SUNDAY is the 100th anniversary of the birth of Harry S. Truman - a day that will pass without fanfare, which is in keeping with the temperament of the 33rd President. In fact, Truman may have been the first and last chief executive never intimidated by the pomp and ceremony of the nation's highest office.
He was a man with a common-sense approach to matters. ''My favorite animal is the mule,'' he said in 1952. ''He has a lot more horse sense than a horse. He knows when to stop eating. And he knows when to stop working.'' Although Truman was one of the least educated presidents in this century - and not ashamed to admit it - he was a champion of the nation's investment in this area. ''You know that education is one thing that can't be taken away from you. Nobody can rob you of your education, because that is in your head; that is, if you have any head and are capable of holding it. Most of us are capable of holding an education, if we try to get it.''
HST had his share of failures, especially in the business world which he entered in Kansas City in November 1919. Truman & Jacobson, a haberdashery store , lasted three years, but the debts lasted much longer for Truman, all the way to the Great Depression. But he paid them and went on with his life, running first as a judge on a platform that was vintage Truman:
''A Budgeted Road Fund.
''A Day's Work for a Day's Pay.
''Fewer Automobiles and More Work for County Employees.''
As a US senator in the 1930s, Truman tended to his duties with care but with little publicity. He was a New Dealer, which led to his choice as Franklin Roosevelt's running mate during his fourth campaign when Midwestern votes were needed. Most of all, he was a lonely man, for wife, Bess, stayed in Missouri to raise daughter Margaret and to avoid the enormous expenses of living in the nation's capital. But Truman was a prolific letter writer, giving fatherly advice via the post: ''It was a pleasure to hear of Margaret going to the Baptist Sunday school,'' he wrote in June 1936. ''She ought to go to one every Sunday - I mean a Sunday school. If a child is instilled with good morals and taught the value of the precepts laid down in Exodus 20 and Matthew 5, 6 and 7, there is not much to worry about in after years. It makes no difference what brand is on the Sunday school.''
Truman's presidency was turbulent, what with the enormous problems of demobilization (2 million workers were on strike in 1946, with HST threatening to draft railroad workers into the armed forces). And with his Fair Deal reform package he was far ahead of his day. Then in June 1950 came the Korean crisis.
Throughout these critical years Truman remained the common man from Missouri whose sense of hats from his haberdashery experience gave him insight into Potomac fever. ''You know,'' he remarked, ''Woodrow Wilson said that a great many men came to Washington and grew up with their jobs, and a very large number came and just swelled up.'' And Truman's empathy for the common man made him a masterful campaigner. He defeated three major candidates for the White House in 1948 and overwhelmed Republicans with his verbal assaults: ''The Hoover slogan back in 1929 and 1930 was 'Two cars in every garage.' The Republican slogan today is 'Two families in every garage.' ''
Truman was the only ex-President in recent times to learn how to return to normalcy. He simply went home. He was instrumental in only one matter in these years, namely, urging Congress to pass a retirement package for former presidents so that they wouldn't have to fall prey to the commercial ''hounds'' wanting to exploit the highest officer in the land.
To be sure, old Harry continued his independent ways in Independence as he passed away the years with Bess, ''the most beautiful and sweetest person on earth.'' Most of all, he prepared himself in his retirement for the role of statesman, which is probably the way he wished to be remembered. A statesman, according to Truman's definition, was a ''politician who's been dead 10 or 15 years.''