Published DateOn his desk in the oval office, President Harry S. Truman placed a sign that read, "The Buck Stops Here." Perhaps more than any other president, at least of modern times, Truman took that sign seriously. He was a man with a strong backbone who didn't shy away from making the tough decisions. Although he was ever the staunch Democrat, his decisions weren't "political", he made them because they were the right things to do.
Harry Truman was born on May 8, 1884, and started life as a farmer. While working on the family farm, he joined the Missouri National Guard in 1905, and was called to active duty, as a Field Artillery Captain during World War 1. After the war he stayed in the Army Reserves and eventually attained the rank of Colonel. As a bit of trivia, while he was in the army, each soldier had to sign the payroll as he received his monthly pay. The payroll form required a first name, middle initial, and a last name. It was during that time that Harry Truman "adopted" the middle initial "S", as his parents hadn't given him a middle name. For the rest of his life, he used his military signature, including the adopted letter S.
In 1934, and again in 1940. Truman was elected as a senator from Missouri. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who was running for his fourth term, selected Truman to be his vice presidential running mate in the 1944 election. Less than three months after being sworn in, in April of 1945, Truman was elevated to the office of president when Roosevelt died. Shortly thereafter, the war in Europe ended and all eyes turned to ending the war with Japan.
Truman used neutral parties to petition Japan for their unconditional surrender, advising them that we could unleash devastating destruction upon them. Japan refused and intelligence reports were that they were "digging in", preparing for an allied invasion of their country. Truman asked what the cost would be in allied and Japanese lives if we were to have a conventional invasion of the Japanese homeland. The estimates he received were that up to ten million Japanese citizens would lose their lives, as would up to one million allied forces.
The president made the decision, and the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, on August 6, 1945. After that, neutral emissaries again petitioned Japan for their surrender and they again refused. On August 9, 1945, Truman ordered the second atomic bomb to be dropped on Nagasaki. Japan offered their surrender on August 14th.
The decision to use atomic weapons was perhaps the most difficult decision a man has ever had to make. Looking back, it may be argued that the decision may have actually saved millions of lives. Truman was a man of decisions. For example . . .
It was Truman who made the decision to fully integrate the services. Prior to that, people of color in the military were primarily used in food services or support positions, and housed separately. (There we some fighting units however, such as the Tuskegee Airmen, that performed nobly in fighting roles, albeit on a segregated basis.)
It was Truman who went to the aid of South Korea when that country was invaded by North Korea in 1950. (Note: The last time Congress declared an official act of war was against Japan, then Germany, and subsequently, Bulgaria, Hungary, and Romania, in early 1942. The Korean war was called a "police action".)
It was also Truman who rebuffed and accepted the resignation of General Mac Arthur who had proposed using atomic weapons against the North Koreans.
It was Truman who developed the plan to help rebuild Europe. Knowing that he was personally unpopular, Truman named it the "Marshall Plan", after his Secretary of State, the highly respected General George C. Marshall, essentially assuring that the Congress would appropriate the funds necessary to accomplish the task.
It was Truman who, after the Soviets blocked road, rail, and water access to west Berlin, directed the Berlin air lift, essentially flying cargo aircraft round-the-clock for fifteen months, each day bringing in the over 2,000 tons of food and other essential items needed for the survival of the west Berliners.
It was Truman who first recognized the state of Israel in May of 1948, following the passage of United Nations Resolution 181 at the end of November, 1947.
Former Oklahoma quarterback and later a Congressman, J. C. Watts, used to talk about "doing the right thing, even when no one is looking".
If he were alive today, that description would aptly describe Harry S. Truman, 33rd President of the United States. Happy birthday, Mr. President.
(Bob Meade is a Laconia resident.)