was late afternoon of a warm spring
day. Vice-President Harry S. Truman
had just finished listening to a Senate
debate. He was given a telephone message,
asking him to get to the White House
as soon as possible. President Franklin
D. Roosevelt had died at Warm Springs,
Georgia. That evening, April 12, 1945,
at 7:09 P.M., Harry S. Truman took
the oath of office as the 33rd president
of the United States.
end of World War II was in sight,
but American forces were still fighting
in Europe and the Pacific. The people
at home were supplying the needs of
their own fighting men and helping
their Allies at a total cost of nearly
90 billion dollars a year. An atomic
bomb had been developed. It was the
most powerful weapon the world had
ever known. President Truman knew
that he must decide whether or not
to use the bomb in the war with Japan.
and peace brought their problems too:
the new Administration faced questions
of how to deal with the defeated nations
and how to help newly freed peoples.
They had to share in planning a world
organization of nations to enforce
peace. On the home front there was
the gigantic task of re-establishing
the nation's peacetime economy.
S. Truman, the man who was to guide
the United States through this critical
period, was born May 8, 1884, at Lamar,
Missouri. He was the son of John Anderson
Truman, a cattle trader, and Martha
Young Truman. Shortly after Harry's
birth, the Truman family moved to
nearby Independence, Missouri, not
far from Kansas City. There Harry
attended grade school and high school.
graduation from high school Harry
tried for an appointment to West Point
but was rejected because of poor eyesight.
Having no money to pay his way through
college, he took a job in a Kansas
City drugstore. At the same time he
joined the Missouri National Guard.
a brief stay in the drugstore, Truman
became a clerk at the Kansas City
Star. He then tried working as a timekeeper
for a railroad construction gang and
a clerk in a Kansas City bank. Five
years after he had left high school,
Truman was tired of city life. He
returned to his father's farm and
worked there for the next ten years.
was still a farmer when the United
States entered World War I. As a member
of the Missouri National Guard, he
was called for a short period of training
at the Field Artillery School at Fort
Sill, Okla. He went overseas as a
Captain with the 35th Division and
commanded Battery D of the 129th Field
Artillery in the St-Mihiel and Meuse-Argonne
offensives. After the war, he was
commissioned a Major in the Field
June 28, 1919, Truman married Bess
Wallace of Independence. They had
been childhood sweethearts. A daughter,
Mary Margaret, was born to the Trumans
on Feb. 17, 1924. After his marriage,
Truman invested all his savings into
a Kansas City haberdashery. The business
was successful for two years, then
failed during the depression in 1922.
Truman and his business partner, Eddie
Jacobson, faithfully repaid their
creditors, though it took them the
next 12 years to do so.
the Democratic National Convention
in June, 1944, a lively contest developed
between several candidates for the
Vice-Presidential nomination. Most
conspicuous were Henry Wallace, who
had the support of the radical wing
of the Democratic Party, and James
Byrnes, who represented the Conservative
wing. Naming Truman as the compromise
candidate broke the deadlock. Truman
at first flatly refused to take the
nomination because he wanted to remain
in the Senate. However, Roosevelt
was insistent, and Truman finally
agreed. As vice-president, Truman
had little to do with shaping America's
policies at home or abroad. Roosevelt
seldom consulted with him. As a result,
when Roosevelt suddenly died, Truman,
as President, faced many problems.
Presidential aides and others did
their best to help him, and Truman
weeks after he became President, Truman
learned of the top-secret project
to develop an atomic bomb. On July
16, 1945, he was told a successful
atom bomb test had been made at Los
Alamos, New Mexico. Truman consulted
with his aides to decide whether the
bomb should be used against Japan.
An invasion of Japan was being planned
and they estimated that if the bomb
worked, it would save a quarter of
a million American lives. Truman suggested
that the United States warn Japan
that, if it did not surrender, the
bomb would be used. They did so, but
Japan refused to yield. On August
6, 1945, the atom bomb exploded over
Hiroshima, shattering three fifths
of the city. On August 10, Japan sued
election of November 2, 1948, was
the most dramatic political upset
in the nation's history. Truman was
the first Democratic president to
be elected without the "solid South."
He won 28 states and 303 Electoral
votes. The Democrats also won control
June 25, 1950, war broke out in Korea.
