July 20, 1945: Dear Bess


Harry Truman was a very happily married man and whenever he was separated from his wife, he would write her chatty letters which are a first rate source of what he was thinking on a particular day.  He wrote this letter after the start of the Potsdam Conference with Stalin and Churchill:


Berlin July 20, 1945

Dear Bess:

It was an experience to talk to you from my desk here in Berlin night before last. It sure made me homesick. This is a hell of a place–ruined, dirty, smelly, forlorn people, bedraggled, hangdog look about them. You never saw as completely ruined a city. But they did it. I am most comfortably fixed and the palace where we meet is one of two intact palaces left standing.

Jim Blair came to see me yesterday and had breakfast with me this morning. He is a Lt. Col. and is in charge of food and clean up for American forces here. Said it was the filthiest place he ever saw when he arrived–but it’s clean now.

We had a tough meeting yesterday. I reared up on my hind legs and told ’em where to get off and they got off. I have to make it perfectly plain to them at least once a day that so far as this President is concerned Santa Claus is dead and that my first interest is U.S.A., then I want the Jap War won and I want ’em both in it. Then I want peace–world peace and will do what can be done by us to get it. But certainly am not going to set up another foil here in Europe, pay reparations, feed the world, and get nothing for it but a nose thumbing. They are beginning to awake to the fact that I mean business.

It was my turn to feed ’em at a formal dinner last night. Had Churchill on my right, Stalin on my left. We toasted the British King, the Soviet President, the U.S. President, the two honor guests, the foreign ministers, one at a time, etc. etc. ad lib. Stalin felt so friendly that he toasted the pianist when he played a Tskowsky (you spell it) piece especially for him. The old man loves music. He told me he’d import the greatest Russian pianist for me tomorrow. Our boy was good. His name is List and he played Chopin, Von Weber, Schubert, and all of them.

The ambassadors and Jim Byrnes said the party was a success. Anyway they left in a happy frame of mind. I gave each of them a fine clock, specially made for them, and a set of that good, navy luggage. Well I’m hoping to get done in a week. I’m sick of the whole business–but we’ll bring home the bacon.

Kiss Margie, lots and lots of love, Harry.

More to explorer


  1. Harry Truman is my favorite Democrat. I say “is” not was, since we live forever, and there is no other Democrat I so favor. He didn’t enrich himself in office, he understood the presidency as a job and went home afterwards on a train like any other person with no fuss or fanfare. He was an uxorious husband, much like myself.

  2. “Harry Truman is my favorite Democrat”

    I would suggest you read, if you haven’t already, the book “Harry Truman’s Excellent Adventure” by Matthew Algeo. It’s an account of a three week road trip that he and Bess took from Missouri to the East Coast and back in the summer of 1953, after he had left office. They drove their own car, stayed (mostly) in ordinary motels, stopped at roadside diners, etc., without any security detail or advance publicity. It was probably the first and only time a former President ever traveled or vacationed in the manner to which middle-class Americans of the time were accustomed.

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