The Death of FDR

When an issue of America in WWII hits my mailbox, I leave this century and the desert around me and find myself back in the forties. The June magazine has arrived, a tenth anniversary issue. The articles this time are about VE-Day, Stevens’ photography of the concentration camps (in an earlier post, I wrote a review of Five Came Back , which was about the work of five Hollywood directors who went to war to document it), and the death of FDR.

President Roosevelt died on April 12, seventy years ago. I was curious about my father’s reaction to his death. Dad married into a very Republican family, and he didn’t dare to tell my mother until months later that he had voted for Roosevelt. What would he write home?

I dug into the letters to see.

I knew Dad would be the first to hear the news because he’d be at the radio, picking up messages. He was in the Pacific, somewhere around the Marshall Islands.

On April 11, he writes:

The station I picked up is one of the high speed inter-continent stations between China and the States, and they rattle the code off so darn fast that at times I just find myself sitting here without the slightest idea of what I’m doing. It’s a lot faster than I have to take it for my license, and it’s out of my class right now, as far as steady copying is concerned. . . Doing that for three hours this morning knocked the stuffing out of me, darling, and I needed a rest.

April 12:

We’ve been running into and through a lot of small storms which kick us around for maybe fifteen minutes, after which we got out into the sunshine again. . . The day has been interesting from the standpoint of seeing new things—land and stuff like that can make time go much faster. It’s just land, but we can stand for hours on the rail and talk and gaze at it without any conscious thoughts of it. It seems to rest us in a way and makes the conversation more interesting. Most of our talk now is about where we shall go from here and how long we shall be here.

April 13 (my father had landed at a port where he was able to get some mail from the home front, and much of the letter—date deleted, but he numbered the letters and it falls between the 12th and the 14th—deals with his joy at news from home):

It’s surely a beautiful night, and now we have the order to close down after a bit here with a complete blackout. I’ve not been here before, so it isn’t too bad really. In fact, things seem to be coming our way in wholesale lots today—orders and counter-orders and everything to keep us mixed up during the day. . .

“The Zero Hour” from Japan is on now, and it seems that a lot of ships have been raised from the deep—at least the Japs claim they are sunk, and I know better. This program, as you may recall, is devoted to building up the morale of the Americans in the Pacific war. It does just that, too, but not the way the Nips wish. The records they play are old, but it’s fun to hear Bonnie Baker sing once again! The Japanese version of our President’s death is, of course, a little different—but they are very respectful, too. Guess they don’t mind too much.

It must’ve been a sad day when FDR was buried. The men were talking about it, and my father explained to Mom:

Archie G—just now told how he once had to take $30 a week from WPA, saying he’ll never forget what our late President did for him and so many others who were just as broke and despairing during the days of the Depression. Most of the day they’ve had such little things on the air, and the description of the funeral at Hyde Park really hit a lot of us. He was buried today our time, yesterday your time.

 I thought you might enjoy popping back to April 1945 with me.

3 thoughts on “The Death of FDR

  1. Betsy Wing

    Your Dad wrote such wonderful letters! I grew up in a politically split family too, but it was my mother’s side that leaned toward FDR. This seemed odd to me as I began to understand such things because her side of the family had almost always been prosperous, even during the Great Depression and my father’s side was still upset about “The War Between the States” and the Depression had not been easy for them. For myself, at the age of nine, I hadn’t thought that the word “president” could ever belong to anyone but Roosevelt. I remember that I was in the sycamore tree outside my bedroom window when my mother came to tell me the sad news. I rather doubt that she and my father ever communicated on the subject. But no trace remains other than my own vivid memory.

  2. Jane Bartow Post author

    And I was just about a month old on this day so long ago, and I had no idea there was a war raging or that our President had died. Or that work was going forward on a very special bomb. And I was the main topic of most of my father’s letters at this time–that and how he’d spend time with my mother when he got home.

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