Monday, September 26, 2005

The Trumans

He first saw her in Sunday school when he was six years old and she was just five. "She had golden curls and beautiful blue eyes," he recalled. They graduated from high school together in 1901, but went their separate ways -- he moved to Kansas City and she to Colorado for a year -- until becoming reacquainted nine years later. It was then that Truman, who once wrote of Bess, "I thought she was the most beautiful and the sweetest person on earth," began his first and longest campaign -- to win the heart of Bess Wallace.
Bess lived in her family home in Independence, Missouri. Harry was a hard-working farmer from Grandview, twenty miles away. So he courted her, in part, by mail. Their correspondence would continue for nearly fifty years -- an exciting ride through nine years of courtship, fifty-three years of marriage, family, career changes, and political fortunes that thrust them to the very center of the world stage. More than 1300 letters from Harry to Bess Truman survive in the Truman Library collections.
Sadly, most of her letters to him have been lost to history. After showering Bess with attention and letters for more than a year, Harry proposed to her in 1911, but she turned him down. He persisted, and eventually she fell in love with him. He had a standing invitation to dinner at the Wallace home on Sundays, often sleeping across the street, afterwards, on the floor of his cousins' house because travel between Grandview and Independence was arduous. To win her favor -- she was from a wealthy family -- and better his prospects, he entered into a series of business ventures -- mining, drilling for oil, and other speculations -- most ending in disappointment. Although he also served as Grandview postmaster and as a county road overseer, his future remained uncertain. When the United States entered World War I in April 1917, Harry Truman joined a Missouri National Guard field artillery regiment. Federalized as the 129th Field Artillery Regiment of the 35th Division, the unit trained for combat in Oklahoma. Arriving in France in April 1918, he had additional training before taking command of Battery D, a unit known for rowdiness and intransigence. He won respect for his leadership and courage under fire, seeing action in the Vosges Forest, the Meuse-Argonne offensive, and near Verdun. Throughout his military service, Truman carried Bess Wallace's picture in his breast pocket. Writing to her frequently, his spirits were buoyed by her promise to marry him upon his safe return.


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