Friday, March 31, 2023

Human Interest: A Resident’s Ties to President Truman

Everybody has a story and I may be biased, but, Coronado residents have some of the best stories to share.

Jim and Marilyn Menges are Coronado locals. They were both military kids and graduated from Coronado High School together in 1959. Marilyn describes being drawn to Jim their senior year of High School, “Jim always made everyone laugh, and I didn’t come from a family that laughed a lot.” They went their separate ways after high school, but Jim told his mom, “One day I am going to marry that girl.” Twenty-five years later, Marilyn was chair of their class reunion but when she saw him, he had a bead and she overlooked him. For their thirtieth reunion, Marilyn was to chair the event again. This time though, Jim received word from a friend that Marilyn would be heavily involved so he signed himself up to help. During the second meeting, Jim asked Marilyn out for coffee. Like many women who find themselves in the middle of a good love story and don’t realize they are the princess, Marilyn’s response was standard, “Are you married?” Through their time together on the committee, Jim and Marilyn began dating and a year and a half later, the couple was wed.

Although Jim’s romance with Marilyn is fairy-tale like, that isn’t his only story to tell. Long before the Marilyn era, Jim led a life that has been touched in many History books. Jim’s father, Captain Harold Frank Menges entered the Navy in 1941 with a background as a minister. In about 1945, the Menges family relocated from Rhode Island to Jacksonville, Florida and stayed there until the early 50’s. After President Harry S. Truman took over office for President Roosevelt after his death, admiral Stump called Captain Menges and asked if he would like to be President Truman’s preacher down in Florida. To many this would have been answered by “yes, of course” but Captain Menges responded, “No! I didn’t even vote for the man. Why would I want to be his preacher?” The admiral must have had other ideas, however, because the next morning Captain Menges received orders to go to Key West, Florida.

[Young Jim holding a photo of his father]

This was a new chapter for the Menges family and much to his father’s dismay, Jim felt so comfortable with President Truman that he would refer to him simply as Harry. Captain Frank tried to explain to his youngest son that, “Even if I didn’t vote for him, he’s still my boss. You can’t call him Harry.” To which a young Jim replied, “Well he calls me Jim!” Jim spent a lot of time at what was then referred to as the “Summer White House” out at Key West Submarine Base (now Naval Air Station). Jim compares the security now to then, explaining that back then he would ride his bike over and the one security guard would pick up the phone and let Jim in.

Jim saw President Truman in an array of settings and got to know him as not just the President, but who he was as a person. Jim recalls one blustery day that he attended church and asked his father if he could sit in front of President Truman, to which Captain Menges agreed. This blustery day quickly turned into a storm, wind was hustling inside, rain was shattering against the floor, and Jim had thought it to be an opportune time to impress a little lady sitting next to him. He was gesturing his hands all about in the rain in an attempt to amuse her (one that fell very short) and instead caught the attention of Captain Menges. His father had very little patience for being interrupted mid-sermon to President Truman and said, “Jimmy, if you don’t straighten up you are going to sit in your mother’s lap in the corner.” Jim sat mortified as his father picked up where he had left off. President Truman tapped him on the shoulder, “Just think, things could be worse.” They both went back to paying attention to the sermon and pretty soon, President Truman tapped him again and said, “And they will be when you get home!”

President Truman and Jim formed a special bond that only comes every once in a while between adults and children. Another example of this was a fishing story. You see, Jim loved to fish and made time every morning, even before school, to fish off the thirty foot pier. One day during one of his afternoon fishing sessions, he heard a voice from behind him say, “aren’t you going to invite us down?” To which he looked up and saw President Truman and one secret service agent. As President Truman made his way toward Jim, the secret service agent began to follow him. President Truman instructed the agent to stay back, he was okay. Once President Truman reached Jim, he took his shoes off and got in the water with him. After that, President Truman invited Jim to go fishing with him before school one morning. As luck would have it, a storm rolled in that morning and Jim’s mom told him not to fish because it was rough and to go to school. At about 10AM during Jim’s school day, his third grade class heard a knock at the door. That week Jim had eraser duty which he describes as making him “the big cheese.” Because Jim was allowed to be up around the room cleaning erasers, it was him who got to check who was at the door. Jim informed his teacher that the President was at the door. His teacher asked him what he meant by that. He told her that he meant it was the President. She asked him how he knew it was the President. Jim explained to her, “He’s my friend, my buddy.” She had him answer the door and gasped, “it’s the President!” Well President Truman was disappointed he had not gone fishing with Jim that morning and wanted to take him from school. Following the school policy his teacher asked President Truman if he had a permission slip to take him! President Truman stayed and talked to the class then checked him out through the office as per his teachers request. Their afternoon was spent fishing.

While these all seem like wonderful stories (and they are) they are just a very small selection of the many that Jim and Marilyn share. They are even a smaller selection of the thousands that Coronado residents have to share.

Alyssa K. Burns
Alyssa K. Burns
Alyssa is a graduate of Coronado High School and was in the founding broadcast journalism class at CHS. She earned her BA in Communication from CSU East Bay and completed her MBA from CSU San Marcos. Her passion for writing and interest in the behind the scenes of business, leads her to write frequently about Coronado businesses. You can find Alyssa walking around the ferry landing with her husband and shih-tzu terrier or enjoying a cup of coffee at one of Coronado's favorite cafes.Have a story for The Coronado Times to cover? Send news tips or story ideas to: [email protected]