Reflections on Harry Truman and Armed Forces Appreciation Day

Reflections on Harry Truman and Armed Forces Appreciation Day

At the very least, grateful Americans can offer thanks to those men and women who still stand to protect our truest values, and that is what Armed Forces Appreciation Day is for.

By Dennis JamisonMay 20, 2019

As Armed Forces Appreciation Day was celebrated throughout the United States this past Saturday, most Americans may not have taken much notice. But, many people may be scratching their heads wondering when Armed Forces Appreciation Day originated. Actually, all of May has been designated as National Military Appreciation Month. This was established in 1999. And, no matter how citizens may view the late Senator John McCain today, this single effort may have been the best thing he had done in his entire life. May has since been designated as a month for remembering the value of those men and women in the U.S. Armed Forces.

Armed Forces Appreciation Day is a legitimate U.S. holiday

In actuality, however, there already was a day and a week set aside to honor the men and women in the military. That week just passed and Armed Forces Appreciation Day has always celebrated the third Saturday of May since 1950. Unfortunately, outside of military families, or people who are truly in tune with current events, there are many Americans who do not even realize there is such a day, or even an entire month, to honor those men and women in the military. And, if a majority of Americans are unaware of it, even fewer know the history behind it.

Of all the American holidays to honor the nation’s military, the ones that are most recognized are Memorial Day and Veterans Day; yet, Armed Forces Appreciation Day is a legitimate U.S. holiday.

It was created during the presidency of Harry Truman, and the history is quite dramatic. The true origins of the holiday are linked to a dark period in America’s history, and to the aftermath of one of the worst wars in world history, World War II. The world, and America were still very dangerous places after the second world war. This was the reality that President Harry Truman faced when he instituted Armed Forces Appreciation Day.

With the commencement of the Cold War, President Truman had the vision to create a more unified focus on national defense. Truman wanted a reorganized military to protect the United States, and to be capable and ready to defend the nation, or to defend the friends of freedom when needed. Coupled with his reorganization, Truman wanted to consolidate all the individual holidays supporting the four separate branches of the military into one Armed Forces Day as a unified holiday. Yet, Truman had a deeper reason for establishing a day to honor those men and women in service to their country.

On Abraham Lincoln’s birthday in 1946, a horrible incident occurred that involved a young black veteran returning from serving his country in World War II. It shocked another president that may have made Lincoln proud. Isaac Woodard Jr., a former sergeant in the U.S. Army, was travelling to his home in the South after his service in the Pacific Theater. He had been honorably discharged after returning to the states.

Sergeant Woodard was simply returning to his family, but en route, he was forcibly removed from a Greyhound bus by police in South Carolina. According to the court testimony of Woodard, he had been punched in the face and repeatedly beaten with nightsticks. He stated that he was repeatedly jabbed in his eyes with a billy club. He had been beaten so badly in the head that the following day, he awoke blind, and had temporarily lost his memory. He was beaten so badly that he lost his vision for the rest of his life. After this incident Sergeant Woodard was never the same.

This grisly tale touched off a great deal of indignation throughout the country not long after the war. Today, it would have touched off major race riots. Nevertheless, Isaac Woodard’s story was not considered newsworthy in the deep South. A reality that continues to plague the mainstream media throughout America. Silence persists in the face of genuine atrocities. Amazingly, the same political affiliations exist within journalism today that existed in the Deep South in Woodard’s day. And although his story was shocking and tragic, it was ignored by a Democrat-dominated media in the South. A truth-challenged media still ignore many serious issues, and tend to focus on forcing people see mountains in molehills.

Fortunately, media bias was less rampant in the north in those days, and similar stories of beatings of returning black veterans with tragic outcomes trickled out of the South during this time. The Isaac Woodard tragedy was recounted again and again in the media in the northern cities, and in particular, it caught the attention of the President of the United States. When Harry Truman became aware of such accounts of vicious racist atrocities, he was appalled.

