“At one o’clock,the butler came in to set the table for lunch. Roosevelt glanced at his watch and said, “We’ve got just fifteen minutes more.” Then, suddenly, Shoumatoff recalled, “he raised his right hand and passed it over his forehead several times in a strange jerky way.” Then his head went forward. Thinking he was looking for something, Suckley went over to him and asked if he had dropped his cigarette. “He looked at me,” Suckley recalled, “his forehead furrowed with pain, and (he) tried to smile. He put his left hand up to the back of his head and said ‘I have a terrific pain in the back of my head.’ And then he collapsed.”
Moganthau Notices Roosevelt’s Decline
These were the final moments in the life of President Franklin D. Roosevelt as recalled by his cousin Margaret Suckley and reported by Doris Kearns Goodwin in her 1994 book “No Ordinary Time” United States President Franklin Delano Roosevelt died on this date, April 12, in 1945. Roosevelt, who had been elected in 1932 and been re-elected to an unprecedented third term in 1940, and to a fourth in 1944, had undergone severe stress during his third term. He had long since lost the use of his legs due to the effects of the disease polio. The added strains of leading the country during World War II had taken their toll on his health. And his physical appearance had shown his ill-health. His Treasury Secretary, Henry Morganthau, had noticed the change a few days before when he visited the President who was pouring a drink for his guest:
“I was terribly shocked when I saw him. I found that he had aged terrifically and looked very haggard. His hands shook so that he started to knock over the glasses. I had to hold each glass as he poured out the cocktail…I have never seen him have so much difficulty transferring himself from his wheelchair to a regular chair, and I was in agony watching him.”
Truman Learns of Roosevelt’s Death
The death of Roosevelt that day at 4:45 p.m. at his residence in Warm Springs, Georgia was revealed to his Vice President, Harry S. Truman a short time later by F.D.R.’s widow, Eleanor. He was summoned to the White House at 5:25 that day. Truman may have suspected something was wrong, but if so, he never revealed it:
“I thought I was going down there to meet the President. I didn’t allow myself to think anything else. I thought that maybe he wanted me to do some special piece of liaison work with the Congress…” When he arrived at the White House, he was ushered to Mrs. Roosevelt’s sitting room: “Mrs. Roosevelt stepped forward and gently put her arm on Truman’s shoulder. ‘Harry, the President is dead.’ Truman was unable to speak. ‘Is there anything I can do for you?’ he said at last. ‘Is there anything WE can do for YOU,’ she said. ‘For you are the one in trouble now.'”
When he met with a group of reporters the next day, he expressed his reaction quite clearly:
“Boys, if you ever pray, please pray for me now. I don’t know whether you fellows ever had a load of hay fall on you, but when they told me yesterday what had happened, I felt like the moon, the stars, and all the planets had fallen on me.”
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by Doris Kearns Goodwin, Simon & Schuster, New York, 1994.
“Truman” by David McCullough Simon & Schuster, New York, 1992.