Monday, July 14, 2008

The Churchill Series - July 14, 2008

(One of a series of weekday posts about the life of Winston S. Churchill.)

Both Churchill and President Franklin Roosevelt were possessed great physical courage. Churchill had proven his in battles on three continents. Roosevelt's heroic struggles to overcome the effects of polio are legendary.

Less well-know, really now all but forgotten, in FDR's case is the extraordinary courage he displayed on Feb. 15, 1933 when, while still President-elect, a would-be assassin fired five shots at him just as he'd finished delivering a speech in Florida. The bullets all missed FDR, but one killed the Mayor of Chicago whose hand Roosevelt was shaking.

Throughout the firing, Roosevelt never ducked; and afterwards he sought to comfort others.

All of that is background to a small incident that occurred in January, 1943 in Casablanca where Churchill and FDR were conferencing. They were staying in villas very near each other. Their villas’ grounds were, as you can imagine, very heavily guarded.

Both men were amused by the extensive security. So you can imagine their mutual laughter one morning when Churchill told Roosevelt about something that had happened the night before involving Churchill and Mike Reilly, the head of Roosevelt's Secret Service detail.

As Jon Meacham tells it in his book, Franklin and Winston,

"Mike Reilly was on patrol one evening when he glimpsed someone walking in the darkness near Roosevelt's villa.

'The old bloodhound in me took charge and I stalked the intruder,' Reilly recalled. ‘I stepped from behind a bush, directly in his path, only to have Winston Churchill look up and inquire blandly, ‘What’s the matter, Mike, did you think I was some person of evil Design?'"
You can read more on the assessination attempt on FDR here.