Pennsylvania Memories is a special series marking the turn of the millennium featuring readers' memories of events, experiences, incidents, individuals, innovations or inventions that profoundly affected them or gave them a deep appreciation of personal history.

By the summer of 1941, war had been raging in Europe for nearly two years. As a child of twelve, in an age of much slower communications, I was not keenly aware of what was going on. I cannot remember being fearful or even apprehensive that the events in Europe were going to affect my life in Adams County.

For me, as for most farm children of the forties, summer was a busy, exciting time of year. And so was the summer of 1941 – until I contracted the most dreaded of diseases, infantile paralysis, or polio. This disease affected me more than any war a half a world away ever could. As the United States found itself being drawn closer and closer to war, I found myself fighting my own personal war against a disease that wanted to make me a helpless cripple.

When the diagnosis of polio was determined, I was paralyzed from the waist down. After two months at home in a body cast, a young doctor in Gettysburg made arrangements for me to be sent to Warm Springs, Georgia. There was a hospital there for polio victims. The waters at Warm Springs were thought to be beneficial in aiding their recovery. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, himself a polio victim, periodically visited Warm Springs where he and some friends had established the Georgia Warm Springs Foundation to provide affordable treatment for polio patients. During his presidency, Roosevelt maintained the Little White House at Warm Springs.

In the fall of 1941, I found myself on a train, accompanied by my mother, headed south to Georgia. My father had made a bed in the back of our automobile so he could take me from Gettysburg to Pennsylvania Station in Washington, D.C., where we boarded a Pullman for the long trip. Upon reaching Atlanta, I was put on a cot in a mail car for the balance of the journey. An ambulance met us at the railroad station for the final few miles to the hospital. My mother returned to Gettys­burg shortly after our arrival to take care of the rest of the family. I was left in this new place, hundreds of miles from home, and unable to walk.

I spent four months at Warm Springs. I underwent therapy in the warm mineral waters and my physical condition improved. By the time I left in February 1942, I was able to walk with the help of a long leg brace and crutches.

During my stay, President Roosevelt visited his Little White House. It was December, and we were told that he was also planning to visit some of the patients at the hospital. When we awoke on Sunday, December 7, we were told that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor and that we were at war. FDR returned to Washington and would not be visiting with us.

The atmosphere among the children at the hospital was one of real fear. Most of us were there without family, many miles from home, and invalids of one sort or another. Many children were scared to sleep at night for fear of being bombed. I remember my roommate being especially frightened. The nurses did their best to reassure and comfort us through those uncertain first days of war.

It had been FDR’s practice to send gifts to Warm Springs from time to time to be given to the patients. He would have given them out himself this time if it had not been for the attack on Pearl Harbor. I was lucky enough to receive one of those gifts. The head nurse took me into her office one day and gave me a small gold Elgin pocket watch, which I have to this day.

The gifts which the president brought with him for the patients had been given to him by others just for that purpose. The watch I received came with a letter containing the name of the donor. They were a family from New York with whom I corresponded until their deaths.

President Roosevelt never returned to Warm Springs while I was there. I have always regretted having missed the opportunity to meet this great man, but the gold watch is a very special memento of my stay at the Georgia Warm Springs Founda­tion. Throughout the war years I continued my battle against polio. By the time I entered college, I was walking on my own, although I have never run a step since the summer of 1941.

 

The editor thanks the writer’s daughter, Elaine Klinger Gilbert, of York Springs, for her assistance in preparing this article for publication.

 

Martha Martin Klinger retired after more than thirty years as an ele­mentary school teacher. She first taught in Harrisburg, but spent most of her career teaching first grade students in the Bermudian Springs School District of Adams County. She is a graduate of the Shippensburg State Teachers College, now Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania. She lives with her husband, Charles F. Klinger, on their family farm near New Oxford, Adams County.