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Harry Truman

Photo from Library of Congress

By Rich Acritelli

The United States is still feeling the friction of the recent presidential election between President Donald J. Trump and President Elect Joseph R. Biden.  Since the founding of this republic, our major presidential leaders and their followers fiercely fought to attain the presidency.  As this is a period of division, unfortunately there have been many examples of resentment that has been seen by our leaders.

Eisenhower and Truman ride together on inauguration day 1953. Photo from Library of Congress

Years ago, the same tactics were used with the Election of 1800 between President John Adams, Vice President Thomas Jefferson, and Aaron Burr.  While Adams and Jefferson were two key Founding Fathers that liked each other personally, they shared different views over the direction of the government.  Although they worked together in the first administration of President George Washington and when Adams became President in 1797 and Jefferson the Vice President, these leaders marked the earliest establishment of the political parties, especially during the election process.

During his presidency, Adams had a difficult time governing this young nation.  Always a respected figure, Adams was not an overly warm leader that was situated between the icons of the Father of the Nation in Washington and the writer of the Declaration of Independence in Jefferson.  He desperately held onto the policy of neutrality and enforce the controversial laws of the Alien and Sedition Acts.  His Vice President Jefferson was completely opposed to any actions that limited the civil liberties of Americans.  Allied with James Madison, Jefferson sought the nullification of Adam’s legislation through the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions.   Adams was a one term President that left the officer after Jefferson and Burr received more votes in this election.  At this point there were no running mates and Adams was forced out of the White House.  It did not help Adams that powerful members like that of Alexander Hamilton criticized his presidential actions and openly wondered about his mental stability.  Although Hamilton and Jefferson were competitive political opponents, Hamilton believed that Burr was unable to be trusted, and he pushed the election towards his rival in Jefferson.  On the day of the inauguration, Adams refused to attend this transfer of power, and instead, he went home in disgust.

By the early part of the 1820’s, there was a different sense of leadership that was taking root in America after the last of the Revolutionary Era Presidents in James Monroe left office.  By 1824, there was a major political battle that lasted more than four years between the ferocity of Andrew Jackson and John Quincy Adams to complete for the presidency.  These men could not have been any different with Adams being the son of a former President that was very well educated, worldly, and astute within politics and foreign affairs.  He opposed the iron will of Jackson who would be the first President that was born West of the Appalachian Mountains, served as a kid during the Revolutionary War, was a noted Indian fighter, plantation owner, self-educated lawyer, and a major general that secured the historic victory against the British at the Battle of New Orleans during the War of 1812.  For most of his life Jackson demonstrated little restraint within his resentment towards the Native-Americans, British, and the aristocratic power of the Northeast and leaders like that of Adams whom he believed were the privileged class of Americans that ruled this nation.

For many people, Adams was a known political figure, and many older leaders, including Jefferson, were worried that Jackson was a threat to the democratic practices of this nation.  They saw him as an erratic leader that partook in pistol duels and a man that was more than willing to carry out his physical threats. The Election of 1824 was led by Jackson, but he did not hold the majority of the popular vote, and this contest was pushed back to Congress to decide who be the next President.  While Jackson expected to gain an imminent victory, Speaker of the House Henry Clay sought to use his influence to make a political bargain with maneuvering the gain a secretary of state position within the next administration.

Clay told Jackson who was ahead in the polls that if he was given this powerful post, he held enough clout to ensure his victory in congress.  Jackson immediately refused this scheme, Clay offered the same deal to Adams who had far fewer votes.  Adams accepted Clay’s proposal, and this propelled him to take over the presidency from James Monroe.  For two elections in 1824 and again in 1828, both Adams and Jackson openly battled each other during this decade.  Like that of Trump and Biden, they were both from opposite backgrounds, and they publicly criticized each other.  As we most recently observed Trump calling Biden “Sleepy Joe” and Biden claiming that Trump was a “Clown,” this personal mudslinging has always been a negative tool for candidates to utilize.  Adams claimed that Jackson’s mother was a prostitute and Jackson stated as a foreign minister that Adams procured young girls to partake in sexual favors for Russian leaders.

