Defending America: Ordinary men and women doing the extraordinary

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Michael Gallant
  • 92nd Comptroller Squadron commander
Harry S. Truman was President from 1945 to 1953 and, in my view, was as great a President as Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, FDR and Regan. Known as "Harry" to a great many Americans, he was an 'ordinary' man from Missouri who did a great many things for our country -- ordinary just like the men and women who serve in our Air Force and do great things for our nation. President Truman had some key personal attributes, some of which we exercise in our Air Force each day and worthy of a few minutes to reflect on: decisiveness, balance and growth. 

President Truman served during a critical period in U.S. history, having to make many tough, often life and death decisions. For example, it was Truman's decision to use the atomic bomb on Japan, begin the Berlin Airlift, recognize and help establish the State of Israel, begin and end the Korean War, fire General MacArthur, help stand up NATO, and contain the spread of Soviet communism. All these decisions had well founded pros and cons and far-reaching impacts, and Truman was decisive in most decisions he faced. In David McCullough's Pulitzer Prize biography on Truman, the President made what he thought were the right decisions based on the substance of the matter, and not so much the political fallout or his popularity. Truman did walk the talk of his popular quote, "The buck stops here!" Nowhere is this human characteristic more important than in our Air Force, making the tough and right calls at all levels in defending America. 

Truman's success in some of the biggest decisions in the history of mankind can be attributed to his simplistic balance in life, balance between his family and work. This 'ordinary' man wrote numerous heart-felt letters to his wife and family and personal well-done letters to his staff. He was as loyal and dedicated to his work and his staff as he was to his family. To staff members, Heads of State like Winston Churchill, and many Americans who got to know him up close, President Truman was engaging and could converse with foreign dignitaries just as well as with a neighbor back in Missouri. His balance kept him sure of himself and gave him enormous internal strength and resolve through many challenging situations. Several years ago the Air Force Academy Superintendent at the time made an observation that has stuck with me: Don't be a hero at work and not at home. Family members are precious, and they could be parents, or brothers and sisters, or spouse and children. Families make you stronger members of the Air Force team. Nurture them. 

Personal growth complements balance in life. Harry Truman never stopped learning. Out of high school he applied to West Point, but was not accepted due to his eye sight. He became a bank clerk before returning to the family farm for several years. When the United States entered World War I, he joined the Army and served as a field artillery captain in France. Returning from the war, Truman started but failed at a clothing retail store in Kansas City. He eventually was elected as a county judge, and then in 1934 was elected to the U.S. Senate. Eleven years later, he was President. In all of his roles, Truman took them seriously, learned all he could by focusing on the job at hand, and grew as a person. And in each position, he gained the respect of his peers and subordinates for his hard work, compassion, and solid results. 

We can learn a lot from 'ordinary' men and women like President Truman and all those who serve our Air Force. Harry Truman's attributes are as vital today as they were in 1945 and stand as a reminder of how to stay strong and fly, fight and air, space and cyberspace.