"Truman" visits Galion, defends past decisions
By Matt Echelberry
Date: April 11, 1951
Time: 5:00 a.m.
Location: The Blair House, Washington, D.C.
On a rainy early morning, President Harry S. Truman steps out of the Blair House on Pennsylvania Avenue, where he is staying while the White House is undergoing extensive repairs. He greets a crowd of reporters with a sigh and announces that General Douglas MacArthur, leader of military forces in Korea, is officially relieved of his duties.
Truman went on to discuss the challenges he has faced since taking office on Apr. 12, 1945, when Franklin D. Roosevelt died suddenly. Just one day after taking office, he felt as if “the moon, the stars, and all the planets had fallen” on him. Throughout his tenure as president of the United States, from 1945–1952, Truman was confronted by several crucial decisions such as dropping the atomic bomb, founding the United Nations and passing the Truman Doctrine.
This was the set up for a presentation at the Galion Public Library on Feb. 11. Kenneth Hammontree, from Living History Productions in Ashland, portrayed Harry Truman—wearing the man’s signature eyeglasses. He explained that although Truman had the lowest popularity rating of any president when he left office, he is now regarded as one of the top five greatest presidents.
Upon taking office, Truman quickly learned about the existence of the Manhattan Project to develop nuclear weapons. While he would ultimately give orders to drop two atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki (where more than 200,000 people died, in addition to thousands more who suffered from radiation poisoning) Hammontree noted that five days before the first drop, American planes dropped thousands of pamphlets over Japan, begging the Japanese people to implore their government to surrender. The day before the drop, American officials took to Japanese airwaves for one final plea.
“The devastation was unbelievable,” Hammontree said of the bombings. However, he said Truman genuinely believed that close to 2–3 million people were saved, both American and Japanese, because Japanese forces did not consider surrender to be an option: “They would have fought to the last person.”
Following the Japanese surrender, Truman was faced with transitioning the American economy away from wartime production, in addition to Communism and evolving weapon technology threatening world security.
When Truman ran for reelection in 1948 against Democrat Thomas E. Dewey, he was not expected to win. Owing to his “whistle stop” campaign, Truman went on to win the race. There is a now infamous picture of Truman holding up a newspaper after Election Day with the headline “Dewey Defeats Truman.”
The Korean War eventually broke out during his second term, and Hammontree explained that Truman ultimately fired General MacArthur, which was a very unpopular decision at the time, in order to prevent World War III. While MacArthur wanted to expand the war into China, Truman strongly disagreed because of the pact the country had with Russia.
After his remarks, Hammontree allowed the “reporters” in the audience to ask questions. One question was how Truman got involved in politics.
Hammontree said Truman only had a high school education and worked various jobs and had some businesses that failed. “He was a common man.” However, he ran for County Commissioner in Missouri, which led to him running for a seat in the Senate. Then, when Roosevelt prepared for a fourth term, he essentially forced Truman to run as Vice President.
When asked what he felt Truman’s greatest success was, Hammontree said there were several. Most notably was the establishment of the nation of Israel in 1948, but he also helped establish the United Nations and worked with the Senate to create the Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan.