Thursday, April 12, 1945

The Charlotte News

Thursday, April 12, 1945


Site Ed. Note: The screaming headlines of the day, "Yanks Cross Elbe to Menace Berlin", referred to the "Hell on Wheels" Division of the Ninth Army having crossed the last water barrier before the capital, the "hound and hare chase" moving so fast that Supreme Allied Headquarters had run out of space on their wall-size, 100,000:1 scale map, had to curl it around the corner of the room to encompass Leipzig and Berlin. Meanwhile, in the East, the Soviets had cracked a major hole in the German defenses to the west of Vienna, with the two forces moving ever closer to joinder.

The editorial page presents, among other things, the editors' compilation of facts on the proposed new World Court.

We shall return to those topics in a special note to be added Sunday.

Shortly after the time this print hit the newsstands and doorsteps of Charlotte on the afternoon of April 12, 1945, the day's headlines and stories would suddenly seem all too commonplace, would recede to the background of other sobering news coming during the evening hours, too late to make the afternoon newspapers, save in extra editions. We thus provide some of Friday's print early.

The additional news spreading fast over the wires and the radio, of course, was that Franklin Roosevelt, 32nd President of the United States, had died at the Little White House in Warm Springs, Georgia, at 4:35 p.m., Eastern War Time, (3:35, Georgia time), from a sudden cerebral hemorrhage, occurring at around 1:00 as he sat at his desk in the study. Accounts of those present stated that, just before lunch, he complained of a "terrific headache", put his hand to the back of his head, then, about fifteen minutes later, suddenly slumped over to his desk, unconscious. At the time, the President was having his portrait made.

When he actually died, three persons were with the President: Dr. James Paulin, who had been summoned to Warm Springs from Atlanta after the President's stroke; Commander Howard Bruenn, one of the President's personal physicians; and George Fox, the White House pharmacist. Dr. Paulin explained that the President was never in any conscious pain and never regained consciousness after he was stricken.

Mrs. Roosevelt was in Washington attending a charity event when she received the news. She left in silence and returned to the White House. Subsequently, she stated, "I am more sorry for the people of the country and the world than I am for us." She then sent a message to each of her four sons across the world's battlefronts, saying that their father had "slept away this afternoon". The President's daughter and faithful aide during the last year of his life, Anna Boettiger, had been at Walter Reed Army Hospital when the news of her father's death came. She immediately returned to the White House.

The 998th gathering of the press with the President during his term had been held on Thursday, April 5, at the President's Pine Mountain cabin near Warm Springs. The report had been held up for security reasons until after his scheduled return to Washington. It had dealt with the political situation in the Philippines and the expressed hope of the President that Philippine independence could be achieved by the following fall, ahead of the pre-determined schedule. Present had been Philippine President Sergio Ozmena.

The President also indicated that he expected Japanese surrender within six months, while guerilla fighting could persist for years to come. He added that the United States should have an expanding role in the Western Pacific after the war and that the United Nations must undertake trusteeship of Japanese mandates, providing airbases to resist future Japanese aggression, that Germany and Japan had to be policed internally and externally to prevent future military build-up.

Also present at the press conference were Fala and a friend, an unnamed Irish setter.

The health of the President had been a concern for the previous eighteen months, and had been discussed often during the campaign. But as recently as February, upon his return from Yalta, the President's White House physician, Vice Admiral Ross McIntyre, had given Mr. Roosevelt a clean bill of health. Admiral McIntyre was in Washington at the time of the President's death.

In recent weeks, reported an Associated Press compilation of anecdotes on the President, he had difficulty hearing from his left ear, causing him sometimes to make mistakes in response to press conference inquiries which originated from his left.

The President's death occurred just two days short of the 80th anniversary of the assassination of President Lincoln, April 14, 1865, and on the 84th anniversary of the initial firing on Fort Sumter to begin the Civil War in Charleston Harbor.

