At The American Legion's 1949 convention, Truman was called "just one of the guys" as he received the Legion's Distinguished Service Medal. A 30-year Legionnaire and founding member of his post in Independence, Mo., he was the first president from the Legion's ranks. But Defense Secretary Louis Johnson, a past national commander, spoke of a much more common Harry: "In his simplicity, his humility, his charm, his devotion to his friends and his warm understanding of his fellow Americans, our friend and fellow veteran, Harry Truman, never seems to change ... (he) has never forgotten that he served in the ranks. He still recalls even as though it was today that he carried a heavy pack on his back under a hot August sun, and slept on the soggy bottom of a rain-filled trench. Harry Truman knows what it is to be a ‘little fellow.'
"And now today, Mr. President, your horizon grows even wider. The whole world looks to America - under your leadership - to hold the peace of the world."
Accepting the award, Truman said, "I consider this a great privilege, and I hope I can deserve it. I shall treasure it highly and do my best to live up to it."
Upon the death of President Roosevelt in 1945, Truman became commander in chief after a very short time as vice president, inheriting World War II and the responsibility of the atomic bomb.
Truman was a farmer, a haberdasher, a judge and eventually a U.S. senator, representing his native Missouri. Then came Roosevelt's invitation to share the Democratic ticket in the ill president's fourth term. They won, Roosevelt died and Truman was in the spotlight. He told reporters upon becoming president, "I felt like the moon, the stars and all the planets had fallen on me."
Roosevelt's New Deal became Truman's Fair Deal, in which he presented to Congress a 21-point program that included a full-employment program, a permanent Fair Employment Practices Act, public housing and slum clearance, and an expansion of Social Security.
When North Korea invaded South Korea in 1950, Truman committed U.S. forces to fight the communists. He chose not to seek re-election, retiring to Independence, Mo. The 33rd president died in 1972, at 88.
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