“I knew that ship and loved her. Her officers and men were my friends.”
– FDR, statement on sinking of USS Houston, May 30, 1942
FDR traversed the Pacific Ocean four times aboard the USS Houston and the vessel became his favorite of the US Naval Fleet. Nicknamed the “Galloping Ghost of the Java Coast,” the cruiser carried FDR to many places never before visited by a sitting American president, including the the Panama Canal and the Territory of Hawaii.
After lengthy engagements with Japanese air and naval forces, and what was by all accounts a gallant and ferocious effort, Houston was lost on February 29, 1942 during the Battle of Sunda Strait. The shipwreck became the final resting place for over 700 sailors and Marines. The loss was a serious blow to the Allied war effort and thousands of men rallied to enlist in the US Navy in response. FDR gave the above statement in support of these new recruits (see document for full text).
In August of 2014, US and Indonesian divers confirmed the location of Houston’s wreckage in the Java Sea and both governments are taking measures to protect and honor the site.
Happy Birthday to President Clinton!
Here is a clip from the Legacy film in our new exhibit. The text of the film comes from an essay written by President Clinton about FDR. Library Director Lynn Bassanese recounts the story of making this happen saying:
I reached out to President Clinton through his staff and my dear colleague, Terri Garner, director of the Clinton Presidential Library. I was not only asking to use Clinton’s essay but I wanted him to read it as the narration for our film. A lot to ask one of the busiest former presidents in our country’s history.
I knew the one thing I had in my favor was that Clinton loved FDR. He had visited the Roosevelt Library three times during his presidency and once after leaving office. Fortunately for us he agreed to record.
Day 33: May 28
Our Legacy film in the new exhibit will be narrated by none other than President Bill Clinton!
Read more for the story on how this came about.
Day 80: Read My Pins: The Madeleine Albright Collection
Starting on August 9th, Museum visitors will be able to experience a new traveling exhibition Read My Pins: The Madeleine Albright Collection in the William J. vanden Heuvel Special Exhibitions Gallery.
This unique exhibit features a collection of more than 200 distinctive pins and explores how Secretary of State Madeleine Albright—the first woman to serve in that office—used jewelry as a diplomatic tool. Organized by the Museum of Art and Design in New York City, the exhibit has been touring the nation for several years. There is no additional charge to see the exhibit at the Roosevelt Library.
Madeleine Albright served under President Bill Clinton as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations from 1993-1997. In 1997, the President appointed her as Secretary of State. At that time she was the highest-ranking woman in the history of the U.S. government. During her years (1997-2001) as Secretary, Albright became known for wearing a wide variety of distinctive broaches that conveyed her views about the diplomatic or political situation at hand. Foreign officials began to pay special attention to Albright’s selection of pins to uncover clues about her state of mind. “I found that jewelry had become part of my personal diplomatic arsenal,” she later said. “While President George H.W. Bush had been known for saying ‘Read my lips,’ I began urging colleagues and reporters to ‘Read my pins.’”
A display of Eleanor Roosevelt pins will complement the exhibition during its time in Hyde Park. Read My Pins will remain on display through November 2, 2014. Secretary Albright will make a special public appearance at the Roosevelt Library on the evening of September 4 in connection with the exhibition.
Day 79 - FDR’s Secretaries of State
Franklin D. Roosevelt had two Secretaries of State during his 12 year presidency.
The first was Cordell Hull, who served for eleven years. A longtime Senator from Tennessee, Hull was very popular within Democratic Party ranks and among the American people, but his influence was actually less than many at the time believed. Because the President preferred to handle foreign affairs himself or through select advisors, FDR treated Hull much like a figurehead. Despite having his authority frequently bypassed, in the 1930s Hull played a central role in international tariff reduction and helped implement the Good Neighbor Policy toward Latin America. In the 1940s he advocated for neutrality in the face of impending war but was often excluded from wartime decision making. However, Hull made great contributions in the crafting of the post-war United Nations organization and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1945.
When Hull retired in 1944, Edward R. Stettinius, Jr., was named to replace him. Early in his career, Stettinius had earned a reputation as an innovative businessman with a social conscience while chairman of the board of U.S. Steel. After serving on the Industrial Advisory Board for the National Recovery Administration, numerous positions related to war production and industrial priorities, and administrator of Lend-Lease, Stettinius was appointed in 1943 as an Undersecretary of State where he directed the department’s long-term postwar planning. His main contribution as Secretary of State was to lay the foundation for the United Nations organization by negotiating difficult procedural questions and reassuring reluctant nations. After FDR’s death in April 1945, President Truman kept Stettinius in office for the duration of the San Francisco Conference until the United Nations was fully established. Stettinius then resigned in July 1945.