In 1860, Abraham Lincoln was a promising local political figure from the state of Illinois.  He only served one term during the height of the US-Mexico War, where he opposed President James K. Polk’s rationale to go to war. Lincoln demanded proof that “American blood was shed on American soil” at the start of this war between America and Mexico.   After his brief stint as a representative, Lincoln was a savvy lawyer that served several terms in the Illinois Senate.  He gained national prominence in 1858 during his senate campaign against Stephen Douglas, where he became the face of the Republican Party, and a known threat against the institution of slavery in the South.

Lincoln openly suggested that there were far too many compromises over slavery and that it should not expand into the new western territories and states.   In a series of debates within Illinois, Lincoln showcased himself as a Republican leader that clearly expressed his will to oppose this southern form of labor.  Even as Lincoln lost this election, he rose to national prominence and was a dominant Republican to replace President Buchanan who refused to run for a second term in 1860.  There were written stories in the papers that Lincoln was motivated to intermingle the races and that he lacked intelligence through his country folk manner to lead this country.

By gaining a sectional victory that saw him win most of the populated states in the Northeast and Midwest, Lincoln won the presidency, and the South began to secede.  But President Elect Lincoln had no constitutional authority to oppose the divisive actions of the South and this crisis for more than five months were still left within the inept hands of Buchanan.  Always the lawyer, Lincoln must have surely bit his own tongue during his first meeting with Buchanan who did nothing to halt the Confederacy from being created by Jefferson Davis.  Like that of Franklin D. Roosevelt who had to wait to take over the presidency in 1933 during the height of the Great Depression, Lincoln watched southern states leave the country during an extremely perilous time.

When Lincoln finally left Springfield, Illinois in March of 1861, there were already death threats that were made against him, and Pinkerton detectives quickly moved him out of Baltimore under a disguise and into the capital.  During his first term, he had to endure the military failures of generals like that of George B. McClellan that was prodded to fight the Confederates.  He agonized over the severe casualties of Americans that were killed at Shiloh, Antietam, and Gettysburg.  And personally, his own family’s death of his second son Willie from typhoid fever in 1862.

The North grew tired from the massive casualties of the fighting, the financial costs, and the unwillingness of the outnumbered and outgunned southerners to surrender.  Once Lincoln understood that General Ulysses S. Grant would not oppose him as President in 1864, he promoted this combat figure to command the northern armies.  It was a pivotal time for Lincoln who needed to gain major battlefield successes to prove to the northern public that his leadership would eventually defeat the South.  As Confederate General Jubal Early operated outside of Washington D.C., close enough to see the capital dome, and McClellan being nominated to lead the Democratic Party, the months leading to this election were bleak.  Even the South politically and financially opposed the re-election of Lincoln, by secretly sending money to northern Democrats in Congress that maneuvered to defeat the President.  Many of politicians that served in Lincoln’s cabinet were convinced that he was an outgoing figure.  But coupled with the tenacity of Grant, General William T. Sherman, and Philip Sheridan, Lincoln held on in 1864, to regain a second term, and persistently gain the surrender of General Robert E. Lee at Appomattox Courthouse some six months later.

And in 1953, as former Supreme Commander of Allied Expeditionary Forces General Dwight D. Eisenhower and outgoing President Harry S. Truman both drove together to the inauguration, these men had little fondness towards each other.  As they were both Mid-western men that came from poor families, these were the only two similarities between these powerful leaders.  While Eisenhower was the leader of the massive military forces against Hitler during World War II, Truman was a captain in the field artillery during World War I.  Eisenhower was educated at the United States Military Academy at West Point, NY, Truman never graduated from high school.  Whereas Eisenhower was an outstanding athlete that was well liked, Truman never shied away from expressing controversial views.  Truman ordered the dropping of two atomic bombs to end the war in the Pacific and Eisenhower was opposed to use of this weapon against a beaten enemy.  While it seemed that Eisenhower’s popularity had endless bounds, it was believed that Truman would lose his re-election to Thomas Dewey in 1948.  As Truman won this election, the newspapers did not bother to wait until all of votes for this contest was counted, as they incorrectly printed main titles “Dewey Defeat’s Truman.”

