The Unknown Connection between General David Petraeus and Harry Truman





Mr. Forman is an HNN intern.

General David Petraeus is one of the most influential men in America today as the current commander of U.S. Central Command and former head of the Multi-National Force in Iraq.  He is increasingly spoken of as a future presidential candidate. A look through General Petraeus's family tree reveals that he has a historical connection to major turning points in America's involvement in foreign wars. From the Meuse-Argonne Offensive of World War I, to the drive across France and Germany in WWII, and the CORDS program in South Vietnam, his family has been influential in American military and international affairs. Historian D. M. Giangreco uncovered one of the Petraeus connections in The Soldier from Independence: A Military Biography of Harry Truman.

Colonel Richard C. Burleson was the step-father of General William A. Knowlton, a specialist in counter insurgency and the father of General Petraeus's wife, Holly. Burleson is known for his role in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive that lead to the end of World War I. But he was also a friend and comrade in arms of a capable young artillery officer and future President of the United States of America, Harry S. Truman. The connection between Burleson and Truman is not as tenuous as previously perceived, and the contact between the soldiers was frequent and friendly, with the future President referring to him as "Dick" Burleson in letters.

The personal contact between the two did not stop at mere pleasantry, however, and Truman learned military tactics from his mentor at the 2nd Corps Field Artillery School at Montigny, France. Colonel Burleson, along with Colonel Robert M. Danford, advocated the assignment of one light artillery battery to each infantry regiment. The light artillery would provide direct and immediate support to the infantry during combat, a precursor of today’s "combined arms" operations. Giangreco writes:

While the training of "fire and maneuver" was very limited, Truman apparently absorbed much of what Danford and Burleson expounded -- especially the need to operate with initiative and daring. In a few short months, he would become one of the relatively few American battery commanders who, while operating well forward, were lucky enough to spot German batteries in reach of their guns. When these opportunities presented themselves to Truman, he displayed both initiative and a high level of craft by successfully setting down indirect fire on German artillery batteries.

Truman proved to be an effective and efficient soldier and artillery commander. Against direct orders, he would twice attack German batteries on his division's exposed flank, destroying enemy guns while forcing the enemy to flee from others --- and, unbeknownst to Truman at the time, have his actions approved by the top American commander in France, General John J Pershing. Giangreco writes that Burleson once praised Truman directly, "You got'em all right; for when we later came up that way, there were six abandoned guns beside the road."

The most astounding fact of this connection between General Petraeus and Harry S. Truman, concedes Giangreco, is that the Truman connection to his family tree has never been publicized and the General may not know of it himself unless his wife Holly learned of it from her father and told him (his own father, Sixtus Petraeus, was a mariner dodging German U-boats in WWII --- a civilian occupation that, in fact, suffered a higher mortality rate than any of the armed services).

Richard C. Burleson was a major influence on Harry S. Truman in World War I, as well as the military tactics that were to be employed by future Americans. Initiative and daring are great qualities that Burleson and Truman shared in World War I. General David Petraeus continues to extend these qualities in his tenure of U.S. Central Command, following in the footsteps of the brave soldiers and mariners in his own family and a great chief-of-state.


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Vernon Clayson - 10/12/2009

This is interesting but it doesn't speak of peace or mollification of our enemies. How do we work something into it for Obama, to say nothing of Biden, Pelosi and Harry Reid, etal., all of whom have no military service, where's the justice for these benighted bastions of warrior overlords?