The shocking realization came to the people of Independence on April 12, 1945, when Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the leader who has guided the destinies of America for 12 years, had unexpectedly died in his Warm Springs, Georgia cottage. His death came as the nation was embroiled in a worldwide conflict on two different fronts. His successor would be the man Independence residents had sent to Washington, D.C., as senator in 1934, and whom they had helped elect vice president in 1944, their hometown boy, Harry S. Truman, would now be the president of the United States.
Truman, who had taken the oath of vice president less than three months earlier, was now catapulted into the role of world leadership in the midst of the greatest war the world had ever known.
Back in those days, the first flash that Roosevelt was dead came to The Independence Examiner office by radio and then a phone call from United Press International of Kansas City, as the newspaper had no teletype communications. These were the days too, before television. The afternoon Examiner had already been off the press several hours when the call arrived. There was no chance of putting out a special edition, because of the wartime shortage of newsprint. So they did the next best thing: They painted in large white letters across the front plate-glass windows of the old Examiner building on Lexington Street.
The news brought mingled emotions in the hearts of the Independence people. Sorrow over the death of the “great humanitarian” was tempered by the realization that the city would now have a new responsibility – that of being the hometown of a president.
Political differences melted away for a time. The Roosevelt critics were remembering only the things they had admired about the president who has served for so long and so devotedly. At the same time they were expressing their confidence in his successor.
Sue Gentry was the city editor at that time and the entire news staff began work that lasted late into the night on the next days edition that would carry the news of Roosevelt’s death and the oath-taking ceremony that made Harry Truman president.
Besides compiling the local copy, the news staff was busy with local reaction, interviewing relatives, schoolmates, and other friends and townsfolk and writing stories about Truman’s amazing career.
Freelance writers and news agencies from all across the country were calling the Examiner office needing help on the local reactions and other hometown background stories. Staff members had to juggle their time between the out-of-towners and getting their own work done.
The president’s 92-year old mother, Mrs. Martha Truman, was then still living at Grandview where Harry’s sister, Miss Mary Jane Truman, and his brother, Vivian Truman also lived.
The Independence mayor at the time, Roger T. Sermon, proclaimed the next day, Saturday, a day of mourning for Roosevelt. Memorial services were held in the schools, and a community service was held in the Memorial Building.
The Chamber of Commerce took the lead with a message to the new president in expressing the confidence of his hometown people. “The citizens of your hometown community, who know you best, are trusting in your judgment and ability, and praying God’s richest blessings upon you in this hour and in the important days ahead.”
“Tears over the death of the President Roosevelt were choked back,” an Examiner account said, “and there came a feeling of pride that Independence should provide the man who would carry on the vital role in world affairs.”
Reference: Files of The Examiner, compliments of Dorothy Salyer.
To reach Ted W. Stillwell send an e-mail to Ted@blueandgrey.com or call him at 816-896-3592.