After many years of downplaying any suggestions that he would run for presidency, Eisenhower finally accepted the Republican nomination to oppose Democratic challenger Adlai Stevenson.  Always armed with his trademark grin “Ike” quickly realized that running for office was no easy task.  He openly opposed the last several years of Truman’s leadership that he deemed corrupt and weak against the communists.  But he had to answer questions about his running mate Richard M. Nixon’s own illegitimate use of campaign funds and his lack of support for General George C. Marshall who was vehemently attacked as being weak against communism by Senator Joseph McCarthy.  And while Truman was leaving the office, he refused to be quiet against the presence of Eisenhower.  Truman openly called Eisenhower a Republican “Stooge” who had no original views of his own and was a “Puppet” of this party’s political and business leaders.

Ike still had to deny the rumors that he was unfaithful towards his wife Mamie during World War II with his beautiful Irish driver Kay Summersby.  For a moment, it was believed that Eisenhower was going to bring this military member of his family back to the states after the war and divorce his wife over the extreme objections of Marshall.  When he finally won the presidency and he met with Truman during the transitional period, Eisenhower stated to the President that he could not believe that the media continued to write about his relationship with Summersby. Truman responded that he would be lucky if that was all the media covered about him as a leader of this nation. While Eisenhower led the greatest invasion that the world had ever known at Normandy in 1944, Truman told him that the presidency was not the army, and he wished him good luck in trying to get members of Congress and politicians to support his directives.  It did not take long for Eisenhower to understand the true magnitude of the presidency with dealing with the escalation of the Cold War with the Soviet Union and the fears of Americans over the communist strength of launching Sputnik.  And there were the complexities of integration through the Brown vs. Board of Education Ruling in 1954 and the massive use of civil disobedience that was widely promoted by Martin Luther King during Eisenhower’s two terms.

President John F. Kennedy meets with outgoing president Dwight D. Eisenhower.

In 1960, there was a noticeable division in the air through the rise of an extremely younger John F. Kennedy towards the presidency and the stepping down of Eisenhoer.  There was also the presence of Nixon, who was the Republican hope of defeating Kennedy.  While he was a two term Vice President, it took some time for Eisenhower to finally endorse his former running mate.  Eisenhower was always seen as a likeable figure that was able to communicate with others through politics, the military, and athletics. He openly wondered how Nixon was able to go through life without having one single friend.

This was an interesting time, as Eisenhower did not believe that Kennedy was prepared for the White House, whom he still considered a “boy” to replace him in office.   But he was not pleased in supporting Nixon to be his Republican replacement.  Eisenhower resented the claims by Kennedy that our country grew weaker against the Soviet Union during the Cold War under his tenure.  He believed that Kennedy presented inaccurate estimates that the communists had an increasing “missile gap” against the United States.  This senior President also stated that Kennedy had virtually no experience and that he was politically being protected to enhance an untruthful image.  JFK openly battled against the questions of being too young at forty-three years old, his lack of time in Congress, and the hatred that he faced for being a Catholic.

Like that of Lincoln, Kennedy was able to utilize his considerable speaking talents within the 1960 presidential debates.  Television was a new way of personifying these two key leaders.  Nixon suffered from the flu, refused wear make-up, and the close-ups did not make him look appealing to Americans, as he did not shave and was openly sweating.  JFK was a capable speaker, showed charisma, and masterfully answered the questions that was presented to him.  Although Nixon did not look healthy compared to the tan of Kennedy, many people do not realize that JFK suffered from the severity of Addison’s Disease.   And he also had poor bone structure and the re-occurring back injuries that he sustained from PT-109 during World War II in the Pacific.   It was estimated that 90% of Americans owned televisions in the nation and that seventy million citizens sat down in their homes to watch these candidates verbally spar against each other.

There was an interesting dynamic that is noticed between the personalities of Kennedy, Nixon, and the outgoing Eisenhower.  Both Eisenhower and Nixon came from poor backgrounds, but they had no similarities within their personalities, and in eight years as President and Vice President they were never close.  Kennedy spoke of a newer generation taking the helm from older leaders like that of Eisenhower, but people were drawn to the attributes of both men.  Eisenhower was a trusted figure that led this nation during times of war and peace and while Kennedy was extremely wealthy, both him and his older brother Joseph served with distinction during World War II.  And JFK was envied by both men and women.  Male voters saw a presidential candidate that had a beautiful wife, a young family, and descended from immense wealth.  Female voters ascertained that JFK was one of the most handsome leaders to ever run for the presidency.  And there was Nixon with his minimal personality and outwardly cold demeanor that did not endear him to many Americans.

