|Born||8 May 1884|
|Died||26 Dec 1972|
Contributor: C. Peter Chen
ww2dbaseHarry S. Truman was born in Lamar, Missouri, United States to John Anderson Truman and Martha Ellen Young Truman. He was named after his mother's brother, Harrison Young; his middle name S, a single letter that legally was not short for anything, honored both his grandfathers, Anderson Shipp Truman and Solomon Young. As a child, he liked music (he played the piano as well as enjoyed listening to music) and reading, particularly history; it was his belief from early on that men made history and not the other way around. At the age of 16, he was given the chance to attend the Democratic National Convention in Kansas City, Missouri. Upon graduating from Independence High School, he worked for the Santa Fe Railroad as a timekeeper, whose responsibility was to keep track of all workers' work hours and to make sure everyone was paid properly; he was initially appalled by the crude manners and dirty language of the railroad workers, but soon grew to like them, and was well liked. After working briefly at the Kansas City Star newspaper publishing house, a bank, and then his family farm, he join the Missouri National Guard in 1905 despite his fear of guns, a fear that he quickly conquered; as his eyesight was poor, he reportedly memorized the eye exam chart to pass the vision test. On 9 Feb 1909, he was initiated into the Scottish Rite Freemasonry in the Belton Lodge, Missouri; he would become a 33° Sovereign Grand Inspector General later in 1945. He completed his duties with the National Guard in 1911. Around this time, he began courting Bess Wallace, who initially turned down his marriage proposal later in 1911 but could not help but fall in love with him as their relationship grew. In 1917, he returned to the National Guard and was sent to Camp Doniphan, Oklahoma, United States for training, where he ran a successful camp canteen that actually made enough money to pay dividends to the enlisted men who were all forced to pay a small amount of money to capitalize the canteen. Before he was shipped off to France to fight in WW1, Wallace suggested marriage, and Truman turned him down, noting that he wanted to make sure he could come home from the war a healthy man before marrying her, so that he would not be a liability to her, or worse, making her a widow. As a soldier, he performed superbly and was well liked. He was chosen by his men to be a junior officer, and his superiors promoted him to the rank of captain and sent him to France for advanced artillery training. Despite only having a high school degree, he was taught advanced mathematics, and was given the task of teaching fellow officers what he had just learned. As the commanding officer of Battery D, 129th Field Artillery, 60th Brigade, US 35th Infantry Division, he showed natural talent in leadership and was well respected by his men. He did not lose a single life in his company throughout the war.
ww2dbaseReturning home to Missouri, Truman was made a colonel in the US Army Reserves. He opened a clothing store in Kansas City with Jacobson, but that store would fail in 1921 during the Great Depression. He married Wallace on 28 Jun 1919, the same day the Treaty of Versailles was signed; they would have one daughter, Mary Margaret Truman, in 1924. During his time with the National Guard, he had met James Pendergast, nephew of the powerful local politician Thomas Joseph "T. J." Pendergast. After being introduced to T. J. Pendergast, the elder Pendergast liked him right away, and urged him to run for the elected position of judge of the court of the eastern district of Jackson County. Between 1923 and 1925, he took some night courses toward a law degree at the Kansas City Law School, but he never completed his degree, possibly due to the fact that he was not re-elected for his judge position in 1924. In 1926, he was elected the presiding judge for the court, and was re-elected in 1930. In 1933, Postmaster General James Farley owed Pendergast a favor, and Pendergast called in the favor and moved Truman into the position of Missouri's director for the Federal Re-Employment program. In 1934, he wished to move on to greater positions, but was initially turned down by Pendergast; Pendergast only relented after other colleagues vouched for Truman. With Pendergast's approval, Truman ran for the United States Senate in 1934, defeating John Cochran and Tuck Milligan of the Democratic Party, and then moved on to defeat the Republican Party incumbent Roscoe Patterson, winning the Senate seat. Around this time, banker William Kemper bought out the bank that had financed Truman's failed business, and allowed him to pay off the debt for only $1,000.
