by John Delach
One of the definitions of irony is: A state of affairs or an event that seems deliberately contrary to what one expects and is often amusing as a result.
The Thirty-Second President of the United States, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, died both dramatically and suddenly on the morning of April 12, 1945, in his cabin at “The Little White House” in Warm Springs, Georgia. FDR had long ago deemed Warm Springs to be his sanctuary for peace and renewal. As far back as 1928, FDR he confided in his doctors, “When I am worn out, I’ll come back to Warm Springs. In a few days I’ll be like new again.”
That March 29, FDR had boarded his personal Pullman sleeper, the Ferdinand Magellan, at a secret loading platform belonging to the Treasury Department beneath Union Station for a two-week respite in Warm Springs. Already seriously ill, the previous weeks journey to and from Yalta to meet with Stalin and Churchill had left him exhausted with little strength and reserves remaining; FDR was a very sick man.
The hope was that a respite at Warm Springs would serve to afford the old man, at least, a partial renewal. His presidential train set consisted of six coffee-green Pullmans that accommodated the president and his official entourage. FDR had just turned sixty-three and his personal physician, Admiral Ross McIntire, had approved the trip. But McIntire had become too close to Roosevelt to be objective in accessing the President’s condition and acting accordingly.
Just one month earlier, an examination of the President by Dr. Howard G. Bruenn, a cardiologist at Bethesda Naval Hospital had revealed the Chief of State’s blood pressure to be 260/150…widow maker city!
Dr. McIntire was unable to make the trip so Dr. Bruenn substituted for him.
Roosevelt slept late on the morning of April 12. He complained of a headache but looked good. Dr. Bruenn decided to go for a swim. The President picked a spot with good outside natural light to work at his desk while his portrait artist, Elizabeth Shoumatoff worked on his latest portrait. Ms Shoumatoff later reported that about an hour later: “A glorious redness had spread over the President’s face chasing away the pallor that had hollowed his cheeks.”
“The President seemed to be fumbling for something, his hands flitting above his head, as if waving away a moth that was not there. An aide asked, ‘ Have you dropped your cigarette?”
“He replied,‘ I have a terrific pain in the back of my head.”
FDR slumped over. He would remain alive another two-and one-half hours, but his last conscience moment ended when he collapsed from his chair.
While the tragic news slowly made its way to the nation and across the globe, preparations began to embalm his’ corpse and bring the deceased president back to Washington and then on to Hyde Park fpr burial.
The best funeral director in Atlanta was dispatched to Warm Springs. The consist of Pullman Cars that had carried FDR to Warm Springs, now designated the President’s Funeral Train, was ordered south from its layup track in Atlanta as preparations were made to begin the northern journey the next morning.
Eleanor Roosevelt flew in that night on a military aircraft to accompany her late husband on his journey. Three thousand soldiers arrived overnight to line the route from Warm Springs to the station as a color guard made up of Second Lieutenants newly graduated from the Fort Benning’s Officer Training School in full ceremonial dress would highlight the army’s dedication to their lost Commander-in-Chief.
“ALL RIGHT, ALL READY!
STOP THE PRESSES!
STOP THE MUSIC AND STOP THE NOISE!
INTERESTING STORY, BUT WHERE IS THE IRONY?”
Oh dear. Admittedly, I apologize for stringing this out, but you must admit I grabbed your attention by re-visiting FDR’s last visit to Warm Springs and the circumstances of his death.
The irony happened during the procession from Warm Springs to the railroad station.
One of those sharp, handsome and decked out newly minted Second Lieutenants ordered to be on duty to honor the deceased president was none other than William F. Buckley, the foremost American conservative statesman in the second half of the Twentieth Century.
That my friend is irony.
And yet, loyalty to his Commander-in-Chief, his uniform and his country came first for Second Lieutenant William F. Buckley that morning of April 13, 1945.