Easter Sunday in Hyde Park
April 12, 2009
Richard J. Garfunkel
It was a sunny and bright, but a cool day for twelve days into April as I drove up the Taconic from Tarrytown. On this day, in Warm Springs, Georgia, 64 years ago, the civilized world was shocked and saddened by the news. There, of course, had been the normal war news that had occupied most adults who were alive during that time. The last German battleship afloat, the Admiral Speer was sunk, the US Army’s 2nd Armored Division was parked about 63 miles from Berlin, B-29 Superforts struck Tokyo again, kamikaze suicide planes were raining death and destruction on our Pacific Fleet and the US First Army under the command of Lt. General Courtney Hodges liberated the ancient German city of Liepzig. At home war work was continuing on a 24 hour basis, the NFL stated that it would schedule ten games for their fall season, and the New York Stock Exchange traded a heavy volume of 1,060,000 shares, as the average went up 1.55 points. It was on that spring day, at almost the very end of the most devastating conflict in history, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the 32nd President of the United States passed away.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the Soldier of Freedom (James McGregor Burns), The Champion of Freedom (Conrad Black), the leader of the free world, the architect of victory, the co-author of the Atlantic Charter, the originator of Lend-Lease, the founder of the United Nations and the savior of humanity as we know it died suddenly in the “Little White House,” his home in Warm Springs. In a way, reflective of Moses, he was denied entrance into the Promise Land of Victory. Almost to the day, eighty years before on April 15, 1865, Lincoln died, and he like Roosevelt, was also deprived by the fates of being able to bask in the glow of victory. Maybe like Moses, Roosevelt had struck the fabled “rock” too often.
As the news hit all over the stunned world, Conrad Black, in his epic biography of Roosevelt, wrote, “The world was stupefied by the sudden demise of its most famous and important inhabitant.” Many Americans leaders, both political friend and foe of the late President were stunned. Alban Barkley spoke of “One of the worst tragedies that ever happened.” In proclaiming a national day of mourning, President Harry S Truman wrote, “Though his voice is silent, his courage is not spent.” Even Radio Tokyo, the voice of our mortal enemy, surprisingly announced Roosevelt’s death soberly and played funeral music, “In honor of the passing of a great man.” One, of course, is often measured by the enemies one makes in life, and it was left to the megalomaniac Adolph Hitler to declare that German fortunes would revive because, “Fate has removed the greatest criminal of all time.” He would survive the president for not too much longer, and by the end of April he was dead by his own grisly hand. Of course, the tributes from political friend and foe, the great, the near great, and the average citizen of America and the world came pouring in to all who would listen.
In London, Winston Churchill said in his remarks to a joint session of the two houses of Parliament, “I conceived an admiration for him as a statesman, a man of affairs, and a world leader. I felt the utmost confidence in his upright, inspiring character and outlook, a personal regard – affection, I may say-for him beyond my power to express today.” He went on, “What an enviable death was his! He had brought the country through the worst of its perils and the heaviest of its toils. Victory had cast its sure and steady beam upon him. In the days of peace he had broadened and stabilized the foundation of American life and union. In war he had raised the strength, might, and glory of the Great Republic to a height never attained by any nation in history.”
In the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, whose April 12th edition came out later in that day, the headlines screamed EXTRA and reported that “Roosevelt Is Dead.” It was in Hawaii, on December 7, 1941, three years and a little more than for months earlier that the war had begun with the Japanese surprise attack. On that day April 12, 1945 along with the tragic news from Warm Springs the paper reported the loss of a US submarine, the report of Nazi cruelty to American POWs, carrier strikes on Formosa, and the loss at sea of the oil tanker Saint Mihiel. Newspapers all over the world carried the same story. Their gigantic black headlines screamed the news to every corner of the world.
Churchill spoke with a sense of envy of Roosevelt the warrior, “He died in harness, and we may say in battle harness, like his soldiers, sailors and airmen, who side by side with ours are carrying their task to the end all over the world.” On my desk I have a framed newspaper clipping and it simply lists, “Today’s Army-Navy Casualty List,” and below it says: Washington, Apr. 13—Following are the latest casualties in the military service, including next of kin. Above the Navy Dead, which listed, DECKER, Carlos Anthony, Fireman 1c, Sister, Mrs. Elizabeth Decker Metz, 16 Concord Place, Concord, RI, was ARMY-NAVY DEAD, ROOSEVELT, Franklin D, Commander-in-Chief, wife Mrs. Anna Eleanor Roosevelt, the White House.
Churchill concluded his remarks to Parliament by saying that “…in Franklin Roosevelt there died the greatest American friend we have ever known and the greatest champion of freedom who has ever brought help and comfort from the New World to the Old..”
Today, in our time, it was a quiet Easter Day in Hyde Park, and there were not many visitors to the museum and the home called Springwood, which stands and looks majestically over FDR’s beloved Hudson River. Because of the holiday, there was scheduled only a small ceremony in the Rose Garden. When I walked into the Garden it was quiet and empty. New fir trees had been planted to replace the ones that had come and gone since the West Point Cadets accompanied President Roosevelt’s remains to his resting place. On that day, in 1945, the afternoon solitude and somberness was broken by the crackling report of a 21-gun salute. Today it was lonely, there was no one to talk to, and as I walked quietly back to the Henry Wallace Center and my car, I wondered to myself what future generations would think of all of this! Another afternoon had flown by, and before long, I was back on the road, and another day in the long history of humankind was quickly flowing into the portals of time.