ww2dbaseWhen Truman first entered the Senate in Washington DC, United States, he was not well respected by his fellow Senators because he was seen as one of the many Pendergast puppets. As time went on, his honesty gained him a good reputation. In 1940, he was able to regain his Senate seat by a narrow margin, both within the Democratic Party (where votes against him were split between two rival candidates) and in the election (where he defeated the Republican challenger Manvel Davis by only 2% of the votes). During his second term as a Senator, he became famous nationally for cleaning up inefficiencies and mismanagement, saving the taxpayers millions of dollars that would otherwise be wasted. On 23 Jun 1941, a day after Germany invaded the Soviet Union, he was quoted in saying that the United States should wait some time before making a decision on which side to support.
ww2dbaseIn 1943, Truman appeared on the cover of Time magazine, only three years after entering the US Senate as a little-known politician who had trouble even trying to get White House administrators to return his calls.
ww2dbaseIn 1944, Truman was chosen as an unlikely candidate for vice presidency under Franklin Roosevelt; while Roosevelt did not seem to favor Truman initially, it was said that Democratic Party leaders wanted the relatively young and honest Truman to run in case the frail Roosevelt's health failed him. This worst case scenario would come true months later. On 20 Jan 1945, the re-elected Roosevelt was sworn in as the President of the United States, and Truman the vice president. In his three-month tenure as vice president, he accomplished little, partly because Roosevelt did not always consult him when making decisions.
ww2dbaseDuring Truman's time in the Senate, his earlier supporter T. J. Pendergast was found guilty of tax evasion and had served a 15-month prison term. When Pendergast passed away on 26 Jan 1945, Truman attended the funeral despite Pendergast being an accused criminal. He was initially criticized for his attendance, but by saying Pendergast "was always my friend and I have always been his", he was able to turn it around into something that expressed his loyal quality.
ww2dbaseIn the late afternoon of 12 Apr 1945, as Truman was about to have a drink with US House of Representatives Speaker Sam Rayburn, he received a phone call, requesting him to go to the White House immediately, without alarming those around him. He ran to his office to get his hat, then got into his vice presidential limousine. When he reached the White House, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt put a hand on him and told him that Roosevelt had passed away. Not knowing what to say, Truman asked if there was anything he could do for her. Mrs. Roosevelt responded by asking "[i]s there anything we can do for you? You are the one in trouble now." At this time, Americans were not accustomed of seeing anyone but Roosevelt in the White House, having had Roosevelt as the president since 1933. Truman, unassuming and speaking with a mid-west accent, did not inspire the population. Many Americans feared that Truman would destroy all the good that Roosevelt was able to build over the past 12 years. The new President Truman and his wife would move into the Blair House near the White House, respectfully giving Mrs. Roosevelt the time she needed to move out before moving in the Truman family.
ww2dbaseTruman held his first cabinet meeting with Roosevelt's cabinet members on the day he was sworn in. Immediately after the meeting, he was approached by Secretary of War Henry Stimson, who had a "most urgent matter" to discuss with Truman. For the first time, Truman learned of the Manhattan Project.
ww2dbaseIn Jul 1945, Truman traveled to Europe to attend the Potsdam Conference, where he met Soviet leader Joseph Stalin for the first and only time. Stalin was reported in saying that Truman was not a capable man, and the United States was not to be feared for as long as Truman was in power.
ww2dbaseAs the leader of the United States, Truman inherited many of the policies already set in motion by Roosevelt, and he mainly kept to continue Roosevelt's initiatives. His first controversial decision came in Jul 1945 when the Manhattan Project successfully produced atomic weapons that could be used against Japan. On 6 Aug 1945, aboard a ship en route on his return trip from Europe, he was having lunch in the officer's wardroom with he received the news of the atomic detonation over Hiroshima. "This is the greatest thing in history", he cried out in excitement. The statement he prepared for the public, which was delivered by a White House staff assistant, was less exuberant.
ww2dbaseAfter WW2, Truman was a supporter of George Marshall's namesake plan to rebuild Europe and devoted his efforts in the establishment the United Nations.
