12 April, 2012

12 April 1945


438th AAA AW BN
APO 230 % Postmaster, N.Y.
12 April, 1945      2130

Dearest darling Wilma –

When you collect these V-mails that I’ve been sending you recently and you feel like complaining – remember sweetheart – that is has a lot to do with the rush and the winning of the war – and you won’t mind so much.

I’ve rested up a bit more than when I wrote you last night – but it’s go, go, go again and if I don’t write you now – I’ll have no other opportunity today. I’m oriented again as to our position etc – after having been away from maps etc – for a week – and I’m amazed at where we are. To think that we’re chewing up their great unconquerable land so easily!

I’ve got a bunch of mail that I just picked up and I see that the latest is dated March 30 and from you, dear – so I’m going to tear right into that now. I’ll be anxious to read about things at home again. For now, darling, so long and be well. Remember I love you always and as strongly as I know how. Love to the folks.

All my everlasting love

Route of the Question Mark


(A) Ebershutz to (B) Nordhausen, Germany (82 miles)
10 April to 12 April 1945

12 April... Nordhausen. Here we saw the concentration camp and the bodies of the slave workers. The factory inside the hill which turned out to be a V-2 plant. We lived in a kind of factory ourselves, with a stream running past it, and under it, and Mr [Hiram E.] MORLEY [, Jr.] fished all day. Here we received the news of President Roosevelt's death. We couldn't get bread so we persuaded a local bakery to make pumpernickel for us.


about The Death of President Roosevelt

FDR with Eleanor in 1941
at his 3rd Inauguration

On 12 April 1945, at his Warm Springs, Georgia, retreat, Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) sat in the living room with Lucy Mercer (with whom he had resumed an extramarital affair), two cousins and his dog Fala, while the artist Elizabeth Shoumatoff painted his portrait. It was about 1 pm when the president suddenly complained of a terrific pain in the back of his head and collapsed, unconscious. One of the women summoned a doctor, who immediately recognized the symptoms of a massive cerebral hemorrhage and gave the president a shot of adrenaline into the heart in a vain attempt to revive him. Mercer and Shoumatoff quickly left the house, expecting FDR's family to arrive as soon as word got out. Another doctor phoned First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt in Washington D.C., informing her that FDR had fainted. She told the doctor she would travel to Georgia that evening after a scheduled speaking engagement. By 3:30 in the afternoon, though, doctors in Warm Springs had pronounced the president dead.

Eleanor delivered her speech that afternoon and was listening to a piano performance when she was summoned back to the White House. In her memoirs, she recalled that ride to the White House as one of dread, as she knew in her heart that her husband had died. Once in her sitting room, aides told her of the president's death. The couple's daughter Anna arrived and the women changed into black dresses. Eleanor then phoned their four sons, who were all on active military duty.

Harry Truman was with Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn having an end-of-the-day “libation” in the Speaker’s private Capitol hideaway. It was there, a few minutes later, drink in hand, that Truman received word to call the White House. He rang up, spoke briefly, turned pale; he said “Jesus Christ and General Jackson,” put down the phone, told those present to say nothing, and left the room alone. Then he started to run.

When Truman arrived at the White House at about 5:30 pm, he was led upstairs to the private quarters, where Eleanor Roosevelt met him in the hall. A calm and quiet Eleanor said, "Harry, the president is dead." He asked if there was anything he could do for her, to which she replied, "Is there anything we can do for you? For you are the one in trouble now."

He felt, he recalled, like the moon, the stars, and all the planets had just fallen on him. He had only accepted the vice-presidency reluctantly; had never wanted anything other than to be a Senator; now, he was the 33rd President of the United States – and so out of the loop, it had come as a complete surprise to him that Roosevelt had been dying for months.

Indeed, Truman had rather large shoes to fill. FDR had presided over the Great Depression and most of World War II, leaving an indelible stamp on American politics for several decades. He also left Truman with the difficult decision of whether or not to continue to develop and, ultimately, use the atomic bomb. Shockingly, FDR had kept his vice president in the dark about the bomb's development and it was not until Roosevelt died that Truman learned of the Manhattan Project.

It was also not until FDR died that Eleanor learned of her husband's renewed affair with Lucy Mercer. Eleanor, in her own words, was trained to put personal things in the background. She swallowed the shock and anger about Mercer and threw herself into FDR's funeral preparations.

FDR had been president since 1933, and had only months earlier been elected to an unprecedented fourth term in office. From the depths of the Great Depression to the verge of total victory in World War II, FDR had been the skilled Democratic communicator. He was the “Radio President” of the-only-thing-we-have-to-fear-is-fear-itself, Fireside Chats, and the date-which-will-live-in-infamy. He was also the father of radical New Deal programs and initiatives that truly reinvented government. And of course, he was the smiling, energetic, cigarette-holder-using, co-prosecutor along with Winston Churchill of the Allied campaign against the Axis. Many teenagers had never known another president, and even many adults had no recollection of the earlier GOP times of Hoover, Coolidge, and Harding. Hardly anyone knew he’d been paralyzed below the waist by polio since 1921, or that his health was so perilous when elected to a fourth term.

The following Movietone video reported on Roosevelt's life and death

To hear a one-hour program in honor of Roosevelt, aired by NBC Radio on 14 April 1945, click on this link: Our Hour of National Sorrow

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