This is part of our “Letters from War” series documenting the World War II letters of Irvin Schwartz of Pine Grove, PA. The letters were all published in the West Schuylkill Press-Herald between 1943 and 1945.
From the frontlines in Germany in the early morning hours of April 13, 1945, Staff Sergeant Irvin Schwartz and his comrades learned of the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. They were sitting around a captured German radio listening to the BBC when the news alert was sent out over the airwaves.
A few days later, Schwartz penned a letter to his hometown newspaper to share the story of hearing the news and the reactions to the president’s death among his comrades in the United States Army’s famed First Division.
Across the River Rhine
April 17 
Hello Mr. Reber:
The sad news of the President was shocking to Canadian, British, Polish, French, and American troops here on the Western Front.
It was five minutes to midnight when First Sergeant William Ramberg of Perth Amboy, New Jersey, Corporal Dorsey McDaniels of Loswell, Mississippi, Staff Sergeant George McGunagle of Quincy, Massachusetts, and I were seated in a comfortable room listening to the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation), the A.F.N. (Allied Forces Network), and the Absie (American Broadcasting Station in Europe).
We were tuned in on a broadcast by the R.A.F. (Royal Air Force) dance orchestra, and so we enjoyed this classy German radio we had in our possession.
It was practically midnight when we received the following announcement:
“The American Broadcasting Station in Europe now must make its saddest news bulletin in history. The President of the United States is dead. It has been just wired from Washington that the President died at four o’clock this afternoon at Warm Springs, Georgia. He died suddenly. Mrs. Roosevelt, in informing four Roosevelt sons in the service, stated that the President did everything within his power for the betterment of the U.S. up to his last minute.”
Since that bulletin, numerous radio programs have been devoted to our great leader, day and night. The German radio made the announcement of the President’s death only several minutes after our announcement, and during the past several days, the DNB (Germany’s new gathering agency such as Great Britain’s Reuters, and our own Associated Press and United Press) has used the incident to try and boost propaganda programs.
The news reached our boys in foxholes, in tanks, and all other places here on the lines. There was silence among our boys for a long while, with some being inclined to believe the loss will have some effect on the length of the European war, as well as the progress in the Pacific. There was no lull in battle, but a message reading “President Roosevelt is dead” was heavy to bear.
We have always carried out operations as close to the President’s plans as conditions permitted us. We always followed Roosevelt’s plans for one reason only. He was an experienced leader and a friend of ours, who, in our language, knew “the score.”
Now as the radio continue to describe the scenes of President Roosevelt’s funeral services at Washington, we bow our heads in prayer again and pray to God to guide President Truman and us the remaining distance to victory.
The best of success to our new President – Harry S. Truman – in our minds, the successor to the greatest of all Presidents in America’s history. Roosevelt’s departure is a loss to us, and you at home, including my grandpa, Charles C. Moyer.
Irvin R. Schwartz
P.S. – I hereby express thoughts of appreciation to Easter greetings, “get well” cards, letters, etc. received during the past several days from Mrs. Ross Wenrich, Pfc. Warren Zimmerman in the Pacific Theater, Pfc. Harold Raudenbush somewhere here in Germany, Harold Rupp, Harper Updegrave, Kate Stupp, Russel Whetstone, T/5 Carl Christ in Italy, Alvin Hummel, Rev. Lester M. Utz, Coach Carmine Pepe, Alvin C. Schwalm, Rev. C.A. Steigerwalt, Grace Beck, and these aunts and uncles – Mrs. Amy Stump, Willis Strouphauer, Miss Anna Schwartz, Miss Verna Schwartz, Paul H. Moyer, Mrs. Lester Moyer, Abner K. Moyer, William D. Moyer, Mrs. Harry Rhein, Mrs. Oscar Felty, Mrs. Milton Krammes, George Schwartz, Clarence Schwartz, Albert Schwartz, and Pfc. Lester L. Moyer down in the Pacific.
Featured Image: Excerpts from the West Schuylkill Press-Herald’s coverage of President Roosevelt’s death in 1945