Category Archives: World War II

FDR: A Man and His Memorial

SignJust west of the Tidal Basin lies the memorial to the 32nd President of the United States, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Unlike most memorials in Washington, DC that consist largely of a single structure or statue, the FDR memorial is a mix of engravings, vegetation, statues, sculptures, walls and water features. It’s big, spread out over an area encompassing more than five football fields.

Noted landscape architect Lawrence Halpern designed the memorial so visitors could experience it in their own distinct way, which explains its unique, open, and rambling nature. Many Americans remember FDR as the only President elected to four terms and Mr. Halpern incorporated this unique accomplishment into his design. The memorial is laid out in four distinct sections or “rooms” with each room corresponding to one of FDR’s terms of office.

But to better understand the man and his memorial, it is important to look beyond these four rooms and FDR’s time in the White House. He was born into a wealthy New York family. Schooled at Harvard and Columbia Law School, he ultimately chose a career in politics rather than the law.

He modeled that career after his fifth cousin Theodore’s, although the members of his branch of the Roosevelt family were Democrats, while Teddy’s were Republicans. FDR was first elected to the New York State Senate in 1910 from a Republican leaning district. He was a reformist, pro-labor state senator who worked to limit the impact of the political machines which dominated much of the state’s politics.

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As an early supporter of Woodrow Wilson in the 1912 presidential election, FDR was appointed Assistant Secretary of the Navy in 1913. At the time, this was the number two position in the Navy Department, answering directly to the Secretary. He was eager to take the job. FDR greatly admired the Navy; he once claimed to own 10,000 books about the Navy and had read all of them but one. His cousin Teddy had also been Assistant Secretary of the Navy, and he saw the job as an important political stepping stone.

His seven years as Assistant Secretary provided FDR with valuable experience that served him well as President. As Assistant Secretary, he negotiated contracts, supervised civilian personnel and tried to orchestrate the work of the Navy’s various bureaus. He learned the importance of keeping good relations with Congress, how to work with big corporations and maintain the support of labor unions.

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Scattered blocks symbolic of the chaos of war.

He also became acquainted with numerous Naval and Marine officers, many of whom he would call upon some twenty years later to serve in key commands and staff assignments. He founded the Naval Reserve and as World War I approached, he learned to apply various bureaucratic mechanisms to effectively harness industrial production and prepare the Navy for wartime. He was so highly regarded in his overall tenure at the Navy Department, he was selected as the Democratic Party’s Vice Presidential nominee in 1920. Although the Democrats lost that year, FDR’s advocacy for the common man in his policymaking and his remarkable communication skills would propel him to two terms as New York’s governor and, ultimately, to the White House.

Fireside Chat

Statue of a man listening to one of FDR’s Fireside Chats. FDR delivered 30 such radio addresses during his Administration, explaining his policies and programs to the American public in a simple, yet confident conversational style.

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Water is an important feature in this memorial. Over 100,000 gallons of water are recycled through the water features each minute. The water pools, the water falls, the water streams along, silently in some places, loud in others.

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Visitors to the FDR Memorial experiencing a waterfall.

FDR loved the water. As a youth, FDR was an avid swimmer and sailor. After he was diagnosed with polio in 1921 at age 39, hydrotherapy became an important part of his rehabilitation. He purchased property in Warm Springs, Georgia where he returned regularly for treatments in the warm, mineral rich water.

FDR would devote tremendous time and energy to his therapy and was very supportive of others also afflicted by polio. He founded the Warm Springs Foundation, so many could experience the same therapeutic benefit of the waters. He would also found the National Institute for Infantile Paralysis, which we know today as the March of Dimes. While FDR would regain some limited use of his legs, he was always very careful not to be photographed or portrayed using the crutches or wheelchair he still relied upon.

FDR and Fala

The statue of FDR (as he might wish to be portrayed) and his dog, Fala, in the Third Room of the FDR Memorial. Note FDR’s cloak covering the wheelchair.

FDR’s portrayal at the memorial was the subject of some controversy when it opened in 1997. A large statue of a seated FDR, along with his canine companion, Fala, shows FDR’s large cloak covering his wheelchair. Some thought his disability should be in full view as an example and inspiration to others. Ultimately, a bronze statue of FDR in a wheelchair was added in 2001 at the memorial’s entrance.

Scattered throughout the memorial are 21 inscriptions of famous quotations from FDR’s speeches, fireside chats and writings. They clearly evoke the troubles and challenges of the times. But they also reflect FDR’s unique ability to reach each individual in his audience and assure the listener of FDR’s concern for them and their future. Some quotes are very familiar (“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself…”), others less so.

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Excerpt from FDR’s I HATE WAR Speech.

The central/showpiece quote in the third room, denoting World War II, comes from FDR’s “I Hate War” speech. FDR actually delivered this speech in 1936, as he was increasingly concerned by events in the world. He understood the impact of a global war and hoped to sway other nations to join the United States in avoiding conflict. That effort was, of course, not successful and the haphazard waterfalls and scattered granite blocks in the room—several inscribed with “I HATE WAR”—are meant to evoke the chaos and destruction of that war.

FDR died on April 12, 1945 at his home in Warm Springs, Georgia, just 26 days before the unconditional surrender of Germany and the end of World War II in Europe. The last room of the memorial is dedicated to his legacy. There is a small relief of his funeral cortege and several quotes about the future he hoped to realize and the peace he hoped to build.