This was a great personal blow to
President Truman. He had often said
he wanted more than anything else
to be regarded by Historians as a
President who brought peace to the
world. Truman ordered the United States
military forces to support the United
Nations "police action" in Korea.
On December 16 he declared a state
of national emergency to help prepare
the United States for a possible "all-out"
war with Communism.
the midst of these problems an amendment
was added to the Constitution — the
22nd ammendment which limited a President
to two full terms or to a total of
ten years if he had served part of
an unexpired term. The amendment was
passed in 1947 by a Republican Congress,
mostly as a reaction against Franklin
D. Roosevelt's four Presidential election
victories. It has been argued that
this controversial amendment served
to weaken a President's effectiveness
during the second term, because the
incumbent cannot run for reelection.
1948 and 1952 the White House was
completely reconstructed. During most
of this period the Truman family lived
at Blair House, across the street
from the Executive Mansion. It was
while the Trumans were living there
that an attempt was made to assassinate
the president by two Puerto Rican
terrorists, Oscar Collazo and Greselio
Torresola. On Nov. 1, 1950, President
Truman was upstairs taking an afternoon
nap when the two-armed men ran up
the steps to the front door of Blair
House. Armed White House police rushed
to stop them, firing as they ran.
In a few moments Torresola lay dead
and Collazo was severely wounded.
Two police officers were wounded;
a third, Leslie Coffelt, was killed.
Truman took the attempt on his life
calmly, keeping all the rest of his
scheduled appointments that day and
going for his customary early-morning
walk the following day. He was familiar
with the fact that Lincoln, Garfield,
and McKinley were murdered while in
office and that assassins had tried
to kill Jackson, Theodore Roosevelt,
and Franklin Roosevelt. "A President
has to expect such things," Truman
said. His would-be assassins were
members of the Puerto Rican revolutionary
Nationalist party determined to obtain
Puerto Rican independence. Collazo
was convicted of murdering Coffelt
and sentenced to die in the electric
chair. Truman later commuted the sentence
to life imprisonment. The President
had previously assured the Puerto
Rican people they were free to work
out their own political future. President
Truman refused to seek reelection
in 1952, and the Democratic nomination
went to Governor Adlai E. Stevenson
of Illinois. The candidate for the
Republican Party was General Dwight
was inaugurated President on January
20, 1953, and Harry Truman retired
to his home in Independence, Missouri.
When he left office, Truman said,
"I have had a career from precinct
to president, and I'm proud of that
career." Friends raised funds to build
the Harry S. Truman Library at Independence.
After his death on Dec. 26, 1972,
Harry Truman was buried in the courtyard
of the library. His memoirs appeared
in 1955-56. In 1959 his birthplace
at Lamar was dedicated as a Missouri
State shrine. In 1965 the Medicare
act -- government health insurance
for the aged, first sponsored by Truman
in 1945 — was signed in the Truman
9, 1909, Belton Lodge No. 450, Belton,
Missouri. In 1911, several Members of
Belton Lodge separated to establish Grandview
Lodge No. 618, Grandview, Missouri, and
Brother Truman served as its first Worshipful
Master. At the Annual Session of the Grand
Lodge of Missouri, September 24-25, 1940,
Brother Truman was elected (by a landslide)
the ninety-seventh Grand Master of Masons
of Missouri, and served until October
1, 1941. Brother and President Truman
was made a Sovereign Grand Inspector General,
33°, and Honorary Member, Supreme
Council on October 19,1945 at the Supreme
Council A.A.S.R. Southern Jurisdiction
Headquarters in Washington D.C., upon
which occasion he served as Exemplar (Representative)
for his Class. He was also elected an
Honorary Grand Master of the International
Supreme Council, Order of DeMolay. On
May 18, 1959, Brother and Former President
Truman was presented with a fifty-year
award, the only U.S. President to reach
that golden anniversary in Freemasonry.
Harry Truman was a member of the Ararat
Good Mason Saved, Another Good Mason
Dean S. Clatterbuck, 32°
Leslie Coffelt lost his life defending
President Harry S. Truman during a failed
assassination attempt in 1950. Both
were Brother Master Masons.
One Good Mason Dead: Announcement from
Potomac Lodge No. 5 at the time of the
funeral of Brother Leslie Coffelt, White
House Police Officer, slain while protecting
President Harry S. Truman.
is Wednesday, November 1, 1950, one
hundred fifty years to the day since
John Adams became the first president
to occupy The White House. Harry S.
