Edwin M. Watson
Major General, United States ARmy
Kenwood Kenwood is the home of the Robert H.
Smith International Center for Jefferson Studies. Built between 1939 and
1941 for Major General and Mrs. Edwin M. Watson on 78.5 acres of land (once
owned by Jefferson), it served
Major General Edwin Watson, a senior military
aide, was the friend and personal secretary of Franklin D. Roosevelt who
adopted Kenwood as his Camp David during his presidency and retreated here
on several occasions. The guest cottage was built in 1940-41 for Roosevelt,
though he stayed there on only one occasion, preferring the social activity
of the main house. On subsequent visits, including four days in June 1944
awaiting the Normandy invasion, he slept in the front
There was little doubt the president needed some rest. The rigors of the 1944 campaign had taken a toll on this seemingly indefatigable man (President Franklin D. Roosevelt), and in February he had traveled to Yalta for a conference with Stalin and Churchill on the shape of the postwar world. His return via the destroyer U.S.S. Quincy had been an 8,000-mile journey marked by the death of his longtime aide, Major General Edwin Watson.
Observers noted the death of Watson, called
“Pa” by his intimates, had hit Roosevelt particularly hard. The president’s
ship had sailed on with the body on board, but the loss of his close advisor
served as a grim reminder of his own mortality. By the spring of 1945,
FDR had been president for over a dozen years that had been filled with
an exhausting procession of triumph and tragedy as he carried the nation
through one of the most tumultuous periods in its history.
WASHINGTON, Wednesday — Like so many things in life, the President's homecoming this morning was a mixture of light and shadow. It was naturally a joy to have the President and Anna back again, but our happiness is greatly dimmed by the loss of such a loyal, warm friend as Major General Edwin M. Watson has been over the past years.
General Watson had been with the President,
first as military side and then as both senior military aide and secretary,
during many of the years that we have been here. I know that his
loyalty and kindliness meant a great deal in cementing a deep friendship
between them. For the General himself, I am sure that death in line
of duty, while taking this most
As one grows older one realizes that these separations must come where people are as old or older than oneself, but nevertheless the loss of companionship and the readjustment is always difficult. So what would naturally be a happy homecoming has been a time of sorrow.
At noon we went to Arlington for General Watson's
funeral services. The rest of the day was spent very quietly.
WASHINGTON, February 28, 1945 – Major General Edwin M. Watson, military aide and secretary to President Roosevelt, was buried with full military honors in Arlington Cemetery today while the President, his close friend for many years, looked on during a fall of rain and sleet. General Watson died at seas on February 20 while returning with the President from the Yalta conference.
Mr. Roosevelt had only been back in the White House a few hours from his long trip to the Crimea when he ventured forth in the storm to attend the Roman Catholic committal service held at the graveside in the National Cemetery.
The President sat in a limousine a few yards from the ceremonies, his face grave and immobile, while he witnessed the burial. General Watson’s widow, the former Frances Bash, concert pianist, remained in a near-by car. Mrs. Roosevelt and Mrs. Anna Boettinger, their daughter, accompanied by her husband, Lieutenant Colonel John Boettinger, drove with the President to the cemetery, but stood in the rain during the ceremonies.
The committal service was read by Lieutenant Duane Brady, a Naval Chaplain. A rifle squad fired the traditional three volleys and Taps was played as the coffin was lowered into the grave. A memorial mass will be held at 9 A.M. tomorrow in St. Matthews Cathedral.
The grave was circled by a group of high officials including General of the Army George C. Marshall, Chief of Staff; Admiral of the Fleet William D. Leahy, the President’s personal Chief of Staff; James F. Byrnes, Director of Mobilization and Reconversion; War Manpower Chairman Paul V. McNutt; Attorney General Francis Biddle; Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter and Bernard M. Baruch.
Robert Goodloe, who had been General Watson’s messenger and chauffer for many years, stood in the group of mourners. Also present was Edith Fletcher, cook with the Watson family for many years.
Also attending were Under Secretary of state Joseph C. Grew; Postmaster General Frank Walker; Judge Samuel I. Rosenman, the President’s Special Adviser; Chairman Andrew J. May of the House Military Affairs Committee.
General Watson had spent most of his sixty-one years in the Army, but it was the Navy which did him honor with the Presidential cruiser put in at an East Cost port last night. To the shrill, plaintiff piping of a boatswain, sailors carried the coffin down the steep gangway, accompanied by a detail of officers and ship’s chaplain. The carried it slowly to the President’s special train, waiting a few years away. It lay along in a car reserved for that purpose, with the luggage which Watson had carrier on many trips tithe “the Boss.”
Mrs. Watson and Mrs. Roosevelt met the train
when it arrived in Washington long before dawn.
The President presented Distinguished Service
Medal posthumously to Major General Edwin M. Watson, with the
WATSON, EDWIN M
MAJ GEN U S ARMY
DATE OF DEATH: 02/20/1945
BURIED AT: SECTION SOUTH SITE 1909-A
ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY
Posted: 7 February 2006 Updated: 22 December 2007