By Ray Hill
Patrick Jay Hurley was one of those who exemplified the promise of America, coming to the United States as an infant with his parents the same year he had been born in County Waterford, Ireland. During his eighty years, Patrick J. Hurley was a highly successful attorney, served as Secretary of War during the administration of President Herbert Hoover, was a diplomat under President Franklin D. Roosevelt, rose to the rank of Major General, and was a three-time candidate for the United States Senate. Hurley lived to see himself inducted into New Mexico’s Hall of Fame and was called one of the state’s “truly great men.” It was Pat Hurley who had chosen two young majors to serve as his aides while he was Secretary of War; one was Dwight D. Eisenhower and the other was George Patton. Secretary Hurley also chose another career Army man to serve as Chief of Staff: Douglas MacArthur.
Pat Hurley, like most families of the time, knew hardship and grief. He was thirteen when his mother died and other illnesses helped to break up the Hurley family.
Tall, handsome and gregarious, Hurley began his military career as a private in the Indian Territory (which later became Oklahoma) Volunteer Calvary in 1902. During World War I, Hurley went overseas as a member of the Judge Advocate General’s Corps. Shortly before departing, Hurley met the daughter of Admiral Henry B. Wilson, commander of the Atlantic Fleet. A strikingly beautiful debutante, Ruth Wilson and Pat Hurley corresponded during the war, although the young lady had no idea he had told his friends he had vowed to marry her. When the Atlantic Fleet returned to New York harbor, Patrick J. Hurley was one of the first to board the Admiral’s flagship, where he immediately sought out Henry Wilson. The brash young soldier asked Admiral Wilson for permission to marry his daughter. Ruth Wilson and Patrick Hurley were married on December 5, 1919.
While he had originally been a member of the General Judge Advocate Corps, Hurley went to France with an artillery unit and was quickly moved into logistics and supply. Before long, Hurley was named as a member of the Inspector General’s staff and saw combat. Rising to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, Patrick J. Hurley was cited for gallantry. Following the Armistice, General John J. Pershing, commander of the American Expeditionary Forces, appointed Hurley as the United States’ representative to the Grand Duchy of Luxemburg. It was Hurley’s responsibility to negotiate the right of passage for the American Army of occupation from France to Germany.
Prior to his military career, Pat Hurley knew what it was to work hard, having dug coal in Oklahoma mines at the age of twelve. At fifteen, Hurley desperately tried to join the Rough Riders, whose leader was Colonel Theodore Roosevelt. By age sixteen, Pat Hurley was working on ranches and he finally enrolled at the Baptist Indian University. By the time Patrick J. Hurley graduated, he was a full professor of history. That was only one of his achievements as he also sang in the university choir, played baseball, was a star player on the football team, participated as a member of the debate team, played the French horn in the university orchestra, and was editor of the student newspaper. One wonders how Hurley found the time to study.
Pat Hurley graduated from Baptist Indian University in 1905 and attended the National University School of Law (it later merged with the George Washington School of Law) and got his degree in 1908. Ninety-eight people took the Oklahoma Bar exam and Pat Hurley had the second highest score of those taking the examination. Hurley began his law practice and by 1910 was president of the Tulsa Bar Association. The young man also had one of the largest one-man legal practices in the State of Oklahoma. Hurley specialized in oil and gas law.
An active Republican, Patrick J. Hurley was appointed as the national legal counsel to the Choctaw Nation by President William Howard Taft. Hurley won a lawsuit that prevented the Mississippi Choctaws from joining those in Oklahoma, which had the effect of protecting the revenues derived from oil and gas from being further divided. Hurley’s ability and frequent use of an ear-piercing Choctaw war cry upon certain occasions both astonished and appalled the more elite and erudite, especially in the diplomatic corps.
Hurley was hired by Sinclair Oil in 1939 to negotiate with the government of Mexico for payment for the company’s assets that had been nationalized. Hurley was successful, for which he earned a fee of $1 million. That fee would have the buying power today of almost $20 million. Reportedly, Patrick J. Hurley was one of the ten highest paid lawyers in the United States. Hurley was already personally wealthy as he had invested wisely in real estate in Tulsa.
Hurley was the chairman of the Republican State Convention in 1926 and coordinated the presidential campaign of Herbert Hoover in the Sooner State two years later. President Hoover picked Hurley to serve as Assistant Secretary of War in 1929 and later that year, Hurley was promoted to Secretary. Patrick J. Hurley was the first Oklahoman to serve in a presidential Cabinet.
Following Hoover’s defeat in 1932, Hurley returned to his law practice and was promoted to Brigadier General following the attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese Empire. Hurley was sent to Australia to help resupply the American forces under siege in the Philippines, which the Japanese had blockaded. When the remaining American garrison surrendered in 1942, Pat Hurley accepted the appointment by President Roosevelt as the U. S. Minister to New Zealand. Later, FDR made the Republican Hurley his “personal representative”, sending the General on missions to Europe, Asia and the Middle East. Patrick J. Hurley was the only allied military officer allowed to personally observe the battlefront in Stalingrad, which was under heavy attack by the Germans. While in Russia, Hurley taught the Russian guards how to let loose the Choctaw war cry.