Truman is the 33rd president, and extensive
repairs to The White House have forced
the Truman family to move across Pennsylvania
Avenue to the Blair House, usually reserved
for visiting dignitaries. It was the
home for President Truman and his family
for almost his entire presidency and
was quickly dubbed “The Truman White
Truman’s schedule for the first of November
is a bit lighter than usual, and by
one o’clock, his appointments concluded,
he makes the short trip across the street
to Blair House to have lunch with his
wife, Bess, and then to catch a nap.
The hour is two o’clock. It won’t be
a long nap, for he is scheduled to depart
for Arlington National Cemetery at 2:50
p.m., but the next thirty minutes will
make that Wednesday a day that Harry
Truman would remember for the rest of
would not be forgotten because of an
attempted assassination that day by
two Puerto Rican nationalists, Griselio
Torresola and Oscar Collazo. On October
30, 1950, an attempt at a coup in San
Juan, Puerto Rico, collapsed in a bloody
barrage of shots in which Griselio’s
sister was wounded and captured. The
nationalist cause had become personal
as well as political for Griselio. He
decided it was time to act, and the
deed should be something big—like assassinating
the President of the United States.
October 31, 1950, Oscar and Griselio
registered at the Hotel Harris under
assumed names. The next day they ate
lunch, and Griselio gave Oscar some
hurried instructions on the weapon Griselio
had purchased for him, a Walther P38.
Hailing a cab, the men asked to be taken
to the White House to see where the
president lived. But the cab driver
corrected them, telling them that Truman
was living across the street at the
arriving in the area of the Blair House,
Griselio and Oscar surveyed the situation
and formulated an improvised plan, not
having known about Blair House until
minutes before. As they looked over
the scene, they could see two White
House Police Officers in their guard
houses, one at either end of the Blair
of them was forty-year-old Leslie Coffelt,
a native Virginian who had begun his
law enforcement career with the Metropolitan
Police Department. After eight years,
he transferred to the White House Police,
the Uniformed Division of the Secret
Service, where he now had seven years
of service as a Private, except for
a break to serve in the army during
World War II.
an ironic twist of fate, he was scheduled
to be off that day, but a fellow officer,
one of his best friends, needed some
time off to paint his house, so Les
offered to work in his place. Les was
an active Mason and a member of Potomac
Lodge No. 5, having been raised on September
28, 1945. Les was faithful in his attendance
so far as his rotating shift work at
Blair House allowed and had hoped that
he might serve as lodge officer in 1951.
It would be an unrealized hope.
two guard houses on either side of the
Blair House were on the sidewalk, one
at the west end and the other at the
east. At 2:00 p.m., Leslie Coffelt was
in the west end guard house and Officer
Joe Davidson was on duty in the east
end booth. White House Police Officer
Donald Birdzell was guarding the front
door to Blair House.
about 2:20 p.m., Griselio and Oscar
approached Blair House from opposite
directions. Secret Service Agent Floyd
Boring had just stepped outside of Blair
House for a routine check with his detail.
He spoke with Les, then moved to the
east booth and was talking with Joe
in the booth when Oscar Collazo walked
Birdzell was facing the Blair House
when he suddenly heard a sharp “click.”
He recognized the sound as one associated
with a firearm and pivoted on the spot.
Oscar’s gun had misfired as he attempted
to shoot Birdzell from point-blank range.
Now, in extreme frustration, Oscar was
pounding the Walther P38 with his left
fist, which caused the weapon to fire,
striking Birdzell in the right knee.
agonizing pain, Birdzell limped out
onto Pennsylvania Avenue, turning to
return fire at Oscar, who had started
up the now unguarded steps. Officer
Davidson began firing at Oscar from
the east guard booth area, and Agent
Boring also began firing. Oscar sat
down on the second step and fired a
clip of bullets at the officers, but
failed to hit either of them.
Stewart Stout, inside the Blair House,
heard the unmistakable sound of gunfire,
grabbed a submachine gun, and took up
a position inside the house at the door.
Agent Vince Mroz emerged from the basement
door behind Boring and Davidson and
took one shot at Oscar. He then raced
back into the basement to guard against
any threat at the basement door at the
other end of the building.
