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Saturday, June 06, 2015

Ted Roosevelt Jr., Medal of Honor for D-Day

He was 56, arthritic and walking with a cane because machine gun fire had tore up his knee 26 years earlier. On top of that he had a bad ticker, in part because he was exposed to poison gas while leading his battalion in World War I.

What in the dickens was Theodore Roosevelt Jr. doing? He had no business being in the Army. let alone in the European theater leading a tank battalion and infantry regiment in the first wave of soldiers to hit Utah Beach, Normandy, on D-Day. Not only that, but he was the first one out of the landing craft. Brigadier General Ted Roosevelt Jr. knew war, knew soldiers, and knew establishing a beachhead. He knew that if his men saw the Old Man on the beach, it could not be all that bad.

Ted was born into great wealth and prominence on September 13, 1887, as the oldest son of President Teddy Roosevelt and his second wife, Edith Kermit Carow Roosevelt. Ted simply adored his father, What was not to like? Teddy Roosevelt was larger than life, a hunter, a historian, a president, and a Rough Rider. When the son was 9, Teddy gave Ted a rifle. The boy asked the father it was real. The father shot a hole in the ceiling. On October 14, 1912, while campaigning in his ill-fated second presidential campaign, Teddy Roosevelt took a bullet from a shot fired by saloonkeeper John Schrank who aimed for his heart. Undeterred, the former president gave an hour-long speech as scheduled, before going off to the hospital. That is one heck of an act to follow.

Son Ted tried. After graduating from Harvard in 1909 entered business and did well. But war broke out in Europe. In preparation for the war, Ted and two of his three brothers paid to attend a summer camp run by Leonard Wood, Teddy's commanding officer in Cuba in the Spanish-American War. The Army later named a fort in Missouri in his honor. When America entered the Great War, Teddy was unable to convince President Wilson to let him saddle up the old Rough Riders one last time, but Teddy did convince General Pershing to take three of his sons with him; the fourth son, Kermit, was already with the British army in Baghdad. Quentin joined the air corps, Archie became a lieutenant, and Ted became a major leading his battalion through enemy fire and mustard gas. He earned his honors not because of his political connections, but despite them. He wanted to be on the front.

The commendations tell all. He received a Distinguished Service Cross, the Army Distinguished Service Medal, and two Silver Stars in World War I. The DSC citation said, "The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress, July 9, 1918, takes pleasure in presenting the Distinguished Service Cross to Major (Infantry) Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. (ASN: 0-139726), United States Army, for extraordinary heroism in action serving with the 26th Infantry Regiment, 1st Division, A.E.F., near Cantigny, France, 28 May 1918. After the completion of a raid Major Roosevelt exposed himself to intense machine-gun, rifle, and grenade fire while he went forward and assisted in rescuing a wounded member of the raiding party. At Soissons, France, 19 July 1918, he personally led the assault companies of his battalion, and although wounded in the knee he refused to be evacuated until carried off the field."

He almost lost the leg, but his brother-in-law, a physician, got him in a hospital where he was spared amputation.

Ted was one of the founders of the American Legion for veterans of that war. After the war he ran for state assemblyman and served as assistant secretary of the Navy, He was involved in the Teapot Dome Scandal, which by modern standards was a nothingburger. No oil was ever drilled. Nevertheless, his cousin, Eleanor, dressed up in a teapot hat and stalked him during his ill-fated run for governor of New York in 1924 against Al Smith. The family split between TR and FDR was huge.

But by 1940, the successful businessman was among those veterans of World War I who prepared for World War II. Commissioned again, he led troops in the North African campaign, finding a kindred spirit in Major General Terry de la Mesa Allen, who was a soldier's soldier. Ernie Pyle wrote of Allen, "Major General Terry Allen was one of my favorite people. Partly because he didn't give a damn for hell or high water; partly because he was more colorful than most; and partly because he was the only general outside the Air Forces I could call by his first name. If there was one thing in the world Allen lived and breathed for, it was to fight. He had been all shot up in the last war, and he seemed not the least averse to getting shot up again. This was no intellectual war with him. He hated Germans and Italians like vermin."

