World War I molded the man that we came to know as President Harry S. Truman. When Harry was 6 years old, the family moved to Independence. His mother was excited that now the children would have the opportunity of town schooling. Young Harry was born with bad eyesight and had started to read books at the age of 5. After Dr. Thompson in Kansas City had fit him with glasses, Harry was quite excited that he was able to read words that he could never see before.
He once claimed to have read every book in the public library. Without his eyeglasses, Truman could barely recognize people standing only a few feet in front of him, so to be on the safe side, he took along six pairs of glasses with him to Europe when he served during World War I. Even with glasses he had trouble reading fine print but continued to always be an avid reader.
Truman was an original member of his Missouri National Guard unit, but by the time World War I came along, he had left the guard to concentrate on the family farming enterprise. Inspired by patriotism, however, Truman rejoined the National Guard in 1917 to fight in World War I.
After training at Camp Doniphan, Oklahoma, Truman went to France, where he attended an elite artillery school for officers. Truman’s Army experience, like that of so many Americans, changed his life, although for some years he did not see where it would take him. In the Army, Harry had a chance for the first time in his life to show a gift for leadership and a staunch devotion to his ideal that “one fellow is just as good as another.”
In the spring of 1918, Truman was promoted to captain. In July he was given command of Battery D, a unit with a reputation for unusual rowdiness, and led them into battle. The two hundred boys of Battery D were a rollicking, hot-tempered band who had broken three previous commanders.
In almost three months of nearly continuous combat, the men of Battery D fought bravely at Saint-Mihiel, on the Meuse-Argonne front, at Verdun, and at Metz. Truman proved himself an able leader. He learned to respect and get along with men from all walks of American life, and he found that through fair and compassionate leadership, he could inspire the respect and admiration of those who served under him.
On one occasion, Captain Truman did not hesitate to stand up for one of his men. During a march through Alsace, when horses were scarce, a member of Truman’s battery suffered a painful ankle injury. Truman put the man on a horse. When a colonel saw this and demanded that the horse be unburdened. Truman retorted, “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 away in a huff, and the injured soldier rode on behind his captain.
Truman was 34 when the war ended. Afterward, he opened a men's clothing store with his Army buddy Eddie Jacobson. The store sold shirts, socks, ties, belts, and hats – a good deal of them to Truman’s large circle of World War I buddies. The store flourished in its first year or so, but closed in 1922 during a serious recession.
Deeply in debt, Truman resisted personal bankruptcy. He made regular payments on his haberdashery debts for more than 20 years.
To reach Ted Stillwell send an e-mail to Ted@blueandgrey.com or call him at 816-896-3592.