January 30 – FDR’s Birthday

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(Returning from the Casablanca Conference during a flight from Trinidad to Miami, President Roosevelt celebrates his 61st birthday. Seated (L to R): Guy Spaman, secret service; Admiral William D. Leahy, FDR’s chief of staff; Lt. Cone, captain of the plane; and FDR. Standing (L to R): Charles Fredericks, secret service, Capt. John L. McCrea, presidential naval aide; Elmer Hipsley, secret service; Lt. George Fox, naval medical corps; Rear Admiral Ross T. McIntire, surgeon general of the navy)

On January 30, 1943 on the return trip from the Casablanca Conference, President Roosevelt celebrated his 61st birthday in an unusual venue, aboard a Pan Am Clipper flying from Trinidad to Miami. The event was organized on the initiative of John McCrea during the journey to Casablanca. There were champagne toasts, a birthday cake, and the president received a gift, a book of prints showing scenes of Trinidad, where the presidential party had had overnight layovers on the way to and from North Africa. It was the first time—and possibly the last—that a president of the United States had celebrated his birthday in the skies.

The Trip To Casablanca

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[On board the president’s C-54 in North Africa. Seated, 1st row (L to R): FDR and Harry Hopkins. Seated, 2d row (L to R): Lt. George A. Fox and Rear Adm. Ross T. McIntire, FDR’s physiotherapist and physician, respectively; Guy Spaman (back turned), Secret Service; and Captain McCrea. Standing (L to R): unidentified man; Arthur Prettyman, FDR’s valet; Charles Fredericks, Secret Service; E.R. Hipsley, Secret Service; W.K. Deckard, Secret Service; and Captain Otis Bryan, pilot of the plane.]

In the evening of January 9, 1943, President Franklin Roosevelt and his party departed Washington by train for Casablanca, Morocco, for meetings with Winston Churchill and British military leaders about the next phase of the war. Among the president’s party were Harry Hopkins, presidential adviser, Admiral William D. Leahy, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, and Captain John L. McCrea, the president’s naval aide. The president had placed McCrea in charge of all the travel arrangements for the trip to North Africa.

The itinerary from Washington to Casablanca was far from direct. The group was to travel to Miami, Florida by special train. There they would board two chartered Pan American Clippers and fly south to Trinidad and Belém, Brazil, and then east, across the South Atlantic Ocean, to Bathurst, Gambia on Africa’s west coast. From Bathurst, they would fly north in two army C-54 planes to Casablanca. The Clipper legs of the trip essentially followed the route used by U.S. Army Air Transport Command to fly war materiel from the United States to the African theater of the war. This route was chosen because it offered the relatively limited aircraft of the day the shortest passage across the Atlantic.