Happy Birthday Harry Truman

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We pay a visit to the Truman Museum and Family Home in Independence, Missouri

Harry S Truman was born May 8th, 1884 in Lamar Missouri and grew up at his family home in Grandview Missouri near Kansas City. He defended his country in the first World War ( the only US President to have served). After the war, he worked at a Haberdasher (men’s hat maker) before becoming a Circuit Judge. Truman is one of the few persons ever to ascend to the presidency without ever having obtained a college degree. He was known for having a quick mind and a very strong memory  His knowledge of the Law was mostly self-taught. he also had a well connected local family.

 

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Harry Truman (center) and his wife Bess (right) on their wedding day, June 28th, 1919

 

While serving in WWI Truman ran a canteen clothing supply business for his fellow soldiers that became quite profitable.  One of the men serving with Truman was James Pendergast who was the nephew of local Kansas City political boss Tom Pendergast. Truman moved rapidly up the Army rank’s eventually becoming a colonel.  After the war, James introduced Harry Truman to his uncle. Tom Pendergast,  was a powerful ally to have in Kansas City in the 1920’s.  Truman would struggle for years with the infamous rumor that he only got as far as he did for being “Tom Pendergast’s boy”.

As he had within the Army, civilian Truman rose quickly in the political world, becoming a county court judge, and later a presiding judge. In 1932 he ran and won a seat in the United States Senate, but his opponents derided him as “the Senator from Pendergast.” Despite the moniker, Truman began to show independence and earned a reputation for being outspoken and quick-witted.

In 1944 President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was running for his fourth term. His prior veep Henry Wallace was not selected to run again with FDR being deemed “too left”, and Truman was chosen to run with the president.  FDR was almost certain to win, WWII was in its third year and the public was not eager to change leaders in the midst of an ongoing war.

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Harry Truman and FDR 1944

FDR was reelected easily in 1944 and Truman’s brief time as vice president was uneventful. As Vice-President, he was mostly kept out of the loop regarding the war and the Top secret Atomic testing that was going on.

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Probably the most famous photograph taken while Truman was Veep. Playing piano for actress Lauren Bacall for a war bond rally. 

Truman’s time as vice president was short lived. On just the 82nd day of office. Franklin Roosevelt died on April 12th, 1945.  Truman in attempt to console Mrs. Roosevelt Truman asked her if there was anything he could do to help her. Eleanor Roosevelt replied “Is there anything we can do for you? For you are the one in trouble now!”

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The European theater of the Second World War was winding down as Truman took office. Japan still had to be dealt with.

Truman had his hands full and he knew it. He once said to reporters “Boys, if you ever pray, pray for me now. I don’t know if you fellas ever had a load of hay fall on you, but when they told me what happened yesterday, I felt like the moon, the stars, and all the planets had fallen on me.” The war still hand to end and it was now all on Truman’s shoulders

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Truman meets with Josef Stalin of the Soviet Union and Winston Churchill in Potsdam Germany to discuss the post-war plans for Europe.

Truman was unaware of the Manhattan Project which was testing the Atomic Bomb until after he had been sworn in. Whether to use it on Japan to expedite the end of the Pacific conflict is still a controversial subject even today. The Truman Museum has a sign-up book where visitors can weigh in on the subject. The comments were mostly in favor but many comments expressed the contrary.

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There are arguments to be made for and against Truman’s decision. I am just grateful I wasn’t in his shoes. I know it wasn’t an easy choice. It has been estimated that if the Allied Forces had invaded Japan the casualties would be over one million,  but over one hundred thousand civilians died in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. 
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Japan surrendered on August 14th, 1945

Truman’s administration had many issues after the war ended including a “Red Scare” where Wisconsin Senator Joe Mccarthy claimed he had a list of known communists in the State Department. He never showed the list and the exact number on his ‘list’ seemed to vary widely. The united states under the umbrella of the United nations also engaged in an armed conflict with North Korea in 1950 that ended with over thirty thousand american servicemen killed and many more civilian deaths. The grinding stalemate took its toll on Truman’s popularity. His last year in office he had only a 22% approval rating.

Due to his unpopularity, Truman chose not to run again in 1952 and returned home to his residence on Delaware street in Independence, Missouri.

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Truman worked on building his presidential library 

 

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Truman in 1953. Beginning his work on his library

 

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Front and side view of the Truman home.
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The Truman home is just about five blocks from the Library and museum. Mr. Truman who was a very enthusiastic proponent of walking would walk every day from his home to the library, returning for lunch and then back to the library again.  He and his wife were often seen walking around town.

The Truman museum has a replica of the oval office at the white house. And Mr. Truman even provided the commentary, explaining the items in his office.

 

The museum covers both his childhood and time in Kansas City prior to leaving for Washington as well as his time in office.

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The presidential table service. I still haven’t figured out the whole “fork thing”
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Truman’s “The Buck stops here” meaning I am the top I can’t blame anyone else. 
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The Top floor of the museum covers the presidential years while the lower floor covers childhood, early adulthood and also the remaining nineteen years of his life after he left D.C.
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Harry Truman, his wife Bess and their only child Margaret were very close-knit and spent a great deal of time amongst themselves.

The museum has most of Truman’s personal photos. On the right, he is with the princess (soon to be queen) Elizabeth, and the one on the left is a rare friendly moment with the Nixons. Nixon and Truman were rivals from their days in Congress. Both Nixon and Truman shared a love of music and were talented piano players

 

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Truman had an active correspondence with private citizens both before during and after his time in office. this display shows some of the letters he received and his replies.

 

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This sign pointed to the Men’s room. I don’t know if that was by accident, but I’ve made a lot of big decisions there, so maybe? 

 

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Mr. Truman’s private office at the library left exactly the way it was on the last day of his life.

Truman died on December 26th, 1972 after a short bout with pneumonia. He was 88. His wife Bess died in 1982. They are both buried at the center courtyard at the Truman Library.

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History has been kind to Mr. Truman. while he was not popular at the time he left office. he is now remembered for his strong leadership ability and outspoken yet kind personable nature. Historians now consider him as “Near great’ he usually comes in at the lower in of the Top 10 of greatest presidents of all time. 

 

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The Truman Library and Museum is located in Independence, Missouri which is next to Kansas City. they are open every day except federal holidays and admission is $8.00. I would recommend it.  If you are a lover of history. It will not disappoint

 

 

 

 

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