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RECOLLECTIONS of where they were when they...


RECOLLECTIONS of where they were when they learned of Franklin D. Roosevelt's death, 50 years ago this week:

"I was a teen-ager in Atlanta in 1945. The afternoon of April 12 I was playing basketball or volleyball in the 'large court' of the downtown YMCA. When the man who handed out towels in the locker room came up to the gym and breathlessly announced the news of FDR's death, three men in their 40s or 50s who were working out on the sidelines of the large court laughed, cracked jokes and danced a jig.

"I was absolutely stunned! Roosevelt was revered in Georgia. There were no Republicans to speak of there then. FDR got 82 percent of the Georgia vote in 1944.

"The next day, the slow-moving funeral train came through Atlanta en route to Washington and Hyde Park. The tracks were lined with mourners. I believe school was let out and I suspect I was one of the mourners, but I remember nothing about that.

"Only the three dancing, laughing men."

* * *

IN A Republican Philadelphia household where it wasn't quite respectable to be a Democrat and where Wendell Willkie was a family icon, the death of FDR drew a predictable reaction from an agitated teen-ager.

Storming down from his third-floor study, he confronted his mother who was as apolitical as circumstances permitted.

"See what you have done?" he said to the surprised lady, who remembered the encounter long after. "You (meaning her generation) have put Harry Truman in the White House.

"Harry Truman."

And with a despair usually reserved for losses on the baseball diamond by the Phillies and the Athletics, the teen-ager flounced off before his poor mama could protest that the advent of Harry Truman was not really her doing or responsibility.

* * *

ONE youngster thought then, "FDR has been president since I was a baby. I cannot imagine what it will be like to have someone else. Will life be the same? Will the country I know survive?"

That was the high point of presidential prestige in the boy's life. He has now lived under 10 other presidents. The nation survived every time. Life always went on.

* * *

REMARKABLY, a politically alert teen-ager of the time can't recall when he heard of FDR's death. But he has vivid memories of listening to Roosevelt's "date which will live in infamy" speech, and of waiting for an hour to get a glimpse of FDR in a motorcade with the jaunty fedora and confident grin that had held the nation together. Memories are tricky things.

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