Happy Birthday Harry! Celebrating the Life and Legacy of Harry S. Truman

Happy Birthday, Harry!  

No, we aren’t talking about Harry Potter, Harry Styles, or even Prince Harry, we are talking about none other than Missouri’s most famous Harry…Harry S. Truman!  (If your name happens to be Harry, and you are from Missouri, happy birthday to you, too!)  

So why is Harry Truman so famous to our state, and what made him that way? Let us introduce you to the life and legacy of the 33rd President of the United States, Harry S. Truman.

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Early Life and Education

Harry Truman was born on May 8, 1884, in Lamar, Missouri. He grew up in a farming family until the age of 6 when his family moved to Independence, Missouri. His family was of modest means, and Truman had to work hard to help support them. He held various jobs as a youth, including working on the family farm and selling newspapers. He had 3 siblings - 2 brothers Vivian and John and one sister, Mary.  Both of his brothers passed away well before their time, Vivian at age 25, and John at 20.  (Mary in later years would eventually outlive Harry). Truman was a good student and enjoyed reading and learning. His upbringing and experiences during this time had a profound impact on his life and career.   He would later coin the famous quote, "“Not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers.” That certainly proved to be true in his case.  

After graduating from high school, Truman initially enrolled in the University of Missouri to study law, but he soon dropped out due to financial difficulties. He then returned to Independence and took a job as a bank clerk. He worked at several banks over the next few years, and in 1903, he enrolled in a business school in Kansas City to further his education and improve his job prospects.  His time at the business school was impeded again, due to lack of finances. However, he continued to advance his education by reading widely on his own, including works on history and politics.  In 1905, he joined the Missouri National Guard. Truman was passionate about his military service, and he quickly rose through the ranks. Also, during this time, he also reconnected with a family friend from church, Bess Wallace, and they began dating.

 Military and Political Beginnings

Truman was sent to Europe to serve during World War I as a captain in the U.S. Army in April 1918. His tour of duty kept him in Europe until June 1919. After the war, he returned home to Independence and married Bess. At this time, he became very involved in civic organizations, including the Masonic Lodge and the American Legion in 1919. Little did Truman know that his experiences in the National Guard and World War I instilled in him a strong sense of duty and responsibility, traits that would be invaluable to him with what was to come.   

In 1922, Truman was elected to the Jackson County Court, a position that oversaw the county's roads and bridges. This was his first experience in elected office, and combined with his service at the American Legion, he quickly gained a reputation as an honest, effective public servant and a champion of Veteran’s rights. 

Harry and Bess’s only child Margaret was born in on February 17, 1924.  

In 1940, Truman delivered a speech at the American Legion's national convention in Chicago, where he denounced Nazi Germany and called for the United States to prepare for war. This speech helped to raise Truman's national profile and played a role in his subsequent election to the US Senate, in 1934.

The White House 

With1944, came a significant honor, when Truman was chosen to be Franklin D. Roosevelt's running mate for Vice President.  Roosevelt selected Truman because he believed Truman was a man of integrity and strong moral character, but also because he was seen as a compromise candidate who could help to bridge the divisions within the Democratic Party.  Of course, Roosevelt was re-elected, and with it came the appointment of Harry S Truman as Vice President of the United States. He served from 1945 to 1949, focusing mainly on domestic issues, labor relations, and social welfare programs.

Suddenly, on April 12, 1945, tragedy struck with the sudden death of President Roosevelt due to a massive cerebral hemorrhage.  Roosevelt's death was a shock to the nation and the world, coming as it did during the final stages of World War II, and thrust a new Vice President into the President's position. Truman was sworn in as President just hours after Roosevelt's death.  

In 1948, Truman ran for president in his own right, facing a tough reelection campaign against Republican nominee Thomas E. Dewey. Truman famously won the election despite being considered an underdog and continued to serve as President until 1953.

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Other Significant Events in Truman's Presidency

Truman's presidency was marked by many significant events:

  • The End of World War II/ the Atomic Bomb: One of Truman's most controversial decisions was the dropping of atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945. He defended the decision as necessary to bring an end to the war and save American lives.  Though the bombings caused massive devastation and loss of life, it also played a major role in forcing Japan to surrender and ending the war in the Pacific.  
  • The Beginning of the Cold War: Truman's most significant contribution to the Cold War was his policy of containment, which was designed to prevent the spread of communism beyond the borders of the Soviet Union and its satellite states. Truman believed that the spread of communism threatened the freedom and security of the United States and its allies, and he sought to counteract the expansion of Soviet power through a combination of military, economic, and diplomatic means.
  • The United Nations:  Truman played a key role in the formation of the United Nations, which was established in 1945 as a successor to the League of Nations. The UN was designed to promote international cooperation and prevent future conflicts like the two World Wars. Truman saw the UN as a critical tool for maintaining peace and stability in the postwar world, and the US became a key member of the organization under his leadership.
  • The Marshall Plan: This plan was named after U.S. Secretary of State George C. Marshall, who first proposed the idea in a speech delivered at Harvard University in 1947, and officially announced by Truman in a speech to Congress soon after. As a whole, it provided over $13 Billion in aid to 13 countries that were feeling the aftermath of a wartorn Europe. Truman's leadership and support were instrumental in the success of the Marshall Plan, rebuilding Europe's economy and infrastructure, strengthening democratic institutions, and preventing the spread of communism. The plan is widely regarded as one of the most successful foreign policy initiatives in U.S. history, and Truman's contributions to its development and implementation were significant.
  • The Korean War: In June 1950, when North Korea invaded South Korea, President Truman authorized U.S. military intervention in the conflict. This decision led to the deployment of U.S. troops to the Korean peninsula to support South Korea.  He also significantly contributed to the military strategy and diplomatic efforts surrounding the Korean War.

