The late U.S. Sen. John McCain is the 2019 winner of the Truman Public Service Award, given annually by the city of Independence to a public figure deemed to have shown many of President Harry Truman’s better qualities, specifically “dedication, industry, ability, honesty and integrity.”
McCain, who represented Arizona in the Senate for 30 years, was the Republican nominee for president in 2008. McCain was a naval aviator during the Vietnam War and was shot down and badly injured during a bombing mission in 1967. He was held as a prisoner of war for five and a half years – two years in solitary confinement – and at times was tortured and never fully physically recovered. He died last August.
The award is typically presented at the Harry S. Truman Library in Independence on or near Truman’s May 8 birthday, but the city has not yet said when or where this year’s ceremony will be or who will accept it on McCain’s behalf. Unlike the other high-profile Truman awards, this event is free and open to the public.
The city has presented the award for 45 years, since shortly after Truman’s death. The first winner, in 1974, was U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, and over the years winners have included three presidents – Ford, Carter and Clinton – as well as Vice President Hubert Humphrey and a wide range of senators and congressmen, generals and admirals, journalists and historians, and others.
The Independence Harry S. Truman Award Commission also gives an annual Special Recognition Award, usually to a local group. This year’s recipient is AFS, the group through which foreign exchange students work.
“You don’t have to be a Democrat to admire Harry Truman. I’ve always admired him,” McCain said three years ago in accepting a similar award, the 2016 Truman Good Neighbor Award.
McCain mentioned Truman’s improbable election in 1948.
“It’s one of the great underdog stories in America – a delight for us all, Democrat and Republican,” he said.
McCain said the country again faced challenging times and suggested some of Truman’s traits, including intelligence, are needed.
“Character is more important,” he said. “It always is.”
This is the third of the three most well-known awards given in Truman’s name each year. On May 2, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright receives the Truman Legacy of Leadership Award at the annual Wild About Harry gala, and on May 7 Claire McCaskill, former U.S. senator from Missouri, receives the Good Neighbor Award. Both of those events are in Kansas City.