Harry Truman served as President of the United States from 1945 to 1953. You will remember that he was President Franklin Roosevelt's vice-president and becaem president at the death of FDR. I remember very distinctly that day. As soldiers in Germany, we were walking along a road in long lines when, by passing the word along the long line from front to back, we learned that FDR had died.
From a book titled "The Wit and Wisdom of Harry Truman" by Ralph Keyes, who says at the beginning of the book, "Not one word of Truman's has been changed in this compliation," I will share some of his remarks. I hope you will enjoy them.
Of Will Rogers, Truman said, "Almost a second Mark Twain. I'm glad his mother didn't believe in birth control." Of the Russian leader, Molotov, he said, "A perfect mutton head." Of Walter Winchell, newsman, he said, "If Winchell ever told the truth, it was by accident and not intentional."
Speaking about Americans, he said, "If you want to talk about 100-percent Americans, you must go back to the inhabitants of the United States at the time that Europeans first landed." He also said this of Americans: "The acts of stupidity through the ages did us a kind of unintentional favor -- by driving so many different kinds of good people to our shores and merging them together as Americans."
Speaking of campaigning, he said, "You have to get around and listen to what people are saying. Dewey learned that in '48. He didn't listen, he just talked -- and didn't say much, either." I'm sure you remember that Dewey was hailed as the winner when Truman had won.
Truman said this of campaigning: "You know my program was 'Give 'em hell and if they don't like it, give 'em more hell.' " He followed that with, "I never did give anybody hell. I just told the truth, and they thought it was hell."
When speaking about Congress, he said, "If you tell Congress everything about the world situation, they get hysterical. If you tell them nothing, they go fishing."
He said, "You can't trust a senator when he can get a headline" and then said, "Most of the senators who really apply themselves never get much attention in the headlines."
About art, he had this to say: "I know nothing about art with a capitol A, particularly the frustrated brand known as Modern. I dislike Picasso, and all the moderns -- they are lousy. Any kid can take an egg and a piece of ham and make more understandable pictures." Of music, he said, "I don't like what passes for music today. I like something with a tune or melody to it."
Philosophically, he said, "I don't care what your politics are, I don't care what you believe politically, and I don't care what your religion is, as long as you live by it and act by it. Do your best, history will do the rest."
Off-the-cuff remarks from Harry include: "Autograph seekers are like pups who see a fire plug." "An economist is a man who wears a watch chain with a Phi Beta Kappa key at one end and no watch at the other." "A consultant is an ordinary citizen away from home."
About the presidency, he said, "The presidency is the most peculiar office in the history of the world. Being a president is like riding a tiger. A man has to keep on riding or be swallowed." "To be president of the United States is to be lonely, very lonely at times of great decisions." "If a president isn't in an occasional fight with the Congress or the courts, he's not doing a good job." "A president cannot always be popular. He has to be able to say yes and no, and more often no."
He also said, " A man with thin skin has no business being president." At another time, he said, "A man in his right mind would never want to be president if he knew what it entails. Aside from the impossible administrative burden, he has to take all sorts of abuse from liars and demagogues." And "I sign my name, on the average, 600 times a day, see and talk to hundreds of people every month, shake hands with thousands every year, and still carry on the business of the largest going concern in the whole world."
Upon leaving the presidency, he said, "Two hours ago, I could have said five words and been quoted in 15 minutes in every capital in the world. Now I could talk for two hours and nobody would give a damn."
Of the press, Truman said, "Lies and mud make 'news' -- the truth and flowers do not." "It makes no difference what the papers say if you are right." "When the press stops abusing me, I'll know I'm in the wrong pew." "Editors are peculiar animals -- they throw mud and bricks at you the whole year round, then they make one favorable statement which happens to agree with facts and they think they should be hugged and kissed for it."
Of the vice-presidency, he said, "There's an old joke that the vice-presidents's principal chore is to get up in the morning and ask how the president is feeling." And, "the vice-president simply presides over the Senate and sits around hoping for a funeral."
There are many short stories about President Truman. Here's one I enjoyed. In a famous news photo, Lauren Bacall lounges with a come-hither look on top of a piano being played by Harry Truman. The vice president looks sheepishly over his shoulder. When asked what Bess Truman said when she saw the picture, Truman replies, "She said she thought it was time for me to quit playing the piano."
Another story: White House usher J.B. West was better impressed with plain Bess Truman's unadorned look than with the tinted hair and heavy makeup favored by so many of Washington's society ladies. Asked about his wife's appearance, Truman himself said, 'She looks exactly as a woman her age should look." When a friend told Truman about the slogan he'd seen on a billboard -- 'gentlemen prefer blondes' -- the president responded: "Real gentlemen prefer gray."
Another story: In one story that made the Washington rounds, a woman pleaded with Bess to clean up her husband's language. He'd recently called someone's comment "a bunch of horse manure." The first lady was said to have smiled when she heard this and commented, "You don't know how many years it took to tone it down to this."
Truman kept a daily diary. On April 12, 1945, he wrote: "I am not easily shocked but was certainly shocked when I was told of the president's death and the weight of the government had fallen on my shoulders. I decided the best thing to do was to go home and get as much rest as possible and face the music."
It's hard to quit the stories because there are so many, but here's one more: As war clouds gathered in 1940, Truman asked Army Chief of Staff George Marshall to activate him at his reserve rank of colonel. The general pulled his glasses down on his nose and asked Missouri's senator how old he was. "Fifty-six" said Truman. "We don't need old stiffs like you," Marshall told him. "You'd better stay home and work in the Senate." When Truman became Marshall's commander-in-chief, his appointments secretary asked the general what he'd say under these circumstances. "Well, I would tell him the same thing, only I would be a little more diplomatic about it."
Arris Johnson, Hays, is a member of the Generations Advisory Group.