As the child of America’s 26th president, Theodore Roosevelt Jr. is by no means as well known as his father. Yet like President Roosevelt, the younger man experienced a great deal throughout his life. Roosevelt Jr. was involved in politics and commerce at different points in time, but his connection with the U.S. military was perhaps the most astonishing aspect of his life. His war record, in fact, might well come as a shock to those of us alive today.
President Roosevelt was strongly linked to the military throughout his life, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that his son was too. The elder Roosevelt, in fact, was largely responsible for organizing the Rough Riders during the Spanish-American War of 1898. This was a voluntary regiment that has become notorious since that conflict’s end.
Thanks to his role in running the Rough Riders, Roosevelt Sr. became a rather popular figure. He was even nominated for a Medal of Honor, but was prevented from obtaining it in his own lifetime thanks to apparently resentful military leaders. In 2001, however, the award was bestowed upon him posthumously.
It was off the back of his military popularity that Roosevelt Sr. was voted in as New York’s governor in 1898. From there, he later became vice president to William McKinley, who was murdered in office in 1901. With that, Roosevelt had become America’s youngest-ever president, a distinction he still holds today.
Roosevelt is widely considered to have been one of the finest presidents that the United States has ever seen. Indeed, his popularity is evidenced by the fact that his likeness was carved into Mount Rushmore, alongside Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson and George Washington. He’s an extraordinary figure in American history, but his son was also a person of note.
Roosevelt Jr. was the 26th president’s first son, born to his second spouse Edith Kermit Carow. Roosevelt Sr. had initially been married to Alice Hathaway Lee, who passed away shortly after birthing a daughter named Alice. Two years after this tragedy, Roosevelt Sr. proceeded to tie the knot with Carow.
It was around the time that Roosevelt Sr. had started to venture into politics that the younger Theodore Roosevelt came into the world. A younger half-brother to Alice, Roosevelt Jr. was ultimately born before several more siblings. In order of birth, these were children named Kermit, Ethel, Archie and Quentin.
Apparently, each of the Roosevelt kids was significantly affected by their dad. And there are some stories suggesting that he’d been rather stern. For instance, it’s been said that when Roosevelt Jr. was around nine years old, Roosevelt Sr. handed him a firearm. The child questioned whether the weapon was authentic – so the parent fired into the ceiling.
Bearing this story in mind, it won’t come as a surprise to learn that Roosevelt Jr. felt a tremendous amount of pressure from his dad. Apparently, Roosevelt Sr. had high expectations for his eldest son, more than for any of his other kids. This, it’s been said, nearly led to the younger Roosevelt breaking down.
As an adult, Roosevelt Jr. penned a number of newspaper pieces in which he discussed some of his early memories. These offered some interesting insights into his family life, such as when he wrote of his father taking him to Washington. In this particular piece, he remembered how his dad would discuss history with him in an extremely engaging manner.
Roosevelt Jr. explained just how his dad broached difficult subjects such as armed conflict. “During every battle we would stop, and Father would draw out the full plan in the dust in the gutter with the tip of his umbrella,” he wrote. “Long before the European war had broken over the world, Father would discuss with us military training and the necessity for every man being able to take his part.”
The military was an important aspect to the Roosevelt clan, but it seems that education was similarly prized. Consequently, Roosevelt Jr. and his brothers were well educated in private institutions as they grew up. Roosevelt Jr. himself later received a degree from Harvard, just as his father had done before him.
Roosevelt Jr. finished up at Harvard in 1909, and he was soon taking jobs in the world of commerce. At first, he worked in the steel industry, and he was also involved with an enterprise concerned with carpeting. Then, after a while, he moved into the realm of investment banking.
It’s been said that Roosevelt Jr. had been a rather talented businessman. Indeed, before World War I had gotten under way, he’d apparently generated quite a bit of wealth for himself through investing. All this money that he’d managed to acquire later came in handy as he moved into the political sphere.
As World War I started, a new initiative to help America prepare for the conflict was set up. Given the green light by Congress, this was an educational program aimed at businessmen. It would train and ready them for war, and the costs would be charged to each of them personally.
Numerous well-educated men ultimately took part in this training initiative, including Roosevelt Jr. and two of his brothers. If the attendees of the program did well in their training, they could then potentially be presented with commissions. This is exactly what happened in the case of Roosevelt Jr. and his brother Archie.
As America entered into World War I, Roosevelt Sr. requested that his sons join the war effort. This appeal was accepted, and Roosevelt Jr. and his brother Archie were sent to Europe as a major and a second lieutenant respectively. Quentin, meanwhile, was already in the U.S. Army Air Service, and Kermit had joined British forces in the Middle East.
