Monday, May 3, 2010
Harry S. Truman
Harry S. Truman (1884-1972) was born on May 8, 1884, in Lamar, Missouri, the oldest of three children born to his parents. His first name of Harry was chosen in honor of his uncle, Harrison Young. His middle initial S was chosen instead of a middle name in order that both his grandfather (Solomon Young and Anderson Shippe Truman) could claim he was named for them. The Truman family moved from a farm near Grandview, Missouri, to Independence, Missouri, when Harry was six years old. He attended elementary school and high school in Independence. He started wearing glasses at age eight because of severe nearsightedness. He was so afraid of breaking his glasses and injuring his eyes that he did not join in the rough games of childhood. He spent his time reading and had read the Bible three times by the time he was 13 or 14 as well as all the books in the Independence Public Library. Harry joined the Baptist Church at age 18. Truman's vision was too poor to be accepted at the United States Military Academy at West Point so he briefly attended a business school in Kansas City. Within five years following his high school graduation in 1901, he worked in the mailing room of the Kansas City Star, as a timekeeper for a construction crew for a railroad company, and as a clerk and later as a bookkeeper in two Kansas City banks. He worked on the family farm with his father from 1906 until 1917. Truman was a member of the Missouri National Guard from 1905 to 1911. When the United States entered World War I in 1917, Truman helped organize a field artillery regiment attached to the 35th Division. He became a lieutenant and then was sent to France in 1918. As a captain there he commanded an artillery battery. He was honorably discharged in 1919 and soon joined the Army reserves as a major and then was made colonel. Truman married his childhood sweetheart, Elizabeth "Bess" Virginia Wallace, on June 28, 1919, six weeks after returning home from the war. They were blessed with one daughter, Mary Margaret. Truman lost money in mining and oil investments before World War I. After the war he and a friend opened a men's clothing store that failed during the severe depression beginning in 1921. It took Truman fifteen years, but he paid all the store debts. Truman turned to politics and received help from the Democratic Party boss, "Big Tom" Prendergast, who thought Truman could win votes because of his farm background, war record, and friendly personality. His first political position was as county judge for two years. When he failed to bed re-elected, he decided to attend Kansas City School of Law but did not earn a degree. While serving as presiding county judge, Truman earned a reputation for honesty and efficiency. He was elected to the United States Senate in 1934 and re-elected in 1940. In 1944 Truman was nominated for Vice President on the Democratic ticket with Franklin D. Roosevelt. This would be FDR's fourth term as President, and many people were concerned that he would die in office. Truman served only 83 days as Vice President before he was summoned to the White House by telephone on April 12, 1945. Elinore Roosevelt informed Truman that FDR was dead. That evening Truman took the oath of office at 7:09 P.M. Truman became President in the last weeks of World War II. Germany surrendered on May 7, and Truman proclaimed May 8, his 61st birthday, as V-E Day (Victory in Europe Day). In July Truman traveled to Germany to meet with Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin. While there he received a secret message that American scientists had tested an atomic bomb successful for the first time. On his way home he ordered American pilots to drop an atomic bomb on Japan. The first bomb fell on Hiroshima on August 6. A second bomb fell on Nagasaki three days later. On August 14, Japan agreed to end the war and on September 2 formally surrendered. The decision to drop an atomic bomb on Japan was one of the most awesome decisions ever considered by one human being. He made that decision in order to bring an end to the war and hopefully to save more lives. Truman had a strong personality and fighting spirit that brought him bitter enemies as well as loyal friends. He was blunt and outspoken and often used strong language against his opposition. His friends loved him because he was straightforward, and his enemies thought he was undignified. Truman faced many serious challenges as President. The United States economy had to reorganize from a wartime to a peacetime basis. Many countries torn by war needed relief programs. A Cold War divided the world between Western nations and Communist subversion and aggression. Truman wanted to extend Roosevelt's New Deal and drew up a program that included authority over the economy, national health insurance, permanent Fair Employment Practices Commission to protect minority