Captain Harry

Captain Harry Truman's leadership during his first clash with the Germans made his men look at him in an entirely new light.


Narrator: At the end of August Captain Truman led his men into battle for the first time. Battery D opened fire on a company of German soldiers encamped four miles away. Before the Germans could return the fire, Truman ordered his men to take a new position, but they couldn't move without the horses to pull the cannons.

McKinley Wooden: Harry gave the first sergeant orders to have the horses up at a certain hour. But the first sergeant was thirty minutes late in getting up there. We'd have been away from there if he had'a. That's where the trouble started.

Narrator: It was dark and raining when the Germans opened fire.

Battery D was trapped, it's big guns mired in the mud. The men panicked -- many ran.

David McCullough: And Truman is caught in the middle and he sees everybody taking off. And he stands there and he calls them every name he can think of and he knew a lot of names.

Narrator: You "no good Irish sons of bitches" he hollered and ordered his soldiers to re-group. The men, stunned by his rage, inspired by his courage, did as they were told. Through the dark and rain, Truman marched them out of danger.

"Dear Bess, The men think I am not much afraid of shells. But they don't know I was too scared to run..."

Battery D had escaped without a single casualty

David McCullough: And they thereafter saw him differently. Because he had stood his ground. And after a while they began to realize that this fellow with the eyeglasses and the bank clerk look about him was in fact a man of real determination.

Narrator: "Captain Harry," the men decided, was good luck. "We have a captain," one soldier wrote his father, "who cannot be beat."

David McCullough: He was about as unheroic in his eyeglasses as one could be. But there is a photograph of him that is on his I.D. card. And he has his glasses off and you look at that photograph and you see the strength. You see what a rugged character he is. Harry Vaughan once said that, "if you want to understand Harry Truman you have to understand that he is one tough son of a bitch of a man." And if you look at that picture, you can see the iron. You can see what his men must have recognized and understood.

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  • Additional funding for this program was provided by

  • NEH

  • Additional funding for this program was provided by

  • NEH