KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Monday marks 50 years since President Harry S. Truman took his last breath at a hospital in Missouri. The Truman family chose to hold his funeral at the Truman Library, where he spent most of his time after he left the White House in 1953.
The Truman Library released historic video of the funeral last week. Just like this year, December 26th, 1972 fell on a Monday.
“The autopsy report showed that he died of a complexity of organic failures causing the collapse of the cardiovascular system,” Truman spokesperson Randall Jessee told reporters in the hours after the former President’s death.
Truman was 88 years old and had been hospitalized for several weeks prior to his death at 7:50am, the morning after Christmas. Preemptive plans had already been lined out and implementation began immediately following the president’s passing.
“One of the things that happened right away, the director ordered his office sealed,” said Kurt Graham, the director of the Truman Presidential Library and Museum.
“Behind the curtains, the staff began the work of converting his personal effects into museum artifacts.”
Truman’s family, exhausted from the final weeks of caring for him, decided to forgo a formal state funeral in Washington. By that Thursday, the eyes of the world were on Independence, Missouri, and the Truman Library.
“Harry Truman thought that Independence, Missouri, was the center of the universe,” said Graham. “He said as much on multiple occasions. It is not the least bit surprising that he would have chosen to have Independence as not just his final resting place, but the place where the ceremonies that would lead him to his grave.”
More than 75,000 people came from far and wide to pay their respects to the small-town boy from Missouri, who made it to the highest office in the land. President Nixon and former President Lyndon B. Johnson came to see the veteran of World War I, who ended World War II with the dropping of the atomic bomb.
Truman was the author of the Marshall Plan, creator of the United Nations and NATO. He desegregated the U.S. Armed Forces, recognized Israel as an independent nation and then entered the Korean conflict in 1950.
According to Graham, “There will never be another Harry Truman. There will never be another non-college educated President. There will never be a farmer who pulled himself up by the bootstraps to go from being a county commissioner to 10 years later becoming the president of the United States.”
John Pritchard was one of thousands in the crowd during Truman’s funeral. He was a 15-year-old boy in December of 1972. The morning of the funeral, he borrowed his family’s Super-8 camera and took off on foot to see what he could capture.
Security wasn’t as tight as it would be today, and Pritchard’s access was nearly unhindered.
“Later on, I heard that President Nixon was going to leave from Mill Creek Park. His helicopter was there. I went over there and there were maybe 10 people there total. I saw a limousine come down the driveway,” remembered Pritchard.
“I thought, ‘Wow, I’m surprised there’s no one here.’ No camera. No media. Nothing. Up close and personal with the president.”
There are many long-time local residents who remember the days of Truman’s casual presence in Independence after his return from Washington. His legacy still stands in the newly renovated space where Truman once came to work every day.
“I think we need the kind of leadership that Harry Truman displayed while he was in public office.,” said Graham. “The way he went about that. The integrity he brought to the highest office in the land. People on both sides of the aisle pine for that kind of leadership now.”
The centerpiece of the Truman Library is the courtyard where he chose to be buried alongside his wife Bess, and his daughter and son-in-law. Thousands visit every year and remember the 33rd president of the United States and the difficult and historic decisions he made that still shape the world today.
2023 will mark the 75th anniversary of several critical moments in the Truman presidency, including his decisions on civil rights and his immediate national support of the newly formed nation of Israel.