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Aftermath Of Polio

May 2024
1min read

Geoffrey Ward’s fine story about President Roosevelt’s fight in the aftermath of polio (June/July) must have struck home to many reporters who worked in Washington in those days, including myself. I was a reporter for the United Press, much of the time at the Capitol. When the President delivered a message to Congress, we could look down on him from the press box as he stood at the lectern. With his speech in a folder lying before him, he would grasp the lectern with his left hand. With his right forefinger he followed his script as he spoke. In this way he could look up from his text to keep rapport with his audience and then return to the right spot in his text without stumbling or delay. I heard him on his return from Yalta when he spoke from his chair in the well of the House. He apologized for it, saying he knew his listeners would understand his wish to talk without the encumbrance of ten pounds of iron about him.

These instances, however, did not reveal his plight to me as fully as the day the United Press sent me to accompany the President on a short trip. He wanted, as I recall, to visit a railroad engine that intrigued him. My Associated Press counterpart and I made our way from the press room through the Oval Office to the portico outside. The open-air limousine was there waiting for him. Secret service men were wheeling the President toward it in his wheelchair. It had no armrests, and FDR gripped the seat of the chair to steady himself. As well as I could judge from our distance, the right back seat of the car was specially designed so it could slide forward, then turn right and slide on out the door. The secret service men, one on either side, lifted the President and placed him on this seat. He then slid back to his normal place in the limousine.

The realization that the leader of the free world was in a state of such physical helplessness was an indelible memory.

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