Some historians have revealed that when an old friend wrote to Harry Truman at the time, appealing to him as a fellow Southerner, to go “easy” on civil rights, the President’s return comments included: “When a mayor and a City Marshall can take a Negro Sergeant off a bus in South Carolina, beat him up and put out one of his eyes, and nothing is done about it by the State Authorities, something is really radically wrong with the system…”

On December 5, 1946, Harry Truman issued Executive Order 9808. This executive action established the President’s Committee on Civil Rights (PCCR). This Committee was an effort aimed at proactively addressing the exploding problems of violent racism in post-war America.

By October 1947, the Committee published “To Secure These Rights: The Report of the President’s Committee on Civil Rights.” The report proposed, among a number of remedies, the establishment of a permanent Civil Rights Commission, a Joint Congressional Committee on Civil Rights, a Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department, and an effort to develop federal protection from lynching, as well as the abolition of poll taxes.

By July 26, 1948, only a few months before the presidential election, President Truman acted on the recommendations of the Commission and signed Executive Orders 9980 and 9981 that ended segregation in the federal workforce and ended segregation in the U.S. Armed Services. Truman had to use executive orders for the desegregation effort, while the reorganization of the military was pushed through Congress. Why? President Truman knew his own Democrat Party controlled Congress, and they would not pass the legislation if the desegregation efforts were included. His decision to desegregate the U.S. Armed Forces could have been political suicide.

The executive order was a serious political risk. Especially within his own “Democratic” Party, there was an attempt to disown him. The dominant party of the South hated Harry Truman. Even his own mother and wife were against the extremely controversial integration of the military. Many Democrat advisors promised to offer support for Truman in the 1948 election, but insisted that he would back off of his desegregation efforts. Through it all, Harry Truman remained adamant and stood his ground:

My forebears were Confederates… Every factor and influence in my background — and in my wife’s for that matter – would foster the  personal belief that you are right. But my very stomach turned over when I learned that Negro soldiers, just back from overseas, were being dumped out of army trucks in Mississippi and beaten. Whatever my inclinations as a native of Missouri might have been, as President I know this is bad. I shall fight to end evils like this.

In the end, President Truman had not only challenged Congress to successfully re-organize the branches of the military to be more efficient and effective, but he also set in motion efforts that led to the development of the Civil Rights movement. Serious deliberations of both houses resulted in the sweeping initiatives of the National Security Act of 1947. But, beyond the underlying changes to the military, President Truman had the audacity to insist on the appreciation and respect for the men and women of the Armed Forces. What had originated with the president’s serious concerns for addressing the vicious attacks upon returning servicemen, he transformed into his efforts to improve the appreciation for the value of the U.S. military as a whole. So, not only did he integrate the U.S. Armed Forces, Truman also insisted upon respect and appreciation for those in uniform.In effect, his conscience helped to stand against his own party to do what was right. But, is Harry Truman viewed as a hero by Democrats today? No. The “Democratic” Party is no longer the party of Harry Truman. At the very least, grateful Americans can offer thanks to those men and women who still stand to protect our truest values, and that is what Armed Forces Appreciation Day is for.

Dennis Jamison reinvented his life after working for a multi-billion dollar division of Johnson & Johnson for several years. Currently retired from West Valley College in California, where he taught for nearly 10 years, he now writes articles on history and American freedom for various online publications.

Formerly a contributor to the Communities at the Washington Times and Fairfax Free Citizen, his more current articles appear in Canada Free Press and Communities Digital News. During the 2016 presidential primaries, he was the leader of a network of writers, bloggers, and editors who promoted the candidacy of Dr. Ben Carson. Jamison founded “We the People” – Patriots, Pilgrims, Prophets Writers’ Network and the Citizen Sentinels Network. Both are volunteer groups for grassroots citizen-journalists and activists intent on promoting and preserving the inviolable God-given freedoms rooted in the founding documents. 

Jamison also co-founded RedAmericaConsulting to identify, counsel, and support citizen-candidates, who may not have much campaign money, but whose beliefs and deeds reflect the role of public servants rather than power-hungry politicians.  ​

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