Found in the Archives

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.