Harry S. Truman – 1884-1972
Truman was a U.S. Senator from Missouri who came to national prominence when his Truman Committee cleaned up corruption and waste among War Department contractors. He was tapped by Franklin D. Roosevelt as his running mate in 1944, and, just three months after taking office, found himself president when FDR succumbed to a cerebral hemorrhage. It fell to Truman to lead the nation through the last stages of World War II, culminating in his decision to drop two atomic bombs on Japan. Truman then formulated the “Truman Doctrine,” a policy of “containing” the aggressive expansion of Soviet (and then Chinese) Communism through economic and military action. The biggest tests of the new doctrine came with the Soviet blockade of West Berlin, which Truman circumvented by the Berlin Airlift of 1948–1949, and the Communist invasion of South Korea, which became the Korean War of 1950–1953.
Few pundits believed Truman could win reelection in his own right in 1948, but he defeated Republican challenger Thomas E. Dewey. Largely because of the Korean War (and his firing, for insubordination, of Douglas MacArthur as commander in chief of U.S. and UN forces there), Truman was unpopular when he left office in January 1953, but he lived long enough to see himself reevaluated as one of the great presidents of the 20th century.