Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Harry Truman anecdotes

Harry Truman has turned out to be one of those presidents whom history has treated with much greater respect and honor than did his contemporaries. I picked up a copy of The Wit and Wisdom of Harry Truman by Ralph Keyes at a favorite used bookstore the other day. A couple of anecdotes:

After high school Truman spent what he later called the best ten years of his life working on his family's six-hundred-acre farm. Truman regarded farming as good training for a future man of affairs. "I thought of Cincinnatus and a lot of other farm boys who had made good," he explained, "and thought maybe by cussing mules and plowing corn I could perhaps overcome my shyness and amount to something."

And also, referring to his activities as a commander of an artillery unit in World War I:

Truman earned his men's devotion by giving his horse to injured soldiers and joining the rest on foot. When a colonel passing by ordered an infantryman with a sore ankle to dismount, Truman told him, "You can take these bars off my shoulders, but as long as I'm in charge of this battery the man's going to stay on that horse." The colonel rode off.

Some anecdotes seem to be good to be real but sometimes when they are that good, they should be real.

I liked this one as well where loyalty and respect transcends politics - wish we had more of that today.

Although a partisan Democrat, Truman once supported a Republican named John Miles for county marshal. This later cost him votes when he was charged with being a disloyal Democrat. But Miles had been Truman's commanding officer in France. He'd seen him in places that made hell look like a playground, Truman told voters. He'd watched Miles and his men hold off a German attack when they were badly outnumbered. "He was of the right stuff," Truman concluded, "and a man who wouldn't vote for his comrade under circumstances such as these would be untrue to his country. I know that every soldier understands it. I have no apology to make for it."

Once you dip into a book like this, sometimes it is hard to extricate oneself. One last anecdote (maybe):

As war clouds gathered in 1940, Truman asked Army Chief of Staff George Marshall to activate him at his Reserve rank of Colonel. The General pulled his glasses down on his nose and asked Missouri's senator how old he was. Fifty-six, said Truman. "We don't need old stiffs like you," Marshall told him. "You'd better stay home and work in the Senate." When Truman became Marshall's commander in chief, his appointments secretary asked the general what he'd say under those circumstances. "Well, I would tell him the same thing," said Marshall, "only I would be a little more diplomatic about it."

BTW - Was Truman our last president not to have graduated from college?

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