna hear and gather information." So, confident enough in his own opinions and in his own ideas . . .
ALLISON: And confident enough to, believe it or not, not to ask the 16 to 17 year old nephew . . .
SOSEBEE: Didn't ask you your opinion [laughter]. But was that part of how, I mean, he operated? Obviously that might have been one of his ideas of being a congressman: "I can gather opinions from my staffers, from my brother-in-law," and not intimidated by what anybody would say.
ALLISON: Yeah and also, looking back, I mean, one of the things that he would, his afternoons, when he was in the office, were pretty much on the phone. And it would be, you know, calling a key constituent about something or calling, you know, somebody over at the Pentagon about something or, yeah, he was very much; it's kind of a shame that that wasn't the day of the email. Not that I think Charlie would have . . . [laughter] . . .
SOSEBEE: You don't think he'd a want to have anything to do with it?
ALLISON: But, that would have been interesting, maybe interesting, to have a paper trail of all the different; it was just, he was always talking to somebody about something.
SOSEBEE: As a historian we just like, and in particular, I've done quite a bit of political history, researching the twentieth century, and you'll come across a note: "As per our telephone conversation last week on this issue . . ."
SANDUL: "It's a go."
ALLISON: Yeah, and you want to go, "Ah! What did they talk about!?" And you don't know because there's not a trail. Now, you were there during, and a lot of when your time there was when much of the Pakistan, Afghanistan was going on, it was having to be kept very hush-hush. Obviously, something of crave importance. And this might be asking you to think back to your 16/17 year old self, that maybe you weren't thinking of, but could you see, was it taking an emotional or physical toll on Charlie any?
ALLISON: Yeah, I mean, there were times where, I mean, the movie and the book [Charlie Wilson's War by George Crile] both did a pretty good job of showing how much he was focused on and worried about the [Soviet] Hind helicopters and the toll they were taking. But, I'm sorry I can't remember if it was when I was up there, if it was after I got back, but I remember one time talking with him, it was probably when I was there, where he just really didn't know if the Afghan resistance could stay intact for another six months or a year. So that probably would have been about '84 or '85.
SOSEBEE: That would've been about right.
ALLISON: So that'd be about . . . no, well I was up there '85/'86, So it was probably '85 because that's, it was '86 when everything kind of really started to turn. So '84/'85 were kind of the dark days. But then there were; you said earlier that it was interesting how he was so good at maintaining a secret or whatever. Hey dad [Sam
ALLISON, Sam's father, who is present and identified in the transcript as
SAM], what year was it when we were up there 4th of July?
ALLISON: Was it 2000?
ALLISON: And, in 2000, I got there early, because I was living in Florida at the time, I think, anyway, I got there before the rest of the family did and just hanging out with Charlie and we were in his apartment. Phone rings and he does something like, "Okay." Hangs up saying we got to go. "Okay." And, so we get in the elevator and go downstairs and there in the lobby were about half the offensive line of the Green Bay Packers or something in suits with big bulges and interesting accents, and on the way by Charlie just kind of nods and says, "Y'all can go on up." And we go out in there in the parking lot, here comes another car with about the other half of the offensive line for another team [laughter]. Dressed again, suits, bulges, armored cars. It was kind of an off-the-books meeting between two ambassadors that can't be seen meeting together because of their countries and you can, probably, knowing Charlie's background, guess which two countries it was [likely Israel and Pakistan]. I mean, it was just things like that, and he never said a word to me about who it was, but I recognized one of the guys [likely Zvi Rafiah, Israeli diplomat who also interviewed for the Charlie Wilson Oral History Project, and was a close friend to Wilson and his family].
SOSEBEE: So they would use his apartment as . . . ?
ALLISON: Well, I mean, it was just, he [likely Zvi Rafiah] was ambassador, I mean, not an ambassador, a lobbyist for a country back then and so close to their ambassador, it was just kind of one of those things. That was an interesting thing for me to see just from the standpoint of showing that there really are backch--, you know, you hear the term "backchannels" meetings and stuff. I'm guessing that's what, that would be the textbook definition was what I just saw.
