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President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Through a Child's Eyes
President Roosevelt Asks Congress to Declare War on Japan
I had recently celebrated my 10th Birthday. It was December 8, 1941. My parents and my brother and I were circled around our radio with worried faces. I was extremely distraught and I felt that the Japanese were about to bomb our home. And then I started listening to the voice of our President. He probably was as worried as every one of us clustered around the radio as he spoke. But he apparently reined in any worrisome thoughts and fired off an assault to the perpetrators of America's current agony. When he spoke the words, "Yesterday, December 7th, a date which will live in infamy..." one could hear the outrage in his voice. Years later, I would read of Admiral Yamamoto's reported quote after the attack on Pearl Harbor. He was quoted as saying, "I fear that all we have done is awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve," And I would remember the awakened resolve in President Roosevelt's voice on December 8, 1941. I remember being calmed that day by our President's steady voice. He seemed to take command of our frightening situation at once and made believers of us all that come what may, we and our allies would win what seemed to be an impossible victory.
After Congress validated the President's request for a state of war with Japan, Germany and Italy declared war on our United States. Our President would have to manage wars against what he called the "Bandit Nations," Germany, Japan, and Italy.
A Lot of People Began Enlisting All Over the Free World on December 8, 1941
Many were those all over the free world, like those pictured above in Melbourne, Australia, who signed up for World War II on the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor, and many young and famous people in the United States answered the call in the ensuing days, including baseball great, Bob Feller. Soon, Joe DiMaggio and other baseball greats and Heavyweight Champion Joe Lewis would count themselves in the war. Film stars such as Jimmy Stewart, Clark Gable, Tyrone Power, and Henry Fonda followed suit. In fact the entire free world came together as a united front against the Axis, as the Three Bandit Nations were known.
Schoolmates all over the freedom loving world united against those who would take over our beloved countries. Here, in the United States of America, my peers and I were ready to do anything we could to insure the status quo of our lives. We followed and appreciated our President's Fireside Chats, where he kept us up on what was happening in the war. His voice was always steady and hopeful. We did not know then about how seriously polio had devastated his legs, that in fact he couldn't walk without help. We and the entire world would come to know much later of the heroic battle he forged against the disease that had so incapacitated him..
Film and radio star Bob Hope took entertainers into war areas to become beloved by all the GIs. President Roosevelt brought many of the Hollywood celebrities to the White House because he appreciated their work on the screen and for the War Bond Tours, which raised much money for the war effort.
The Entire Free World United
Children's War Effort
We school children had our parts to play during World War II. We helped on newspaper drives, and made tinfoil balls, both newspapers and tinfoil were recycled into much needed materials to be used for war. We bought savings stamps, which could be used to purchase war bonds. At home we peeled paper off tin cans, took the tops and bottoms off the cans, placed the tops inside the cans and stepped on them to flatten the cans to pack in boxes. Some of us made up substitutes for butter by smashing the capsules of yellow butter colored liquid that came in margarine and mixed the color into the white margarine, then we wrapped waxed paper tightly around the substitute for butter and put it in the ice box. It did not taste very good, but we did not complain.
A lot of things were rationed during the war, such as gasoline, butter, sugar, canned goods, and meat. Each family was given rationing books and coupons. Shoes were also rationed, and I remember how they were repaired to last; cardboard cutouts were used to temporarily reinforce holes in soles.
Many families, like ours, had Victory Gardens, to lessen demand for food. We planted tomatoes, carrots, and other assorted vegetables. The men in families provided meat and fish because they were hunters and fishermen.
