“Give ‘em number 1 Harry”

A new book out by Matthew Algeo, Harry Truman’s Excellent Adventure: The True Story of a Great American Road Trip, does an excellent job of showing readers a side of Truman that most Americans, then and now, never saw and, I think, will make  the man from Independence more appealing to the general public.

It’s about the road trip Truman took just a few months after leaving office in 1953 and details how the former President and his wife Bess, unescorted by any Secret Service agents or other securities measures, hit the road in the summer of that year to travel in his new Chrysler New Yorker from his home in Independence , Mo. to Washington and New York and then back.

A lot of the book uses aspects of Harry’s trip to give the history of the time along with interviews of some of the people who were witness to this trip nearly 59 years ago.  It also includes little known stories about the former President that show a side seen only by a few of his staff.

One doesn’t often view Truman with a bawdy sense of humor but one story in Algeo’s book dispels this notion. Truman of course was anything but passive regarding politics.  During the 1948 Presidential campaign while Truman was attacking the Republicans in a whistle-stop speech in St. Louis, one man yelled out, “give ‘em hell Harry”, Truman quickly responded that “I don’t give them Hell. I just tell the truth about them and they think it’s Hell.”

In his book, Alegro conveys Truman’s ability to delight in a bit of bawdy humor, showing too how he took his politics serious with a dollop of humor.  This account took place early in Truman’s administration following Roosevelt’s death as Harry traveled in the Presidential plane, nicknamed the Sacred Cow. Anyone familiar with Truman is well aware of the political friction between him and his political adversary, Ohio Republican Senator Robert Taft

DAYTON, Ohio -- Douglas VC-54C "Sacred Cow" at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo)


Duly alerted by [the plane’s pilot, Lt. Col Henry] Myers, that the Sacred Cow was flying over Ohio, Truman would walk aft to his lavatory.  Moments later, after the president had returned to his seat, Myers would get a presidential command over the intercom to activate the waste disposal system ….  The discharged liquids, of course, evaporated quickly in the cold, dry air outside.  But it was Truman’s way of having a private joke at {Taft’s expense], his political nemesis.


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