TRUMAN WAS MY GUY by Baruch J. Cohon
Just 76 years ago this month, FDR died and vice-president Harry Truman was sworn in as the 33rd president.
I will always be proud to remember that my first vote back in 1948 helped re-elect Harry Truman. As a World War II sailor, like all the other 18 and 19 year-old servicemen, I had the right to risk my life for my country but no right to vote till I turned 21. So after returning to civilian life in ’46 I looked forward to that experience. For other reasons too.
Looking back on the war, I saw the three heads of state who administered it. Three contrasting figures: Truman the Missouri farmer, Churchill the aristocratic British officer, and Stalin the Soviet dictator. And it was Truman who finished the job. We are told that some of his advisers predicted that, compared to an invasion, the atom bomb could save 1 million American lives and 3 million in Japan.
As it turned out, I was one of those million.
That was 1945. Germany surrendered in May. The Navy minesweeper I served on was in the Aleutian Islands, where we had swept Jap minefields at Attu and US minefields at Kiska. We were now crossing the Gulf of Alaska, heading for Dutch Harbor to be outfitted for the invasion of Paramashiru, which was the northernmost island in the Empire of Japan (now it belongs to Russia, but in ’45 Hirohito still had it). In an invasion, a minesweeper would enter the harbor and sweep any mines away to clear a route for the landing craft.
While underway, of course, we listened to Armed Forces Radio. We stopped at the island of Amchitka to draw “small stores,” and I can still feel myself standing in line outside a Quonset hut there waiting to draw a pair of shoes.
Suddenly every foghorn, every whistle, every klaxon on the ships in the harbor sounded off in unison. No one had to tell us why. My shipmates and I grabbed each other and jumped for joy – the bomb was dropped and the war was over! We had every reason to celebrate. We knew that the predictable life of a ship like ours was 80 mines. Once you cut that many, by the law of averages you would likely hit one. Then it would be Goodbye Charley. By August of ’45, our ship had cut 78 mines.
I thank G-d for Harry Truman. His historic decision saved my life.
I was not surprised when he desegregated the Armed Forces. Nor when he welcomed Haim Weitzman and recognized the State of Israel. He was that kind of leader. I enjoyed a recent virtual visit to the Truman Historic Museum where a special display now evidences his firm relationships with Jewish figures, from Weitzman and Ben Gurion to his one-time business partner Eddie Jacobson.
Do you wonder how he would respond to the current murderous attacks on Israel, our one Middle Eastern ally? No doubt about it. Unlike our current administration, he would take action — definite positive action.
His heritage and his memory are a blessing to us all. We could use another one like him.
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