SOSEBEE: Wouldn't we like to know what they talked about?
SANDUL: Well, I mean, throughout your time from being a page, but, throughout your life, is there many chances that you really saw your uncle engaging in these political conversations, political back deals, and did he often ever talk to you about politics as well?
ALLISON: Well, we would talk about particular issues. And there for a while after I was a page and I kind of thought I knew who this congressman was and that one was. And we kind of talked some specifics, has so-and-so with you on this one or not and that kind of thing. But as far as . . . can you be more specific, I . . .
SANDUL: Well, did you have many conversations, whether it was on politics or even on his governing? Did he bring politics to the family table?
ALLISON: Well, yes, but so did every . . . in our family everything is politics . . . [laughter]. And, you know, with dad at the dinner table they would, you know, during holidays or whatnot, it would be, dad, of course, talking about how . . .
SAM: What was I talking about?
ALLISON: . . . Congress really needed to figure out how to ease up on the small business guys. And of course with mom it was a lot of Planned Parenthood-related issues [Sharon served in prominent leadership positions for Planned Parenthood]. And with my sister, there towards the end of his legislative career, it was just about the time she was getting out of law school . . . had been out of law school for a little while, and she was working for a federal magistrate, I believe, at the time and I recall them every now and then saying, you know, talking a little bit about that sort of thing. But really what Charlie and I talked about mostly was books in history.
SANDUL: Well we were told both by a proud father and mother of your good taste by being a history major, and then also about how you would have these debates.
SOSEBEE: And good sense not to follow it any further.
SANDUL: Yeah very much so on that, yes. And that you would have, I guess, these conversations, even debates, they were described, with Charlie about certain aspects of the war [World War II], specifically the Pacific campaign, I guess. But, I mean what were those like? Was it simply, "You're wrong about x, y, and z," or . . . ?
ALLISON: Yeah, well, actually I was 1,000 percent right on every one of them until he opened his mouth and pointed out something [laughter]. And this was really when I was in my teens and early twenties. There after I finally learned that, you know, maybe that's when I ought to ask, "So what do you think about it?" first before I just completely stick a foot down my mouth [laughter]. But one of the things that we were, we spent about a year and a half or two years really looking for a good book on 1943.
ALLISON: Well, no, seriously think about it. As far as U.S. involvement in World War II . . .
SOSEBEE: Pivotal year of the war. …1941, Pearl Harbor we enter, 1941s over. 1942: Guadalcanal, Solomon's Campaigns, Midway, Operation Torch and invasion of North Africa. 1944: D-Day, you know, fast attack. 1945, everything's winding down. What happened to 1943?
SOSEBEE: '43, it's the pivotal year of the war because they're solidifying bases and getting ready for what's going to happen.
ALLISON: Yeah. There aren't many . . .
SOSEBEE: You're right. It just . . .
ALLISON: . . . good books on what was going on in '43.
SANDUL: Uh huh.
ALLISON: Other than it's footnoted between, you know, the bridge between '42 and '44. Another thing that, and I was actually telling him that he ought to write a book on 1943 because that was kind of his point, too, was, you know, all these important things. "Yeah, well, that's true but really what I think ought to be written is 1938."
SOSEBEE: He's got a point there, too.
ALLISON: And, "What do you mean 1938?" "That's when the United States went to war without anybody knowing it," as far as, that's when FDR [President Franklin D. Roosevelt] really getting everything lined up to where we could enter and survive.
SOSEBEE: That's exactly right.
ALLISON: And, the depth and breadth of reading that he did on so many topics, not just that, but just, you know, pick one. It's just amazing. And you always hear about people who have three or four or seven books going at a time. He'd only have a couple of books going at a time, it's just, he'd be done with them in two days, and then it'd be two more. And when I was around him in D.C. that was during his first "not drinking mode" because that was following his heart prob--, or his initial heart problems, and he was just a complete insomniac as far as he couldn't. Yeah. And you go over to his apartment almost at any hour, as long he was in town, and the lights are on, and you know he's up and he's reading. But I've never found that much time to read nor am I that fast. So . . .
