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Tuesday, May 29, 2012


Maybe it was luck, maybe it was fate, but Franklin Roosevelt probably should have died years before he did. He cheated death just long enough to finish his job. There were four events in the life of FDR that could have easily ended it, but didn’t.
In June of 1919, the powerful and outspoken Attorney General of the United States, Mitchell Palmer, encountered a young Franklin Roosevelt while attending a Washington party. Franklin was the assistant Secretary of the Navy at the time. Palmer had been drinking a lot at the party and was unable to drive. He asked Roosevelt if he would give him a ride home, and Franklin agreed. Palmer was a controversial character, building his reputation by campaigning to drive all of the Communists, terrorists, and anarchists out of the country. He created the Justice Department’s Enemy Alien Bureau, and had made many enemies.
Upon arriving at Palmer’s home, he urged Roosevelt to come in for a nightcap in his library. But Franklin replied that he had an early appointment the next morning and begged off. Palmer insisted but the invitation was still politely declined. Seconds after Franklin drove off a bomb ripped through Palmer’s library. It had been planted by an anarchist. If the two men had been having that drink, they both would have died.
Two years later, while at his summer house on Campobello Island, Roosevelt awakened one morning and tried to get out of bed. He felt that something was wrong with his left leg. It wasn’t working as it should and he fell to the floor. The doctors told him that he had contracted a viral infection. It was polio. He had gone to bed a robust man and woke up with a deadly disease. Soon his right leg also became useless, then his entire lower body. His doctors and family urged him to retire but Franklin was determined not to allow his condition to end his career. He learned to accommodate his disability and went on to become the governor of New York, then President in 1932. Many thousands of other Americans died from this dreaded disease.
Three weeks before Roosevelt was sworn in to the Presidency, he was in Miami giving a short unprepared speech from the back seat of a car to a small audience. A young anarchist named Giuseppe Zangara, armed with a pistol from a pawn shop, fired five shots at the President-elect. Miraculously Franklin Roosevelt was not hit. Five other people around him were brought down by the gunfire. Anton Cermak, the Mayor of Chicago, who was standing on the running board of Roosevelt’s car, was killed. Zangara was subdued after a struggle. He was later tried and executed. FDR had survived an up close assassination attempt.
In November of 1943, Franklin Roosevelt, Secretary of State Hull, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff were journeying by sea to the Tehran Conference with Churchill and Stalin. They were aboard the battleship USS Iowa. The Iowa was being escorted by other Navy vessels including the destroyer USS William D. Porter. The Porter was an accident prone ship. It had collided with another ship while leaving port for the journey, and shortly after had accidently dropped a depth charge into the water which exploded causing the Iowa and the other ships to take evasive maneuvers.     
The next day, November 14th, The Iowa was conducting drills for the President to demonstrate her ability to defend herself. The escort ships were also demonstrating a torpedo drill, simulating the firing of torpedoes from surface ships. Then something went terribly wrong. The Porter accidently launched a torpedo directly at the Iowa which was carrying Roosevelt and his staff. The Porter commander attempted to signal the Iowa but under radio silence they used their blinker light instead - which was time consuming. Finally, they broke regulations and radioed the Iowa that a torpedo was on its way. The Iowa turned hard to avoid being hit. The Secret Service moved Roosevelt to the side of the battleship, preparing to abandon ship. The Porter’s torpedo detonated in the wake of the Iowa extremely close to the stern. The men of the Iowa trained their guns on the Porter fearing that this might have been another assassination attempt.
The country was fortunate that its leader through the Great Depression and World War II was spared death on so many occasions. Franklin Roosevelt eventually succumbed in 1945 at Warm Springs, Georgia, due to a brain hemorrhage.  It could be said that how a person masters his fate may be more important than what his fate is.

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