Story Stream
recent articles

Seventy years ago today, Harry Truman's hopes for a relaxing weekend at his home in Independence, Mo., were dashed by events halfway around the world. The 33rd U.S. president had planned to oversee fence repair on his family farm, order a new roof for the barn, and attend Sunday services at his local church.

All that was put on the back burner after an urgent Saturday night phone call from Secretary of State Dean Acheson. North Korea had invaded South Korea.

First lady Bess Truman and the president's daughter, Margaret, would attend Sunday services at Trinity Episcopal Church on this date in 1950, and Harry went ahead with plans to visit his brother, J. Vivian Truman, and his sister, Mary Jane. But by then the president was dealing with fast-moving developments on the Korean peninsula -- events that his daughter later noted sparked fears in Truman that "this was the opening of World War III."

* * *

As he was shown his brother's modern milking machine, as well a new horse on the property, Harry Truman's siblings never mentioned Korea. Nor did they ask their brother, the commander-in-chief, a single question about it. Although it was all over the newspapers that morning, and the impending action at the U.N. Security Council was being discussed on the radio, his family knew Harry needed a respite before returning to the cauldron of wartime Washington. So they engaged in small talk, discussed family business, and made sure the president said hello to all five of his brother's grandchildren.

June 24, 1950, a Saturday, had been the last day of his presidency that Korea did not cast an ominous shadow over it. But the following day it was time to head back East. Truman's plane -- it was then called the Independence, not Air Force One -- landed at the airport we now know as Reagan National at 7:15 Sunday evening. Dean Acheson was there to meet him, along with Secretary of Defense Louis A. Johnson. Sensing the historic import of the moment, the White House photographers who were on hand snapped away and asked Truman for another shot.

"That's all," the president told them tersely. "We've got a job to do."

On the trip back to Washington, Truman had become angry while thinking of the North Korean invasion. It reminded him of Japan's brutal occupation of Manchuria and Italy's invasion of Ethiopia in the 1930s -- events Truman considered precursors to World War II, in which militarily strong nations had overrun weaker nations with impunity. It wasn't going to happen on Harry Truman's watch.

"By God," Truman told his advisers once inside his car, "I am going to let them have it!"

Carl M. Cannon is the Washington bureau chief for RealClearPolitics. Reach him on Twitter @CarlCannon.

Show comments Hide Comments