He was planning to stay in Warm Springs another week, having been there since March 30 to rest from the long trip in January and February to Malta, Yalta, and Alexandria, then return to Washington for a day before crossing the country to San Francisco to open the United Nations Conference on April 25.

Vice-President Harry Truman, having been in the office for only 82 days, since January 20, 1945, and having thus far been asked to shoulder few responsibilities of the Executive Branch, was suddenly cast into the role of President at the climax of the war. President Truman was given the oath of office by Chief Justice Harlan Stone at 7:00 p.m. at the White House, two hours and 25 minutes following the pronouncement of death of the President.

The news had first been imparted to Mr. Truman by Mrs. Roosevelt at the White House after he had been informed by Speaker Sam Rayburn at the Capitol, where the Vice-President had been visiting, that he was wanted immediately at the Executive Mansion. When informed, he immediately inquired of Mrs. Roosevelt, "What can I do?"

She replied instead with her own question: "Tell us what we can do. Is there any way we can help you?"

Shortly after President Truman was sworn, Mrs. Roosevelt left Washington and flew to Warm Springs to accompany the body of the President on the specially chartered Southern Railway train back to Washington, scheduled to leave Warm Springs Friday at 10:00 a.m. and arrive at 10:00 a.m. on Saturday in Washington—a train which would pass through Charlotte at around 10:00 Friday night.

President Truman and his wife Bess and daughter Margaret then rode to their apartment, 47 blocks away in a quiet neighborhood, retiring for the night. President Truman asked that there be no visitors or incoming phone calls.

The President's body would not lie in State at the Capitol, as, with the exceptions of Presidents Truman and Nixon, has been the tradition with deceased Presidents since the death of President Kennedy, including Presidents Hoover, Eisenhower, Johnson, Reagan, and Ford, President Hoover, dying in 1964, having been the first to do so after passing subsequent to the term in office. Only four Presidents, Lincoln, Garfield, McKinley, each assassinated, and President Harding, who had also died in office, August 2, 1923, the last such President prior to FDR, had lain in State at the Capitol prior to the death of President Roosevelt.

A crowd began to gather outside the White House on Lafayette Square across Pennsylvania Avenue and remained in silence, "staring a little vacantly", as Jack Bell of the Associated Press described it, long into the night.

"The master governmental craftsman is gone. The relatively untried executive carries on."

Another piece points out that in 1933, when Harry Truman, age 49, was a county judge in Jackson County, Missouri, not a dozen influential people in Washington knew who he was. He was first elected to the Senate from Missouri in 1934 and then re-elected in 1940. His only aspiration in 1934 had been to become county collector, was talked into running for the Senate by Kansas City Boss Tom Pendergast. Neither had he wanted to become Vice-President, had, at the convention the previous summer, been nonchalantly eating a hot dog when his name was called to come to the podium to accept the nomination of his party, at first not realizing that he had been chosen the nominee.

Mr. Truman had grown up so poor that no one in his town of birth, in which he resided until age four, recalled him. His mother had bragged that he could plow the straightest furrows in the state of Missouri. He could not afford to attend college, went broke in 1922 after two years running a haberdashery out of the Baltimore Hotel in Kansas City, following his service as a captain in the Army, seeing combat duty in France in World War I.

He had not married until age 35, taking his childhood sweetheart, Bess Wallace, as his bride in 1919. After the haberdashery business had died, he first ran for county judge, the equivalent of a county commissioner, the following summer. After his first term, he was defeated for re-election in 1924, but won again in 1926.

In October, he had opened the vice-presidential campaign at the county fair in Caruthersville, Mo., an overwhelmingly Democratic county in which he therefore hoped to sway no new voters to the fold. But, instructed a piece from the Associated Press, "Truman does things that way."

President Truman gave a brief statement in the wake of the President's death, in which he assured the fighting men that the war would continue to be prosecuted to victory, that he would continue the policies of President Roosevelt. He asked that the Cabinet remain in their posts. As yet, there was no reply.