Griselio Torresola had been approaching
from the west and arrived at the western
guardhouse just as the first gunfire
erupted. He was directly behind White
House Police Officer Joe Downs, who
was returning to Blair House after making
a run to get lunch for the shift. Accustomed
to being frequently approached by tourists
seeking information, Coffelt was taken
completely by surprise as Griselio walked
up. Griselio fired three rounds, hitting
Coffelt in the chest, abdomen, and legs.
Les sank into his chair, mortally wounded,
but still managed to remain conscious
and draw his gun. Downs, standing in
the doorway, attempted to draw his pistol,
but Griselio, an excellent marksman,
shot him three times.
of the Assassination Attempt:
Blair House as it looks today. (State Dept. Photo)
seeing Birdzell trying to shoot Oscar
from the street, Griselio fired at Birdzell,
hitting him in his left knee and disabling
him. It appeared that only Agent Mroz
and Secret Service Agent Stout remained
to guard the president, but Leslie Coffelt,
mustering what must have been a monumental
effort before passing out, aimed his
weapon and fired. His aim was true.
His shot struck Griselio in the head,
killing him instantly.
the same time, Boring took a shot at
Oscar, hit him in the chest, and put
him out of action. It was over! All
of the action had happened in a flash
(later estimates ranged from forty seconds
to three minutes).
sound of gunfire roused Harry Truman
from his nap. Arising from his bed,
he walked to the front window to see
what was going on. He looked out before
Les Coffelt fired his fatal shot, but
Griselio had emptied his German 9 mm
Luger and was in the process of reloading.
The assassin’s target was suddenly in
plain view at the window.
Service Agent Floyd Boring saw Truman
and called for him to get out of view.
Whether or not Griselio ever saw Truman
is unknown, but in any event, Les Coffelt’s
final act made the question moot. U.E.
Baughman, Chief of the Secret Service
was now on the scene, and uncertain
if this was an isolated action or part
of a larger plot, advised Truman to
cancel his 2:50 trip to Arlington National
Cemetery. Truman declined this advice
and elected to go ahead, under a quadrupled
Secret Service guard.
Birdzell’s wounds were not life threatening;
Downs was seriously wounded, but survived.
Officer Leslie Coffelt died in the hospital
less than four hours after being shot.
He was the first member of the Uniformed
Secret Service to lose his life in the
line of duty.
Collazo also recovered from his wounds
and was subsequently tried and sentenced
to death. President Truman, not wanting
to see him become a martyr, commuted
his sentence to life imprisonment. President
Jimmy Carter later ordered a now aged
Collazo released, and he returned to
Puerto Rico where he died of natural
causes in 1994.
days after the assassination attempt,
Harry Truman again returned to Arlington
National Cemetery. This time, it was
not to make a speech or help dedicate
a statue. It was to attend the burial
of Officer Leslie Coffelt. A religious
service was held in the Fort Myer Chapel
conducted by Dean John W. Suter of the
Washington National Cathedral. Brother
Coffelt was accorded last military honors,
and the last observance was a Masonic
funeral by Potomac Lodge.
seven active pall hearers were fellow
officers of the White House Police,
and all were Masons. Two each were from
Anacostia Lodge No. 21 and Potomac Lodge
No. 5, one from Petworth Lodge No. 47,
and two from other jurisdictions.
Harry S. Truman
Harry S. Truman was born in Lamar, Missouri on May 8, 1884, the son of John Anderson Truman and Martha Ellen (Young) Truman. The family, which soon included another boy, Vivian, and a girl, Mary Jane moved several times during Truman's childhood and youth - first, in 1887, to a farm near Grandview, then, in 1890, to Independence, and finally, in 1902, to Kansas City. Young Harry attended public schools in Independence, graduating from high school in 1901. After leaving school, he worked briefly as a timekeeper for a railroad construction contractor, then as a clerk in two Kansas City banks. In 1906 he returned to Grandview to help his father run the family farm. He continued working as a farmer for more than ten years.
From 1905 to 1911, Truman served in the Missouri National Guard. At the outbreak of World War I, he helped organize the 2nd Regiment of Missouri Field Artillery, which was quickly called into Federal service as the 129th Field Artillery and sent to France. Truman was promoted to Captain and given command of the regiment's Battery D. He and his unit saw action in the Vosges, Saint Mihiel and Meuse-Argonne campaigns. Truman joined the reserves after the war, rising eventually to the rank of colonel. He sought to return to active duty at the outbreak of World War II, but Army Chief of Staff General George C. Marshall declined his offer to serve.
