From the Little White House, atop Pine Mountain, the view of the countryside has changed remarkably little since Franklin Delano Roosevelt died here on a soft spring day 40 years ago. The bloodiest conflict in recorded history was finally drawing to a close then, and it's easy to see why our World War II president sought refuge among the deep pine forests and streams and red clay hills of southwest Georgia.
This is a place of peace. It is quiet and remote. Even the scale of the presidential retreat -- incredibly simple, modest and spartanly functional by today's standards -- bespeaks a need to escape the official ceremonies and panoply of far-off Washington.
In this season of anniversaries, on this weekend of memorials, much attention is being paid to the end of this battle, the surrender of that country, the decade (or decades) after the guns fell silent on a number of fronts, the building of shrines to the slain and to the leaders of the past. It has even been noted that no proper memorial exists to our wartime president, FDR, the most powerful chief executive of the century.
Not that attempts at such have been lacking. Thirty years ago Congress set aside land in the nation's capital to house an FDR memorial. In the ways of Washington, a commission, naturally, was appointed. Plans were drafted, debated and discarded. They did not have enough of this or that and otherwise were deemed unsuitable. Money was raised; nothing came of it. No grand FDR Memorial was built.
None is needed. And I hope none will be built to him in Washington. The last thing Washington needs is another marble mausoleum to commemorate another political figure. The last thing needed to memorialize Franklin Roosevelt is another impersonal granite structure, another piece of cold statuary to stand alongside countless others in the capital.
The Roosevelt Memorial already exists. It stands here, far removed from Washington, in Warm Springs.
They had a ceremony here just for that purpose. The occasion was the dedication of a new wing at the Roosevelt Warm Springs Institute for Rehabilitation. The idea was to take what this place has represented to millions of handicapped people in the past -- proof that those with disabilities can become, like FDR, anything they want -- and through expanded efforts in the mid-1980s and beyond, transform that concept and work into a living memorial to FDR.
The hope is that Warm Springs can have a new birth as a world center offering research, treatment and medical facilities to help disabled people face and overcome their problems. The dream is that some day, through new work begun here, scientific and medical breakthroughs can be achieved that prevent or eliminate disabling diseases.
Nothing could be more fitting for a Roosevelt Memorial.
The war wasn't what brought Roosevelt here first, of course. He came because he was a cripple, a victim of such massive disability that he was unable to stand or take a step without assistance.
Old black-and-white film footage here, dating from the 1920s, shows FDR's withered legs -- matchsticks, they were, offering a shocking contrast to his muscular torso -- as he emerges from a swimming pool with other victims of infantile paralysis, most of them children. He is shown on picnics with fellow victims wearing his braces outside his trouser legs -- something the American public never saw.
His experience with rehabilitation here led him to establish the Georgia Warm Springs Foundation in 1927. It became a pioneering facility for services for disabled persons and continues as such. I had never visited here before, and the sight of so many people moving about these lovely grounds cheerfully and with determination in wheelchairs is touching and inspiring.
In a fine new book about the extent of Roosevelt's disability, "FDR's Splendid Deception," Hugh Gregory Gallagher, himself confined for life to a wheelchair as a victim of polio, details what he calls "the moving story of Roosevelt's massive disability -- and the intense efforts to conceal it from the public."
He notes that of 35,000 still photographs of FDR at the library in Hyde Park, N.Y., only two show him seated in his wheelchair -- and no newsreels show him being lifted, carried or pushed in his chair. His point is not some conspiratorial revisionist historical interpretation. It is to demonstrate how courage and perseverence can triumph over adversity. And something else:
"Roosevelt never denied his polio," he writes. "Although he minimized the extent of his impairment -- to himself as well as to others -- he always acknowledged it. He had a lifetime interest in the care and treatment of victims of the disease and in research into its cause and cure. As president he was able to further these interests to a quite remarkable degree.
"Roosevelt always seemed to know, in his intuitive way, what the mission of the Georgia Warm Springs Foundation should be. It was to be a pioneer, an example for the rest of the country to follow. 'You must always remember,' he told the patients at Thanksgiving 1934, 'that you who are here . . . only represent a tiny fraction of the people throughout the land . . . who have infantile paralysis . . . . Even if we were to double in size or quadruple in size, we could only treat a small fraction in this country of the people who need treatment.
" 'We need to do everything we can to spread the knowledge we are gaining at Warm Springs . . . so that, throughout the country, the facilities for taking care of grown-ups and children who have polio can be vastly improved.' "
So they were, and polio eventually was eliminated as a scourge. The same challenge exists in other areas of disabling disease. That's what the living memorial to FDR here is all about. It deserves the same kind of dedication American citizens gave to the battle against infantile paralysis.
In that sense, Franklin Roosevelt could have no better memorial.