50 Years Without Harry

Downtown Independence

Maybe you know that Harry Truman is from Independence, Missouri.

Maybe you know he became president on the death of Franklin Roosevelt. If you know that you probably know that Roosevelt and Truman spoke only a handful of times- and FDR did not disclose the Manhattan Project which would shorten the war in the Pacific by at least a year.

Maybe you know Truman proved the polls and pundits wrong in 1948 and won an election outright by over two million votes.

Maybe you know he cursed and his dear wife Bess couldn’t get him to stop.

Maybe you know Puerto Rican Nationalists tried to assassinate him in 1950 and he watched the gunfight below his window at the Blair House until a Secret Service agent waved him away from the window.

Maybe you know about Korea, MacArthur, and the cold relationship with the next president, Dwight Eisenhower.

Maybe you know he asked John Kennedy to step aside in 1960 and ‘wait his turn.’

Maybe you know he didn’t have a pension from being president and refused to sit on corporate boards for the money because he felt it beneath the presidency.

Maybe you know he walked every day. In his hometown during a long retirement, children and neighbors would sometimes join him. All walking along with the former president who was the most uninteresting and least qualified man to inherit the White House but at the same time he was… perfect.

Harry Truman has a story to tell. And his Presidential Library (and Institute) stand tall in Independence as a true (perfect) representation of his life, legacy, and love. He loved his wife. He loved his country. And he loved the people in it.

Paul Harvey once said, “Men like Benjamin Franklin do not visit the world in bunches.” Neither do men like Harry Truman. As a nation we can be grateful for David McCullough, resurrecting Truman with his masterful work, allowing a generation who forgot about him to bring him back to our memory. Did you hear about the time, again during retirement, Truman stopped at a fill up station off the beaten path in Missouri. The attendant peered in the window and said, “Say, aren’t you Senator Truman?”

It must have tickled the President, and he probably repeated it to his wife when he got home.

Some Presidents are like that- normal, ordinary men who have a story for their wife when they get home. (Some aren’t.) But Harry Truman is an every-man. No Pomp. No Puff.

I was thinking about President Truman on Monday, the day after Christmas. I thought it a coincidence that my email box revealed a greeting from the Library- a wonderful story of Christmas memories written by his Grandson. My thoughts that morning continued on the Man from Independence, and I even wrote a blog post about him. Then came another email from the Library:

“This Day in History- The 50th Anniversary of President Truman’s Death.”

An eerie but pleasant feeling surrounded me. I poured over the email- photos of his funeral in the very spot I stood just a few months before. Truman did not have a State Funeral in Washington. Some don’t and I am not surprised Harry didn’t.

A week before Christmas I was privileged to speak at a local group and my topic was “Five Presidents, Five Exciting Stories.” I warned my audience- the word ‘exciting’ did not mean football game exciting. These were harrowing days, turbulent events that stepped close to the thin line between life and death. I told the story of Truman’s assassination. Bess heard the shots first and went to their bedroom window. She called Harry over and he watched the terror below for a few moments.

To review the story, I used Margaret Truman’s wonderful biography of her Father. Her words jumped off the page. She said her Dad brushed off the incident as something presidents have to put up with, but “daughter’s of presidents do not.”

I checked the publish date of her book- 1972. She wrote those words while her Father was still alive. I read the paragraphs to my audience and could feel the energy in their response. Sometimes reading ‘history’ books can be laborious, mining through minutia and details searching for a spark. Harry Truman can always be counted on to set the pages aflame.

It may be 50 years since the death of President Truman. But his story lives on in Independence.

Independence, Missouri is still wild about Harry- with an entire campus of buildings, statues and of course his final resting place. If you love Harry Truman, you will not be disappointed. If you don’t love Harry Truman, you might find your mind changed at the end.

By Eric Ebinger

Constantly feeding the passion of studying presidents with reading, writing and walking humbly in their footsteps. Constantly- except for the 50 hours a week I serve as Human Resources Manager for a wonderful manufacturing company in north central Ohio. 

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