Steve Hunegs’ Birthday Wish
January 20, 2021
My birthday is Inauguration Day.
Fourteen years earlier, January 20, 1949, President Harry Truman took the Oath of Office administered by Chief Justice Fred Vinson.
In many ways the 33rd President—who acceded to the Presidency upon the death of Franklin Roosevelt on April 12, 1945–now became President in his own right having famously and furiously out-campaigned and upset prohibitive favorite Gov. Thomas Dewey in the 1948 election.
It was not simply, though, a dapper Midwesterner with salty and often combative language on the hustings joyfully lampooning the New York Governor while the Dixiecrat and Soviet sympathizing wings of the Democratic Party broke away—it was a President sorely and severely tested domestically and internationally for a 1000 days and more who proved his mettle: The titles of his presidential history express it well: Volume 1: 1945: Year of Decisions and Volume 2: Years of Trial and Hope: 1946-1952.
Consider the procession of issues he faced: succeeding the towering political and historical personality of FDR—who tried to end Truman’s political career by supporting his opponent in the 1940 Missouri Democratic primary (when Truman returned to the Senate his colleagues greeted him with a standing ovation); presiding over the defeat of Germany and Japan; crafting the conversion of the American wartime economy without spiking inflation and unemployment; implementing the Marshall Plan for European recovery in the face of USSR aggression; integrating the American armed forces; standing firm in Berlin with the airlift; founding of the United Nations; recognizing Israel; all before the 1948 election.
Truman was all too human with a fast burning wick of a temper and an articulator of the prejudices in private into which he was born in Independence, Mo—a city with a living history of pro-Confederate sentiment during the Civil War. His haberdashery (with his Jewish business partner—Eddie Jacobson —went under; they repaid their creditors every cent); his mother-in-law considered him a failure; his fellow Missouri National Guard artilleryman on the western front in World War l could not believe this bespeckled man could lead them in combat (he could and did); political setbacks lead pundits to say: “to err is Truman.” Nevertheless, with Henry Luce proclaiming Dewey’s election was inevitable; with Henry Wallace costing him New York; and the DNC’s support of a pro civil rights platform plank leading to Strom Thurmond winning southern states—Truman prevailed as the Midwest and West stuck with the President.
This was the scene as President Harry Truman stepped to the lectern to give his Inaugural address in the presence of a wife he loved and daughter he adored. Speaking to a nation which had 16 million men and women under arms just three years earlier; whose race relations included a burgeoning civil rights movement and the Jackie Robinson story against the backdrop of Jim Crow (both north and south and ten lynchings between 1945-1948); and the heightening Cold War (with the Soviet Union’s detonation of an Atomic bomb eight months into the future) in the midst of America’s post-war and baby boom.
These words—across 72 years—resonate in the ongoing aftermath of the seditionist rioting of January 6, 2021 and the profound struggles of the country and world these past months and years: “Each period of our national history has had its special challenges. Those that confront us now are as momentous as any in the past. Today marks the beginning not only of a new administration, but of a period that will be eventful, perhaps decisive, for us and for the world.”
President Truman concluded: “To that end we will devote our strength, our resources, and our firmness of resolve. With God’s help, the future of mankind will be assured in a world of justice, harmony and peace”—in 2021, we say: Amen.