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Chapter Eight Wartime Washington That Truman's second term as senator would lead straight into the presidency was hardly a foregone conclusion in the autumn of 1940, even after he had won the primary against Governor Stark and, as he liked to put it, sent Stark back to the nursery. Indeed, the very possibility of becoming president seems never to have entered his mind. Nor would it have occurred to anyone of that era, which was dominated politically by the grand figure of Franklin D. Roosevelt. To Roosevelt himself, to be sure, the absurdity of a Missouri successor would have brought a great presidential laugh-FOR would have thrown his head back and laughed until tears came to his eyes. From Independence, Missouri, to the White House was an impossible distance.1 The junior senator from Missouri contemplated another course about this time, and although nothing came of it his willingness to try it displayed his total ignorance of the future. After passage of the Draft Act on September 16, 1940, he decided to go on active duty. Dressed in the uniform of a colonel of field artillery, he presented himself at the headquarters of General George C. Marshall, army chief of staff. Years later he described what happened. He said to Marshall, "General, I would like very much to have a chance to work in this war as a field artillery colonel." The general pulled his spectacles down on his nose and looked at Truman as if the colonel were on inspection. "Senator," he inquired, "how old are you?" "Well, I'm fifty-six years old," was the answer. "You're too damned old," was the response. "You'd better stay home and work in the Senate."2 The prospect was for the routine of the past to continue. His days he would spend in the Senate office building. Long afterward, one of his four office secretaries, Reathel Odum, recalled how everything there was businesslike . The senator was an easy taskmaster, but a distant personage, seldom joking or kidding. Almost his sole effort at humor, which to the staff became 153 154 / Harry S. Truman an annoyance, was a comment each morning that he would fire everyone that evening if he did not receive a letter from Independence.3 Most of the office work consisted of letters. Truman had double his share because Senator Clark paid no attention to constituent mail. Routine answers he handled in the way of busy people-he let the staff do them. Some he embellished with postscripts, to remove coldness or soften brevity. But many demanded personal attention and received it. Looking over the flow of mail, such as has survived in the library in Independence, flimsies attached to yellowing letters of inquiry, one wonders how he kept everything in mind for those more important letters. The schedule was usually frantic. The senator set it out one day for Margaret: ... letters to dictate as usual, a man who had the aluminum problem solved, so he said, who had to be interviewed; a meeting of a subcommittee in my office on the oil pipeline situation; an interview at the same time with the chief counsel of the American Association of Railroads; a conference with two feature writers from Fortune magazine; some people from Independence, Frank Monroe from Sedalia; a look-in on a Military Committee presided over by the Hon. Bob Reynolds of North Carolina, and attendance on a subcommittee of Military Appropriations of the Appropriations Committee, before which Mr. Knudson was testifying and then the Senate session, considering the Labor Appropriations Bill and the W.P.A. Appropriations Bill, an interview with Ass't Counsel of my Committee on Aluminum-a couple of hundred letters to signin between times running over to the Senate to vote on various amendments and then going to the Mayflower to meet Neil Helm, Congo Zimmerman, Congo Frank Boykin and Vic on some cotton legislation and then back here to finish signing mail and to write to my sweet daughter.4 The office suite was convenient to the Senate chamber, whenever the bell rang. In the rear was a room known as the "doghouse," where the senator placed his signed photographs and other mementos, in the way of Washington politicos, and met colleagues and studied reports and memos and drafted speeches. Evenings he spent in the apartment. After moving every year, the Trumans in 1941 took an apartment in a building at 4701 Connecticut Avenue, Northwest, and became full...


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