SOSEBEE: That's not exactly the Good Time Charlie image., which brings something, and Sam [
ALLISON's father] you can answer this too; I forgot to ask you this earlier, give us what you think about it, and I asked this in some degree when we were here before, but . . . this whole image that he obviously cultivated. He cultivated his image. How much of that is actually realistic, though? I mean you were there with him, I mean, certainly he liked to have a good time.
ALLISON: I don't actually think he cultivated it. I just think he didn't run from it.
ALLISON: He really did wreck his car on Key Bridge.
SOSEBEE: That was kind of hard to make up.
ALLISON: Yeah. He really did try and cut off, or at least threaten to cut off, funding for one of the Pentagon's jets that Colin Powell [who, during Wilson's tenure in office, notably served as National Security Advisor for President Ronald Reagan (1987-1989), Commander of the U.S. Army Forces Command under President George H. W. Bush (1989), and as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (1989-1993) under President George H. W. Bush. He later served as President George W. Bush's Secretary of State (2001-2005)] would have been using because Colin Powell told him "no" on something. He really did get in trouble for taking somebody onto, one of his lady friends onto an aircraft carrier that maybe wasn't completed cleared to do that. I mean, it's just he wouldn't run from it.
SOSEBEE: . . . he's not out there every night. It's not party every night.
ALLISON: Uh, no.
SAM: That was just kind of how he was and he loved to cultivating his dressing like a peacock. And then in his later years, his red suspenders and his . . . he enjoyed those images.
SOSEBEE: You think he found some, actually, what could of, is part of it though, this is something that could have been a political liability.
SAM: Well sure.
SOSEBEE: That he actually turned into a political advantage.
ALLISON: Well he definitely did that. And now, also, a little more to your point is when I was old enough to actually be around him and semi-unsupervised he was already in his fifties. And he had slowed down I'm sure from, but you know, at one time he did own a piece of a disco there in D.C. [Elan-Washington Club]. So I mean it's . . .
SOSEBEE: . . . nobody has ever heard, did he make any money off of that disco?
ALLISON: Oh no.
SANDUL: I've never heard that. Yeah, I've never heard that.
SAM: He didn't.
ALLISON: I can assure you he didn't.
SOSEBEE: It was a nice place to take dates, I guess.
SAM: He and [his long-time friend] Buddy Temple and a guy that ran restaurants, we were talking about him the other night, they got into that, you know, it wound up not making.
SANDUL: Now as a nephew, speaking as, "This is my uncle," how has the image, and maybe it's changed in your lifetime, of "Good Time Charlie" as it's portrayed, say, in the movie, in the book, how has that made you feel as a nephew?
ALLISON: Well when he was in office, and before the book and all that, it was always "Oh gosh so-and-so came out with an article," and we would just be on pens and needles and were very protective of, "Oh he's not really like that" or . . . and, then, once everything came out and we, at least for me, it was kind of refreshing to actually see people that . . . were not, it wasn't the negative repercussions that you just imagine would coming down. And that is one of those things that where, I imagine, any politician in a socially-conservative district, had to have just been absolutely jealous to death of how Charlie did those things. I mean, I don't know how he would turn the liabilities into strengths other than just, I think, it came down to he's just a very genuine guy that was not mean-spirited and, you see it over and over but it's true too, he certainly was not a hypocrite. He wouldn't deny. He would just own whatever it was, the good, the bad, or the ugly.
SOSEBEE: Maybe it's just Charlie. Could it be, and this is just shooting off, maybe being a little academically theoretical. That the fact that he was, you know, "I did it. Yeah. That was me. I did these things." So he didn't hide. But he's also in a fairly, you know, it's a rural, it's a Southern district, I mean, it's East Texas. So it's very masculine-oriented. So that image also kind of goes with even dressing like a peacock, if you want to, kind of man's-man thing that connected with some of the voters.
