Voices of Minnesota

Oral History Interview with Robert E. Matteson

DATE: May 30-31, 1991


Robert E. Matteson was born on September 13, 1914 in St. Paul and graduated from Carleton College in 1937. He had a long and varied career as a government official, college faculty member, intelligence agent, arms control and Russian expert, author, canoeist and explorer.

Highlights of his government career (1953-1972) include: former director of the White House disarmament staff under President Dwight Eisenhower in the 1950s, chief of staff for the Foreign Operations Administration, member of the Central Intelligence Agency's Board of National Intelligence Estimates and director of civilian operations in the II Corps sector in Vietnam.

In World War II, Matteson served in the 80th Infantry division in Europe. He won the Silver Star for the capture of Gen. Ernst Katlenbrunner, Hitler's Gestapo and intelligence chief.

In addition to his service to the government, Matteson founded the Sigurd Olson Environmental Institute at Northland College in Ashland, Wisconsin. As an avid canoeist, Matteson took trips with family members across Canada to the Bering Sea, on Lake Superior and down the Mississippi River to New Orleans.

Matteson died of Parkinson's disease on January 24, 1994.

In the interview Mr. Matteson speaks of his long involvement with the United States government State Department, his relationship with Minnesota governor Harold Stassen, and the political relationship between Stassen and John Foster Dulles, Eisenhower's secretary of state. He also discusses his involvement in and attitudes towards the Vietnam War. Matteson offers thoughtful reflection and commentary on his government career.

In addition to recounting his governmental career, Matteson tells several fantastic tales; including his role in the capture of Gen. Ernst Kaltenbrunner, Hitler's Gestapo and intelligence chief, and his one time job of interview transcriber for Josef Stalin.

Also, Matteson talks in depth about his relationships with life long friends such as Harold Stassen and Sigurd Olson.

LENGTH OF INTERVIEW: 3 hours 35 minutes

TRANSCRIPT: 54 pages