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On March 29, 1945, FDR left the White House for the last time on a trip to Warm Springs, Georgia. He had first visited Warm Springs in the mid-1920s after hearing that the waters there had healing powers. He hoped they would help him regain the use of his legs which were left paralyzed from a polio attack in 1921.
In 1926, FDR bought and renovated the old resort at Warm Springs, turning it into a state-of-the-art rehabilitation center for polio patients. Throughout his time as Governor of New York and President, FDR continued vacationing at Warm Springs. The cottage where he stayed became known as the “Little White House,” thanks to his frequent visits as president.
It was here that FDR went in April 1945 to rest and rejuvenate following the pressures of the 1944 campaign, the Yalta Conference, and the continued war effort. On April 12, 1945, while sitting for a portrait by painter Elizabeth Shoumatoff, FDR suffered a massive stroke. He died a few hours later having never regained consciousness.
The White House appointment diaries for April 12, 1945 are available on our Franklin D. Roosevelt Day by Day website.
The Thanksgiving Before War, 1941
It was Franklin Roosevelt’s yearly tradition to go back to Warm Springs, Georgia, and celebrate Thanksgiving with the patients and staff at the polio rehabilitation center he had founded there. The patients would always prepare a little program with skits and songs, and FDR would carve the turkeys himself.
Thanksgiving 1941, though, had been much postponed. FDR’s original plans to travel to Warm Springs had been interrupted by urgent matters in Washington–the tensions with Japan were reaching a critical stage. He had delayed his visit by a week, but FDR finally arrived in time for a rescheduled Thanksgiving dinner on Saturday, November 29th.
This is a transcript of President Roosevelt’s extemporaneous remarks made at Thanksgiving dinner following the skit. A somber FDR reflects on how the rehabilitation center has grown and evolved through the years and on the simple pleasures of an American Thanksgiving and traditional football games. But the war clouds looming on the Pacific horizon weigh heavily on him, and he expresses his fears that the boys playing football that day may be defending American liberties the next year.
FDR’s comments were prescient. The President had hoped to stay in Warm Springs for several more days, but he was urgently called back to Washington by his Secretary of State. He left Warm Springs the very next day, on Sunday, November 30th–exactly a week before the attack at Pearl Harbor. As he said goodbye to his Warm Springs family, FDR declared “This may be the last time I talk to you for a long time.” He would not return to his beloved Warm Springs until 1943.