SAM: Well . . .
SOSEBEE: That overcame some of, you know, what might have been a liability.
ALLISON: Certainly that's, I think, that's as valid as any. It's probably a multitude of things, though, something along those lines, along with maybe some folks kind of living vicariously through him a little bit.
SOSEBEE: That's possible, too.
ALLISON: But also coming back to the constituent services part, he was one of them. I mean, he did what he could for them. You know, If you had a problem just let him know and somebody in his office, it may not be him personally, but someone's going to get it handled for you, and it's going to get handled quickly. Another thing that just came through with, you know, going through all the books in his library is how many of them are on East Texas.
SOSEBEE: Is that right?
SOSEBEE: What kind of books did he . . . I mean we know he had, you know, military was a big focus. But what other, you said a lot of East Texas, what other books, just off the top of your head, did he have in his library?
ALLISON: Okay. If we're just talking on the non-fiction, all sorts of military history of course, but also a lot of East Texas, a lot agricultural history, a lot of books about birds.
SOSEBEE: Is that right?
ALLISON: And a lot of books just about places. You know, most of them were period books, but this is just, the world was such a big and open place to him, you could tell. And he wanted to know as much about all of it as he could.
SOSEBEE: . . . and that also . . . you think about a reader . . . this was someone who didn't have a - how should I put this - a reputation as a student during his academic ventures [
ALLISON laughs]. But obviously was very intelligent and also very inquisitive, very curious about much. So how much of that was that, you know, that his personality, does that make you, I mean, I guess that point is, Charlie, what, I've asked this before, adjectives. How would you describe him? Just using adjectives of the kind of a person he was?
ALLISON: Curious, fun, smart, intelligent, knowledgeable, unhappy a little bit.
SOSEBEE: Oh really?
ALLISON: I think so.
SOSEBEE: In what way?
ALLISON: You could tell he was, again hindsight's 20/20, and how much of it's real and how much of it is just projections of things, but he seemed like he was always chasing something that he never really caught.
SOSEBEE: Something was unfulfilled?
ALLISON: Something, yeah. Part of me thinks he was, you know, he had depression or ADD [Attention Deficit Disorder] or something like that just because, you know, the insomnia, the absolute almost obsessive focus on something that, which seems to go against ADD, you could tell he was trying to get, it's like he wanted something accomplished, something that's a mark. Because so many other things, and it' just, you know, the life of somebody who's bouncing back and forth between two cities or two houses or, something where you could say, "This is it. This is what I did, and it's accomplished."
SOSEBEE: Obviously, as your dad has shared, your mother has shared, this was a man who family was very important to him. And I mean, I'm an uncle but, and I told this to your dad, I'm not an uncle, and I love my nieces and nephews, but I'm not an uncle as close as he was obviously to you and your sister. I mean, this was a pretty special relationship. So kind of two part. I want you to maybe tell us, you know, what was he like as an uncle. I mean, strictly as an uncle, and how you thought too. But you said he was, do you think he regretted that he never had children? Were you and your sister somehow that replacement?
ALLISON: In a sense I think we were. And later in life he may have regretted not having a legacy. One of his quips that he would, when I asked about kids was, "Yeah, as soon as we can figure out how to have them 21 and educated." [Laughter.]
SOSEBEE: I say that. I used to say that quite often [laughter]. [Sharon Wilson ALLISON comes in, hereafter identified as SHARON]
SANDUL: Oh, hello.
ALLISON: Hey, mom.
SHARON: Don't let me disturb you.
ALLISON: . . . but, you know, he had a few cats along the ways and they would, he would very much dote on them.
SOSEBEE: He had cats? He was a cat person?
ALLISON: Surprisingly. Yeah.
SOSEBEE: Didn't ever hear that before. He had cats.
ALLISON: A guy who had the allergies that he had, and he always had cats. But there probably was some regret there. But as an uncle he never seemed like a surrogate father to me or anything like that . . .