The new President's relatives in Independence, Missouri, expressed dismay that the heavy burden of government had landed on Mr. Truman's shoulders. But they were confident that his work ethic would see him through the job.

To say that the country was stunned, shocked, and plunged into a state of mourning, is to make understatement. We shall let much of the print which proceeds on tomorrow's date speak for itself. Since we have obtained for your perusal 14 pages of the April 13 edition of The News, virtually the entire newspaper for that date, we provide about half of it today.

Franklin Roosevelt was 63 at his death, having been born in Hyde Park, New York, on January 30, 1882. He spent his last birthday on the island of Malta, meeting preliminarily with Winston Churchill and the combined military chiefs of staff of the Western Allies, en route to the historic conference at Yalta to meet with Josef Stalin and the Soviet military and diplomatic personnel.

Mr. Roosevelt had been stricken with polio and confined either to a wheelchair or heavy steel braces to permit him to "walk" at great labor since August, 1921, a year after he had been nominated as vice-president on the Democratic ticket with James M. Cox, defeated in November, 1920 by Warren G. Harding and Calvin Coolidge.

FDR never made public reference to his inability to walk save on one occasion, March 1, 1945, when he spoke to a joint session of Congress and to the nation anent his trip to Yalta and what had generally been accomplished and agreed, his last speech to the Congress and to the American people.

His first job in the Federal Government was as Assistant Secretary of the Navy, serving from 1913 until August, 1920 under lifelong friend, Secretary Josephus Daniels of North Carolina, former editor of the Raleigh News & Observer and, in 1933, appointed by the President to become Ambassador to Mexico, there responsible for guiding the Good Neighbor policy, creating better relations with Mexico than at any time in history. The President always called Mr. Daniels, to the end of his days, "Chief". Mr. Daniels had retired at age 79 in October, 1941, but the two still consulted on occasion.

Mr. Roosevelt had served one two-year term, immediately prior to his tenure at the Department of the Navy, in the New York State Legislature.

He had served one term as Governor of New York, from 1929 to 1933, when he was inaugurated President, March 4, 1933, in the midst of the Great Depression, the worst economic debacle in the country's history. He was, of course, elected to the office of the presidency four times, serving 12 years, 39 days, four years longer than any other President in American history. Prior to that time, he had served in elective office only a total of six years.

Two years after the President's death, in March, 1947, the Congress passed the 22nd Amendment, providing a limit of two elected terms to the office of President during the occupant's lifetime, except that a person attaining the office during the unexpired term of the predecessor is unable to run for a second term unless the unexpired term is not more than two years. The amendment was ratified as part of the Constitution on February 27, 1951. It did not apply to President Truman, permitting him, should he have chosen, to run again in 1952. The voice of the people, however, having been made clear in that amendment, rendered it obviously imprudent and impracticable for the President to have done so.

A great deal of controversy had been spawned in the country during both the 1940 and 1944 elections, regarding the breaking of the traditional limit of two terms as President, begun with President Washington. On both such occasions, however, President Roosevelt was drafted by the Democrats as the nominee, having left it to the delegates to make the decision, running only modest campaigns after each successive nomination against the most formidable of his four opponents, Wendell Willkie, who had died the previous October, 1944, and Thomas Dewey, who would again be nominated in 1948. The President largely let his record speak for itself.

Each of the 1940 and 1944 elections had been progressively closer than had been either of the two previous elections, in 1944 the margin of victory having been 7.5%, still considered a decisive margin.

President Roosevelt initially had defeated a very unpopular incumbent, President Herbert Hoover, in 1932, and scored the largest presidential landslide in modern U.S. history against Governor Alf Landon of Kansas in 1936, 60.8% to 36.5%.

There had been discussion during the 1944 campaign by the major syndicated columnists of the day that President Roosevelt might resign the presidency following the end of World War II and the initial formation of the peace. Whether that would have occurred is anyone's guess, but it was, we posit, unlikely, unless serious health problems short of death had intruded. Had the President survived the stroke and been impaired as a result in his mental faculties, that obviously would have led to his stepping aside.