ww2dbaseOn 26 Jul 1948, Truman issued Executive Order 9981 to establish equality of treatment and opportunity in the American military for people of all races. The operative statement was as follows:
ww2dbaseDuring the 1948 election, Truman fell behind in the polls leading up to the election. To fight the situation, he went on a train trip around the country, stopping at as many major towns and cities as he could, meeting with voters and local politicians. His train logged 21,928 miles during this campaign. During the night of the election, he went to bed at 0900 hours, then woke up at midnight to turn on the radio. After hearing that he was still behind in electoral votes, despite leading in popular votes, he thought he was going to lose the election as expected, and went back to bed. When he woke up at 0400 hours the next morning, the situation completely turned around, and he was chosen by the American people as the president in his own right. The photograph of him holding up a copy of "DEWEY DEFEATS TRUMAN" headlined newspaper, printed in expectation of his defeat by the publisher of the Chicago Tribune, became one of the most recognized photographs in American political history.
ww2dbaseAs the President of the United States, Truman was most remembered for his role involving weapons of mass destruction, his civil rights stance within the country, and his foreign policy decisions in the early years of the Cold War.
ww2dbaseRegarding nuclear policy, he successfully removed these powerful weapons from the military and placed them under civilian control; ironically, in an attempt to create ever larger weapons to remain a step in front of the Soviets, he pushed for great efforts toward the research of hydrogen bombs while refusing to sign a "no first use" policy when it came to the possible deployment of weapons of mass destruction.
ww2dbaseIn the realm of civil rights, he championed the desegregation the military (ie. allowing African-American and Caucasian personnel to serve in the same units), making discrimination based on race for civil service positions illegal.
ww2dbaseTruman's foreign policy was controversial. His administration achieved great success in Europe, where the Marshall Plan bolstered America's allies in the Cold War and the continued support of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) ensured a balance of military power against the Warsaw Pact. In Asia, however, the loss of China to communism marred his administration's foreign policy track record. Wanting to avoid dragging US into another war, he attempted to split China into two spheres of influence, with the Communists in the north and the US-leaning Nationalists in the south, and hoped the two factions would coexist peacefully as the Koreans had been thus far. This arrangement only lasted briefly, and in the mean time the Communists were given time to build up their strength in northeastern China. When the Nationalists finally grew tired of the arrangement and attempted to renew the war, the Communists were able to counterattack at such a scale that it ultimately led to the Nationalists' defeat in 1949, fleeing to Taiwan. While a more staunch support for Nationalist China would guarantee neither a Nationalist victory nor a relatively peaceful division of China, the disengagement from anti-communist activities in China contributed to China's fall, and it would have profound consequences in the later conflicts in Korea and Vietnam.
ww2dbaseOn the issue of Israel, Truman was a known supporter of the Zionist movement. When Israel declared itself as the legitimate government in Palestine, Truman recognized the new nation 11 minutes after the declaration. His intention was likely to seek an anti-Communist ally in the region.
ww2dbaseOn 25 Jun 1950, North Korea invaded South Korea and began the Korean War. The first phase of the war nearly ended in a rout for the South Korean and American troops, leading to Truman's firing of Secretary of Defense, Louis Johnson, replacing him with George Marshall. General Douglas MacArthur, commanding officer of the United Nations forces in Korea, launched a wildly successful counter offensive centered around a surprise amphibious landing at Incheon, Korea that encircled and eventually defeated North Korean forces in the south.
ww2dbaseIn Oct 1950, he traveled to Wake Island to meet with MacArthur. The Korean War was a main topic of discussion, and generally Truman gave MacArthur the approval for all he had achieved thus far. MacArthur had also casually asked Truman of his plans for the upcoming 1952 presidential election. Truman countered with the question whether MacArthur had any political ambitions. MacArthur denied such plans, and advised Truman to watch out for Dwight Eisenhower. Truman laughed at the notion, saying that "Eisenhower doesn't know the first thing about politics. Why, if he should become President, his Administration would make Grant's look like a model of perfection."
