Mr. Esperancilla and FDR

February 12, 1945, the Yalta Conference formally ended. It was the 2nd wartime conference of the leaders of the “Big Three” Allied countries–US President Franklin D. Roosevelt, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin–who met to discuss the structure of postwar Europe, among many other complex issues.

Some 15 years after, Roosevelt’s Filipino steward Irineo Esperancilla wrote about Roosevelt’s arrival from Yalta:

“I heard the President’s famous laugh for the last time in February of 1945 when I unpacked his suitcases on his return from Yalta. I found in one of the trunks an Arabic woman’s richly embroidered costume. The Boss, laughingly told me that this was a costume for a harem lady and a gift of King Saud to Mrs. Roosevelt. I saw in his eyes, again full of life and light, an intention to use the gift to play a joke on his wife. But he was was so exhausted in those last days of his life that he simply handed her the gift without a word.”

President Roosevelt died a couple of months later, on April 12, 1945. According to several biographies of Roosevelt, it was Mr. Esperancilla who carried the president to his deathbed when President Roosevelt suddenly collapsed around noon while Mr. Esperancilla was setting the table.

(Mr. Esperancilla himself met Stalin at the Tehran Conference. Stalin refused to eat anything Mr. Esperancilla served, thinking he was a Japanese spy. Mr. Esperancilla wrote in his memoirs: “(Stalin) had said to his interpreter, “I hope this man is not a Japanese,” and he pointed at me. Roosevelt laughed heartily and told the interpreter I was a Filipino and had worked for him for years. Stalin seemed to be greatly relieved.”)

Maybe there is a book waiting to be written: An OFW History of the World.

Photo credit: US National Archives

Big Three Yalta Conference


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