Rudolph A. Winnacker served as the first Historian for the Office of the Secretary of Defense and remained in that position for 24 years, establishing a firm foundation for the office and achieving a remarkable record of accomplishment.
Winnacker was exceptionally well qualified for the position. His academic background included a Harvard history Ph.D. and more than 10 years of teaching experience at the Universities of Michigan and Nebraska. During World War II he performed research work for the Office of Strategic Services. After an assignment as historian in the Office of the Secretary of War, he served on the faculty of the National War College and with the Army Historical Division.
As OSD Historian, Winnacker played a notably prominent role, particularly during the 1950s. In 1953 he was a staff member and advisor to the Rockefeller Committee whose report led to a major reorganization of the Department of Defense. Subsequently, at the express direction of Secretary Neil McElroy, Winnacker drafted DoD Directive 5100.1 that implemented the Department of Defense Reorganization Act of 1958. During these years he sometimes acted as a spokesman for the Secretary of Defense, holding press conferences on matters about which he could speak with authority.
In 1955, once again at the direction of the secretary, Winnacker coordinated and compiled work by military service historians to produce a detailed report entitled The Entry of the Soviet Union into the War Against Japan. The report received much public attention and laid to rest a long-existing controversy, particularly in Congress. Winnacker also had responsibility for important ongoing functions, including publication of the Annual Report of the Secretary of Defense, and the Annual Public Statements of the Secretary of Defense. Of special note was his persistent and successful collection of DoD and other documents and materials that formed the core of the current Historical Office Archives – a valuable research collection. Not the least of his multiple activities was his service for 20 years on the National Historical Publication and Records Commission as representative of the Secretary of Defense. In one of his final contributions, Winnacker oversaw the review for declassification and release of the Pentagon Papers on the Vietnam War.
All of these and many other activities were accomplished with the help of no more than two professional assistants and a secretary. For Winnacker it was a labor of love. He often expressed astonishment that he was being paid for doing something that he found so enjoyable and rewarding.