The victory of Kennedy over Nixon was the passing of a new torch from the trustfulness of Eisenhower to the different ideas of JFK.  On that cold January day in 1961, Kennedy addressed the abilities of the nation, the emergence of a new generation of leaders, and the vision of rapid economic, racial, political, and military changes that were in store for this nation and world during this decade.  But the concerns that Eisenhower presented over the judgment of Kennedy were apparent during the failed Bay of Pigs invasion in April of 1961.  After this debacle that embarrassed the leadership of Kennedy to both the American public and to the Soviet Union, Eisenhower met with him.  The pictures of these two leaders at Camp David presented the teacher in Eisenhower speaking with the younger pupil in Kennedy.  And while both men spoke out against each other during the Election of 1960, they cared deeply about this nation during times of crisis.

With Biden creating his cabinet, gaining the approval to see national security reports, and preparing to be the President of the United States, his poor relationship with Trump, is not unusual.  Hopefully, there will be some common ground between these two opposite leaders for the good of America.   And while this upcoming inauguration will surely be different due to the restraints of Covid-19, may this transition of power go smoothly, to ensure the vital national tradition of leadership changes that has been consistent since the days of President George Washington.

Rich Acritelli is a social studies teacher at Rocky Point High School and an adjunct professor of American history at Suffolk County Community College.

File photo

By Kevin Redding

In celebration of Presidents’ Day, local elected officials weighed in on the occupants of the Oval Office who inspired them to do what they do.

Legislator Tom Cilmi (R-Bay Shore) – Ronald Reagan/George H.W. Bush

“It would have to be Ronald Reagan. He was the first president that I became familiar with as a young adult, in terms of my interest in politics. He had such a unique ability to communicate a conservative message to the country in a way that wasn’t divisive, in a way that was inspiring and uplifting, and so I really admire him for that and so many other things.

And, of course, George H.W. Bush, who took over the Oval Office after Reagan. He was the first politician I ever helped campaign for and that was during his re-election effort in which he lost to Bill Clinton. That same year Rick Lazio ran for Congress against Thomas Downey and I got pretty heavily involved in volunteering. If it hadn’t been for that, honestly, I would not be sitting here today.

From that experience, I met a former county legislator I ended up working for for a short period of time and he introduced me to county government and lots of different folks in the party, so I would say: purely from an inspirational point of view, it would be Reagan and in terms of the one president that really motivated me to get actively involved in politics, it was George H.W. Bush.”:

Legislator Al Krupski (D) – George Washington

“I think he was someone that really believed in a cause. In his case, the cause was an independent America and he was willing to sacrifice his time and his family’s time to make that happen. He certainly took great personal risks as a general and, again, as president, he sacrificed his time and the rest of his life was dedicated towards the country.

The way he was able to handle power was admirable. The rest of the world thought he was going to become a dictator, and he could’ve, but he didn’t. He didn’t want to be the dictator. He wanted America to be a democracy; he believed in that. I’ve always liked history and I’ve always read about history and been [fascinated] by him pretty much my whole life. If you look at his cabinet, he surrounded himself with people with diverse backgrounds and ideologies and I’ve always listened to people with different viewpoints. I think that kind of mentality as a leader is important: to not just have a bunch of “yes men” but being able to listen to people with different viewpoints.”

Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) John F. Kennedy

“Kennedy had a sense of humor, had a sense of history, and he learned from his mistakes. His mistake early in the administration was to follow through with Eisenhower’s decision that he did not execute well, with the Bay of Pigs Invasion, and he learned from that. I think that’s why he was so successful thereafter when, in 1962, a year and a half after, we had the Cuban Missile Crisis, and he was able to diffuse that despite the urging that we invade or bomb Cuba. He avoided that and avoided a crisis and potentially a World War.

I was also extremely impressed with his June 1963 speech at American University about how we all live on one planet and talked about peace being a much nobler goal while we were in the middle of the Cold War and he could see beyond that, so I think he had vision.

