Harry Truman returns to Bremerton

President Harry S. Truman impersonator Michael King, of Seattle, heads up Pacific Ave. on his way to the plaque that commemorates the location where Truman spoke during a campaign stop in 1948 and the slogan "Give 'em Hell, Harry!" was coined, on Monday, March 7, 2016. King was on his way to speak to the Bremerton Rotary Club. (MEEGAN M. REID / KITSAP SUN)
President Harry S. Truman impersonator Michael King, of Seattle, heads up Pacific Ave. Monday.  (MEEGAN M. REID / KITSAP SUN)

Harry Truman made his second sojourn to Bremerton on Monday, venturing to the Fifth Street and Pacific Avenue spot where the former president addressed the masses on June 10, 1948 in a campaign speech. The spot is marked with a plaque and is the place where the 33rd president first heard a supporter’s rallying cry, “Give ‘em Hell, Harry.”

Truman, in this case, was Seattle attorney Michael B. King, who has taken to appearing as the president in front of Rotary groups around the state since 2012.

King appeared in front of the Rotary Club of Bremerton at the invitation of Rotary member Tim Quigley. Making the Rotary circuit, King was not aware of the significance of Bremerton on that 1948 campaign tour through the Pacific Northwest, until Quigley told him about it.

Though some have offered skepticism that the phrase was first uttered here, a member of Rotary offered a first-hand account that it was indeed.

Chuck Henderson, who manages downtown properties for developer Ron Sher, was revealed by a fellow Rotary member to have been at the speech. Henderson confirmed that he heard it.

“Everyone laughed and clapped” after the man in the crowd said it, Henderson recalls from that day. He said he was 8 or 9. 

King spoke to Rotary members — as Truman — on the topic of “Making the Tough Decisions.” Pointing out that the president is much more popular through the lens of history than he was while in office, “Truman” talked about the “paradox” of leadership in a democracy.

“Sometimes the leaders in a democracy have to be willing to tick off the people who put them in office to do what’s best for the country,” he said.

President Harry S. Truman impersonator Michael King, of Seattle, sports a polk-a-dot bowtie and a small FDR button.(MEEGAN M. REID / KITSAP SUN)
President Harry S. Truman impersonator Michael King, of Seattle, sports a polk-a-dot bowtie and a small FDR button.(MEEGAN M. REID / KITSAP SUN)

Three of the toughest decisions Truman had to make, according to King: His decision to remove General Douglas Macarthur from command in 1951 (“He was a little bit like the girl in the nursery rhyme — ‘When she was good, She was very good indeed, But when she was bad she was horrid’”); his decision to desegregate the Armed Forces in 1948 (“We had defeated the most racist power in the history of the globe, yet this country was stained with racism”); and the decision to drop the atomic bomb to end hostilities with Japan in World War II.

What politicians of today can learn from the Truman of yesteryear, King, ur, “Truman,” told the audience, was the importance of being in touch with the people. The president is the president – not a king, or an emperor. The people in a democracy are sovereign. There are so many layers today between our country’s top leader and the people, he said, remarking on Secret Service caravans.

 “If we could figure out some way to peel those layers back…”

The Rotary Club of Bremerton meets at noon on Mondays. 

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