The April afternoon when it came on the radio that FDR had died, I was in the house doing something and Mother was out back working in the victory garden. I ran outside and told her and she slapped me. This did not strike me as particularly odd, because the announcement had sounded what I thought was the last trump: he world was collapsing, Armageddon was at hand, all that stuff they had been telling me in Sunday school was coming to pass. Armaggedon had in fact been in progress since a few weeks after I was born, and I was rising six. The end of World War II was at hand, but many of us couldn't believe it. The Nazis, we feared, would come up with a wonder weapon, and the Japs, we knew, would fight to the last woman and child. Those who were kids during Korea or Vietnam may doubt that a kindergartener was troubled by such thoughts in 1945, which is what distinguishes prewar people from everyone under 40. We were at war, Jack, we were all in it together, and it was no intellectual exercise. Everybody had a father, brother, son or friend in the service, and we all knew somebody who was missing or dead. When we boys passed a house with a Gold Star in the window, we saluted. Do I need to explain what the Gold Star meant, and why it must be capitalized? The whole world was at war, and the bad guys were really bad, and it was a fight to the finish. Mother was off doctoring day and night because all the young doctors, and half the nurses, had gone to war. Daddy, too old for the Army, was putting in long hours down at the Veterans Administration. If he missed the last bus to Arlington, he walked the five miles as a matter of course. We long since had thrown our most prized pots and pans at the Axis, and if the kitchen sink had been aluminum we would have ripped it out and sent it along to make airplanes. We saved every scrap of aluminum foil and stomped our tin cans flat for the war wagon. We had two victory gardens; the big one was way out in the country (Vienna) and was visited only on weekends because gasoline was rationed and tires could not be had. I never questioned that if I hogged butter or shirked weeding, an Allied soldier somewhere would die. We children of the war are big boys and girls now, and know that much of the great war effort was hoohah designed to whip up enthusiasm and quiet doubts, but most of us trusted Roosevelt to the point of reverence then, and a lot of us love him still. His portrait still hangs on many a cousin's wall, along with Christ's and Kennedy's, and the revelations of revisionist historians have only broadened his dimensions (I, for one, find it a comfort to believe that he died in Lucy Mercer's arms). In the more affluent branches of the family there are those to whom "that man" was and is anathema, but up in the Appalachian hollows and down in Texas there are once-hardscrabble mountaineers and former sodbusters who remember him for "bringing in the electric" and for feeding the children when they could not. The Roosevelt revolution made them feel like real, first-class American citizens: The government no longer was that gang in Washington that just took taxes and told you what you couldn't do: It was the down- home county agent who could show you how to grow better crops, and a nice, discreet young woman who came around to see that there was milk for the baby and shoes for the kids in school. There are those who assert that all this meddling created an initiative-destroying welfare state and destroyed our self-help tradition, but the fact is that a new deal was necessary because the old system had brok had two days to get used to FDR's being gone, while the train bearing his coffin made its way to Washington from Warm Springs, Georgia. They could have flown him in as quickly as Kennedy from Dallas, but in those days we had a better feel for seemly pace. Meanwhile the sun rose and set and the Allied armies continued to blast their way toward downtown Berlin; things went on as though there still were a hand at the helm. Sometime around dawn on Saturday we set off with Daddy for Lafayette Park. There never had been such a crowd, all moving in the same direction, but there was no pushing or shoving. Early as we were, the park and both sides of Constitution and Pennsylvania avenues were packed from Union Station to the White House. Daddy led the five of us, ranging from five to 10 vears old, to the statue of Lafayette, from whose pedestal little people could see. Big people made way for us, and a man reached down to hoist me dizzily to a perch between Lafayette's feet. "The boy can't stay up there," said a huge policeman who came along. "Yes, he can," my father said, and that was that. It was not a day to make scenes. It was a warm morning that grew hot as I sat for hours, left arm hugging one cool and massive leg of the statue. The great crowd below stretched out of sight in all directions and yet made no sound. The avenue lay empty as a dry riverbed, lined with soldiers who were not guards and people who did not need to be restrained. Long as we had waited, the head of the procession came before we were ready, bearing in its train the proof of the awful thing. The troops marched at a slow sad walk and the bands played low sad music and the people made no movement save when the men saluted or uncovered as a flag went by. The procession was a mile long, the newspapers said, but all too soon the caisson came. Its leading edge made a bow wave in the crowd; as it came level with them the people lowered their heads, or looked away, or shuddered. An almost inaudible sound, made up of hundreds of private sobs and groans, kept pace with the ripple. Then we all went home, silent and tearstained but eased and encouraged by the pageant. The government still worked, the troops fought on, and all of a sudden it was V-E Day. Some little time later, just as the sweet corn was coming ripe, we dropped The Bomb, and the war was over, and the Russians were bad guys again, and we were in a post-Roosevelt world in which I have never been entirely comfortable.