Reserve Officers Club

Later Kansas City Chapter No. 1, Missouri Department, Reserve Officers Association


Truman learned during World War I to enjoy the camaradarie and the sense of accomplishment that army life offered. He applied for a reserve officer commission in December 1919, and received it the following month. In late 1921, he and several other reserve officers met in the Hotel Baltimore and founded the Reserve Officers Club. Truman served as the club's first president. According to a 1922 pamphlet, the club was "a voluntary association intended for advancement of professional knowledge and the promotion of a better understanding of the problem of the defense of the nation." (Papers Relating to Family, Business and Personal Affairs, Military File.) In 1922, the club had an office at 1314 McGee Street in Kansas City; a few years later it had a suite of offices at 1118 McGee Street.

Early in the club's history, members met for lunch every two weeks at the University Club, at 11th Street and Baltimore Avenue, and listened to lectures on military subjects by army officers from Fort Leavenworth. Later, the meetings were at night. The club met for a time in the 110th Engineers National Guard Armory at 3620 Main Street in Kansas City (pictured above); in 1928, the club built its own armory right next door, at 3614 Main Street. Sometime in the 1930s, the club began holding its weekly meetings at the Medical Center at 34th and Broadway. A reservist who attended the meetings in the 1930s remembered that there would often be a general meeting first, and then the different units-artillery, cavalry, infantry-would have separate meetings. Truman, when he was able to attend, would go with the artillery group. "We had our own room," the reservist, who was in the artillery unit, recalled. "…We would have a lecture, or some instruction in a particular phase of artillery firing, or an artillery problem, and then we'd have some practical work. I remember one of the things that we had was a mechanical gadget which could simulate atillery fire. It was a metal object, about three feet square and it had a slit in it. Someone could stand to the side and they could push a little ball down and it would look like an artillery round landing on a certain spot…. I remember distinctly that Colonel Truman…would come to the meetings and he would sort of supervise this firing, and critique it from time to time." (Edward F. Thelen oral history interview, Truman Library, 1968.)

For several years in the mid and late 1930s, the unit Truman commanded, the 102nd Division, 379th Field Artillery, occasionally trained on Saturday in Penn Valley Park. A miniature firing range had been built in the park. "It consisted of a little concrete emplacement," one of the reservists remembered, "which had a front wall which probably stood three and one half feet high, and on this we placed the [miniature training gun]." Before this tiny artillery piece spread an area of about 100 yards on a side, filled with houses, roads, water tanks, all built to the same miniature scale as the gun. "We'd fire at these little targets and we became quite adept. I recollect that Colonel Truman, Senator Truman then, when he was in town, used to come out there on days when we were having these sessions." (Edward F. Thelen oral history interview, Truman Library, 1968.) The reservists suspected that Truman's influence was behind the building of their fine miniature training ground in Penn Valley Park. The weekly and occasional weekend meetings were supplemented by two weeks active duty training in the summer. Beginning in the summer of 1923, Truman attended field training with other reserve officers and National Guard units, usually at Fort Riley, Kansas. He rode a horse around the training area, watching the artillery exercises. He gave a prize each year to the soldier who fired the best artillery problem. One year he presented the winner with a pair of spurs, another year it was sterling silver lieutenant's bars.

Truman last attended summer reserve training on active duty in 1933, and he also attended, apparently without orders, in 1936 and 1938, and perhaps in 1937. During these latter years, when he was a senator, Truman received some special attention from the post commander, but he participated in his unit's training as he always had. "He put on a uniform and his eagles and you could not call him 'Senator,'" one reservist remembered. "You called him 'Colonel Truman'…. [He] slept in a tent up at the head row of the camp. He did not sleep in a barracks or a cottage or anything like that." (Edward F. Thelen oral history interview, Truman Library, 1968.) During this reserve activity, Truman maintained old friendships and made new ones. Two of his close friends in the reserves were Harry Vaughan, who served as Military Aide to the President during his presidency, and John Snyder, who served as Secretary of the Treasury. Harry Vaughan later remembered how little the reserve officers had to work with during their training and their meetings. "…During all those years…[1920 to 1940], I don't know why in the world we stayed in the reserve. We didn't have any equipment; we didn't have any enlisted personnel; we had no material…we just didn't have anything. But we had a meeting every Monday and went to camp every year and stuck around." (Harry H. Vaughan oral history interview, Truman Library, 1963.)

On December 9, 1941, two days after the Pearl Harbor invasion, Truman went into Army Chief of Staff George Marshall's office in the Pentagon and asked to be put on active duty as a field artillery officer. "[Marshall] asked how old I was and I told him I was fifty-six years old," Truman remembered. "He pulled his reading glasses down on his nose, grinned at me and said, 'We don't need old stiffs like you--this will be a young man's war.'" (Handwritten autobiographical manuscript, 1945, President's Secretary's Files.) Truman's military career was over, except that he would serve as Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces for almost eight years. He was placed on the Army of the United States Retired List on January 31, 1953.

The Reserve Officers Club met at several locations in Kansas City: 1314 McGee Street; University Club, 11th Street and Baltimore Avenue; 110th Engineers Armory, 3620 Main Street; U. S. Reserve Officers Armory, 3614 Main Street; Medical Center, 34th and Broadway; and Penn Valley Park.