On June 28, 1919, Truman married Bess Wallace, whom he had known since childhood. Their only child, Mary Margaret, was born on February 17, 1924. From 1919 to 1922 he ran a men's clothing store in Kansas City with his wartime friend, Eddie Jacobson. The store failed in the postwar recession. Truman narrowly avoided bankruptcy, and through determination and over many years he paid off his share of the store's debts.
Truman was elected in 1922, to be one of three judges of the Jackson County Court. Judge Truman whose duties were in fact administrative rather than judicial, built a reputation for honesty and efficiency in the management of county affairs. He was defeated for reelection in 1924, but won election as presiding judge in the Jackson County Court in 1926. He won reelection in 1930.
In 1934, Truman was elected to the United States Senate. He had significant roles in the passage into law of the Civil Aeronautics Act of 1938 and the Transportation Act of 1940. After being reelected in 1940, Truman gained national prominence as chairman of the Senate Special Committee to Investigate the National Defense Program. This committee, which came to be called the Truman Committee, sought with considerable success to ensure that defense contractors delivered to the nation quality goods at fair prices.
In July 1944, Truman was nominated to run for Vice President with President Franklin D. Roosevelt. On January 20, 1945, he took the vice-presidential oath, and after President Roosevelt's unexpected death only eighty-two days later on April 12, 1945, he was sworn in as the nations' thirty-third President.
Truman later called his first year as President a "year of decisions." He oversaw during his first two months in office the ending of the war in Europe. He participated in a conference at Potsdam, Germany, governing defeated Germany, and to lay some groundwork for the final stage of the war against Japan. Truman approved the dropping of two bombs on Japan on August 6 and 9, 1945. Japan surrendered on August 14, and American forces of occupation began to land by the end of the month. This first year of Truman's presidency also saw the founding of the United Nations and the development of an increasingly strained and confrontational relationship with the Soviet Union.
Truman's presidency was marked throughout by important foreign policy initiatives. Central to almost everything Truman undertook in his foreign policy was the desire to prevent the expansion of the influence of the Soviet Union. The Truman Doctrine was an enunciation of American willingness to provide military aid to countries resisting communist insurgencies. The Marshall Plan sought to revive the economies of the nations of Europe in the hope that communism would not thrive in the midst of prosperity. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization built a military barrier confronting the Soviet-dominated part of Europe. The one time during his presidency when a communist nation invaded a non-communist one -- when North Korea invaded South Korea in June 1950 -- Truman responded by waging undeclared war.
In his domestic policies, Truman sought to accomplish the difficult transition from a war to a peace economy without plunging the nation into recession, and he hoped to extend New Deal social programs to include more government protection and services and to reach more people. He was successful in achieving a healthy peacetime economy, but only a few of his social program proposals became law. The Congress, which was much more Republican in its membership during his presidency than it had been during Franklin Roosevelt's, did not usually share Truman's desire to build on the legacy of the New Deal.
The Truman administration went considerably beyond the New Deal in the area of civil rights. Although, the conservative Congress thwarted Truman's desire to achieve significant civil rights legislation, he was able to use his powers as President to achieve some important changes. He issued executive orders desegregating the armed forces and forbidding racial discrimination in Federal employment. He also established a Committee on Civil Rights and encouraged the Justice Department to argue before the Supreme Court on behalf of plaintiffs fighting against segregation.
In 1948, Truman won reelection. His defeat had been widely expected and often predicted, but Truman's energy in undertaking his campaign and his willingness to confront issues won a plurality of the electorate for him. His famous "Whistlestop" campaign tour through the country has passed into political folklore, as has the photograph of the beaming Truman holding up the newspaper whose headline proclaimed, "Dewey Defeats Truman."
Truman left the presidency and retired to Independence in January 1953. For the nearly two decades of his life remaining to him, he delighted in being "Mr. Citizen," as he called himself in a book of memoirs. He spent his days reading, writing, lecturing and taking long brisk walks. He took particular satisfaction in founding and supporting his Library, which made his papers available to scholars, and which opened its doors to everyone who wished to have a glimpse of his remarkable life and career.
Harry S. Truman died on December 26, 1972. Bess Truman died on October 18, 1982. They are buried side by side in the Library's courtyard.