Sergeant Richard Bettin (retired) was stationed at the White House in Washington D.C., during his Army career from January 1956 to August 1958. Bettin shared his personal memories, along with his research on the history of the White House, during a presentation at the Merrill Enrichment Center Thursday.
As a young soldier, Bettin worked the switchboard in the bomb shelter under the White House. He met President Eisenhower a handful of times while he worked there. At the time, however, the significance of the job was lost on him.
“I didn’t know the importance that we do today of the White House,” he said. “I wish I only would have known some things years ago that I know today. I wouldn’t have been so ignorant when I worked there.”
While he may not have paid much attention during his Army career, Bettin has since become a scholar of White House history. Bettin revealed some of the White House’s secrets, including underground tunnels and rooms beneath the front lawn.
A 1955 Merrill High School graduate, Bettin arrived in Washington D.C. in 1956. At the time, the White House had been recently reconstructed during the Truman administration. The structure, built while George Washington was president, was literally falling apart, Bettin noted.
No expense was spared in the reconstruction, which included the addition of another story below ground.
Bettin met his wife while he was working in Washington, D.C. She figured he must be okay, he said, if he was allowed to work in the White House. It turns out he was indeed okay, as the couple just celebrated their 60th anniversary.
As a retired member of the Army Signal Corps, Bettin was invited to Washington D.C. for the dedication of a new White House Communications Agency building around 1990. While his work at the White House was strictly confidential at the time, the technology and duties of the White House Communication Agency have changed so much that Bettin can freely talk about his job in the 1950s now.
“I don’t know anything about anything anymore,” he said.
Bettin said he was lucky to have had the opportunity to work in the White House.
“When I first got there, I could have been transferred to some other place,” he said. “I was very fortunate to get to stay at the White House. Many things had to fall into place and I didn’t really appreciate it. I didn’t think it was a big deal.”