Harry S. Truman was born May 8, 1884, in Lamar, Missouri, and has the distinction of being the only president of the United States to have been born in Missouri. The oldest of three children to John Anderson Truman and Martha Ellen Young, he was named after his maternal uncle, Harrison "Harry" Young. His middle initial, "S," honored grandfathers Anderson Shipp Truman and Solomon Young. Scholars still argue about his middle name. Is it "S" or is it an initial with a period after it? Historians have gone back over all Truman's signatures to see how he himself did it. It appears he did it both ways, but more than 50 percent of the time he signed it Harry S. Truman, with a period after the S.
Truman's family moved several times by the time he was 8 years old: from Lamar to Harrisonville, Belton, Grandview, and finally to Independence, where he graduated from high school at what is now William Chrisman. He attended one year at Spalding's Commercial College (KC Business School) and learned bookkeeping, shorthand and typing.
His political career began at the age of 16, when he worked as a page at the 1900 Democratic National Convention in Kansas City. The convention nominated William Jennings Bryan as the Democratic candidate for president.
Since he didn't have enough money for college, Truman attempted to get an appointment to West Point, but his eyesight was too poor to get in. While he never received any formal education in political science, he did use everything he learned in school and on various jobs to create the man he became.
Truman served in the army during the Great War (World War I) and was honorably discharged as Captain on May 6, 1919. He and Bess Wallace were joined in Holy Matrimony six weeks later on June 28. Their union was blessed with one daughter, Mary Margaret Truman.
Truman served one term as judge (their term for commissioner) of the Eastern District of Jackson County and later as the presiding judge. From Jan. 3, 1935, until Jan. 17, 1945, Truman represented the people of Missouri in the U.S. Senate.
When Franklin Roosevelt ran for a fourth term as president in 1944, Truman was his third choice for vice president. Literally. John Nance Garner (first and second term) and Henry Wallace (third term) had served from 1933-45. Sen. Truman was chosen as FDR's running mate in 1944, and the two were sworn in on Jan. 20, 1945.
After adjourning the Senate on April 12, 1945, Truman was urgently summoned to the White House, where he was advised by Mrs. Roosevelt of the president's death. Ever the gentleman, he asked the first lady if there was anything he could do for her. Her response was, "Is there anything we can do for you? For you are the one in trouble now."
Truman's first order of business was a meeting with Roosevelt's cabinet. He asked them all to stay and informed them that he was open to their advice. He also told them that he would make the decisions and they were to support him. It was at this meeting that Truman first became aware of "the Allies' new, highly destructive weapon," although he didn't receive any details about it.
The following day Truman told reporters, "Boys, if you ever pray, pray for me now."
Truman had only been vice president for 82 days when he became president of the United States.
Elizabeth Davis was born and raised in Cooper County and has written Historically Yours for the Boonville Daily News for more than 10 years. In celebration of Missouri's Bicentennial, she has syndicated her column statewide and encourages readers all over the Show-Me State to submit topic suggestions for future columns to [email protected]