Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Theodore Roosevelt Jr. / American Hero

  The Longest Day was shown at Nashville's Paramount theater for the twentieth anniversary of D-Day in 1964. My brother Mark and I rode the bus downtown and walked to the theater on Church street. The left front section of seats were roped off for veterans of the battle. When the movie was over I remember one veteran, who was probably in his late thirties or early forties, telling a buddy " I wish it had been that easy". The Longest Day was good for it's historical reality but it didn't show the reality of war in the way that Saving Private Ryan did. I ended up seeing the movie about three or four times at the Paramount and many times since. There was a long list of big stars in the movie. John Wayne, Robert Mitchum, Eddie Albert, Curt Jurgens, Sean Connery, Richard Burton, Paul Anka, Robert Ryan, Richard Todd, Rod Steiger, Red Buttons, Robert Wagner, Henry Fonda. and the list goes on and on. Henry Fonda played the role of Theodore Roosevelt Jr. Until then I had never heard about him and for many years I knew very little. Although Theodore Roosevelt Jr. is overshadowed by his more famous father he was a heroic figure in his own right. 

  Theodore Roosevelt Jr. was born on September 13, 1887. He was the oldest child of President Theodore and Edith Roosevelt.  Roosevelt's  first wife Alice died on February 14, 1884, just two days after giving birth to a daughter that would take her name. Only hours earlier his mother had died from typhoid fever in the same house. Roosevelt wrote in his diary that day, "The light has gone out of my life" Besides Theodore Jr. the Roosevelt's had three more boys and a daughter. They were Kermit, Ethel, Archibald, and Quentin. Ted Jr. was in awe of his father and lived under the pressure of being the oldest son of a great man. In 1915 Ted went through a military summer camp hosted by his fathers former military commander Major General Leonard Wood. After America declared war on Germany in 1917 he was commissioned as a Major in the army. All three of his brothers served in the service. The youngest brother Quentin would become a pilot and would die after being shot down in 1918. Ted was so concerned for his men's welfare that he bought them all combat boots out of his own pocket. He fought in many battles and was wounded and gassed. Ted would be awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for bravery under fire. At the end of the war he was one of the founders of the American Legion.

  In civilian life Ted became a New York assemblyman, and Assistant Secretary of the Navy under Warren Harding. He became tainted by the Teapot Dome Scandal due to his involvement in the oil business. Ted ran for governor against Al Smith and lost. President Herbert Hoover appointed him governor of Puerto Rico and he worked hard to ease the poverty of the people during the depression. Impressed with his work in Puerto Rico president Hoover appointed him governor general of the Philippines. After his cousin Franklin Roosevelt was elected president his job ended in the Philippines. This was because he was a Republican and Franklin was a Democrat and they were political enemies. In 1940 Ted took a military refresher course and was promoted to colonel in the army. He returned to active duty in April 1941. 

  After Pearl Harbor he would fight with bravery in North Africa but being second in command under Major General Terry Allen didn't set well with General George S. Patton. He didn't like Terry and Roosevelt was tainted by his association. After the death of Roosevelt however Patton would call him the bravest man that he had ever known. That is a real tribute coming from Patton. Roosevelt was assigned as a staff officer of the 4th Division in order to help prepare for the D-Day landings. As a staff officer he would not be in combat but he wanted to lead his men on to the beaches of Normandy. At 56 Roosevelt was the oldest officer and he was on a cane due to rheumatoid arthritis. This was from his WW1 wounds. He had also had a heart condition.  After several requests that were denied, Roosevelt finally sent a written request that was reluctantly approved by his commander and friend General Tubby Barton. Tubby was afraid that Roosevelt would not come back alive. 

  On June 6, 1944 Ted's son Quentin Roosevelt II stormed Omaha Beach in the first wave. Ted led the 4th division on to Utah Beach and soon found out that the landing craft had drifted a mile off course from the objective. He then spoke  the famous words that are depicted in the Longest Day. "We'll start the war from right here". His cool and calm under fire inspired his troops while bullets were chopping up the ground all around him. He also acted as a traffic cop untangling traffic jams. On July 12, 1944 while talking with his son in a captured German truck he suffered a heart attack at about 10:00 PM and died around midnight. He would be awarded the Medal of Honor. There are only two sets of father and son that ever won the medal. Arthur MacArthur and Douglas MacArthur. Theodore Roosevelt and Theodore Roosevelt Jr.  President Roosevelt was not awarded his medal until 2001. He had been nominated by his superiors during the Spanish American War but for political reasons it had been blocked. Theodore Roosevelt Jr. was buried in the Normandy military cemetery. In 1955 the family exhumed Quentin's body and he was buried next to his brother. The following is Theodore Roosevelt Jr.'s Medal of Honor citation.
Ted with his son Quentin II
Funeral of Theodore Roosevelt Jr.


For gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty on 6 June 1944, in France. After 2 verbal requests to accompany the leading assault elements in the Normandy invasion had been denied, Brig. Gen. Roosevelt's written request for this mission was approved and he landed with the first wave of the forces assaulting the enemy-held beaches. He repeatedly led groups from the beach, over the seawall and established them inland. His valor, courage, and presence in the very front of the attack and his complete unconcern at being under heavy fire inspired the troops to heights of enthusiasm and self-sacrifice. Although the enemy had the beach under constant direct fire, Brig. Gen. Roosevelt moved from one locality to another, rallying men around him, directed and personally led them against the enemy. Under his seasoned, precise, calm, and unfaltering leadership, assault troops reduced beach strong points and rapidly moved inland with minimum casualties. He thus contributed substantially to the successful establishment of the beachhead in France.

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