Did you know that President Truman was the only U.S. president to serve in combat during World War I? (Eisenhower also served during WWI but was stationed stateside.) Harry Truman had joined the artillery of the Missouri National Guard in 1905 at age 21 but had been out of it for almost six years when, in 1917, he decided to rejoin in order to fight in the war. His service was completely voluntary, as he was two years above the draft age, had poor eyesight, was a farmer, and was the sole provider for his mother and sister—any one of which would’ve gotten him out of serving if he had so desired. But the 33-year-old Truman was determined to serve, even going so far as to cheat on the eye exam in order to pass it.
He spent 10 months in artillery training in Oklahoma and was elected a first lieutenant by the men and later promoted to captain. In April 1918, Truman arrived in France to study at a specialized artillery school and then was made a battery commander. The battery he was assigned (194 men of Battery D, 2nd Battalion, 129th Field Artillery, 35th Division) was a pretty rowdy group, but although Truman was nervous, he managed to win their respect by being strict but fair.
Truman and Battery D left for the front in August, and on the 29th they fought their first engagement against the Germans. All was well and good when they themselves were firing, but when the German artillery began firing back, many of the untried men of Battery D were frightened and ran. Truman, though terrified himself, stood his ground and let loose a stream of uncharacteristic profanity at the men that managed to get things back under control.
Battery D was held in reserve during the Battle of Saint-Mihiel, so they instead saw almost the entirety of their service during the Meuse-Argonne offensive. After that disastrous first fight, Truman and his battery next saw action at the end of September. After that, the battery was put on rest through the first half of October, then was moved forward again, where they spent the rest of the month fortifying their position before resuming artillery fire in November. Truman and his battery were still firing on November 11th, when news came of the armistice.
His regiment stayed in France for five months after the end of the war, until April, when they sailed home. The war had changed Truman, giving him a self-confidence and courage he hadn’t previously possessed—qualities which led to his involvement in the Missouri political scene, which in turn led to his becoming a U.S. senator then vice-president and, after Roosevelt’s death, president.
- Text from: http://spotlights.fold3.com/2014/04/11/harry-goes-to-war/#sthash.meIPOPBB.dpuf