rights, public power projects on the Arkansas, Columbia, and Missouri Rivers. The Republican-controlled Congress blocked most of Truman's programs but approved his plan to unify the Armed Forces under a single secretary of defense. Truman's Administration created programs such as the Truman Doctrine,, the Marshall Plan, the Point Four Program, and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). The Truman Doctrine meant international resistance to Communist aggression and guaranteed American aid to free nations resisting Communist propaganda or sabotage. The Marshall Plan (1947) extended the Truman Doctrine. It proposed that the war-damaged nations of Europe join in a program of mutual aid for economic recovery with grants from the United States to assist them. Eighteen countries accepted the Marshall Plan, but the Communist nations rejected it. In the election of 1948, Republicans were poised to win the White House. Liberal Democrats formed the Progressive Party and ran their own candidate. Truman campaigned hard and won one of the biggest upsets in political history. While in the White House, Truman arose early - sometimes as early as 5:30 - to take a walk accompanied by Secret Service agents and media representatives. He sometimes played the piano for visitors and enjoyed Chopin and Mozart. The Truman family spent most evenings in the family living quarters. During the Truman years, the White House received extensive repairs. The Truman family lived at Blair House from 1948 until March 1952. While they were there, two Puerto Rican nationalists tried to invade Blair House to assassinate Truman on November 1, 1950. One Secret Service agent was killed, and another was injured while one gunman was killed and the other captured. The United States, Canada, Great Britain, France and eight other nations signed the North Atlantic Treaty in the spring of 1949, forming the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). This treaty meant that an attack on one member would be considered as an attack on all. Other countries joined later and pooled their armed forces to defend Western Europe. The first supreme commander of NATO forces was General Dwight D. Eisenhower. Communists from North Korea invaded South Korea and started the Korean War on June 25, 1950. The five-year old United Nations demanded North Korea withdraw. On June 27, without UN permission, Truman sent US planes and ships to help save South Korean independence. Congress cheered the announcement, and the UN approved sending troops from other nations on the same day. On June 30 Truman ordered ground troops to South Korea and risked World War III. He later said that this was the hardest decision of his political career. Truman had other problems at home and waged an extensive reform program call the "Fair Deal." This program included civil rights legislation, repeal of the Taft-Hartley Act, a new farm program, federal aid to education, a federal housing program and increases in the Social Security program. Most of his proposals were defeated by Congress. Truman chose not to run for President in the 1952 campaign, saying that he felt no "duty to spend another four years in the White House." He left office on January 20, 1953, and retired to his home in Independence, Missouri. He wrote two volumes of memoirs and continued his active interest in politics and in the Democratic Party. The Harry S. Truman Library, built on funds collected by friends, opened in 1957 and holds Truman's papers and souvenirs. Truman died on December 26, 1972 with severe lung congestion and is buried in Independence in the Truman Library courtyard. Other events in the world of President Truman include: 1) The first fully electronic digital computer was built by engineers in 1946 at the University of Pennsylvania. 2) The phrase "Iron Curtain" was first used by Winston Churchill in 1946 to describe the barrier set up against Western Nations by Communist governments in Eastern Europe. 3) British India was divided into two independent nations - India and Pakistan - in 1947. 4) the first supersonic flight took place in 1947 when U.S. Air Force Captain Charles Yeager flew a Bell-X-1 rocket plane to break the sound barrier. 5) Jackie Robinson joined the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947 to become the first black baseball player in the major leagues. 6) Israel was founded on May 14, 1948, and the first Arab-Israel war began the next day when Arab nations attacked Israel. 7) Civil war in Greece ended in 1949 with the defeat of Communist-led rebels. 8) the Communist People's Republic of China was founded in 1949. 9) The first nationwide telecast took place in 1951 when Truman made an announcement from San Francisco in 1951. 10) Elizabeth II became queen of Great Britain in 1952. Facts and information for this post came from an article in World Book Encyclopedia, Vol. 19, pp 466-473.