103. Around the Corner: World War I Memorial Building

This is the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Memorial Building, sometimes called the World War I Memorial Building. Nowadays, it’s called the Truman Memorial Building. On July 4, 1926, the building was dedicated and chairman of the dedication was Harry Truman. This building was also the place that Truman held his only official presidential press conference in Independence. This building was the center of civic life in the community. Over the years, the building served as the gathering place for hundreds of community events, including fraternal and charitable club meetings, concerts and sports events, political and cultural gatherings, graduations, and funeral services for notable Independence civic leaders. This building was the heart of the town. And these people knew each other. When you walked in here, you were going to know everyone else. And people expected certain things from each other. These expectations would have been the kind of things that folks would have learned as kids – the kind of behavior that makes a community work – the old standards, like honesty is the best policy. Anything worthwhile requires effort. Children are a reflection of their parents. Keep your word. Don’t get too big for your britches. Never forget a friend. Truman said later, “In those days, right was right and wrong was wrong and you didn’t have to talk about it.” As David McCullough wrote in his Truman biography, these “were more than words-to-the-wise, they were bedrock, as clearly established, as integral to the way of life…as were the very landmarks of the community, its schools, church steeples, and courthouse.” Mr. Truman wrote about voting here in 1952. He was still in the White House, but only for another couple of months: “I voted early,” he wrote, “before breakfast, in the Memorial Hall at Independence, where I had been voting for more than three decades. It is a short walk from my home. But this voting was a new experience. It was one of the few times in more than thirty years that I was marking a ballot on which my name did not appear as a candidate for some office. Mrs. Truman and Margaret walked along with me to the polls, and we thought of the happy prospect of returning to the peace and quiet of our home in Independence. Part of returning to private life, though, meant giving up some of the benefits of the presidency. When Truman left office in 1953, there still was no pension or Secret Service protection for retired presidents. Those came later, and Truman started to get them once they were available. But for the first several years of his retirement, he was truly a private citizen and had to take care of the same things all the rest of us have to do, such as going to the store or… getting a haircut, for instance. The place where Harry and Bess got their hair cut is right across the street at Number 417 West Maple.