President Roosevelt remains in the top tier of most credible historians' rankings of United States Presidents, usually within the top five, with Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln, plus another, usually more recent President, rotating from time to time based on changing historical perspective. The New Deal and its programs, for all its failings and inefficiency, the stewardship of the country through a time when it was on the verge of revolution from its economic woes since 1929, the bringing back the farms to a state of prosperity, bringing back business to its most productive time in U.S. history during the war, the stewardship of the country through the second world war endured in a 25-year period, when, literally, freedom around the globe, including in the United States, was threatened as at no other time in human history, when winning that war, both in Europe and the Pacific, remained in grave doubt through much of 1942, even into the first half of 1943, all combined to make Franklin Roosevelt, on balance, without much historical doubt, the greatest President of the Twentieth Century.

There will be those who will argue that some of his methods were too usurping of Federal authority to get things done which properly were the duties of the states and localities, that the Administration's many experiments during the New Deal led to confusion at times in the country and even impeded recovery, that the recovery was never complete until the war began in Europe in 1939, necessitating the advent of Lend-Lease, officially made law by Congress in March, 1941. But long ago has passed from the political landscape the cries by the most reactionary groups in the country of the time, that President Roosevelt was a tyrant or a dictator, a Socialist or even a Communist, vituperations carrying such messages having been regularly heard across the land through 1941 by such groups as the America Firsters, the American Bund, the Coughlinites, and their various tag-along elements, sometimes consisting of actual Nazi agents, most usually consisting of those who held the belief that Nazi Germany presented a bulwark to Communism in Europe and thus had to be left alone to work its necessary evil.

Through time, the wisdom of President Roosevelt shines ever more remarkably, the more one studies his many decisions and programs, his initiative and drive, his spirit and dedication. Only during the war did he lose a close sense of contact with the American people by the necessity of preoccupation with the war effort. His Fireside Chats of the first two terms became legend in comforting the American people in a time of distress economically and assuring them, together with action and policies, that he would maintain the fight for prosperity until prosperity was effected. And he did, of course.

The great confidence in him as a leader thus instilled, carried over into the war and was the prime ingredient which motivated the people of the United States to action finally, both at home and on the foreign fields of battle, carrying through to a toughly earned victory in this worst of all wars ever seen by humanity, the Armageddon if ever there was one.

His management of the war itself, against an often recalcitrant Congress, even at times so after Pearl Harbor, as with the budget fight of early 1944 which led to the President's veto of what he deemed an inadequate budget and then the bitter overriding of that veto by his own party in February, as with the tug of war on labor issues and the labor draft, even up to the time of the President's death, occasional battles over power between the Executive and the Congress throughout the twelve years, holding in early 1945 the fight over the nomination of former Vice-President Henry Wallace to become Secretary of Commerce, rejecting the nomination of Aubrey Williams to be director of the Rural Electrification Administration, both fights ultimately waged because of each man's stated beliefs regarding the necessity for racial equality in the country, deemed too progressive for the time, yet never lost of the President's unwavering support in those fights, all stand as a monument to President Roosevelt's strength, integrity, and ability to manage politically, both at home and abroad, the manifold intricacies of threading together the various interests of 130 million Americans setting forth each day in a nation whose borders, made insular for 150 years by two oceans, suddenly, by dint of the coming of age of the airplane, turned no longer impregnable, suddenly, on a Sunday morning in December, 1941 over Oahu, had become, for the first time since 1815, no longer free from the battle scars of a foreign war, one which the country did not want, had not sought or stimulated, either by action or by policy.

The President, however, through all the catcalls from both the opposition and his own party, through substantial dissatisfaction at times with his leadership, at its low ebb in 1937-38 as the fight over the Court-packing plan ensued, as the country fell back into a second depression of 1938, stood nevertheless as a beacon of hope and understanding to the great majority of the people of the country throughout the twelve years he was in office.

