Magazine article Success

Give 'Em Hell, Harry: The Guts and Glory of Harry S. Truman

Magazine article Success

Give 'Em Hell, Harry: The Guts and Glory of Harry S. Truman

Article excerpt

Harry S. Truman didn't plan to become president of the United States on April 12, 1945. But despite the enormous challenges facing him, he did what he did best: took the lead. Today, Truman is ranked among the best U.S. presidents, and his life is an example of what honesty, high ideals and courage can accomplish in the face of overwhelming opposition.

"When a high-explosive shell bursts [with]in 15 feet and does you no damage, you can bet your sweet life you bear a charmed life and no mistake."

Truman was born on May 8, 1884, and grew up in Independence, Mo. His father was a farmer, and Truman was a good student who dreamt of becoming a soldier. But his family could not afford college and his poor eyesight kept him out of West Point. In 1917, he memorized the eye chart and joined the Army to aid its World War I effort. After shipping out to France, the young captain excelled in turning an unruly group of young men into a respected unit, eventually leading them through the horrific Battle of the Argonne. Truman discovered in battle a previously untapped well of courage and fortitude.

During the war, he corresponded with Elizabeth Virginia "Bess" Wallace. When he returned home in 1919, they married and, in 1924, had their only child, Mary Margaret.

"I never gave anybody hell. I just told the truth and they thought it was hell."

When he returned, Truman tried his hand at entrepreneur-ship--he had attempted a mining company that failed before he left for France. This time, he opened a men's clothing and accessories store in Kansas City, but it, too, failed. In 1922, he ran for a judgeship in Jackson County, and by 1926, he served as presiding judge, managing the county's finances as it entered the Great Depression. His head for business, his leadership experience during the war and his reputation for honesty garnered the respect of his constituency, and he held the same office for eight years.


After Truman was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1934, he supported New Deal policies, serving Missouri as a Democrat. As World War II began, he formed a committee to investigate defense spending. Truman initiated several public works campaigns during his time in the Senate and later referred to these as his "happiest 10 years."

In 1944, President Franklin D. Roosevelt chose Truman as his presidential running mate, and the duo won the election by a good margin. However, happy days for Truman were nearing a temporary end.

On April 12, 1945, Roosevelt died, and after only 82 days as vice president, Truman became the president of the United States. He was utterly unprepared. Roosevelt had not included Truman in foreign policy briefings or in meetings about the new atomic weapon under development. "I felt like the moon, the stars and all the planets had fallen on me," Truman said later.

"I realize the tragic significance of the atomic bomb. Its production and its use were not lightly undertaken by this government."

A few weeks after Truman took office, the Allies declared victory in Europe. But the Japanese refused to surrender. So in August 1945, the United States dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, initially killing over 100,000 people, with thousands more dying later from radiation poisoning. The Japanese surrendered, and World War II ended only four months into Truman's presidency.

Despite criticism for his approval of atomic weaponry, Truman accepted a leadership role and stood by his decision. "We have used it in order to shorten the agony of war," he said, "in order to save the lives of thousands and thousands of young Americans. …

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