Harry S. Truman Presidential Library & Museum

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Harry S. Truman
1945-1953


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Provided courtesy of The American Presidency Project.  John Woolley and Gerhard Peters. University of California, Santa Barbara.
  272. Remarks to Members of the National Guard Association  
October 25, 1950

Mr. President and gentlemen of the National Guard of the United States:

On June 14, 1905, I became a private in Battery B of the Missouri National Guard. There were just two batteries in the National Guard at that time, one in St. Louis and one in Kansas City. About a year after that, I got a certificate making me a corporal. I had that certificate framed, and I consider it one of the best certificates that I have had in my whole life.

Now you gentlemen don't appreciate what you have, and what you have to work with, and the instruction that you get in military matters.

In 1950 whenever there was a meeting of a battery for training, which happened once a week, everybody had to deposit 25 cents to keep the thing running. And now, I think, on drill nights maybe you get 10 or 20 or 30 times that 25 cents from the Government of the United States. And that is right and as it should be.

I think that the backbone of the defense of this country is in its civilian components. I have been advocating, ever since I became a member of the Congress of the United States, and that was on January 20, 1935, a universal training law. If you will read George Washington's message to the Congress of the United States in 1790, you will find that he advocated the same thing, and you will find that President after President since that time have been advocates of that program. Eight times I have asked the Congress, since I have been President, for a universal training program for the young men of the United States.

You know, one of the most disgraceful things that ever happened to this country was to find that 34 percent of the young men and young women were not physically and mentally fit to serve the country. Now that is a disgrace to the richest nation in the world, with all the medical knowledge that is supposed to exist in the world.

A universal training program would eradicate that situation, and I hope that you gentlemen, my friends in the National Guard, will put everything you have behind the idea of a training program for the youth of this country, to make them better citizens, to make them able to defend their country when it is necessary.

I don't believe we would have had a Korean incident if some people had not thought that we were too proud to fight. We are not too proud to fight. We will fight for the right every time, and we have always done it--and thank God we have always won, because we have been on the right side. I hope we will never be on the wrong side.

I appreciate the privilege of being able to come over here and say a few words to you gentlemen. I am sympathetic with what you are trying to do. I was just saying to Paul Griffith that I don't think I ever saw so much brass in my life. It is all civilian brass, that's the beauty of it. And I don't think it is anything disgraceful to be called "brass"--"high brass."

You know, we coined that term in the First World War, and it was not intended as an epithet of respect. But it has turned out that it has a respectful connotation. When you are "brass" you are men of responsibility. It is your duty to have plans and to implement those plans, and to tell other people how to carry them out.

You know what makes leadership? It is the ability to get men to do what they don't want to do, and like it. And a good public relations man is always a good leader. It is not the martinets that make an army work, it's the morale that the leaders put into the men that makes an army work. And that is your job, and your business.

And I congratulate you on the ribbons that I see here before me. I wish I could sport some of them. I pinned a medal on General MacArthur the other day, and told him I wished I had a medal like that, and he said that it was my duty to give the medals, not to receive them. That is always the way. About all I receive are the bricks. It's a good thing I have got a pretty hard head, or it would have been broken a long time ago.

I hope you have a most successful meeting here, and that you will work out a constructive program, and that you will support the universal training program which I have been working on ever since 1935.
Thank you very much.

NOTE: The President spoke at 10:40 a.m. at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington. His opening words "Mr. President" referred to Maj. Gen. Ellard A. Walsh, president of the National Guard Association. Later he referred to Paul H. Griffith, Assistant Secretary of Defense and former national commander of the American Legion. The 72nd General Conference of the Association was held in Washington, October 23-25, 1950
 
Provided courtesy of The American Presidency Project.  John Woolley and Gerhard Peters. University of California, Santa Barbara.