Truman – “Truly Great”

  • To RWY from Harry S. Truman in 1964, Leo Stern/ RWY Collection.
    26 Dec

    Truman – “Truly Great”

    On this day, December 26, 1972, eighty-eight-year-old, former President Harry S. Truman died. Less than a month later, during President Richard M. Nixon’s second inauguration, the Capitol flags remained at half‐staff in Truman’s memory. But there was no state funeral at the Capitol for the humble former President Truman who jokingly referred to himself as “Mr. Citizen” after his presidency. Per his wishes, the family requested a private funeral in his hometown of Independence, Missouri, instead.


    My father had high regard for Harry Truman, whose framed photograph remained displayed in our home for years. In a 1992 interview with the Georgia Tech Alumni Magazine, my father described Truman:


     “He was an immaculate dresser, a carryover from his days when he was a haberdasher. And one of the most brilliant historians I ever ran across. He did a lot of reading of history as a hobby. It was always quite interesting to listen to him.” 


    Until I began seeking images to add to my father’s memoir, I had thought his exposure to Truman had been limited to the later part of Truman’s presidency when Dad began his career in protective duty with the Secret Service. However, I have learned how interactive Lyndon Johnson was with Harry Truman.  While on protective duty, my father often accompanied President Johnson (and also Vice President Johnson when he was serving as such) to Independence on multiple occasions to visit his comrade. Author Michael Bechloss’s New York Times article and a recent forum conducted by President Truman’s grandson Clifton Truman Daniel and President Johnson’s daughter Luci Baines Johnson (links below) expound on this intriguing Truman – Johnson friendship.




    Truman Library, Independence, MO, July 1965, (WHPO/Courtesy LBJ Library)




    President Johnson signs Medicare bill at Truman Library: Truman becomes first Medicare beneficiary. Independence, MO, July 1965. (WHPO/Courtesy LBJ Library)



    In addition, when my father became the deputy director of the Secret Service, he maintained close contact with the former presidents and their families—including the Trumans. Yet, I was still surprised when an archivist told me there were two boxes of “post-presidential papers containing correspondences between Rufus W. Youngblood and Harry S. Truman” at the Truman Library. Most of these letters were formal and friendly, relating to a birthday or anniversary remembrance. But in a two-page letter from my father to Mrs. Truman after Harry Truman’s death, my father concluded with the following:



    Letter to Bess Truman from RWY written Jan. 1974. (Courtesy of the Truman Library)



    After reading those letters, the preservation of which I am forever grateful, I toured the handsome Truman Library, aware that my father had walked these same historic halls while protecting his “principals.” I learned a lot about Harry Truman while at the library and from reading biographies, and I have gained much respect for our 33rd president. I concur with and pass on my father’s summation of him. Harry Truman was “truly a great American.”





    Goettling, Gary. “Eyewitness to the Death of a President.” Georgia Tech Alumni Magazine, Spring 1992.


    McCullough, David.  Truman. New York:  Simon & Schuster, 1992.


    Truman, Margaret. Harry S. Truman. New York: William Morrow & Co., 1973.


    Beschloss., Michael. LBJ and Truman: The Bond That Helped Forge Medicare. Feb. 28, 2015, New York Times website, accessed Dec. 25, 2018, https://


    “A Presidential Friendship: HST & LBJ” Facebook video of forum on December 12, 2018, President Truman’s grandson Clifton Truman Daniel, President Johnson’s daughter Luci Baines Johnson and President / CEO of the LBJ Foundation Mark Updegrove.




  • 4 thoughts on “Truman – “Truly Great””

    1. Your blogs are so interesting and educational! It must be exciting to learn that your dad had his “finger on the pulse” of history as you research your contributions.

      1. Thank you–You summarized that beautifully. Yes, indeed, it was quite thrilling to go through that box of letters at the stately Truman Library!

    2. I very much enjoyed this blog post, all of these, in fact. My own father, one of the ‘Greatest Generation’, such as your own, thought the world of President Truman, and would comment on occasion that the country needed, once again, just such a leader. I found it particularly interesting that the former president was the first enrollee in Medicare.

      We need our Congress to once again focus on healthcare and cutting costs of insurance and medical care. This time, not just for the elderly and disadvantaged, but for all of us! I admire so much the collegial and civil way that our members of both sides seemed, for the most part, to work together to accomplish much-needed reform and progress for the betterment of all. Political campaigns could be contentious from what I’ve learned, but our leaders and representatives seemed able to move on and come together for the common good once in office, at the very least, to a greater degree than currently. I apologize for my own soap-boxing here, but I couldn’t help but think what a President Johnson and a President Truman (and a Congress willing to compromise!) might accomplish in today’s political landscape. Thank you for this post and your unique way of framing the past through the lens of your father.

      1. Thank you so much for your comments! Indeed, in comparison to the past, it seems that Congress has become ineffective with its intense partisanship.

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