President Harry S. Truman was a no-nonsense kinda guy. He called 5’4″ Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin “a bit of a squirt.” He threatened to beat the snot out of a music critic who panned his daughter’s performance. He called Gen. Douglas MacArthur “a dumb son of a bitch” and President Nixon a “shifty-eyed goddamned liar.”
There was a reason he was known as “Give ‘Em Hell Harry.”
Truman was the last President to take office without a college degree and started his military career as an enlisted man in the Missouri National Guard. He wanted to join so bad, he memorized an eye chart to pass the Army physical – he couldn’t see well enough to get in on his own. He first enlisted in 1905.
This is a man who would rather have earned the Medal of Honor than be elected President.
By the time WWI rolled around, Truman re-enlisted and had been elected an officer. It was on the battlefields of France that he was given command of Battery D – dubbed “Dizzy D” for its bad reputation. The onetime Pvt. Truman was now Capt. Truman, in command of 194 men.
Those men tried to intimidate him at every turn, even giving him the “Bronx Cheer” after formations. But a guy like “Captain Harry” wasn’t about to take that garbage in his command. He began to hold his NCOs responsible for the junior enlisted behavior – and the discipline changed in a hurry.
His men began to obey him loyally, especially in combat, and Truman enjoyed his command. The only time they faltered was during an artillery exchange with the Germans in the Vosges Mountains, where both sides exchanged gas and high explosive shells for more than 30 minutes.
Truman was tossed from his horse, which fell on top of him into a shell crater. Panic and disorder gripped his company when they were supposed to fall back, but they had no horses to pull the artillery. The guns were getting stuck in the mud as German shells rained on them.
The company first sergeant ordered the men to make a run for it.
That’s when Capt. Truman was pulled out from under his horse. He stood on the battlefield and unleashed a string of curses so profane it actually shocked his enlisted men to turn around and run back into the hail of chemicals and explosions to man their guns.
Maybe it was his time as an enlisted artilleryman, or maybe the future President picked that language up while working on the Santa Fe rail lines and sleeping like a hobo. He sure didn’t pick it up at West Point – because he couldn’t get in.
During his presidency, Truman kept his spot as a U.S. Army reserve colonel, leaving after 37 years of service. When his presidency ended, he and his wife Bess drove back to Missouri, not to a corporate boardroom – which he considered it a black mark on the office of the president.