Truman Scholar


“Let’s see what the encyclopedia shows.” Mr. Puhr thumbed through the book and located Truman’s biography. The encyclopedia listed the entry as “Harry S. Truman,” with a period after the initial. Mr. Puhr smiled. “What do you say to that, Rogan?”

Confident in my research, I told him, “The encyclopedia is wrong.”

“So!” thundered Mr. Puhr. “The encyclopedia is wrong, and Mr. Rogan is right! My, aren’t we lucky to have such a brilliant student in our midst!”

My classmates laughed, and he teased me for the rest of the session, repeatedly calling on me to “confirm” that Columbus discovered America and George Washington was our first President.

After school I went home and again wrote my author friend in Missouri. “Dear President Truman,” I scrawled, “You won’t believe this teacher of mine . . . ,” and I laid out the entire story.

The school year ended without any response, and again I forgot about the debate. During summer vacation another letter arrived from Independence:

August 19, 1970

Dear Jim:

I was glad to autographed [sic] your engraved picture of the White House and it is being returned to you herewith.

The “S” in my name stands for the first letter of the first name of each of my grandfathers. In order to be strictly impartial in naming me for one or the other, I was given the letter “S” as a middle name. It can be used with or without a period.

I appreciate your very kind comments and send you best wishes.

Sincerely yours, Harry S Truman

I took a closer look at Truman’s letterhead. Sure enough, it bore the name Harry S Truman with no period after the middle initial.

A month later, on the first day of school, I went looking for Mr. Puhr and found him seated alone in his classroom. I showed him the second Truman letter; again he refused to give me credit. Only after I threatened again to go to the principal did he grudgingly agree to raise my grade.

As I walked out of the classroom, Mr. Puhr called out my name. I turned in the doorway and faced him.

“Rogan,” he said, “Fm very glad you won’t be in my class this year.”