A last word on first time “Give ’em Hell, Harry” was heard

Photo by way of Bob Brown.
Photo by way of Bob Brown.

There’s still some dispute about where President Harry S. Truman first heard what would become his perennial rallying cry: “Give ’em Hell, Harry.” But don’t tell that to Douglas Hudson of Bremerton.

He was there.

Hudson’s father took him to see Truman when the president spoke from the Elks Club, on the corner of Fifth and Pacific downtown, on June 10, 1948. Hudson was six. It was standing room only down the entire block, “as far as I could see,” though he was standing atop a newspaper box, he recalled.

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“During his speech he paused to glance at his notes when a man a short distance to my right, easily within 50 feet, yelled out ‘Give ‘em hell, Harry,'” Hudson said. “I heard the man as clear as a bell and recall Mr. Truman looking up in our general direction as he said ‘I will, I will.'”

Hudson was confused by the man’s yell, which is part of why he says it stands out in his mind. He even recently visited Truman’s library and childhood home in Independence, Missouri and asked about the phrase. The docent there could neither confirm nor deny the claim.

He’s not the only one. Shelagh Venard of Bremerton called to tell me her late husband, George, was there too.

“George used to say, ‘you know, I was there, I heard it,'” she recalled.

But an article in the Sun from 2001, written by Larry Miller, contests that Truman first said it here:

“…according to archivist Dennis E. Bilger of the Truman Library in Independence, Mo., the “Give ’em hell” rallying cry was first heard five days later, during a Truman rally in Albuquerque, N.M.

That would explain why The Sun’s account of Truman’s Bremerton rally reported that someone yelled, “Pour it on, Harry!” but made no mention of the “hell” remark.

Another Truman Library researcher has said the catchphrase originated in Grand Island, Neb., during a Truman campaign event June 6, 1948.”

 So, which is it? Nebraska? New Mexico? Bremerton? Or perhaps somewhere else?

Fredi Perry Pargeter wrote in “Bremerton and PSNY” that while the official recollection of newspaper reporters wanted to avoid using a “naughty” word, hence the “Pour it on” reference.  (Editorial comment: I mean think about it — “Pour it on” … Really?)

“It is this author’s opinion that the newspapers and those who officially recorded the President’s remarks that day did not want to use the four-letter word in official transcripts or newspaper accounts.”

So: Give ’em Hell Harry did originate here.”

And I say we leave it at that.

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