ww2dbaseOn 1 Nov 1950, Puerto Rican nationalists Griselio Torresola and Oscar Collazo attempted to assassinate Truman at the Blair House, Truman's temporary residence during renovations at the White House. Blair was in bed taking a nap at the time, and he stumbled to the window to find out the source of the gunfire; noticed by the White House police outside, he was immediately waved to go back into the house. Shortly after, he was hurried into a car and was driven to Arlington, Virginia, United States. Torresola mortally wounded White House policeman Leslie Coffelt, but Coffelt was able to kill Torresola before he died; the loss of Coffelt deeply disturbed Truman. Collazo was captured and found guilty of murder in 1952, but his death sentence would be commuted to life in prison by Truman.
ww2dbaseLater that month, as MacArthur's forces moved deep into North Korea in two columns, a large-scale Chinese invasion took place, taking everyone by surprise. MacArthur blamed the Central Intelligence Agency for the failure to foresee this and requested a major escalation of war, which was rejected by Truman. MacArthur then requested permission to bomb all bridges on the Yalu River to prevent more Chinese troops from entering, which was authorized by Truman, but MacArthur was warned to avoid attacking Chinese territory because Truman did not wish to start a war with China. The disappointed MacArthur sought political backing for his vision for war; in that effort, he wrote to Republican House leader Joseph Martin, who later leaked the letter to the press, and the letter resulted in a reprimand from Truman. As the war now became a fierce stalemate near the 38th Parallel, Truman attempted to return to the statu quo by reaching out to the enemies; at the same time, MacArthur, without permission, sent an ultimatum to the Chinese. This move angered Truman as the insubordination was clear, and MacArthur was removed from power on 11 Apr 1951. Although MacArthur was clearly in the wrong, Truman's reputation suffered as a result. Already tired of war and had previously rallied behind MacArthur's call to escalate the war in order to bring it to a speedy and victorious end, the American people was shocked at Truman's decision. His approval rating dropped dramatically to only about 1-in-3, and there were even calls from the US Congress to impeach him. Truman was jeered by the public with loud "boos" when he entered Griffith Stadium; it was the first time a president was booed since 1932. His support further deteriorated when he commented MacArthur's farewell speech as "damn bullshit", and commented the emotional reaction of Congress upon hearing the speech "damn fool Congressmen crying like a bunch of women". Finally, he realized that not only his support base was waning, but, like MacArthur warned a year earlier, Eisenhower had come on the scene as a very popular candidate belonging to the opposition Republican Party. In Feb 1952, his approval rating dropped further to 22% according to Gallup polls; this would remain the lowest approval rating for a US President for over 50 years. Although his approval rating increased slightly, Truman withdrew his candidacy on 29 Mar 1952. Truman had always maintained, however, that he had never had the intention to run for presidency, and he was only in the running because of write-in votes. Eisenhower ran on a campaign against Truman's, thus the Democratic Party's, failures on the topics of Korea, Communism, and government corruption. Eisenhower would win the election. Truman's last speech as the US President in Jan 1953, in which he spoke plainly and sincerely, was considered one of his finest speeches of his political career.
ww2dbaseTruman returned to Independence, Missouri via the presidential train Ferdinand Magellan to a thunderous welcome. He and his wife moved into the Wallace home. He turned down various commercial opportunities, deciding that such actions would harm his integrity, despite the fact that he had very little savings and his only income was his US Army monthly pension of US$112.56. He published his memoirs in two volumes, Memoirs by Harry S. Truman: Year of Decisions and Memoirs by Harry S. Truman: Years of Trial and Hope, in 1955 and 1956 respectively, both of which were successful commercially, but yielded little profit for Truman after taxes and expenses. In 1956, Truman and his wife traveled across Europe, meeting with the aging Winston Churchill and receiving an honorary civic law degree from Oxford University. In 1958, the US Congress enacted the Former Presidents Act that provided a US$25,000 yearly pension for former presidents; this finally stabilized his financial situation. Despite his record-low approval rating during his presidency, political historians began to view his tenure with greater favor by this time; in 1962, a poll of 75 distinguished historians conducted by Arthur M. Schlesinger, Sr. ranked Truman among the "near great" American presidents. In 1964, he was invited to speak at the US Senate under a new rule that allowed former presidents to address the Senate; he was extremely honored by this opportunity. In 1964, he fell in the bathroom of his home; his glasses broke and cut his face near his eyes, and the impact broke two of his ribs. He recovered, but his health would not be the same after. In 1965, when the Medicare Bill was passed into law, President Lyndon Johnson honored Truman for his fight for health care by granting him and his wife the first two Medicare cards.
