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August 1, 2014

Readorama: Harry Truman’s leadership abilities were forged amid the hell of war

In World War I, Truman was an artillery battery captain. His men were among about 27,000 in the 35th Division, made up of Missouri and Kansas National Guard units. During the Meuse-Argonne offensive, the division suffered about 7,300 casualties, including 1,126 dead. D.M. Giangreco, author of “The Soldier From Independence: A Military Biography of Harry Truman,” peaks Wednesday as part of the Kansas City Public Library’s first program commemorating the war’s centennial.

Harry Truman’s service as a World War I artillery battery captain gave him a taste of leadership.

Barely a handful of the battery’s 194 men became casualties, and those died of pneumonia or influenza. But if Truman was courageous in France, he also was fortunate.

Truman’s men were among about 27,000 in the 35th Division, made up of Missouri and Kansas National Guard units. During the Meuse-Argonne offensive, the division suffered about 7,300 casualties, including 1,126 dead.

The casualties sustained during one four-day period represented the highest of any U.S. division, and virtually all of the casualties occurred within 3 miles of Truman’s battery, according to D.M. Giangreco, author of “The Soldier From Independence: A Military Biography of Harry Truman.”

Giangreco speaks Wednesday as part of the Kansas City Public Library’s first program commemorating the war’s centennial.

“The site where Battery D was located throughout most of the battle was in an area referred to in other 35th Division accounts as a ‘cemetery of unburied dead,’” Giangreco said.

A historian and former editor for Military Review at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Giangreco speaks at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Central Library, 14 W. 10th St.

A Ford, not a Lincoln

Not many presidents have had to smile at jokes about being both dumb and klutzy.

Yet that’s what Gerald Ford — a Yale graduate and a former college football player — endured to separate himself from his predecessor, Richard Nixon, who resigned in 1974.

“He went along with jokes about his lack of intellectual grit,” said John Robert Greene, author of “The Presidency of Gerald R. Ford” and professor at Cazenovia College in New York. “It was a calculated gambit to emphasize his ‘everyman’ quality.

“But he couldn’t walk that back” in 1976.

Running against Democratic Party nominee Jimmy Carter, Ford needed to appear presidential. That became challenging when comedian Chevy Chase began sending up Ford’s stumbles on “Saturday Night Live,” on which Ford’s own press secretary, Ron Nessen, once served as host.

“While Ford previously had undersold expectations, in 1976 he oversold expectations to make himself look presidential,” Greene said. “That was a tough sell when Chevy Chase was brutalizing him.”

Greene speaks at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the library’s Plaza Branch, 4801 Main St.

To reach Brian Burnes, call 816-234-4120 or send email to bburnes@kcstar.com.

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