This Future President Turned a Burly WWI Troop into a Crack Combat Unit

Postcard photo of Harry S. Truman taken in France during World War I.
Postcard photo of Harry S. Truman taken in France during World War I.

On June 14, 1905, the man who would become America's 33rd president enlisted in Light Battery B of the Missouri National Guard. The 21-year-old Harry S. Truman was so proud of his new uniform that he promptly went to a photographer's studio and had a series of portraits made. However, his pride was dashed at home when his grandmother, a staunch supporter of the late Confederacy, told him that she wouldn't have a blue uniform in the house.

Nevertheless, young Truman remained a member of Battery B and served as its clerk until he was discharged as a corporal in 1906. When the United States declared war on Germany in 1917, Truman was a farmer of 33 who could easily have avoided service. He reenlisted with the National Guard, where he was elected first lieutenant. On Aug. 5, 1917, the 2nd Missouri Field Artillery was sworn into the regular Army as the 128th Field Artillery of the 35th Division. The unit was sent in 1918 to France, where Capt. Truman took command of Battery D on July 11.

Battery D had been organized in Kansas City and was a burly group of first-generation Irish and German Catholics. Truman felt he would have to work very hard to gain their acceptance and approval. By the end of the summer, he had developed his battery into a tight combat unit. They won regimental records for firing accuracy and range assembly speed, and participated with distinction in the Vosges, St. Mihiel and Meuse-Argonne campaigns.

Truman won something greater -- his men's confidence, support, and respect. At war's end, Battery D presented its commander with an engraved silver loving cup as a token of that respect. In turn, Truman told them, "Right now, I'm where I want to be -- in command of this battery. I'd rather be here than president of the United States."

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