ww2dbaseOn 5 Dec 1972, Truman was admitted to the Research Hospital and Medical Center of Kansas City with lung congestion from pneumonia. In mid-Dec, doctors announced that his condition was critical. On 25 Dec, he fell into a coma. At 0750 hours local time on 26 Dec 1972, he passed away. After a very simple funeral service (his wife had turned down a state funeral), he was laid to rest at the Truman Library in Independence, Missouri.
Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin, American Prometheus
David Brinkley, Washington Goes to War
Douglas MacArthur, Reminiscences
William Manchester, American Caesar
David McCullough, Truman
Harry Truman Timeline
|8 May 1884||Harry Truman was born.|
|21 Jul 1944||At Chicago, Illinois, United States, the Democratic National Convention nominated Senator Harry Truman to run as Franklin Roosevelt's vice presidential candidate in the upcoming election.|
|8 Aug 1945||US President Harry Truman signed the United Nations Charter, making the US the third nation to join the new organization.|
|17 Aug 1945||US President Harry Truman officially approved General Order No. 1 submitted by US Joint Chiefs of Staff five days earlier, containing detailed orders to Japanese forces on matters of surrender.|
|21 Aug 1945||US President Harry Truman canceled all contracts under the Lend-Lease Act.|
|29 Aug 1945||US President Harry Truman released the reports of the US Army and Navy Boards of Inquiry into the Pearl Harbor disaster. The Army Board placed blame primarily on the failure of Lieutenant General Walter Short for failing to alert his command. The US War Department also came in for criticism (for failing to keep the president's office informed of developments in negotiations between Japan and the United States) as does Secretary of State Cordell Hull (for delivering America's counter proposals on 26 Nov 1941, thereby preventing time for war preparations). The Navy Board's report blamed Admiral Husband Kimmel for not rotating the in-port periods of US warships in a less routine manner.|
|31 Aug 1945||Truman wrote Attlee, requesting the United Kingdom to accept the immigration of 100,000 European Jews into Palestine.|
|20 Sep 1945||Harry Truman ordered the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) to disband in 10 days.|
|27 Oct 1945||On this Navy Day holiday in the United States, Harry Truman reviewed the fleet aboard USS Missouri on the Hudson River and then gave a speech in Central Park, New York, New York, United States.|
|24 Jan 1946||Harry Truman secretly made Sidney Souers the chief of the newly-established Central Intelligence Group in a ceremony involving black cloaks and wooden daggers. This organization was not recognized by the Pentagon nor the FBI, and it would remain active for a very short period of time as all Truman wanted out of Souers was a concise daily report on intelligence matters so that Truman could save some time.|
|1 Aug 1946||US President Harry Truman signed the Atomic Energy Act of 1946, placing nuclear weapon development in the United States in civilian hands.|
|23 Sep 1949||US President Harry S. Truman announced to the world that there was positive evidence that the Soviet Union had detonated an atomic bomb; this highlighted the fact that the US monopoly of nuclear weapons had ended and marked the beginning of East-West confrontation known as the Cold War.|
|1 Sep 1950||US President Harry S. Truman expressed his aim to create an united Korea.|
|11 Oct 1950||Harry Truman departed for Wake Atoll.|
|6 Dec 1950||US President Truman issued a directive requiring all military officers and diplomatic officials to clear with the State Department all but routine statements before making them public and to "refrain from direct communications on military or foreign policy with newspapers, magazines, and other publicity media." This order would later to be used against General MacArthur.|
|26 Dec 1972||Harry Truman passed away.|
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General Douglas MacArthur at Leyte, 17 Oct 1944