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Happy Birthday Harry Truman

On May 8, 1884 (131 years ago today) Harry S Truman, the 33rd President of the United States, was born in Lamar, Missouri. If you're wondering what the "S" stands for, it doesn't stand for anything. His parents chose "S" as his middle initial to please both of his grandfathers, Anderson "Shipp" Truman and Solomon Young. Apparently this was a common practice among the Scots-Irish at the time.



Truman was the final running mate of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, when the ticket was elected in 1944. Truman succeeded Roosevelt as President on April 12, 1945 when Roosevelt died after months of declining health. It is said that when first lady Eleanor Roosevelt informed him that her husband had died after suffering a massive cerebral hemorrhage, Truman's first concern was for Mrs. Roosevelt. He asked her if there was anything he could do for her. She replied, "Is there anything we can do for you? You are the one in trouble now!"

Truman spent most of his youth on his family's farm in Missouri. During World War I, Truman served in combat in France as an artillery officer in his National Guard unit. He had poor eyesight but got into the army by memorizing the eye chart. After the war, he owned a haberdashery and joined the Democratic Party, which at the time was run by local political boss Tom Pendergast in Kansas City, Missouri. He was first elected to public office as a county official, and in 1935 became U.S. senator. At first his fellow senators were skeptical of Truman's ability, but he gained national prominence as head of the wartime Truman Committee, which exposed waste, fraud, and corruption in wartime contracts.

Germany surrendered a few weeks after Truman became President, but the war with Japan was expected to last another year or more. Truman ordered the use of the atomic bomb against Japan, justifying this controversial decision by his belief that doing so would spare American lives that would otherwise be lost in an invasion. Working closely with Congress, Truman assisted in the founding of the United Nations. He issued the Truman Doctrine which was intended to contain the spread of communism. With his support, Congress passed the $13 billion Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe.

Former wartime ally the Soviet Union became a peacetime enemy, and the Cold War began. Truman supported the creation of NATO in 1949. When communist North Korea invaded South Korea in 1950, he immediately sent in U.S. troops and gained United Nations support for the Korean War. After initial success, the UN forces were thrown back when the Chinese intervened on the side of communist North Korea, and the conflict was stalemated through the final years of Truman's presidency.

On domestic issues, Truman often faced opposition from a conservative Congress dominated by the South. Truman said that civil rights was a moral priority, and he submitted the first comprehensive civil rights legislation to Congress in 1948. He issued Executive Orders to start racial integration of the military and federal agencies. In 1948 he was a sort of political Lazarus, winning election to the presidency in his own right, after newspapers had predicted his defeat and one large newspaper, the Chicago Tribune, even went so far as to print a headline on election day that his opponent Thomas Dewey had won the election.



Truman's term from 1948-52 was a rough one. Corruption in Truman's administration was linked to some members of his cabinet and senior White House staff. This and his failure to make progress in the Korean War precipitated his decision not to seek re-election. He left office with low approval ratings, but gained popularity in retirement as an elder statesman.

On December 5, 1972, Truman was admitted to Kansas City's Research Hospital and Medical Center with lung congestion from pneumonia. He developed multiple organ failure and died at 7:50 am on December 26, 1972 at the age of 88.

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