The Little White House and Dowdell's Knob Plaque
Periodically, all during World War II, Roosevelt would return to The Little White House in Warm Springs, Georgia. Seeing him there in the news footages at theaters, gave me a peaceful interlude, just as I suspect it gave to him. It's been said that the place he treasured most of all was Dowdell's Knob, the highest spot atop Pine Mountain, just a short drive from the Little White House, where he picnicked with friends or sat alone in his car, just enjoying the peace, quiet, and beauty of nature and to think about strategies for the war. I recall as a child reading in my Weekly Reader how very much he enjoyed playing with the paralyzed children in the warm natural spring waters of the pool at the place he had founded, The Warm Springs Georgia Rehabilitation Center. That he had been stricken with Polio years before was known to most all of us, but we did not know that this energetic man, who seemed unconquerable could be incapacitated in any way. We did not realize how fiercely he held on to the assisting arms of others or didn't notice how he held on to car doors for support. We just knew how it seemed to rejuvenate him whenever he went to Warm Springs. Few people knew that he had visited Warm Springs, which had been called Bullocksville on the advice of a friend, who told him about the healing powers of the natural springs. And so he went in the hopes of finding a cure. He bought the broken down resort and transformed it into a rehabilitation place for himself and others. If the waters did not heal his legs, it was to prove successful in healing his spirit.
At First the War News Was All Bad
The early news from the front on both sides was all bad. But with posters like that above, and with the steady stream of recruits, the tide began to slowly change. Operation Torch in North Africa cheered Roosevelt with reports of casualties being less than expected.
Going to the movies all during the war was cathartic for both adults and children. There were steady lines around theaters all over the free world. Before television, it was the only way besides radio that one could get news about the war, an A flick, a B flick and a cartoon, and in some cases a funny short flick. In some parts of the USA there were parades to welcome a Gene Autry or Roy Rodgers movie, which gratified children. President Roosevelt was an ardent movie fan of films such as "Mrs. Miniver," a story about war in England.
President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill officially met for the first time in August 1941, when both men boarded war ships and met for a secret meeting in the North Atlantic Ocean. It was a meeting that boded well for their friendship during WWII. Seeing filmed footage years later of the joint service of British and Americans aboard the British warship, "The Prince of Wales," I was moved to tears. Just watching the two men and their warriors at a joint religious service, singing hymns, particularly "Onward Christian Soldiers," one could feel the unity between those great leaders and their men. Later, remarking about the joint service, Churchill said, "It was a great hour to live." A sad note: Some weeks after the meeting, "The Prince of Wales" was torpedoed and sunk.
In December 1941, Churchill made his first trip to the Roosevelt White House, where the two leaders would talk over war strategy. Their friendship had been going on for some time, ever since the Nazis targeted the British and rained down bombs upon them and continued to torpedo their ships at sea. Roosevelt wanted to help, to give Churchill the weapons and ships the British needed, but with nightmares of World War I still fresh in the minds of many, Roosevelt knew he would have to out-flank Congress. So he thought of a plan with a name designed to cause no intent to suspect, "Lend Lease." When explained to me by grown ups, even at a young age, I could see that bombed out tanks and planes could not be acceptable payments for borrowed weapons.. But Lend Lease was approved by Congress and the British had the temporary help it needed.
Churchill and Roosevelt met many times over the years of WWII, and I saw the filmed footage of a lot of their meetings. And they talked over the phone constantly. But it was their last meeting at Yalta that I remember most, particularly the news photo of Roosevelt in his black cape; he looked so ill, and thin. The war was nearing its end, and Stalin joined them for this final meeting of Roosevelt's. It was 1945, I had celebrated my 13th birthday the previous autumn, and Roosevelt had won his fourth term as President. He was the only President I ever knew until he died.
I felt sorry for the Polish people seemingly abandoned by the Western powers. I don't know how I knew what Stalin was going to do to them as a people but he did not seem at all kind to a child such as I. Roosevelt said that he had done the best he could do for everyone at that meeting at Yalta.
On April 12, 1945, I was sick in bed. My father had brought our radio set to my room and had just plugged the cord in when it was announced that President Roosevelt had died in Warm Springs. As glad as I was that he had died in the place he so loved, I cried as I listened to the Classical music that was to be about all that was available to be heard over the next days, excepting for war news. I along with everyone else waited to see how President Truman was going to deal with the unimaginable crisis that had been handed so suddenly to him. We needn't have worried. He would soon earn the title, "Give them Hell, Harry,".
Though even now, so many years later, I still remember the joy of my child's heart, listening to that incomparable voice of President Roosevelt's that seemed to say, "Fear not, all is well."
Text Sources: Video, American Experience, President FDR