For the simple reason that we, as a people, no longer appear to permit there to be a Roosevelt on the political landscape, we are unlikely to see his like again, even for the period of two terms. Arguably, of course, the two-term limit prevents a President from having the political capital which President Roosevelt accumulated and so prevents the sort of action which he was able to undertake and effect. His impact on the country's manner of thinking and its political structure remains to this day, though at times attacked by conservatives, both Democrat and Republican. The basic notion that Government has a fundamental role in serving the people and insuring against the excesses of private capital and private business, especially big business, and in protecting both the voice and the rights of the individual, the balance not ever perfectly achieved during the Roosevelt years, but a beginning made, sustains into the present time, so much so that what was then called "liberal" is today considered moderate.

It has always intrigued us that there are not more buildings across the land bearing his name. For a time, there was named, here and there, a Roosevelt School or a Roosevelt Hospital, or the like. But there are no prominent landmarks around which bear the name FDR, save the New York City bridge and island, once named Welfare Island. But, perhaps it is better that way.

For the monument which he left to the American people is not one built of concrete or steel, though the many dams and public buildings and other structures constructed during the period of the Works Progress Administration of the 1930's remain as both functional and poetically architectural art-deco contributions to the American landscape across its expanse; yet, the real monument which he left as his greatest legacy is in the manner of thinking about our fellow countrymen, our fellow citizens of the world, as people, just like us, sometimes flawed and sometimes wrong in their views when juxtaposed to any rational sense, but nevertheless people, with feelings, with hearts, with minds, humanity, not animals.

And when people are in need, the country must respond, not leaving it to "volunteerism", but taking a proactive response, utilizing the entire Federal machinery of Government to meet those needs. Failing, you get back up and you try another program. You do not blame the people for not doing their part, for not shouldering their burden. You take the burden as the leader and you shoulder it, to death if necessary. For it is that burden which you chose when you elected to become a public servant, elected by the people. It is not a stage play where actors perform roles. The millions who died in World War II were not actors. Nor was President Roosevelt. He understood the duties, he embraced them, he rather enjoyed them. But ultimately, he lived with them, hourly, daily, for twelve long years. And, ultimately, they got the better of his health. And he finally laid down his life and his burden for his country.

We are unlikely to see his like again.

Emblematic of the President's humanity was a short story told by Mrs. W. C. Hicks of Charlotte, whose husband had been installing plumbing at Warm Springs a few days before the President's death. Mr. Roosevelt had been riding through the grounds at the Little White House compound when he saw a German prisoner-of-war at work. The President stopped and talked to the man, eventually patted him on the hand and gave him encouraging words. Later, the German prisoner stated his amazement, with tears in his eyes, that the President had done so. "Hitler," he assured, "would not have stopped to spit on me."

Contrasting with the elaborate coverage of television and radio of President Kennedy's funeral eighteen years later, the next President to die, in or out of office, after President Roosevelt, there was to be no radio coverage, not even press photographers, at the White House funeral ceremony, planned for 4:00 Saturday in the East Room, and none either for the burial Sunday at 10:00 a.m. in Hyde Park, the President's final burying place in the family estate on the Hudson, Krum Elbow. The President wanted his funeral to be simple, in keeping with the family tradition which was maintained for his mother Sara, who had died September 7, 1941.

Scheduled for Friday the 13th, the President had planned to meet with the patients at the polio foundation, now the Roosevelt Warm Springs Institute, which Mr. Roosevelt had founded in 1927. They had intended to put on a minstrel show for his entertainment.

Instead, the slowly moving cortege on Friday morning, from the Little White House to the train station, carrying Mrs. Roosevelt with the President's remains back to Washington, from there, on Saturday night, back home again, would pass by the location to allow the sad and tear-stained faces to say their last good-byes.

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