One of the largest Veterans Day (then Armistice Day) celebrations in Springfield occurred on November 11, 1941. On that day soldiers from the 138th and 140th Infantry Regiments, 35th Division, stationed at Camp Robinson, Arkansas led many Springfield groups in a large parade through the city. Composed mostly of Missouri and Kansas regiments, the 35th Division had many veterans in Springfield. Major General Ralph E. Truman, commander of the 35th Division and cousin of future president Harry S. Truman was the guest of honor.
General Truman enjoyed a long career in military service. A veteran of the Spanish-American War, he served as an intelligence officer during World War I and received a battlefield promotion to major during the Meuse-Argonne campaign. He remained with the National Guard after the war and eventually assumed command of the 35th Division.
The Springfield event was the last time General Truman commanded the 35th Division. Truman’s military career ended with some controversy, though he found a very friendly crowd in the Ozarks. In the summer of 1941, troops from General Truman’s division were riding on trucks near Memphis, Tennessee. As they passed a golf course the soldiers began whistling and “yoo hooed” at a number of young women. Some also shouted to a golfer about to take a swing, “Fore! Hey buddy, need a caddy.” The golfer was Major General Benjamin Lear, commander of the Second Army and General Truman’s superior. Lear considered the incident an example of poor discipline and he ordered the men to march the remaining 15 miles to Camp Robinson. The incident drew national headlines and Lear was required to write a formal report of his actions. Although the army cleared Lear of any wrongdoing, he was stuck with the nickname “yoo hoo.”
Later that fall, the army conducted a series of training maneuvers. These exercises tested the army’s readiness for full-scale operations and were invaluable experience when America entered World War II. Lear and other Regular Army officers were critical of how their National Guard counterparts like Truman performed. Many of these officers were relieved of their commands after the operations, including Truman. Lear reassigned Truman in October even though the 35th Division remained in reserve during most of the operations. Truman resigned from the army one week later.
With so many veterans of the 35th Division in town, Springfield supported General Truman. This included the girls’ golf team at Springfield Teachers College (now Missouri State University). They held up “yoo hoo” signs as their float passed the reviewing stand and General Truman happily “yoo hooed” at them.
In addition to the parade, there were two military balls on November 11. An officers’ ball was held at the American Legion’s Goad Ballinger Post, while the enlisted men gathered across the street at the Shrine Mosque. Local musician R.V. Burch and his eight-piece band provided music for the officers. Even though Burch and his band was a popular fixture at Legion events, General Truman expressed disappointment when he arrived with his party. Truman expected to hear a band from the 140th Infantry and suggested that Burch take his group to the Mosque and alternate with an army band there. Burch objected because he had a small band and did not want to play in the larger Mosque. Truman said he could always throw him out. Not intimidated by the general, Burch shot back “You and who?” Legion officials suggested that Burch and his band should go ahead and play at the Mosque, which they did. This left the Legion Hall without a band for about an hour before Burch returned. Both dances lasted until 1:00 A.M. and everyone seemed very happy. General Truman told the newspaper the controversy had just been an “unfortunate misunderstanding.”
The soldiers were on their best behavior while in Springfield. City Hall and the Greene County Courthouse were used to quarter the troops who set up public displays and entertained interested citizens. The photograph was taken at 933 Boonville in front of a car lot owned by Shadrach L. Agee and Thomas L. Burns, Jr. Today, the site is across the street from the Greene County Judicial Center. General Truman died in Kansas City on April 30, 1962 and is buried in the Springfield National Cemetery.
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