on this day in history december 26 1972 president harry s truman dies after suffering from pneumonia

Harry S. Truman, who was unexpectedly thrust into the presidency and a global leadership role at an extraordinary tipping point in human history, died at Kansas City Research Medical Center on this day in history, Dec. 26, 1972. 

The 33rd president of the United States was 88 years old. He was admitted to the hospital with pneumonia on Dec. 5 and suffered multiple complications. 

“Confronted during his presidency with a momentous series of challenges, his strength and spirit proved equal to them all,” President Richard Nixon said in announcing Truman’s death to the nation. 

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“His fortitude never wavered, and his faith in America never flagged.”

Vice President Truman ascended to the Oval Office following the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt on April 12, 1945. World War II was in its final weeks in Europe and in its final months in the Pacific. 

Funeral of Harry Truman as his casket lies in state at the Truman Library.  (UPI Color/Bettmann Archive/Getty Images)

Truman spent the previous 10 years as a U.S. senator from Missouri and became vice president only three months earlier; he was the running mate of FDR, who was elected to his fourth term in the White House

The newcomer to the executive branch had been kept in the dark about the nation’s biggest military secrets, complex plans for peace and greatest geopolitical challenges in the coming post-war world.

“I felt like the moon, the stars and all the planets had fallen on me.” — Harry Truman

“During his few weeks as vice president, Harry Truman scarcely saw President Franklin Roosevelt, and received no briefing on the development of the atomic bomb or the unfolding difficulties with Soviet Russia,” his biography at WhiteHouse.gov states.

“Suddenly these and a host of other wartime problems became Truman’s to solve.”

“I felt like the moon, the stars and all the planets had fallen on me,” Truman later said.

He handled the global responsibilities — a series of sudden existential challenges perhaps unprecedented in human history — with skill and decisiveness, and in rapid order. 

Truman in charge.

President Harry S. Truman seated in the White House with the sign “The Buck Stops Here” in the foreground, circa 1950.  (Photo by Fotosearch/Getty Images)

Truman oversaw the World War II defeat of Germany in May; led America into its leadership role of the United Nations, chartered in June; ordered the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to hasten the end of the war in August; and celebrated the surrender of Japan and the end of World War II in September.

The nation’s achievements under his leadership proved a victory for homespun wisdom and common sense over personal pedigree and elite education

Truman’s studies ended with high school. He was the only president since the 19th century who was not college educated. 

Truman’s studies ended with high school. He was the only president since the 19th century who was not college educated. 

Those leadership experiences proved critical when he was thrust until the role of president of the world’s newly emerged superpower — and in the midst of the global geopolitical earthquake the came with the end of World War II. 

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For Truman, the post-war world would prove harder to negotiate.

Captain Harry S. Truman

A photographic postcard portrait of Harry Truman while he was a soldier in World War I. Truman was promoted to captain in April 1918; he was in charge of Battery D of the 129th Field Artillery.  (Photo by © CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)

He won the 1948 presidential election, despite expectations he’d lose to New York governor Thomas Dewey, but gained less than half the popular vote. 

A long list of domestic and international trouble began to weigh on his administration and shatter his early popularity. 

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The deadly quagmire of the Korean War, which began in 1950, doomed his presidency.

Truman chose not to run for a second elected term in 1952, with approval ratings that bottomed at as low as 22% percent in some polls.

“Later presidents, regardless of political party, looked back on Truman fondly.”

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