In 1934, FDR was the first President to visit Roanoke County, Virginia, since George Washington had 200 years before as a young surveyor and soldier. FDR was to race through Salem (our home town) on his way to honor the new World War I veterans’ hospital nearby. The locals crowded about a right turn where his car had to slow down.

Grandmother was lucky–she was a friend of the elderly, opinionated owner of the drugstore on that corner, and was invited to the owner’s yard behind the store, a site 4 feet above the street, so our view was not barred.

He had invited two Confederate vets who lived nearby and everyone was very solicitous. One was frail and needed help; the other walked with an easy stride that suggested he had once been one of Stonewall’s “foot cavalry.”

The moment arrived: an open car (preceded by a truck with three motion picture cameras in the back) arrived with FDR smiling and waving his hat. Then the most astounding noise erupted from the vets. It started up low and ended up high–the loudest I ever heard a man yell.

I whispered to Grandmother, “What are they trying to do?” She swung around, winked, and replied, “That’s the Rebel Yell.”

Lots on the street knew the Yell and wanted to know what they meant, but the men refused to answer. So I can say that I heard one of the last real  yells by real Confederates (in a possibly hostile way).

Joscelyn Dunlop

Joscelyn Dunlop is a Virginia native and a widely experienced journalist.


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