Obviously as a person, he had a lot of shortcomings, which a lot of people have dwelled on since the time of his death, but I think as a man and as a leader, people wanted to follow him and I think he was a good president. I knew if he had lived, we would not have been in the Vietnam War. He spoke against getting involved. It was sad to see him go, because in going, the policies changed dramatically, and when we changed leaders, we committed an entire generation to war and turned a lot of people into cynics against their government.

[Inspired by him], I try not to rush to judgment, I try to step back and put things in context and have a sense of history. As someone who has all my degrees in history, I try to put things in context and that helps a lot.”

Legislator William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport) – Barack Obama

“I’ve been in the Legislature for six years, and got elected in 2011, which was then-president Obama’s third year in office. I had been a physician and I was a big participant in getting involved in the hope and change … Obama being the first Black American president was inspirational for me as one of the few Black American elected officials.

I appreciated the fact that he started out working in the community, was someone that had all the education and training, and was a community organizer. I believe he exhibited the qualities of service and compassion for our fellow man and for those who have the smallest voice, and I believe in hard work and education as well. He had a very clear message that resonated and it got a lot of people involved, and I think that was transformative.

I don’t want it to appear that just because he was black, he encouraged me because I’m black. That had some significance but what I appreciated most was his character. He was a slow and steady hand and he brought qualities of dignity and respect … I also admired the way he conducted himself personally with his family.”

Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson) – Barack Obama

“I think Obama, who was a law school professor, intimately understood how to use the law to help others and he actually worked his way up through government, so he took all the steps and is a bottom-up leader. Obama being an activist and community organizer really impressed me. I think it’s important that we [as elected officials] are in the community, and talk to people face-to-face about their issues. I think that he is, arguably, the most eloquent, dignified, and diplomatic president of my time and I try to emulate his qualities.”

Legislator Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) – Ronald Reagan

“He was a fiscally conservative guy who was socially moderate; he would try to save money and have less government … and keep government out of things. That’s what I believe: we shouldn’t be involved in a lot of these things.”

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) – Harry S. Truman

“Harry Truman’s my favorite president. He was an ordinary man who did extraordinary things and demonstrated that you can reach the highest levels of our government while maintaining your integrity. More than 20 years ago, I read David McCullough’s book “Truman” and it was one of the best political biographies I’ve ever read. When I served on active duty in the U.S. Army, I was based in Missouri — which is the home state of Truman — and I visited his home and library in Independence.

What was inspiring to me, and it really represents what our country is about, was that anyone can be president and that you can reach the highest levels of our government and really maintain your integrity. Truman’s honesty really impressed me.”

Senator Kenneth LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) – Abraham Lincoln

“If you were in my office, whether in Albany or here in the district, you would see lots of pictures of Abraham Lincoln. When you’re growing up and you’re reading about different presidents, the idea of Lincoln being kind of a frontiersman and the way he grew up and the stories about him are very exciting. As you get older and you start looking into Lincoln’s life, you see the kind of person that he is. He cared very deeply about people and if you look at photos of Lincoln, you could see the deep lines, as some people call “worry lines,” because he cared so much. During the Civil War, he visited wounded soldiers and was very touched by their lives.

I have great concern for people and try to be very helpful to people, and I think Lincoln certainly reinforces those goals.”

Brookhaven Town Councilman Kevin LaValle (R-Selden) – Ronald Reagan

“Reagan was the president I admired most. When you’re an elected official, I think you have to have two great traits: good decision-making skills and the ability to articulate the message you want to get across to people in an effective, understandable and inspiring way, [which he had]. Reagan came into office in 1981, a point in our country’s history where, internationally, we were in the middle of the Cold War, just got done with the Iranian hostage situation, and the economy wasn’t doing well and the morale in the country was at an all-time low — so he had a lot that he was getting ready to take on. He lowered taxes, attacked the problems we had, deregulated the government and opened up the economy, which triggered a boom throughout the decade. He stood up and brought pride back into being American.”

Legislator Leslie Kennedy (R-Nesconset) – Abraham Lincoln

“First of all, he was honest, he truly preserved the unity of our nation and he freed the slaves. He was brought into office during what was probably one of our nation’s first economic crises, and he dealt with the Civil War, dealt with issues of taxation and imports and exports, and handled it in a thoughtful, intellectual way. Those were difficult times and he made our nation what it is.”

Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point) – John F. Kennedy

“His presidency changed America. I think so many presidents bring so many different skillsets, and Kennedy believed in America, was passionate about America, put people to work, held the line on taxes, and was a compassionate person. Then there’s the whole history of Kennedy and how he was raised and groomed, and how his life was tragically cut short, and I think that adds an air to his [legacy] as well.”

 

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Harry S. Truman was president during a critical time in the United States. Photo in the public domain

By Rich Acritelli

He came from humble beginnings to make one of the most critical but grave decisions in United States history.

Born on May 8, 1884, to a poor Missouri farming family, Harry S. Truman’s roots were far removed from those of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. While he was a capable student, his poor eyesight prevented an appointment to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. He never attended college, and was expected to help with the family business. But to get away from the boredom of agriculture, he enlisted in the National Guard and, though he would have been exempted from Selective Service, re-enlisted at age 33, when President Woodrow Wilson declared war in April 1917.

At once, Truman’s superiors and peers voted that he become an officer, and the future president was proud to take on the role. His soldiers saw him as an organized and bright leader who took care of his men. After training in Oklahoma, Truman and his artillery battery traveled to New York City, where the Missouri soldiers were some of the first Americans to be transported on the USS George Washington, a confiscated German passenger ship that was used to transport a portion of the 2.5 million Americans who fought on the Western Front. While in New York, Truman was not overly impressed with Manhattan and, in fact, liked Paris better when he visited that city after the World War I armistice.

Once in France, Truman learned how to fire the French 75-mm field gun, the best artillery weapon produced during the conflict. He was promoted to captain and the head of an artillery battery, and proved to be an honest man, speaking objectively to superior officers about the needs of his men. Near the front, Truman trained with Gen. John J. Pershing and led his battery in the 1918 Muesse-Argonne offensive. He was one of the 600,000 soldiers used to punch a hole into the tired lines of the German military. It is possible Truman’s guns fired some of the final shots before the Central Powers surrendered on Nov. 11, 1918.

The interwar years were spotted with success and failure for Truman. Once the war concluded, Truman desperately wanted to marry his Missouri sweetheart, Bess Wallace, and for a brief time he was a partner in a thriving clothing store with a veteran from his unit. While he had good sense, the business closed and Truman refused to file for bankruptcy protection. Some 20 years later, right before he became president, he finally paid off those debts.

Did you know?

President Truman was a talented piano player. According to the Harry S. Truman Library and Museum, as a child he woke up at 5 a.m. to practice for two hours, and music was one of his passions throughout his lifetime.

Truman got his political start as a county judge, with help from Kansas City Democratic political boss Thomas J. Pendergast. While he probably favored Pendergast on municipal building projects in return, he was seen as a clean politician and later won a spot in the U.S. Senate. Truman was a key advocate of Roosevelt’s New Deal as well as measures to supply American allies with military necessities early during World War II. He used a common-sense approach to leadership, stemming from his time as a farmer, a captain in the Army and a businessman, and it was an approach small-town Americans understood.

As Roosevelt ran for his fourth and final term, he picked an originally reluctant Truman as his vice president. But shortly after the victory, Roosevelt’s health declined. After four months in office, Truman was commander-in-chief. Americans, saddened over the trusted Roosevelt’s death and in the midst of war, knew little about the make-up of Truman. During World War I, he was a junior officer under future Gens. George C. Marshall, George S. Patton and Douglas R. MacArthur, but he was now their boss. And the stakes were higher — the Manhattan Project gave the U.S. the atomic bomb. Truman had a tough call to make.

It was 70 years ago this month that Truman authorized the military to drop the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It was a strategy to end the war, save American lives and demonstrate the nation’s immense power to the Soviets. About his controversial decision, the plainspoken Truman said he could not have looked into the eyes of American mothers who lost a son in combat knowing that he could have defeated the Japanese earlier but chose not to.

The presidency was a difficult chore to handle, but Truman never wavered from his responsibilities. Though he faced criticism during the postwar recession and the earliest moments of the Cold War, he was the underdog figure with a bullish sense of honesty that helped win World War II and set a precedent for American dealings with the Soviet Union for decades to come.

Rich Acritelli is a social studies teacher at Rocky Point High School and an adjunct professor of American history at Suffolk County Community College. He was a staff sergeant in the New York Air National Guard 106th Rescue Wing in Westhampton Beach.