ALLISON: . . . or did ever . . .
SANDUL: Try to be.
ALLISON: . . . but it was almost like, you know, at times he was almost like that big brother.
SOSEBEE: So he spoiled you?
ALLISON: Oh, absolutely [laughter]. Oh, absolute greatest Christmas gifts ever.
SANDUL: Well what kind of gifts did he give you?
ALLISON: Oh, man, like he gave me this great telescope when I was probably like 8 or something. Or this one year it was, "Okay, get your best friend and I'm sending a car over to pick you up." This was during Christmas holidays. "Okay." And not one car but two cars pull up from the Army, with, you know, guys in, not quite dress uniforms but whatever that next, I guess Alpha uniforms, whatever that next level is. Drove us over to Fort Hood where we met Charlie hopping out of a Huey [military helicopter] - he was hopping out of the Huey, we were in cars still - and we all go jump in an M60 tank and start driving an M60 tank around doing maneuvers and shooting practice targets.
SOSEBEE: That's a fun present.
SANDUL: Yeah [laughs].
SOSEBEE: That's a real fun present. [Laughter.]
SOSEBEE: . . . this is part of the larger than life . . .
ALLISON: What's the big deal? . . .
SANDUL: Yeah [laughter].
ALLISON: Or then another time when I was in sixth grade, the principal comes and pulls me out of whatever class I was in that morning. "You need to come to the office." And I'm sitting there thinking, "Oh my God, what did I do? Or who died? Or something bad's happened." This was in, I guess, '79. And I get to the office and finally Mr. Bass, the principal, says, "Okay, there's some people here to see you." And he obviously didn't know what was going on either and he thought I had really messed up. Because the people who were there to see me were, I believe they were Secret Service."
SOSEBEE: They had badges and guns [laughs].
ALLISON: "No!" Well, badges and guns, but they weren't showing them to anybody. But you could tell they had them. But, and I mean it looked like something out of a bad movie. They had, you know, ear things and, you know, bulges, dark glasses and all that. And it was, "Can you come with us?" "Do I have a choice?." Next thing I know we're out at TSTC [Texas State Technical College in Marshall, TX], or TSTI [Texas State Technical Institute] at that time [name changed to TSTC in 1991], on the runway and here comes Air Force One. And it's President [Jimmy] Carter, and Charlie was traveling with him, and apparently Charlie had told President Carter that we were in Waco and so they called ahead got somebody from the advance party to come pick me up, and I think they picked up Liz [
ALLISON's sister Elizabeth] too, or she was out of to . . . Anyway, I didn't get to go on the plane but I got to go to the top of the ramp and look in. That's when it was the ol' 707. It was pretty neat. But again it was, yeah, "Doesn't everybody uncle?"
SOSEBEE: "It's Uncle Charlie." Yeah, "Doesn't everybody's uncle?" [Laughter.]
SANDUL: Well, you know, what, that area that you wanna share, what is, and it may be a loaded question and I understand that, but what is some of your, one of your most famous memories of your uncle?
ALLISON: Gosh . . . I wouldn't say not necessarily my favorite just one that's jumping to mind that's very personal, anyway, is where we started with the whole page deal, was when he got it to where we weren't, when he struck the deal where we weren't getting kicked out, we were just going to be on restriction. I'm sitting in his office because we were, me and another friend of mine who was on the hot seat with me, we're just sitting in his office and waiting for the verdict. So he had a committee meeting on it. Anyway, Charlie comes in and looks over at us, trying to give us a grim look and then he just couldn't and starts smiling and just gave us a big thumbs up [laughter]. And then he told us what the punishment was, which was the . . . "But, you know, by the way, I need a new TV so I'm going to go out and buy one tonight, but I probably don't need it for, you know, in my place for another four or five months. Why don't you keep hold of it for me?"
SANDUL: There you go. That's some way to make that punishment a little easier.
