McCaskill finally receives Truman Public Service Award virtually

By Mike Genet
Former U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill accepts the Truman Public Service Award from her home during a recorded video segment Wednesday. The annual award was given virtually by the city of Independence due to the pandemic.

When she accepted the Truman Good Neighbor Award last year, former U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill said she considered the 33rd president to be her gold standard as a role model. 

Wednesday, in a recorded video in which she accepted the Harry S. Truman Public Service Award, the two-term Missouri senator recalled learning about Truman as she grew up.

“My parents told me how proud they were that he was the speaker at their graduation from the University of Missouri, and it is a role model that I have tried to emulate and certainly have admired for decades,” McCaskill said.

The Truman Public Service Award given annually by the city of Independence to someone in public life considered to have embodied Truman’s “qualities of dedication, industry, ability, honesty and integrity.”

The city Wednesday also honored the Japanese Sister City Commission, which for more than 40 years has fostered an active relationship between Independence and Higashimurayama, Japan, with the Special Recognition Award.

Both awards are typically given on or near Truman’s May 8 birthday in a ceremony free and open to the public at the Truman Library in Independence, but the pandemic has delayed many things and the museum remains closed after an extensive renovation began in mid-2019. Independence Mayor Eileen Weir said the city is preparing to send the award to McCaskill.

“Harry Truman was known for his candor, his outspokenness and his devotion to the people of the state of Missouri,” Independence Mayor Eileen Weir said in the video, adding that it’s also an apt description of McCaskill.

McCaskill was a U.S. senator for two terms and lost a bid for a third term in 2018. She was the Missouri state auditor and, before that, the Jackson County prosecutor and a Missouri state representative.

Noting Truman qualities that she admired, McCaskill said, “He was humble; he was curious; he was very learned, even though he didn’t boast some kind of fancy Ivy League college degree,” she said. 

“He understood courage, that courage was making unpopular decisions because they’re the right thing to do.”

McCaskill, who has recently served as a political commentator on MSNBC, said she admired how Truman was grounded, came back home to Independence and was “Just a member of the community without any artifice, without any trappings of ‘Boy, aren’t I important,’ and he spoke plainly and from his heart.”

“So the idea that I would get this particular award means the world to me,” she said.

For the Special Recognition Award on behalf of the Japanese Sister City Commission, Weir and commission member Jeannae Segura Brown noted how the program began with late Independence resident and Japanese native Lana White’s chance meeting and subsequent friendship with a visiting professor from Japan who was lost in Kansas City.

“Our relationship began with a very simple act of kindness, and everything has bloomed from there,” Brown said.

The Truman Public Service Award has been given annually since 1974. The first recipient was Henry Kissinger, secretary of state in the Nixon and Ford administrations, and last year’s winner was, posthumously, U.S. Sen. John McCain of Arizona.

McCaskill is the 10th woman to receive the award. Others have included Coretta Scott King (and Martin Luther King Jr., posthumously) in 1983, Margaret Truman in 1984, former Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright in 2007, and, two years ago, former Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano. 

One caveat: In 2012, the award went to all of those – men and women – who have served in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The award has gone to three presidents – Ford, Carter and Clinton – and more than a dozen congressmen and senators of both parties, including six senators from Missouri whose time in the Senate stretches back to the 1950s: Stuart Symington, Thomas F. Eagleton, John Danforth, Christopher S. Bond, Jean Carnahan and now McCaskill. It’s gone to longtime Kansas Sen. Bob Dole; Gen. Matthew Ridgway, who commanded American forces during the Korean War; Vice President Hubert Humphrey; Truman biographer David McCullough; presidential historian Michael Beschloss and dozens of others. 

McCaskill ended her segment by saying she looked forward to a possible gathering for the Truman Library reopening.

“I know it’s going to be exciting for all of us that are ridiculous Truman fans,” she said, “but also for the city of Independence and the greater Kansas City community.”

Examiner editor Jeff Fox contributed to this report.