The year was 1964. I was visiting my aunt down in Independence, Missouri. One afternoon, I took a walk downtown and entered a restaurant/bar for some refreshment.
I took a stool at the bar and ordered a beer. I scanned the booths in the room. In a corner booth was an old grey haired man with circle spectacles writing away on a large pad of paper. I thought the man looked like Harry Truman, the former President!
I took my stein of beer and walked over to the corner booth.
“Excuse me, are you Harry Truman?”
The old man put down his pen and looked up at me and said:
“Yes, I am, and who are you?”
“My name is Harold Wilkerson, from Chicago, and I would like your autograph for my collection.”
“Move on, mister.”
It was one of Truman’s Secret Service minders.
“It’s okay, let him sit down,” said Truman.
The burly minder went to the bar, but continued to look at me.
“Chicago, you’re not a retired gangster are you?” Harry laughed.
“No sir, just in town visiting my aunt.”
“I remember Chicago well, 1948, on election night, the Chicago Tribune newspaper came out with the headline: “Dewey Defeats Truman”, it was hilarious.”
“How did that come about, Mr. Truman?”
“Call me, Harry, please, well I think the polls got it wrong because they conducted them largely by telephone and many of my populist base, those days, didn’t own a phone. Also, many of the “powers that be” thought Dewey was a sure thing.”
The Secret Service man was still eyeing me up and down.
“I often wondered, it must have been tough for you to decide to drop the “A” bomb. Did you have a lot of anxiety and fear over that decision?”
Harry’s expression turned very somber.
“Well, as you might recall, I always had the sign, “The Buck Stops Here”, on my desk. I believed in that saying. I had the last say-so. I had to be bold, another of my sayings was, “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen!”
“I agree with you, Harry.”
“As far as fear goes, America was not built on fear. America was built on courage and imagination. A President cannot always be popular. I felt we could save millions of American lives by ending the war then and there.”
“Well, Harry, you always were known for telling it like it is.”
“I tried to tell the truth, as I understood it.”
“A lot of people wanted to make you feel bad about the bomb and apologize.”
“My philosophy was to carry the battle to them. Put them on the defensive and don’t apologize for anything.”
“Well, Harry, thanks for the autograph.”
“One more thing, I guess when you’re the President, you don’t have many friends.”
Harry Truman smiled and said”
“Son, if you want a friend in Washington, get a dog!”