Monday, July 12, 2010

FDR's re-election & the Fala Speech

On their return trip from Hawaii, President Roosevelt and Fala stopped to visit the Aleutian Islands. Their secret stop at Adak Island became highly scrutinized. A rumor was started that Fala had been accidently left behind on another island and the president sent at Navy destroyer ship back to get Fala for a cost of $20,000 at the taxpayers’ expense. The event became highly publicized during the 1944 presidential campaign and Republicans accused the president of spending millions of taxpayer dollars to fetch the little dog. The president confronted the allegations and defended his little dog during a campaign dinner speech to the International Brotherhood Teamsters Union, which was supposed to be an update on labor issues and the war, but became famously known as the “Fala Speech”:

“These Republican leaders have not been content with the 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 sent a destroyer back to find him—at a cost to taxpayers of 2 or 3, or 20 million dollars—his Scotch soul was furious. He has not been the same dog since.” (watch the speech here)

Political pundits noted the “Fala Speech” as the turning point in the 1944 presidential election. The speech exposed the pettiness of the Republican’s allegations and degraded candidate Thomas Dewey. Shortly before the election, a New York Times columnist noted in an October 15, 1944 article that “what is difficult for some folks to understand is that Fala is no longer just a dog; he’s a personage.” He also explained that a White House visitor once saw a door open, heard the announcement of the president and watched a little friendly dog with his tail wagging, enter the room. The election was decided and Roosevelt won almost 54 percent of the popular vote.

Over the years, Fala traveled with the president and met many dignitaries. War time comic strips and newspapers often featured the little dog. During the Battle of the Bulge, American soldiers would ask each other the name of the president’s dog as a safeguard against German soldiers infiltrating American forces.

President Roosevelt died on April 12, 1945, two months before Germany surrendered in World War II. Fala was at his bedside when aids tried to revive the president, but their efforts were unsuccessful.
Some articles suggest that Fala knew what was going on and reacted harshly. “He leaped up, shaking violently, then went crashing through a screen door, barking loudly and frantically. As fast as his scrubby legs could take him, he raced up a nearby hill, where for a long time he stood vigil, refusing to return when called,” one article said. Fala attended the funeral and then went to live with Eleanor at the Vall Kill cottage, in Hyde Park, New York. Fala later died on the seventh anniversary of Roosevelt’s death in 1952 and was buried next to his master in an unmarked grave that reads, “master and constant companion for five years.” Fala’s obituary appeared on the front page of the New York Times Obituary section several days after his death. The announcement noted, “the rakish little black Scotty who sat in on the making of history…” When the Roosevelt memorial was built and dedicated in 1997, Fala was included, sitting next to his master. He is the only dog memorialized on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

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