Home to Independence

After leaving the presidency in 1953, Truman returned to the home that he and Bess loved in Independence, Missouri. There, he wrote his memoirs and took an active role in the establishment of his presidential library. Truman's memoirs, published in two volumes as "Memoirs by Harry S. Truman: Years of Trial and Hope" and "Memoirs by Harry S. Truman: Years of Decision," received critical acclaim and remain popular among readers.

Truman was also involved in various business ventures, including serving as a director of the National Life Insurance Company and as a consultant for several corporations. He remained active in politics, campaigning for Democratic candidates and speaking out on issues he cared about, such as civil rights and the dangers of nuclear war.

In addition, Truman continued to travel extensively, visiting countries in Europe, Asia, and Latin America as a private citizen and as a representative of the United States government. He was awarded numerous honors and awards, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and remained an influential figure in American politics and public life.  

In recognition of Truman's long and dedicated service to the American Legion, the organization established the Harry S Truman Award in 1953. This award is presented annually to a member of the American Legion who has made significant contributions to veterans' affairs and community service, and it is considered one of the organization's highest honors.

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Decline and Death

Truman had a history of health problems, including circulatory and respiratory issues, which worsened in his later years. He had also undergone surgery for various ailments, including cataracts and gallbladder removal. Despite his health problems, Truman remained active and engaged in public life. 

Harry S Truman died on December 26, 1972, at the age of 88 due to multiple organ failure caused by pneumonia. He had been in declining health for several months before his death.

Truman's death was widely mourned, and he was remembered as a statesman and leader who had played a crucial role in shaping the United States and the world during a tumultuous period of history. Though he faced many challenges during his presidency, Truman was widely respected for his integrity, his ability to make tough decisions, and his commitment to advancing the interests of the American people. Truman is widely regarded as one of America's most effective and respected presidents.

He is buried at the Harry S Truman Presidential Library and Museum in Independence, Missouri.  In 1982, Bess eventually was buried alongside her husband and their daughter, Margaret Truman, who passed away in 2008 and is also buried there.  

Historical Sites and Legacy

Former President Truman's legacy is evident. Drive through any town in the region and you are bound to see any number of schools, parks, roads, or medical centers, named after Harry S Truman.  Perhaps, the area most influenced by our famous Harry would certainly be the City of Independence, a town he was deeply rooted to.  

Within this town, visitors and residents have the opportunity to learn of the life and history of our former President by visiting one of the famous local landmarks preserved there.  These historical sites provide a fascinating look into the life and legacy of one of the most important figures in American history. Whether you're interested in politics, or history, or simply want to learn more about this remarkable man, a visit to these sites is well worth the trip.

  • Harry S Truman Presidential Library and Museum, Independence MO:  This museum is dedicated to Truman's life and presidency. It features exhibits, interactive displays, and artifacts related to Truman's career, including his decision to drop atomic bombs on Japan to end World War II.
  • Truman Birthplace, Lamar MO Visitors can view the small frame house where the future president was born, and see furnishings that reflect what a house in western Missouri would have looked like during the time Truman lived in the house.
  • Truman Home, Independence MO:  The Truman Home is a historic site where Truman lived with his family from 1919 until his death in 1972. Visitors can tour the home and see the rooms where Truman and his family lived, worked, and entertained guests.
  • Truman Farm Home, Grandview MOThe Truman Farm Home is a historic site located in Grandview, Missouri, where Truman spent much of his childhood. Visitors can tour the home and see the farm where Truman grew up and developed his love for agriculture.
  • Truman Courthouse, Independence MO:  The Truman Court House is where Truman served as a judge before entering politics. It is also the site of the famous "Independence Preamble" speech that Truman gave in 1952, announcing his candidacy for re-election.
  • Truman Walking Trail and Sites, Independence MO - A 43-stop -self-guided walking tour featuring important places in Truman's life including landmarks and homes of Truman's friends and associates. 

Each year during his birthday, downtown Independence celebrates "Truman Day" as a nod to this beloved leader, and celebrates his legacy during his term as a senator and president.  Overall, Truman's connection to Independence, Missouri, was deep and lasting. He played an important role in the community's history and helped to put Independence on the map as a place of historical significance. 

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