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Truman Day was a giant July 4 event as war waned

POSTED: January 31, 2010 1:00 a.m.

World War II in Europe had ended two months earlier, but the Japanese continued to fight Americans and their allies furiously in the Pacific.

Yet one of the biggest July 4 celebrations in Gainesville's history would take place that summer of 1945. Hall Countians planning it knew the Japanese were on the run, but could have no idea that merely a month later Americans would drop two atomic bombs to bring the enemy to its knees.

The Fourth of July was called Truman Day in honor of President Harry Truman, the vice president who had to step up after the death of Franklin Roosevelt in Warm Springs that April. Truman himself obviously couldn't attend because of the winding-down war.

Edgar B. Dunlap Sr., who seemed to lead almost every large-scale event in Hall County during that era, was in charge of this massive celebration that would start in the morning and run into the night. Postmaster General Robert E. Hannegan, who also chaired the National Democratic Party and was one of Truman's closest confidantes, led dignitaries invited.

The plans included a morning parade from Gainesville High School on Washington Street around the square to the front of City Hall, which faced Hall County Courthouse on the now-closed section of Broad Street. Units included high school and military bands, WAVES, WACS and other service branches, Shriners, Girl and Boy Scouts, horses and civic clubs.

Speakers addressing the multitudes in Roosevelt Square included the postmaster general, Sen. Richard B. Russell and U.S. Rep. John S. Wood.

Various lunches around town followed. The postmaster general would dine with Gainesville Postmaster J.F. Carter and postmasters throughout the area at the Elks Club; Brenau College President Josiah Crudup would be host to other federal, state and local officials; Russell and congressmen would be guests for lunch at the Naval Air Station at the airport; American Legion Post 7 would honor veterans with a picnic at City Park, and other citizens could bring their own lunches.

Midafternoon, people could watch an air show at the Naval Air Station or look at the "Shot from the Sky" exhibit downtown, which included 500 tons of Japanese war material, a Japanese war plane and a 32-foot barrage balloon. Other activities included ballgames at New Holland between junior American Legion teams and between a WAVES team and a Pacolet girls team; horse races at the Northeast Georgia Fairgrounds; and three golf tournaments at the course that, at the time, was where the present American Legion Post 7 is at the end of Riverside Drive.

Even after all that activity, the biggest event was that evening at City Park. The Army Service Forces would perform its "attack show," which included fireworks, cannon shots and other pyrotechnics. About 32,000 people, the largest crowd ever at City Park at the time, attended the show, according to the Gainesville News.

The city welcomed Gen. B.B. Somervell, who conducted the attack show and was praised as "the man who rebuilt our city" for his work leading the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the aftermath of the 1936 Gainesville tornado.

At the same time, the city announced ambitious $3.9 million public and private plans for postwar Gainesville. It included a new armory (now Civic Center) at City Park, new waterworks, widening Broad Street from Chicopee to New Holland, extending Bradford Street to Thompson Bridge Road, paving Riverside Drive to the golf course, building a new golf clubhouse, 20-unit apartments, the Harry S. Truman homes, "400 units for white people," with federal funds, 100 units for blacks, a memorial building to house the Red Cross, American Legion and chamber of commerce, new school buildings, recreation improvements, extensions of water and sewer mains, an incinerator, library, auditorium, 100-bed hospital, bus station, freight depot, automatic dial telephone system, professional office building, 12 miles of road paving and restoration of a World War II cannon on the courthouse square.

Obviously, all of that wasn't accomplished.

But the goals of Truman Day were achieved, including selling $43,000 in war bonds and bringing $100,000 in economic impact to the county for a day. More than 35,000 people were estimated for the entire July 4 Truman Day festivities.

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times. His column appears Sundays and on gainesvilletimes.com.



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