ALLISON: So, but, and I think that was kind of his thing as telling them, you know, "Maybe this was overkill," I don't know. But anyway, and at that time, the House was completely wired with cable, TV cable, which channels that we weren't getting down here, certainly. We didn't have to subscribe . . .
SOSEBEE: That was pretty good stuff.
ALLISON: …'cause it was just there on the…so we plug in, but I mean, every channel.
SOSEBEE: Well I think you can answer this, too Excuse me. Every channel.
SOSEBEE: I understand. Yes. Every channel.
ALLISON: Big screen.
SOSEBEE: Statute of limitations is probably completely . . . did y'all follow that restriction?
ALLISON: Which one?
SOSEBEE: Did you stay in your dorms . . .
ALLISON: Actually we pretty much did, which it was kind of hard to because we were on the third floor.
SOSEBEE: No sneaking out or anything, huh?
ALLISON: Well there were two heavily armed capital policemen . . . [SOSEBEE laughs] downstairs. Not just for us, they were just, it was a House office building so they were just always downstairs. But they all seemed to know that who was on restriction. Plus, I still had the future jurist Goodwin Liu there to keep an eye on . . . [laughter].
SOSEBEE: . . . keep an eye on things for you. Well Paul I can't think of anything else. It's been pretty great.
SANDUL: Well actually, you know, one thing I've found, and maybe this won't yield any result, I don't know, but one thing I've found over listening to twenty hours of Charlie Wilson interviews now, I'm learning more and more of my failures as an interviewer. And, as his nephew, you know, is there something I'm not asking you? Is there something here we're not, that we should be asking or something you really think we should be asking or you should be sharing?
SOSEBEE: We did our jobs well . . . [laughter].
ALLISON: . . . I can't think of one . . .
SOSEBEE: . . . I was going to say, Sam we didn't ask that, so let's let him do…
SAM: You didn't let him finish his education, nor his adventure after he graduated from college. Tell them about it.
ALLISON: Well, I did graduate from University of Texas with a history degree. And figured out I didn't want to be a history professor.
SOSEBEE: That was a smart decision.
SANDUL: You made a smart decision [laughter].
ALLISON: See I figured all these things out, you know, law school probably not, but I figured all those things out first part of my senior year, which also, I was smart enough to realize that if I had changed my major at that point, though, there would've been somebody who's in this room now who would've been quite unhappy [laughter]. And I had been teaching scuba for awhile in school.
SANDUL: Oh, wow. Okay.
ALLISON: And, so, anyway, after college I went to the Bahamas and taught scuba for a couple of years.
SANDUL: Wow. Okay.
ALLISON: And then figured out that, okay, being on a scuba boat's fun but it'd probably be more fun to be the guy paying to be on there instead of getting paid to be on there [laughter]. So what am I gonna do about that? So I came back and went to Baylor for graduate business school. And from there went up to Nashville and started a little political software company, actually with one of my page buddies, actually the one who was sitting on the couch next to me when we got the . . . [laughter]. And, let's see, here we were going to absolutely take over the world. And eight months later I was selling oil changes door to door [laughter] . . . and from there, actually one of Charlie's friends, Joe Christie . . . y'all are going to be seeing him.
SANDUL: We're going to see him tomorrow.
SHARON: Good guy.
ALLISON: He knew that I had had a misspent youth around boats and he had started up a company making battery chargers for boats and needed somebody who would go over to Florida and start selling his chargers there so he hired me to go do that.
SANDUL: Oh wow, okay.
ALLISON: Started that and eventually became his sale's manager for the country and then ended up buying out his business later. Sold that business shortly thereafter to a big company. And then from there went into the bond business.
SANDUL: Okay. Wow. Yeah.
SOSEBEE: More than I . . . that's more than I've done.
SANDUL: Another reason why I should've made the right decision to get out of history [laughs].
ALLISON: But, now Joe ought to have some just really interesting stuff.
SOSEBEE: . . . turn this off before we ask you . . .
[There is about three minutes more of conversation not transcribed but available on the audio]