Over the years this country has had an unusual assortment of leaders, some who made it into the office via their wealth or political affiliation, and others by just being in the right place at the right time. Harry S. Truman was the latter, gaining office unexpectedly when Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) died.
Harry was a favorite of mine, a man of few words but one who took his responsibility whole-heartedly. He was the one that phrased, “The buck stops here.” Wouldn’t it be nice if all of our leaders believed in those four little words?
This president, who followed FDR ,was born May 8, 1884, in Lamar, Mo. His passions were reading and music. Because of his poor eyesight during his growing up years, he couldn’t participate in sports.
All of us got to know just how well Harry could play the piano.
While an excellent student, Harry couldn’t afford college. His poor eyesight prevented him attending West Point. Before entering politics, Harry worked in various jobs including farming, oil drilling and banking and, of course, the famous haberdashery position. In 1917 he joined the Army and served in France. He left the army as a Captain in May of 1919.
He married Elizabeth “Bess” Wallace in 1919. They had one daughter, Margaret. She had a nice, what I would call a Sunday choir voice, but tried to become known in a more professional capacity. It didn’t work, and when a critic made known his dislike for Margaret’s voice, Harry took him to task via every known publication at the time.
Harry was vice president for only three months when FDR died.
This mild-mannered man from Missouri without a college education, who had been a failed haberdasher, then a county judge and a U.S. senator, became our 33rd president. Harry inherited the mess at the end of World War II. The grave responsibility fell upon his shoulders to decide what to do with the A-bomb. His thoughts were that an invasion of Japan would cost millions of lives, and America would end it in the quickest way possible.
What we didn’t know at the time was that the Germans were almost to the point of producing the same type of bomb. Had Harry not used this new weapon, it’s anybody’s guess what could have happened. Everybody of my generation remembers the election in 1948 and the famous headlines that said, “Dewey defeats Truman.” There was a mad scramble for the St. Louis paper to grab the newsprint off the streets. Harry was delighted.
During his tenure as president, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization was formed, as was the Central Intelligence Agency, and America recognized the State of Israel, The response to the Cold War and our involvement in the Korean conflict were also problems that Truman faced. Harry wasn’t popular during his two terms in office, especially when it came to some domestic issues, for example proposals expanding the GI bill, national health care, and four civil rights executive orders.
Harry had no middle name The “S” was only an initial. Today, some rank Truman as the fifth most popular president behind Lincoln, FDR, Washington and Theodore Roosevelt. However, his wife, Bess Truman didn’t particularly like being called the First Lady. Bess would much have preferred living in Missouri, and she always tried to stay out of the limelight during Harry’s term in office. Harry left us on December 26, 1972 at the age of 88. Harry had no middle name, just the initial S.
Now I’d like to add something here that has nothing to do with presidents. Please indulge me.
Back some years ago I had a position that included taking notes and writing a report once a month for one of the city’s committees. Included in the group was a nice man named Virgil Getto. I remember those meetings fondly. Virgil was always such a gentleman and helpful if I had a question. Some years later, I bumped into a friend, a young lady who’d been a neighbor and was now into local politics. I grabbed her and gave her a hug. Virgil happened to be standing beside her; I gave him one, too. He blushed from ear to ear.
We’ll miss this fine man. Fallon won’t be Fallon without him, especially at next year’s Lincoln Day dinner on Feb 14.
Edna Van Leuven is a Churchill county writer and columnist. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org