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Statue of First Lady Eleanore Roosevelt in the Fourth Room of the FDR Memorial. This is the only presidential memorial to also honor a first lady.

The FDR Memorial is one of the most unique in Washington and well worth a special visit. Like all the memorials in the vicinity of the National Mall, the FDR Memorial is open 24 hours a day. The late evening or early morning hours are actually good times to visit, when the grounds are quieter and the nighttime illumination or early light create special effects on the walls, water, statues and other features. Park Rangers are on site daily from 9:30 am until 10:00 pm. There is also a book store by the entrance with a variety of materials about FDR, his wife Eleanor, and the Great Depression, as well as souvenirs of Washington, DC.

Interestingly, FDR desired something much different as a memorial. He once remarked to his friend, Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter, that if a memorial should ever be dedicated to him, it should be about the size of his desk and placed on the grass lawn in front of the National Archives.  He wanted it kept very plain, with only the inscription “in Memory of Franklin Delano Roosevelt”. He got his wish; the memorial was dedicated in 1965 and can be found at the corner of Pennsylvania Avenue and 9th Street, NW, right next to the National Archives.

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Route Recon

The two closest Metro stops to the FDR Memorial on the Mall are Federal Triangle and Smithsonian, both on the Blue, Orange and Silver Lines. DC Circulator’s National Mall route or Metrobus routes 32, 34 or 36 are also options. Visitor parking is available on Ohio Drive, between the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials. Handicapped parking spaces are set aside at locations on West Basin Drive in front of the memorial. It is always important to note that street parking is often limited in DC.

75 Years After Pearl Harbor, the Taney Still Serves

What better way to observe the 75th Anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor than to visit the last U.S. ship afloat which saw action on that fateful December morning.

The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Taney is moored about 40 miles north of Washington, D.C. The Taney is part of the Historic Ships in Baltimore, a floating museum of notable ships from our nation’s naval and maritime heritage.

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U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Taney (WHEC-37)

The Taney (pronounced TAW-ney) was one of seven Coast Guard vessels in the Treasury class of High Endurance Cutters. The Treasury Class would be known for their ability to perform many different types of missions and their many years of service to the Coast Guard. The Taney was built in Philadelphia and launched in 1936. She was assigned to Honolulu from 1936 through 1941 where she undertook missions familiar to today’s Coast Guard: law enforcement, maritime patrols, and search and rescue, among others.

pearl-harbor-poster_travel-objective-dcOn the morning of December 7, 1941, the Taney was moored in Honolulu Harbor, about eight miles away from Pearl Harbor. While not directly attacked that day, she did engage Japanese aircraft in her vicinity.

In the war’s early years, the Taney stayed in the Pacific, conducting maritime patrols, pilot rescues, and counter-submarine operations.

From 1943-1944, the Taney served in the Atlantic theater, performing convoy escort duty between the U.S. and Europe, and engaging German planes in the Mediterranean. In late 1944 the Taney was converted to an Amphibious Command Ship and returned to the Pacific. She was Rear Admiral Calvin Cobb’s flagship at the battle of Okinawa where her crew served with great distinction defending her from more than 250 attacks by Japanese aircraft.

After the war, the Taney returned to peacetime missions: reporting weather conditions, conducting search and rescue missions, and supporting law enforcement operations. From 1946-1972, the Taney was based at Alameda, California.

img_5794The Taney also participated in the Viet Nam War. From 1969-1970, she patrolled the waters off Viet Nam, supporting naval bombardments, preventing enemy resupply operations and providing medical assistance to South Vietnamese nationals.

In 1972, she was transferred to the east coast, continuing her peacetime missions, as well as serving as a training ship for Coast Guard cadets and officer candidates.

The Taney was decommissioned in 1986 and transferred to the City of Baltimore as a museum ship.

After 50 years of service to the Coast Guard, the Taney certainly lived up to her designation as a “High Endurance” cutter.

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Today the Taney is found on Pier 5 of Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. Climb aboard, walk the decks, explore the berths and you get a sense of the rhythm of mid-20th century “Coastie” life.

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A blue line with arrows painted on the deck guides you through the living quarters, dining areas and work spaces. Placards and actual shipboard notices to the crew, dating from the 1980’s, explain how crewmembers spent their days moving between duty, meals, hygiene and sleep with long hours of routine punctuated by brief periods of white knuckle danger, recreational diversions or just a few peaceful moments to observe a Pacific sunset.

Available space is tight on the 327-foot-long cutter, so privacy was clearly a luxury reserved for the Taney’s senior officers, especially when the size of the crew doubled to over 250 personnel during World War II. There are also special exhibits devoted to the attack at Pearl Harbor and the Taney’s service in Viet Nam.

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img_5785Younger visitors can learn about the Taney’s Mascot “Soogie”, a dog who sailed on board from 1937 until 1948.

Paw prints on the floor direct kids to information kiosks with details about this Coastie canine and his life at sea.

In recognition of her service at Pearl Harbor, each year on December 7 at 12:00 noon, the Historic Ships in Baltimore hosts a memorial ceremony on board the Taney. The event is free and open to the public.

But any season is a good time of year to visit the Taney and learn her stories. A few hours on board and you can’t help but develop a healthy respect for the ship and the crew members who sailed her through a half century of service to the United States.

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