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Books  >>  Biography

Doris Kearns Goodwin

No Ordinary Time

Doris Kearns Goodwin No Ordinary Time Franklin & Eleanor Roosevelt The Home Front In W
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Excerpt from book:


Chapter 1

"THE DECISIVE HOUR HAS COME"

On nights filled with tension and concern, Franklin Roosevelt performed a ritual that helped him to fall asleep. He would close his eyes and imagine himself at Hyde Park as a boy, standing with his sled in the snow atop the steep hill that stretched from the south porch of his home to the wooded bluffs of the Hudson River far below. As he accelerated down the hill, he maneuvered each familiar curve with perfect skill until he reached the bottom, whereupon, pulling his sled behind him, he started slowly back up until he reached the top, where he would once more begin his descent. Again and again he replayed this remembered scene in his mind, obliterating his awareness of the shrunken legs inert beneath the sheets, undoing the knowledge that he would never climb a hill or even walk on his own power again. Thus liberating himself from his paralysis through an act of imaginative will, the president of the United States would fall asleep.

The evening of May 9, 1940, was one of these nights. At 11 p.m., as Roosevelt sat in his comfortable study on the second floor of the White House, the long-apprehended phone call had come. Resting against the high back of his favorite red leather chair, a precise reproduction of one Thomas Jefferson had designed for work, the president listened as his ambassador to Belgium, John Cudahy, told him that Hitler's armies were simultaneously attacking Holland, Luxembourg, Belgium, and France. The period of relative calm -- the "phony war" that had settled over Europe since the German attack on Poland in September of 1939 -- was over.

For days, rumors of a planned Nazi invasion had spread through the capitals of Western Europe. Now, listening to Ambassador Cudahy's frantic report that German planes were in the air over the Low Countries and France, Roosevelt knew that the all-out war he feared had finally begun. In a single night, the tacit agreement that, for eight months, had kept the belligerents from attacking each other's territory had been shattered.

As he summoned his military aide and appointments secretary, General Edwin "Pa" Watson, on this spring evening of the last year of his second term, Franklin Roosevelt looked younger than his fifty-eight years. Though his hair was threaded with gray, the skin on his handsome face was clear, and the blue eyes, beneath his pince-nez glasses, were those of a man at the peak of his vitality. His chest was so broad, his neck so thick, that when seated he appeared larger than he was. Only when he was moved from his chair would the eye be drawn to the withered legs, paralyzed by polio almost two decades earlier.

At 12:40 a.m., the president's press secretary, Stephen Early, arrived to monitor incoming messages. Bombs had begun to fall on Brussels, Amsterdam, and Rotterdam, killing hundreds of civilians and destroying thousands of homes. In dozens of old European neighborhoods, fires illuminated the night sky. Stunned Belgians stood in their nightclothes in the streets of Brussels, watching bursts of anti-aircraft fire as military cars and motorcycles dashed through the streets. A thirteen-year-old schoolboy, Guy de Liederkirche, was Brussels' first child to die. His body would later be carried to his school for a memorial service with his classmates. On every radio station throughout Belgium, broadcasts summoned all soldiers to join their units at once.

In Amsterdam the roads leading out of the city were crowded with people and automobiles as residents fled in fear of the bombing. Bombs were also falling at Dunkirk, Calais, and Metz in France, and at Chilham, near Canterbury, in England. The initial reports were confusing -- border clashes had begun, parachute troops were being dropped to seize Dutch and Belgian airports, the government of Luxembourg had already fled to France, and there was some reason to believe the Germans were al
CONTENTS

Preface

1. "The Decisive Hour Has Come"

2. "A Few Nice Boys with BB Guns"

3. "Back to the Hudson"

4. "Living Here Is Very Oppressive"

5. "No Ordinary Time"

6. "I Am a Juggler"

7. "I Can't Do Anything About Her"

8. "Arsenal of Democracy"

9. "Business As Usual"

10. "A Great Hour to Live"

11. "A Completely Changed World"

12. "Two Little Boys Playing Soldier"

13. "What Can We Do to Help?"

14. "By God, If It Ain't Old Frank!"

15. "We Are Striking Back"

16. "The Greatest Man I Have Ever Known"

17. "It Is Blood on Your Hands"

18. "It Was a Sight I Will Never Forget"

19. "I Want to Sleep and Sleep"

20. "Suspended in Space"

21. "The Old Master Still Had It"

22. "So Darned Busy"

23. "It Is Good to Be Home"

24. "Everybody Is Crying"

25. "A New Country Is Being Born"

Afterword

A Note on Sources

Notes

Bibliography

Acknowledgments

Index


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