When we got the news of the President’s death on April 12, 1945, I was almost 20 then, considering myself a grizzled Navy vet of more than two wartime years. So, when hearing about it my naive attitude then was that with so many young guys killed that year, I considered FDR’s age ending at 63 to be a lucky, normal lifespan.
These days at almost age 90, I now realize that Roosevelt, just elected to his historic fourth term, could have enjoyed many more years of productive life. FDR had come home looking gaunt and exhausted from the Yalta conference with England’s Winston Churchill and Russia’s Josef Stalin. He died just 60 days later, and stories and photos of the funeral services were all over the news throughout the world.
One of the few who celebrated Roosevelt’s death was German dictator Adolf Hitler. On that day, he was trapped in his underground Berlin bunker as Russian soldiers were storming the city. Hitler’s joy was short-lived, because he committed suicide just two weeks after FDR’s funeral. Germany surrendered in early May, and World War II in Europe was over.
However, major fighting in the Far East didn’t end for another four months, and only after bitter combat and heavy casualties at sea and on the islands of Iwo Jima, Okinawa and the Philippines. I was with an advanced Navy unit near the capital of Manila when the news of the Japanese surrender came in.
One of my first thoughts, other than joy that I’d make it to age 20, was sadness that FDR wasn’t with us to celebrate the victory. How even more tragic it is today that we have not won a war in the 70 years since.