On March 16, 1956, Harry Truman, who had served as the 33rd president of the United States from 1945 to 1953, stopped in New York City to congratulate his daughter, Margaret, 32, and Elbert Clifton Daniel, 44, a war correspondent and New York Times editor, on their impending marriage.
He stopped in New York on his way to Scranton, where he was the scheduled speaker for the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick banquet on March 19.
But Truman wasn’t going to visit Scranton without stopping in Pittston if Leo Tierney had anything to say about.
Tierney, one of Pittston’s most connected and colorful historical figures, was a personal friend of Truman’s.
Truman and Tierney were both World War I artillery captains who commanded artillery batteries on opposite banks of the Aisne River during the Meuse-Argonne campaign in France. Truman commanded Missouri Battery ‘D’ of the 129th Field Artillery, while across the river, Tierney commanded Battery ‘B’ of the Pennsylvania 28th Division.
Tierney enlisted as a private and advanced to captain. He commanded Company ‘B’ at the Mexican border during the campaign to capture Mexican outlaw Pancho Villa in 1916. He was cited for bravery in action in WWI three times in France and was awarded a Silver Star to wear on his Victory Medal ribbon.
Given Tierney’s war hero credentials, Truman couldn’t pass up a visit with his old military buddy in Pittston.
Truman traveled from Scranton to Pittston in a state police motorcade. The biggest turnout along the route was in Avoca, where hundreds lined Main Street to wave and cheer as Truman’s car passed. Truman arrived at St. John’s Hall at 5:52 p.m. to deliver a talk before the official start of the 43rd annual banquet of the Pittston Friendly Sons, a lucky break for the women and children of Pittston who got to see and hear the former president, as Friendly Sons’ banquets were male-only affairs.
Tierney was chairman of the Sons and he was seated next to Truman on the dais, with, among others, Congressman Dan Flood, Pittston Mayor Joseph Saporito and Wyoming Burgess John Dempsey.
Introducing Truman, Tierney talked about the Battle of Argonne Forest when Truman’s battery came to the aid of Tierney’s battery, which was bogged down by Germans. Tierney also reminded Truman of his visit to the White House when Truman was president.
Truman said, “What Tierney told you about the Argonne Forest battle is an actual fact and I almost got court-martialed for it.”
Truman talked a little about St. Patrick and then said, “There is not a country in the world that does not owe a debt of gratitude to some Irishman and that applies especially to the United States.”
Before Truman hurried back to Scranton, Tierney gave him two checks of $250 each for the Truman Library, one each from the Friendly Sons and Battery ‘B.’
Tierney also gave Truman an anthracite coal carved pen and ink desk set, but Truman forgot to take it and didn’t realize he had forgotten it until he got home to Kansas City. Truman’s secretary wrote to Tierney, who found the desk piece and sent it to Truman. Tierney got this hand-written and signed letter in return:
“Dear Leo, I can’t tell you how much I appreciated the visit to Pittston. I didn’t know when I ever received a greater ovation. It was more than I deserved. Thanks a lot for all the courtesies which you extended.”
Tierney was an advocate for veterans all of his adult life. He was an officer with the Battery ‘B’ veterans association and active in other veterans groups. The preservation of veteran plaques, monuments and honor rolls were a passion of his into his 90s. He died in the late 1980s. As a young man, he worked for a railroad and the Pittston post office. Later, he was Pittston’s police chief and a successful businessman. He married Gertrude Conaboy in 1917. They had no children.