11 Apr 18
“You can’t ‘manage’ men into battle. You have to lead them!”
Rear Admiral Grace M Hopper
The eldest son of President Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt was Theodore Roosevelt Jr.
Theodore Roosevelt Jr’s cousin was Franklin D Roosevelt, who became president, and was Commander in Chief when Theodore Jr, then a brigadier general, was the only flag-grade officer to land at Normandy during D-Day as part of the First Wave, and at age fifty-six, the oldest person to participate in the Invasion. He was the second American to step off the boat and into the water at Utah Beach (Captain Leonard T Schroeder Jr was the first).
Theodore Jr’s younger brother, Quentin, at the rank of 2nd Lt, was a pilot during WWI and was killed in action during that War. During that same War, Theodore Jr had been awarded the Distinguished Service Cross
Theodore Jr’s son, also named Quentin (the 2nd), and also an officer (captain), also landed at Normandy on the same day as his father, also in the First Wave! Theodore Jr and Quentin II were the only father/son team to land at Normandy!
Between wars, Theodore Jr was involved in politics, and held the post of Assistant Secretary of the Navy. It was during that time that the acrimonious (and more or less permanent) family schism between the “Oyster Bay” Roosevelts (Teddy’s side) and the “Hyde Park” Roosevelts (FDR’s side) took place, precipitated by foul political maneuverings on the part of FDR’s wife, Eleanor.
Theodore Jr had no kind words for FDR, nor Eleanor, thereafter, considering them unworthy of the Roosevelt family name.
Eleanor later apologized for her less-than-honorable political activity, describing it as “below my dignity.” But, the damage was done, and was, as is so often the case, irreparable!
A durable and versatile commander, Theodore Jr also served as Governor of Puerto Rico, and Governor-General of the Philippines. While in the Philippines, he earned the nickname “One-Shot-Teddy,” due to his expert marksmanship while hunting local water buffalo.
During WWII and back in the Army, now at the rank of colonel, and soon brigadier general, Theodore found himself ADC of the 4th ID, stationed in England.
Theodore Jr’s requests to personally land with the First Wave during the D-Day Invasion were repeatedly denied. Never in good health, Theodore Jr was now fifty-six, gaunt, and required a cane. From his father, Theodore Jr had inherited abject bravery and an unselfish spirit of service to his Country, but not his robust health!
Major General Raymond “Tubby” Barton, commanding the 4 ID, exhausted with his requests, eventually conceded to Theodore Jr’s request, never expecting to see him alive again.
Hours later, when he stepped off the landing craft on Utah Beach, Theodore Jr immediately knew his entire First Wave (8th Infantry Regiment), owing to strong cross-currents, had landed at least a half-mile away from their intended landing zone.
Subordinates pointed-out, during a hasty beach-meeting, that the Second and subsequent waves, with the rest of the regiment and most of their heavy equipment, might land on the “right” beach.
Theodore Jr then made his famously audacious statement, for which he would be known ever thereafter:
“The rest of the Regiment will just have to catch up with us. We’ll start this war from right here!”
Contemptuously oblivious of hostile fire, for hours thereafter Theodore Jr personally greeted commanders of each succeeding wave (including General Barton himself), on the beach as they arrived, briefing them on the current situation and directing them to their assigned areas. He light-heartedly encouraged them with jokes, even poetry!
On 12 July 1944, after being involved in continuous fighting since the Invasion started 35 days earlier, Theodore Jr died, of all things, from a heart attack! He was eventually buried at the Omaha Beach American Cemetery, next to his younger brother, Quentin, who had died in France so many years earlier.
Theodore Jr was posthumously awarded the CMH for conspicuous bravery!
Throughout his military career, during both WWI and WWII, Theodore Jr had the reputation of always being personally up front with his troops. He was usually found sharing a fox-hole with front-line soldiers. Rarely was he found “in the rear with the gear.”
In fact, George Patton and Omar Bradley both criticized him for being “too close to his men.”
In his notes, Patton referred to Theodore Jr as “one of the bravest men I’ve ever known.”
Omar Bradley described Theodore Jr’s actions at Utah Beach to be, “… the single most heroic action I’ve ever seen in combat.”
Paradoxically, both Patton and Bradley would be pallbearers at Theodore Jr’s funeral!
And from the other end of the rank-spectrum, an unnamed PFC, under Theodore Jr’s command at Utah Beach,
said that he witnessed the general confidently walking around the battle area, apparently unconcerned with enemy fire (which was continuous).
“His conspicuous gallantry gave me the courage to get up and get on with the job.”
That’s what real leaders do!