Remembering Roosevelt: Clinton Unveils Memorial to 32nd President

By Bedard, Paul | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), May 3, 1997 | Go to article overview
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Remembering Roosevelt: Clinton Unveils Memorial to 32nd President

Bedard, Paul, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)

President Clinton led the nation yesterday in dedicating something Franklin Delano Roosevelt said he never wanted - a larger-than-life memorial to the man who steered America through the Great Depression and World War II and fathered major social programs in place to this day.

"FDR actually wanted no memorial," said Mr. Clinton of the man he called "the greatest president of this great American century." Mr. Roosevelt was the nation's 32nd president and the only one to be elected to four terms.

While for years Mr. Roosevelt's wish went unchallenged because his personal memorials of bridges and dams and programs such as Social Security and the GI Bill touched many Americans, Mr. Clinton said:

"Memories fade, and now, more than a half-century after he left us, it is right that we go a little beyond his stated wishes and dedicate this memorial as a tribute to Franklin Roosevelt, to Eleanor [his wife], and to the remarkable triumphs of their generation."

Just minutes after he delivered his remarks, and with the snip of a long, red ribbon, a piece of which the president kept as a souvenir, Mr. Clinton opened the 7 1/2-acre brown granite-and-bronze park in West Potomac Park, the first presidential memorial in more than 50 years.

The memorial consists of four rooms depicting elements of Mr. Roosevelt's four terms. It is built of brown granite similar to the stone he saw in Hyde Park, N.Y., and includes water fountains and falls that are symbolic of the Navy the president adored and the healing powers of Warm Springs, Ga., his summer retreat.

It cost $48 million, most of which was paid for by the federal government. Just over $7 million came from private contributions, including $50,000 from the British government and a personal gift from England's Queen Mother.

The two-hour morning ceremony leading up to the opening brought together dignitaries, Roosevelt family members and Washington's political figures, who paid tribute to the former president and his wife as heroes who not only saved the nation from economic crisis, but the world from the depredations of men in Berlin and Tokyo during World War II.

While the speakers at the outdoor event elaborated the dozens of programs inaugurated by Mr. Roosevelt, they focused most on his outreach to the "forgotten America" he often invoked.

There was mention, too, of those he surrounded himself with, including his second vice president, Harry S. Truman, who completed Mr. Roosevelt's war with Germany and Japan.

None of the speakers referred to Mr. Roosevelt's long struggle with polio, but several cited his successes while disabled.

Mr. Clinton - who has backed a Senate proposal to add a stone carving to the memorial showing Mr. Roosevelt in his wheelchair - said of the FDR era: "We did not have to be afraid of pain or adversity or failure, for all those could be overcome. He knew that, of course, because that is exactly what he did."

His grandson, David Roosevelt, looking out toward the Lincoln Memorial, said his grandfather's era was surpassed in important American history only by the Civil War "in its infliction of pain and travail on the people of this nation."

To the crowd of 3,000 sitting under a brilliant sun, he said, "We gather to pay tribute not to a man, but an era in history.

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