Biddle evacuates the United States embassy in Warsaw. (This photo appeared in various news sources in October, 1939)
"Although it would be altogether too arbitrary to single out Biddle, the sixty-three-year-old Adjutant General of Pennsylvania, as the best-dressed man in the United States, it would, at the same time, be something of a task to find a male more elegant than he, not only in this country, but anywhere else in the world." (George Frazier, Esquire Magazine, 1960)
Biddle knocks out some push-ups while getting interviewed by Life Magazine.
[Author's note: this post is an excerpt from The Gentlemen of Gloucester, a book available here on Amazon.]
Some men become Honorary First City Troopers without having served in the unit the customary way.
Such individuals do so by having attained special accomplishments in life that make them a natural fit for the Troop. General Pershing and President Dwight David Eisenhower are among many others who became Honorary Troopers by this means.
In 1960, the Troop elected an honorary member who couldn’t have been better suited to the unit’s self-concept. His name was Anthony J. Drexel Biddle, Jr. Biddle’s impressive and somewhat quirky career outlines in caricature a number of traits that have characterized quite a few Gentlemen of Gloucester since 1774.
Born into a respected family with a strong Philadelphia name, Biddle left boarding school at the outbreak of World War I to enlist in the army as the only white private in an otherwise all-black African American unit. After seeing combat, he returned home a major.
Two decades later, as a United States ambassador to Poland, he befriended fellow diplomat Joe Kennedy’s son John, taking the young man under his wing for a time in Warsaw. The visit was cut short, however, when the Germans invaded Poland in 1939. Just after the invasion, Life featured a photo of Biddle loading State Department documents into the trunk of his car, dressed in a sleeveless undershirt, while Stukas flew overhead.
In wartime London, Biddle became the United States emissary to the governments-in-exile of Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Greece, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, and Yugoslavia. He came in contact with an assertive Frenchman called de Gaulle, who claimed to be the true leader of Free France but who had difficulty making friends. As one of the few people to take de Gaulle seriously, Biddle supported him however he could, and as a result, won the future leader’s trust for life.
Biddle’s son, Tony, explained that although his father was friendly with President Franklin D. Roosevelt, he was “sickened” with the promises FDR made to Stalin at the Yalta Conference, which negated many of the promises Biddle had personally made to European heads of state during the war. To protect his conscience, Biddle resigned from the State Department in 1944 and joined the Army as lieutenant colonel to serve on the staff of General Eisenhower, where his contacts with underground movements in occupied nations helped provide intelligence for planning Operation Overlord, the allied invasion of Europe. He continued on Eisenhower's staff, supervising European reconstruction after the war ended.
Eisenhower was impressed enough with Biddle’s capacity as an all-rounder that he later asked him to be his presidential running mate. Biddle declined, stating that a) he preferred to operate behind the scenes and b) he was Democrat. Although Biddle may have preferred to keep out of the limelight, he had been a much-photographed “fashion plate” since youth and he would later be named the best dressed man in America in a still-famous Esquire Magazine article titled “The Art of Wearing Clothes.”
Disappointed that Biddle wouldn’t run for office with him (Biddle also turned down a request to run for Governor of Pennsylvania), Ike asked if there were any other posts he might want. Biddle replied that he would take anything that would allow him to live in Pennsylvania. Eisenhower jumped on the offer, telling Biddle that the Pennsylvania National Guard was giving him political problems at the time. Biddle resigned from the Army and became Adjutant General of the PA Guard.
According to his son, of all the posts Biddle ever held, the one of which he was most proud was that of Pennsylvania Adjutant General. Through much effort, he solved the political problems that Eisenhower had assigned to him, while living in a farm house on post at Fort Indiantown Gap that he remodeled to suit his tastes. During that period, Biddle often entertained visiting members of the First City Troop who were family friends.
At that house, Biddle’s son often answered the phone hearing a gruff French-sounding voice crackling long distance on the other end. It was de Gaulle, who would call a few times each week, claiming that Biddle was the only American he really trusted. In addition to calls from de Gaulle, Biddle also heard from John F. Kennedy, his young friend from Warsaw, who now turned to him for moral support when suffering political defeats early in his career. At one point, JFK said he wanted to leave politics, but Biddle encouraged him to keep at it.
When Kennedy succeeded Eisenhower in the White House, a crisis flared up in Spain concerning the island of Gibraltar. Kennedy called Biddle and asked if he would go to Spain, explaining that he needed someone “simpatico” enough to deal with the Spanish, who could combine military bearing with diplomatic warmth. Though reluctant to leave Pennsylvania, Biddle went to Spain and managed to accomplish what the President asked him to do.
Biddle remained in touch with the First City Troop, and because he exemplified so many characteristics that Troopers have held dear since colonial times, he was elected to the Honorary Roll. Sadly, Biddle didn’t live much longer after he became a Trooper. Although physically fit, performing hundreds of pushups daily, his three-packs-a-day cigarette smoking habit ultimately got the better of him. He died at age 63 in 1961.
When considering Biddle’s life, a series of seemingly contradictory character traits appear that make him a hero to modern Troopers, such as the way he enlisted as a private in World War I, even though he probably could have been an officer; the way he was equally comfortable with military service and “simpatico” diplomacy; how he readily left or turned down high-ranking posts that more career-oriented men might have seized, simply because he didn't want them; his refusal to be Eisenhower’s running mate for the presidency, but his eagerness to embrace the more parochial role as Adjutant General in the Pennsylvania Guard; and even his diligence about physical fitness training combined with laxity about excessive cigarette smoking.
This somewhat confusing, but certainly charming, jumble of traits reflects a value system that has cropped up among First City Troopers over the years, and which remains part of the unit’s cultural inheritance today.