Born on May 8, 1884, Harry S. Truman, the 33rd president.
He was, as a New York Times obituary would put it: “a hitherto minor national figure with a pedestrian background as a Senator from Missouri.” But few presidents have changed history as Truman did.
He ordered the use of the atomic bomb. He desegregated America’s military forces. (Photo Source: White House Historical Association)
He oversaw a policy of “containment” of Communism. He recognized Israeli independence in spite of objections by advisers. He won one of the most extraordinary elections in modern presidential history. He led America into the Korean War and paid a steep political price.
And he had done it after taking on one of the most difficult tasks in history –replacing Franklin D. Roosevelt while the Second World War was still being fought on two fronts and the specter of Soviet domination of Eastern Europe was rising. He became president 82 days after becoming vice president.
Boys, if you ever pray, pray for me now. I don’t know whether you fellows had a load of hay fall on you, but when they told me yesterday what had happened, I felt like the moon, the stars, and all the planets had fallen on me.
—Harry. S Truman
Remarks to reporters, April 13, 1945
Born in Missouri on May 8, 1884, Truman grew up near Independence, outside Kansas City, the son of a mule trader. A lover of history as a boy, he dreamed of going to West Point, but his poor eyesight kept him out. He served in World War I as the commander of an artillery unit and returned to Missouri to eventually wind his way through state politics into the Senate where he was serving when he was tapped as FDR’s vice president in 1944.
Truman died on December 26, 1972. You can learn more about Truman’s life and presidency at the Truman Library and Museum
Truman’s controversial decision to use the atomic bomb to prevent massive casualties an invasion of the Japanese mainland would produce, and the anti-Communist Cold War era and McCarthyism are discussed in the newly revised and updated Don’t Know Much About History.
An in-depth portrait of Truman’s personal life and presidency will be presented in greater depth in my forthcoming book, Don’t Know Much About® the American Presidents: Everything You Need to Know About the Most Powerful Office on Earth and the Men Who Have Occupied It to be published on September 18, 2012 by Hyperion Books.