Before Harry S. Truman was President of the United States, he was a captain in World War I. He is known for his heroism during the war, but he actually defied orders to keep his troops safe.
His troop’s first battle was in eastern France. Newly appointed Captain Truman was in charge of the Battery D, 129th Field Artillery Regiment. The crew was smart and strong but high undisciplined.
Truman got control over them. However, he was not battle-tested. Finally, in 1918, he got his chance. His troops moved into position and began their assault on German troops.
Pvt. Vere Leigh said, “We were firing away and having a hell of a good time doing it until they began to fire back.”
Standing in the Face of Fear
Truman had only been in charge for a little under two months. His men scrambled to get face masks for themselves and their horses for fear that the German shells had gas in them.
It was incredibly chaotic, and men could easily run away and hide in the woods. Truman stayed in place with all his might. He wrote his wife saying, “My greatest satisfaction is that my legs didn’t succeed in carrying me away, although they were very anxious to do it.”
While trying to keep his troops organized, Truman fell into a shell crater, and a soldier had to help him out from under his horse. His men were scattering everywhere.
At that moment, Truman did the only thing he could, insulted and cajoled his men back to their guns. While the words coming out of his mouth were surprising, the tactic worked.
All the troops got back to where they needed to be and sent artillery rounds back at the Germans. After the battle, the men did not want to admit to running. Some started to call it the “Battle of Who Ran.”
Truman may have been terrified too, but the way he handled himself earned him his men’s loyalty. When the Meuse-Argonne Offensive came around they followed orders and fired out of sector, killing German Artillery batteries.
While the action may have been against orders, Truman protected his soldiers and the armored units of Lt. Col. George S. Patton Jr., who his men were supporting.