Every member of the Allied forces on the Normandy beaches 70 years ago this June 6—“D-Day”– was heroic. One largely unknown hero was Theodore “Ted” Roosevelt Junior – eldest son of President Teddy Roosevelt.
Born into privilege in 1887, Ted and his siblings were instilled with a commitment to public service. When World War I broke out in 1917, Ted and his three brothers volunteered to serve their country. Commissioned a major, Ted was one of the first American officers to arrive in France. There, he led his battalion in combat,always at the front lines, so devoted to his men’s welfare that he purchased boots for the entire battalion with his own money Ted received the Distinguished Service Cross and the French made him a Chevalier of the Légion d’honneur. Between the wars, Ted was a businessman, politician and reserve Army officer. Seeing World War II on the horizon, Ted went on active duty in April 1941. Given command of the 26th Infantry Regiment, he was promoted to Brigadier General and led his troops with distinction during the North Africa campaign. Ted was again a “soldier’s soldier” leading from the front. He repeatedly clashed with the traditional “spit and polish” generals Omar Bradley and George S. Patton, the latter of whom constantly criticized him and tried to relieve him of command. Bradley later wrote that Roosevelt and his commanding general Terry Allen were guilty of “loving their division too much” and that their relationship with their soldiers was having a generally bad effect on the discipline of both the commanders and the men of the division. Ted was assigned to staff duties, which he disliked.
In early 1944, with the Normandy invasion looming, Ted clamored for a combat role. His request was reluctantly approved, and on the morning of June 6, 1944, Ted Roosevelt became the only general on D-Day to land by sea with the first wave of troops. Aged 56, he was the oldest man in the invasion, suffered from arthritis and a serious heart condition, and walked with a cane due to injuries from World War I. Undaunted by age and infirmities, Ted was one of the first soldiers to land at Utah Beach.