In November of 1944, General Patrick J. Hurley was named as the United States ambassador to China. The war between the occupying Japanese armies and those of the Chinese had raged since 1937, but the situation was further complicated by a deep fissure between the nationalist armies loyal to Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek and Communist leader Mao Zedong. It fell to Patrick Hurley to try and bring the hostile factions of the Chinese leadership together in an effort to present a united front in fighting the Japanese. Hurley’s task was further complicated by the open hatred between American General Joseph “Vinegar Joe” Stilwell and Chiang. Hurley was to report directly to President Roosevelt and one of FDR’s written charges to the ambassador was, “Your principal mission is to promote efficient and harmonious relations between the Generalissimo and General Stilwell to facilitate General Stilwell’s command over the Chinese armies placed under his direction.” Stilwell, who privately derided the Generalissimo as “the Peanut”, could barely contain his hatred of Chiang and his contempt frequently showed. Naturally, the enmity between Stilwell and Chiang had seriously hampered the war effort in China, where the United States had invested billions of dollars in money and equipment. General Stilwell complained Chiang had never committed his best troops to fight the Japanese, preferring instead to use them against Mao’s communists. Nor did the General believe Chiang was spending American financial aid to fight the Japanese; Stilwell was disgusted by the open graft of the Chiang government as well as the staggering waste involved. Eventually, the size and scope of the corruption of the Chinese Nationalist government were such that Joe Stilwell sought to end all American Lend Lease aid to China by October of 1944. Hurley was appalled by Stilwell’s intemperate use of language to the Chinese leader, which only made things more difficult for the ambassador. Veteran diplomats winced at Hurley’s pronunciation of the Chinese communist leader’s name, which came out as “Moose Dung” according to author Michael Burleigh.
Eventually, Hurley believed his efforts in China were undercut by several of the professional State Department employees working in the country, especially John Service Stewart. After a seriously failing President Roosevelt attended the Yalta conference with Soviet dictator Josef Stalin and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and gave concessions to the Russians which restored much of what had been lost during the time of the Tsars, Hurley gave up hope of a non-Communist China. The rivalry and thirst for personal power between Mao and Chiang devolved into civil war once the Second World War was over. Eventually, the Generalissimo was defeated and he and his followers retreated to Taiwan.
Pat Hurley had close calls with death during his time as the President’s special envoy. While flying out of Java, the bomber he was flying in was attacked by Japanese fighter planes; later, he was slightly wounded in Darwin, Australia during a Japanese bombing. Hurley was a highly decorated soldier, winning the Purple Heart, the Silver Star, the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Legion of Merit, and the Distinguish Service Medal, twice.
Hurley returned to the United States and his home in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The former Secretary of War was nominated by the GOP to be the Republican candidate for the United States Senate against veteran incumbent Dennis Chavez in 1946. Impeccably well-groomed and looking like a Hollywood version of a senator with a full head of white hair and a white mustache, General Hurley proved to be an effective speaker and candidate.
Hurley pressed Senator Chavez hard and the two fought a bitter campaign during a year that saw a revival of Republican political fortunes. Chavez only narrowly scraped by, winning by 4,018 votes. Hurley grumbled about election fraud and there was considerable evidence of some highly questionable election practices in a state dominated by machine politics. Popular with his fellow Republicans, Hurley was once again the GOP nominee for the United States Senate in 1948 when incumbent Senator Carl A. Hatch retired to accept an appointment to a federal judgeship. Hurley faced Clinton P. Anderson, a former congressman from New Mexico and Harry Truman’s Secretary of Agriculture, in the general election. 1948 was a big year for Democrats and Patrick J. Hurley lost decisively to Anderson, winning just over 42%.
Four years later, Hurley once again made a last attempt to gain a seat in the United States Senate. Some Republicans in New Mexico were wary of nominating Hurley yet again after two failed contests. As a result, Hurley faced opposition inside the GOP primary. Patrick J. Hurley won a majority of the votes cast in the Republican primary against two challengers, proving once again his personal popularity amongst New Mexico Republicans. Hurley hammered at Communism and Chavez’s record. The election was close with Chavez once again edging his GOP opponent 51% – 49%. Pat Hurley promptly filed an election challenge, which later was dismissed by the Senate. Sixty-nine years old during the 1952 election, it was the end of Patrick J. Hurley’s electoral career and his desire to serve as a member of the United States Senate.
Hurley resumed his business interests, which included starting a company to mine uranium deposits. Patrick Hurley assumed the role of elder statesman and while he and GOP governor Edwin Mechem did not always see eye-to-eye during several campaigns, the old warrior showed up for a barbecue for his sometime friend and rival in Espanola toward the end of his life and nobody enjoyed himself more than the General.
Patrick and Ruth Hurley had moved to Santa Fe around 1938 where they built a beautiful home just southeast of the city. It was in that home where the eighty-year-old Patrick J. Hurley died in his sleep on July 30, 1963. Son Wilson, who was later a noted artist of the American West, said, “He was in good health up until the end.” Despite his age, Pat Hurley’s death had come as a surprise to his family and friends.