Allen's father had been a colonel. His mother was the daughter of a Spanish national who fought on the Union side in the Civil War fighting at Gettysburg as part of the "Garibaldi Guard." West Point kicked Allen out because of poor grades. Ted also was a poor student, They shared a common foe; General Patton hated him. And yet all three were beloved by their soldiers.

 He received his third and fourth Silver Stars on consecutive days.

The citation for No. 3 reads: "The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress, July 9, 1918, takes pleasure in presenting a Second Bronze Oak Leaf Cluster in lieu of a Third Award of the Silver Star to Brigadier General Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. (ASN: 0-139726), United States Army, for gallantry in action while serving with the 1st Infantry Division at El Guettar, Tunisia, 22 March 1943. When enemy forces began a savage counterattack on our positions, General Roosevelt proceeded immediately to a forward observation post subjected to particularly intense enemy artillery fire, strafing, and furious dive-bombing, returning to the Division Command Post only when the enemy threat had been dispelled. His personal observations were of great value to this command, and his cheerful zeal, aggressive energy and great personal Courage exemplified the highest traditions of the Service."

The citation for No. 4 reads: "The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress July 9, 1918, takes pleasure in presenting a Third Bronze Oak Leaf Cluster in lieu of a Fourth Award of the Silver Star to Brigadier General Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. (ASN: 0-139726), United States Army, for gallantry in action while serving with the 1st Infantry Division at El Guettar, Tunisia, 23 March 1943. During the Division's initial assault operations General Roosevelt, displaying exceptional tactical judgment, planned and led the attack of a reinforced combat team. Although constantly harassed by heavy enemy machine gun and small arms fire, General Roosevelt preceded his team's assault waves into battle. This example of unflinching courage was a source of great confidence to his men in his leadership and enabled them to quickly attain their objective."

But on June 6, 1944, D-Day, that Ted Roosevelt Jr. showed his greatest bravery. He had to beg Major General Barton, commander of the 4th Infantry, to let him go into battle. Ted was persistent and finally General Barton caved in. Hours into the battle, when General Barton waded ashore, he was surprised to be greeted by Ted. Not only was Ted old, but he was tall and a general -- an easy target for Nazi snipers. Ted made too good a case to stay on the sidelines. He said: “They’ll figure that if a general is going in, it can’t be that rough.”

The forces landed about a mile off course. Informed of this, Ted said, "We’ll start the war from right here!"

The general personally scouted the area upon landing and served as a traffic cop of sorts, bringing calm to an often confusing situation. In the movie, "The Longest Day," Henry Fonda played him. That is quite an honor -- for Fonda.

Brigadier General Ted Roosevelt Jr.'s service at Normandy was simply brilliant. They put him in for another Distinguished Service Cross, and then upped it to Medal of Honor. General Omar Bradley recommended a promotion to major general. On July 13, 1944, General Eisenhower was preparing to sign off on the promotion when he got word that Ted had died of a heart attack the night before, in the truck he acquired from the Germans.

They buried him at the cemetery for the soldiers who died at Normandy, even though he did not die there. Six generals served as pallbearers, including Patton. Years later, when asked what was the bravest act of the war, General Bradley replied, "Theodore Roosevelt on Utah Beach."

Ted received the Medal of Honor posthumously for his D Day heroics. That citation reads: "The President of the United States of America, in the name of Congress, takes pride in presenting the Medal of Honor (Posthumously) to Brigadier General Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. (ASN: 0-139726), United States Army, for gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty on 6 June 1944, while serving as a commander in the 4th Infantry Division in France. After two verbal requests to accompany the leading assault elements in the Normandy invasion had been denied, Brigadier General 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, Brigadier General 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."

Wars are won by men -- men who are led by generals who want to win. Ted's father was bigger than life. On June 6, 1944, on Utah Beach, Normandy, Ted was bigger than his dad.

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  1. WWII was the last war we won and the last war we wanted to win.

  2. And because of this mind set America might just disappear from the face of the Universe. When that day happens the human race, what is left of it, will enter about 2 million years of darkness.

  3. Theodore Jr.'s story is extraordinary, inspiring, and moving. What a tremendous man. Don, you pick your subjects well, & you're a fabulous raconteur.

  4. When Ernie Pyle praises someone, he's EARNED it.

    TR's son certainly did his dad proud.