Truman was a member of his Missouri National Guard unit, but by the time World War I began, he had left the guard to concentrate on farming. Inspired by patriotism, however, at the age of 34 he rejoined the National Guard in 1917 when America entered World War I. He had enjoyed his National Guard duty, and it was a period in American history when patriotism was an uncomplicated question. As a former member of Battery B in Kansas City, Harry now helped in the task of bringing in new recruits. The enlarged Battery B and Battery C were formed into a regiment consisting of six batteries – the 129th Field Artillery. Harry’s efforts had brought in so many men, that he thought he should be elected a sergeant. Instead they elected him (as was still the custom in those days) a first lieutenant in Battery F.

After training at Camp Doniphan, Oklahoma, Truman went to France, where he attended an elite artillery school for officers. Without his eyeglasses, Truman could barely recognize people standing only a few feet in front of him; so to be on the safe side, he took six pairs of glasses with him to Europe.

Truman’s army experience, like that of so many Americans, changed his life, although for some years he did not see where it would take him. In the military, Harry had a chance for the first time in his life to show a gift for leadership and a staunch devotion to his ideal that “one fellow is just as good as another.”

When Harry went to France in the spring of 1918, he was promoted to Captain and took command of Battery D, a unit with a reputation for unusual rowdiness, the most unruly battery in the regiment. All were Irish and German Catholics from Rockhurst College, a Jesuit high school in Kansas City. The 200 boys of Battery D were a rollicking, hot-tempered band who had broken three previous commanders. However, Truman proved himself an able leader. He learned to respect and get along with men from all walks of American life, and he found that through fair and compassionate leadership he could inspire the respect and admiration of those who served under him.

The night Harry took over the battery he announced that he was in charge, and turned the group over to a first sergeant for the order to the men to fall out. According to one of the battery’s members, the trouble started at once: And then they gave Captain Truman the Bronx cheer. At the time the captain chose to ignore their disrespectful gesture, but next morning on the bulletin board, half the noncommissioned officers and most of the first-class privates were busted. “And then” remembered Vere C. (pup) Leigh, a member of the battery, “we knew that we had a different ‘cat’ to do business with than we had up to that time. He didn’t hesitate at all.”

The men of Battery D came to idolize their commander, because he was tough and fair – and courageous.

Captain Truman led them into battle. In almost three months of near-continuous combat, the men of Battery D fought bravely at Saint-Mihiel, on the Meuse-Argonne front, at Verdun, and at Metz.

After the war, the battery’s men held reunions year after year on Armistice Day. In 1949, when President Truman invited the “boys” of Battery D to Washington for his inauguration, they marched in single file on each side of the presidential limousine. By then, a paunchy, aging group, jauntily swinging canes, they were immensely proud of their moment in the public eye and of their former commander in arms, Captain Harry Truman.

Reference: Robert H. Ferrell – “Great Americans,” An Ideals Publication.

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