President Harry Truman’s unbelievable trip home

Published 9:19 pm Tuesday, July 22, 2014

As I begin this column with the statement “America sure has changed” I would expect someone to be as sarcastic as I could be. “Tell me something I don’t know.”

Last week I was reading a column by Peggy Noonan of The Wall Street Journal and I was struck by just how much we have changed in a relatively short time.

Sixty years might not be such a short time to many, particularly younger people, but I would imagine that many readers of the Post Searchlight would be of an age that would consider sixty years ago as not too long ago.

Email newsletter signup

Noonan’s article was about Harry S. Truman, the 33rd President of the United States. It recalled his last day as President. He was quoted as saying, “I’m just plain Mr. Truman now, a private citizen.” The next day, he and his wife, Bess, would board a regular train and head back to the house they had shared with Bess’ mother. His only source of income would be the $112.56 monthly Army pension.

The main point of the article was to contrast the character and times of then, 1952, and now. Harry Truman never said he was dead broke, but, in actuality he was. He did not know how Bess and he would live and had taken out a small loan from a Washington bank in the last few weeks of his presidency to tide him over.

What makes the contrast with today so stark is that we have been inundated with the conversation of Hilary Clinton and her “dead broke” assertion as our 42nd President and she left the White House.           Although some will begrudge others the luxuries they are able to enjoy, that’s not the purpose of this column. I’m simply reflecting on the changes that have come our way as a country. There was a time when the leaders of our country did not live so much higher on the hog than general citizens.

Harry S. Truman was president of the country through some monumental decisions. He had to decide whether we would actually use a nuclear bomb. After World War II was ended, how could we pick up the pieces of a decimated continent of Europe or rebuild the same country that we had obliterated with that nuclear bomb? As the world’s greatest military power and economic machine, how would we interact with the world?

You may remember one of Truman’s great sayings, “The buck stops here.” How refreshing that he would take responsibility.

Could he have cashed in on his prior employment? You bet he could, but he decided that his name was not for sale, nor was the office he had held. He would make no money from speeches or corporate boards or consulting fees.

For his memoirs, he was offered $600,000, a great sum, but it was to be paid over five years and not a penny until a manuscript was delivered. He had to rent office space and help on his own and in his estimation, after all expenses were paid, he made $37,000 on the book.

He found financial relief by selling the family farm. That made him sad, but he said if he had not sold it, “I’d be on relief.” He did not complain, though. A friend said upon his death, “Harry feels that he’s square with the world, that he gave it his best, and got its best in return.”

Did I mention how much we had changed?