MThe recent Ken Burns documentary, THE ROOSEVELTS, jogged my memory about FDR as a wartime president. During WWII I attended a rural elementary school in Oahu, and we experienced an environment on alert for military action. Behind our school was an Army encampment, there were trenches dug behind our classrooms in the event of an air raid, we had to carry gas masks and ID cards , and there were stamp and war bond assemblies every Friday. When the USO came to entertain the troops of the camp, they performed at the school’s outdoor stage, and we were invited to attend. For the first time we saw a magician, listened to a classical violinist and heard a brass band.
A daily occurrence was the sight of convoys of Army trucks full of soldiers rambling on the narrow, two-lane road that skirts the beaches, going to maneuvers at the northern end of the island. If we missed the bus we had to walk on the shoulder of the highway and watch out as we darted across it to cross to the other side.
The most memorable occurrence was the day FDR passed away on April 12, 1945. The principal came into our third grade classroom and tearfully announced, “The President died today. you may all go home.”
Surprised but not stunned, we gathered our books and began the 3-mile trek home. He had not called the bus company. nor notified our parents–an impossibility anyway as most of use didn’t have telephones; in fact we didn’t even have electricity in our home.
About a week later there was a memorial service during a school assembly. At that time, we had religious education every Friday afternoon, with representatives from the various Christian denominations. If you were a Catholic, for example, the teachers were two nuns and a priest, while the Protestants had their own ministers. The unchurched could go to any to visit, but usually went with friends, perhaps an easy opportunity to proselytize.
I remember the service was ecumenical: a nun red the Bible passage about the resurrection, the priest and ministers took part in other parts of the service. The entire school sang patriotic songs they’d practiced in their classrooms, and we ended with “Home on the Range,” because it was said to be the President’s favorite song. We had no concept of “range,” “buffalo,” or “antelope,” but sang lustily as kids will when directed by their teachers.
My classmates and I had been born during FDR’s first term and he died during his fourth. We thought of him almost reverently, and I think no other that followed him in office has matched his charisma.