Theodore “Ted” Roosevelt Junior – eldest son of President Teddy Roosevelt, was famous in his day for his bravery and heroism during both WWI and WWII, and his personal and political accomplishments between the wars. Now, however, his deeds are largely unknown. I hope to bring attention to this remarkable man.
I relayed some of his accomplishments in Part One of this essay, ending with his unlikely assignment, as a general at the age of 56, to be among the first to land at Utah Beach.
Ted soon realized that his landing craft had drifted more than a mile south of their objective and the first wave of men was a mile off course. Walking with the aid of a cane and carrying a pistol, he reconnoitered the area under heavy enemy fire. After returning to the landing place, Ted contacted his battalion commanders with the famous words “We’ll start the war from right here!”
With German artillery rounds landing all around, Ted personally welcomed each new US assault wave when it hit Utah Beach. Eyewitnesses recalled that General Roosevelt was cool, calm, and collected, inspiring all with humor and confidence, reciting poetry and telling anecdotes of his father to steady the nerves of his men. Roosevelt pointed almost every regiment to its changed objective. Sometimes he worked under fire as a self-appointed traffic cop, untangling traffic jams of trucks and tanks all struggling to get inland and off the beach. One GI later reported that seeing the general walking around, apparently unaffected by the enemy fire, even when clods of earth fell down on him, gave him the courage to get on with the job, saying “if the
general is like that it can’t be that bad.”
Years later, when his former detractor General Omar Bradley was asked to name the single most heroic action he had ever seen in combat, he replied, “Ted Roosevelt on Utah Beach.”
A little over a month later, on July 12, 1944, Theodore Roosevelt Junior died suddenly of a heart attack near Sainte-Mère-Église, the Normandy village where the 82nd Airborne landed on D-Day. He was buried at the American Cemetery in Normandy with the men he had commanded. In September 1944, General Roosevelt was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor “for gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty on 6 June 1944.”