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  • Military Service

    Military ServiceAlthough he struggled to succeed on the farm and in business, Harry S. Truman found success in the military. Starting from the rank of Private in the National Guard of Missouri, Truman left military service 37 years later as a Colonel in the U.S. Army Officers' Reserve Corps. On active duty during the First World War, Captain Truman excelled as the commanding officer of a field artillery battery. His intelligence, practical experience, and work ethic proved invaluable. "Captain Harry" was highly respected by the nearly two hundred men of Battery D, and that respect kindled lifelong friendships.

    Galahad after the Grail

    After the United States entered the First World War in April 1917, Harry Truman reenlisted in the National Guard of Missouri. His decision was not a simple one. At 33 he was older than most soldiers, and as a farmer he was not required to serve. His sister and mother would have to manage the farm without him, and quitting his oil business meant sacrificing potential riches. Worst, though, his marriage to Bess would be postponed - perhaps forever. Nevertheless, Truman felt compelled to join his friends in serving his country in wartime. Within weeks Truman's artillery unit was mobilized for Federal service, and after eight months of training in Oklahoma, he was sent to France with the advance detail of the 35th Division.

    Harry Truman in uniformBattery D and the Battle of Who Run

    In July 1918, the officers and men of the 129th Field Artillery moved to Camp Coetquidan in Brittany for advanced training in the use of the 75mm field gun under simulated combat conditions. It was here that Captain Truman took command of Battery D. Despite early attempts by some of the men to intimidate him, Truman made the noncommissioned officers accountable for discipline and promised to back them up. Battery D soon realized that Truman knew what he was doing and followed him loyally for the rest of the war.

    "We plastered 'em!"

    Early in September 1918, the 129th Field Artillery undertook one of the longest and most brutal road marches of the war, from the Vosges mountains to the Argonne forest. The men guided their horses and equipment over one hundred miles of crowded, muddy back roads to the new American sector. This march and the five days of intense combat that followed were the ultimate test for Battery D. In the closing weeks of the war, the 129th Field Artillery moved into action for the final time on the old battlefields of Verdun. They fired their last shots fifteen minutes before the Armistice took effect. Battery D had fired more than 10,000 shells during the war.