Day 78 - Atlantic Charter Conference
On August 3, 1941, the White House informed the press that FDR was leaving Washington for a fishing cruise.
In fact, the President was headed for a top-secret meeting with Winston Churchill aboard two warships in the North Atlantic. FDR used the conference to signal support for Britain in its battle with the Axis Powers. The conference lasted from August 9-12. At its conclusion, Roosevelt and Churchill issued the “Atlantic Charter”- a joint declaration of principles that helped rally the Allied nations.
The Atlantic Conference gave the British people hope that the United States would at last join them in fighting Hitler. But when isolationists claimed FDR had made “secret commitments” to Churchill to intervene in the European war, Roosevelt publicly denied the charges.
In January 1941, prior to their meeting in the North Atlantic, Roosevelt wrote to Winston Churchill quoting a verse from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem, “The Building of the Ship.” The note proved to be an inspiration for Churchill, who at the time was anxiously seeking American support in the war. Churchill repeated the lines in a radio broadcast and it soon became an inspiration for the British people.
When Roosevelt and Churchill met for the Atlantic Conference seven months later, Churchill brought with him two of these decorative broadside lithographs featuring the same verse. Both Roosevelt and Churchill signed each print and Churchill presented this copy to FDR.
Day 77 - FDR visits the Panama Canal
Throughout his travels FDR made many trips through the Panama Canal, including a visit to the nearly completed Canal in 1912. The work on the Canal started under President Theodore Roosevelt and was finished in 1914. FDR traveled to Panama with his brother-in-law Hall Roosevelt and his friend and Republican Senate colleague J. Mayhew Wainright. The trio was given their own personal observation car to use through the nine-mile Culebra Cut. FDR wrote home to his mother Sara saying:
I can’t begin to describe it and have become so enthusiastic that if I didn’t stop I would write all night. The two things that impress me most are the Culebra Cut, because of the colossal hole made in the ground, and the locks because of the engineering problems and size. Imagine an intricate concrete structure nearly a mile long and three or four hundred feet wide, with double gates of steel weighing 700 tons apiece!
Our museum collection includes this watercolor painting of the U.S.S. Houston at the Panama Canal by Ian Marshall. This painting depicts the scene of the Houston passing through the Panama Canal on July 11, 1934 with President Roosevelt on board. This was the first passage through the completed Canal by a U.S. President while in office.
Day 76: FDR Visits Alaska
On August 3, 1944 FDR arrived in Alaska for a six day inspection and fishing trip. While in Alaska FDR made stops at Adak, Kodiak, and Auke Bay. This flag of the President of the United States was used during FDR's trip to the Hawaiian Islands and Alaska in July-August 1944. It was made by the Signal Force of the heavy cruiser U.S.S. Baltimore.
This trip made news during the presidential campaign of 1944, when it was alleged that Fala was left behind in the Aleutian Islands and FDR sent a Navy destroyer back to retrieve him. In a speech to the Teamsters Union on September 23, 1944 FDR responded to the claims saying:
These Republican leaders have not been content with attacks on me, or my wife, or on my sons. No, not content with that, they now include my little dog, Fala. Well, of course, I don’t resent attacks, and my family doesn’t resent attacks, but Fala does resent them. You know, Fala is Scotch, and being a Scottie, as soon as he learned that the Republican fiction writers in Congress and out had concocted a story that I had left him behind on the Aleutian Islands and had sent a destroyer back to find him— at a cost to the taxpayers of two or three, or eight or twenty million dollars- his Scotch soul was furious. He has not been the same dog since. I am accustomed to hearing malicious falsehoods about myself—such as that old, worm-eaten chestnut that I have represented myself as indispensable. But I think I have a right to resent, to object to libelous statements about my dog.
Day 75 - FDR Visits Hawaii, 1944
FDR’s second and final visit to Hawaii came in 1944. FDR arrived at Pearl Harbor on July 26, 1944 for a three day inspection trip. While in Hawaii he visited the Marine Corps Air Station at Ewa, the Scofield Barracks in Honolulu and Hickham Field. FDR and his party were also treated to a concert of Hawaiian music and hula dancing. The video above includes some of FDR’s informal remarks to the troops.