As soon as I mentioned I was going to do a column about Franklin Delano Roosevelt, my son, Doug, did that thing our kids do; He rolled his eyes. He announced that I couldn’t write again about the train that passed me that black night in April 1945 with FDR’s body.
It’s difficult for me not to include what happened, remembering that I was a minor character in that historic moment. Franklin Delano Roosevelt became president when I was eight, and was still in office when I was a young married woman with a newborn son in September 1944. The Great Depression, the Dust Bowl and World War II occurred during those years. I felt secure in FDR’s leadership.
My father disagreed. He came home from voting, laughing about the fool he’d seen wearing a Roosevelt pin. Lapel pins were big back in the 30s and 40s.Daddy was wrong, FDR made it into the White House and stayed. America was going through that terrible Depression, something people today cannot imagine. To make it worse, the Midwest had turned into a Dust Bowl.
All the while our new president, along with Congress, was trying to come up with solutions to get our country prosperous again. It was a dreadful time for everybody.
Then the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and Hitler declared war on the United States. It was then FDR gave his very famous “Day of infamy speech.” Back then we only had radios, that and 2-cent newspapers.
If something spectacular happened, newsboys fled to the streets yelling “extra, extra, read all about it.” Everybody turned on radios to find out what was happening. There were no televisions, and this was how most learned the news. FDR had been having what he called his “Fireside Chat” with the citizens. Every Sunday you could walk down any town or city street and hear that familiar voice as he spoke to his citizens.
But after that horrible Sunday, Dec. 7, 1941, things changed. Our nation, and its people, did what Americans were and should always be famous for; we did the impossible. The world was at war, not just us, and we had the resources that England and France and the rest of the world didn’t have. Everybody got busy. Women who had never worked outside of their homes began to do jobs only men had done.
No job was off limits to women. Some flew planes to England so Army pilots could fight. Everybody had a job. Overnight, it seemed we built hundreds of ships, thousands of planes and tanks, ammunition, uniforms, raised food and all the many, many items needed to fight this terrible war. Then we managed to somehow ship all of this to the Pacific and European theaters, all while FDR began serving his fourth term in office.
FDR had a private life, controlled mainly by his mother, who could easily be called the most demanding mother-in-law in history over FDR’s wife. Poor Eleanor, she didn’t even get to raise her children; however, there was a good side to this. Eleanor was free to do the many great things she did for the country as First Lady, and kept on doing it long after the death of her husband and mother-in-law.
In the meantime Eleanor had to live with the fact that her husband had a mistress. Then FDR contracted polio; his legs were paralyzed for life. Photographers were banned from ever showing him in a wheelchair, or going to and from events. It was years before people realized the real extent of FDR’s illness. His oldest son often held FDR – who was in braces — for each speech. It couldn’t have been easy.
One good thing came out of all of this. The March of Dimes was begun, and polio vaccines were finally developed. Eventually, polio was all but eliminated in America and most of the world. I’ve kept away from talking about that “famous train ride” until now. It became news later that Eleanor had to be told that when FDR passed away his mistress was with him.
She had to remember that, on that black night, as that train brought FDR back to the White House. All of us were frightened, so used to having FDR as president, and now we had to get to know a haberdasher named Harry S Truman. Our vice president had to lead us through the rest of the war and the problems he encountered concerning a new element, the A-bomb
Edna Van Leuven is a Churchill County writer and columnist. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.