Profiles of Valor: Harry Truman’s Medal of Honor?
“I would rather have the blue band of the Medal of Honor around my neck than to be president of the United States.”
The path to Harry Truman’s presidency was through some of the darkest times in our nation’s history — World War I, the Great Depression, and World War II. In 1929, Republican Herbert Hoover entered office at the onset of the Great Depression, which is why, in 1933, he was defeated by Franklin D. Roosevelt.
FDR, a wealthy Democrat aristocrat, had perfected the Demo model for buying elections, redistributing wealth and entitlements for votes. As you might recall, Roosevelt proclaimed: “Here is my principle: Taxes shall be levied according to ability to pay. That is the only American principle.” Not so American, actually — if that language sounds familiar, it is because FDR’s “American principle” was a paraphrase of Karl Marx’s communist maxim, “From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs.” FDR’s “New Deal” economic centralization would birth Lyndon Baines Johnson’s so-called “Great Society” three decades later. The Left’s “War on Poverty” is, and has always been, a war on the poor.
FDR, like those Demo presidents in recent decades, had no military service. His isolationism arguably empowered the leader of Germany’s NAZI (National Socialist German Workers’ Party) regime, Adolf Hitler, and Japan’s Emperor Hirohito. The latter forced FDR into World War II after ordering the attack on Pearl Harbor. Roosevelt was reelected three times, serving from March 4, 1933, until his death on April 12, 1945.
Ending World War II would fall on the shoulders of FDR’s third vice president, his two-term successor, Harry Truman. Truman was from more humble beginnings, the son of a farmer and livestock manager in Lamar, Missouri, who, unlike Roosevelt, had distinguished himself serving our country in World War I. He was an Army artillery officer with Battery D, 129th Field Artillery Regiment, 35th Division, having deployed with the American Expeditionary Forces in France. He led units in the Battle of Saint-Mihiel and the Meuse-Argonne offensive. He would remain in the Army Reserve until 1953, rising to the rank of Colonel.
Returning home from World War I, he married his sweetheart Bess Wallace. His first campaign was for judge of Jackson County, Missouri. He was then drafted by the Missouri Democrat Party to run for U.S. Senate, a seat he won and retained until becoming FDR’s vice president in January 1945 and, quickly thereafter, president after Roosevelt’s death three months later. On his first day in office, Truman, who was noted for his grassroots wit, told the White House media: “Boys, if you ever pray, pray for me now. I don’t know if you fellas ever had a load of hay fall on you, but when they told me what happened yesterday, I felt like the moon, the stars, and all the planets had fallen on me.”
A month later, on May 8, 1945, his 61st birthday, Truman and the nation celebrated V-E Day and the defeat of Hitler. Three months later, Truman authorized the first and only nuclear attack against a foreign aggressor — Hiroshima was bombed on August 6, and Nagasaki three days later, leading to Hirohito’s surrender on August 10.
Truman, who made famous the maxim noted on a sign on his presidential desk, “The Buck Stops Here,” defended his decision to use atomic bombs, saying: “As president of the United States, I had the fateful responsibility of deciding whether or not to use this weapon for the first time. It was the hardest decision I ever had to make. But the president cannot duck hard problems — he cannot pass the buck. I made the decision after discussions with the ablest men in our government, and after long and prayerful consideration. I decided that the bomb should be used to end the war quickly and save countless lives — Japanese as well as American.”
On a personal note, my father told me years later that he and his Navy wingmen owed their lives to those bombs, as did we, his children. It was assumed that there would be enormous U.S., Allied, and Japanese casualties in Operation Downfall, the Pacific plan to invade the Japanese islands similar to the D-Day invasion of Europe. That plan was canceled with Japan’s post-bombing surrender.
Okay, so the previous paragraphs comprise the most condensed history lesson I have ever written, but I provide that context for understanding the gravity of the decisions Truman faced.
In 1971, when he was 87 years old, Congress took up legislation to award Truman the Medal of Honor for his leadership. But to his credit, “Give ‘em Hell Harry” would have no part of that, having met no condition of valor “for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty” required for our nation’s highest military award.
Truman declared, “I don’t consider that I have done anything which should be the reason for any award, Congressional or otherwise.” He said further that he may not have demonstrated valor, but he certainly demonstrated honor and humility in vigorously refusing the award. He proclaimed that awarding him that honor would depreciate the Medal’s standing.
Having awarded several Medals of Honor himself, Truman understood the extraordinary service and sacrifice associate with the Medal. After awarding Desmond Doss his Medal in October 1945, a man whom Truman referred to fondly as “the little skinny pharmacist’s mate” who saved more than 50 soldiers at Hacksaw Ridge, he said, “I would rather have the blue band of the Medal of Honor around my neck than to be president of the United States.”
Semper Vigilans Fortis Paratus et Fidelis
Pro Deo et Libertate — 1776
Footnote: Perhaps the most significant monument to Herbert Hoover’s legacy is Stanford’s Hoover Institution, a think tank and research institution that hosts the nation’s most distinguished fellows, including the late Milton Friedman (emeritus) and our longtime columnist Thomas Sowell.
The Patriot Post and Patriot Foundation Trust, in keeping with our our Military Mission of Service to our uniformed service members and veterans, are proud to support and promote the National Medal of Honor Heritage Center, the Congressional Medal of Honor Society, both the Honoring Their Sacrifice Foundation and Warrior Freedom Service Dogs aiding wounded veterans, the National Veterans Entrepreneurship Program, the Folds of Honor outreach and Officer Christian Fellowship, the Air University Foundation and Naval War College Foundation, and the Naval Aviation Museum Foundation. “Greater love has no one than this, to lay down one’s life for his friends.” (John 15:13)
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