Roosevelt Jr. offered to be a part of the initial wave of American fighters to be sent to France. Once he got there, it didn’t take long for him to build up a reputation for himself. According to one senior official, in fact, Roosevelt Jr. was swiftly acknowledged to be the most effective commander around.
Roosevelt Jr. was said to have a strong connection with the men under his command. He fought alongside them, and he even paid for them to receive new footwear out of concern for their wellbeing. He was involved in many important battles, and he was soon promoted to lieutenant colonel.
In the middle of 1918 Roosevelt Jr. was injured in battle. World War I ended later that year, and he ended up picking up numerous accolades for his conduct throughout. However, this surely wouldn’t have made up for the fact that he’d lost his brother Quentin that July, just months before the war had concluded.
In the wake of the war, Roosevelt Jr. returned to civilian life. But he didn’t exactly slow down, ultimately making a move into politics. In 1921 President Warren G. Harding selected him as the Assistant Secretary of the Navy. However, it was in this role that he became implicated in a scandal alongside his sibling Archie.
The embarrassment revolved around the so-called Teapot Dome scandal, which involved a number of alleged bribes. This was damaging for Warren G. Harding’s presidency and administration, and it even led to the incarceration of a cabinet member. Until Watergate, Teapot Dome was widely considered to be America’s most significant scandal.
Neither Roosevelt Jr. nor Archie was found to be guilty of any crimes, but their association with the scandal was damaging. In fact, even their own family turned on them. In 1924 Roosevelt Jr. was hoping to become New York’s governor. However, a cousin of his opposed this, pointing toward his “wretched record” in the position of assistant secretary of the Navy. This cousin was one Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Biting back, Roosevelt Jr. said of FDR, “He’s a maverick! He does not wear the brand of our family.” This, then, caused FDR’s spouse Eleanor to get involved, alleging that her husband’s cousin was infantile. All of this back and forth ultimately deepened the rift at the heart of the Roosevelt family.
After this unpleasant familial conflict, Roosevelt Jr. and his sibling Kermit went abroad. And for much of 1929, the pair traveled around southeast Asia hoping to study animals. However, it was during this excursion that Roosevelt Jr. picked up the dubious distinction of becoming the first person from the West to gun down a panda.
In September that same year, Roosevelt Jr. was installed as the new governor of the island territory of Puerto Rico. He got the job at the behest of Herbert Hoover, who was serving as U.S. president at the time. You see, before 1947 the people of Puerto Rico didn’t actually get a say in deciding their own governors.
In this new role, Roosevelt Jr. sought to improve the hardships on the island brought about by the Great Depression. He got his hands on some money for building schools, and he attempted to attract manufacturing businesses to the territory. Furthermore, he tried to give Puerto Rico’s image a boost in the minds of people back in the United States.
President Hoover was pleased with Roosevelt Jr.’s management of Puerto Rico, so in 1932 he made him the governor-general of the Philippines. However, he only stayed in this position for a little over a year, resigning when FDR became president. After this had happened, Roosevelt Jr. was asked to describe his connection to FDR. He jokingly replied, “Fifth cousin, about to be removed.”
By 1935 Roosevelt Jr. was back in the U.S. and was again involved in the world of commerce. Around this period, he took up a senior role in a publishing business, and he also worked in finance. He was also linked to a variety of non-profits. American songwriter Irving Berlin even charged Roosevelt Jr. with distributing the money from one of his hits towards charitable endeavors.
In 1936 rumors went around that Roosevelt Jr. was going to stand as the Republican candidate for the presidency. Had this scenario occurred, it would have seen Roosevelt Jr. facing off with his relative FDR. However, the nomination went to Alf Landon, who was ultimately thrashed by FDR at the polls.
In 1940 World War II was under way in Europe, although the U.S. hadn’t yet joined in the hostilities. Nonetheless, Roosevelt Jr. returned to military training, where he became a colonel. The next April he was assigned his own unit, and by the end of 1941 he’d become a brigadier general.
With America now a part of the war, Roosevelt Jr. was sent to northern Africa. Here he developed a reputation for standing alongside the men under his command. He apparently had little concern for his own safety, and was a regular presence on the front line. His ability to take swift action in pressurized circumstances was also noted.
In 1944 Roosevelt Jr. found himself in the United Kingdom, where American troops were preparing to land in Normandy, France. He asked a senior military official named Major General Raymond Barton if he could be a part of the operation. The general was reluctant to send Roosevelt Jr. to Normandy, fearing that he would be killed. However, he eventually relented.
On June 6, 1944, the D-Day landings began. It’s been said that no generals were part of the sea landings that day – well, none except for Roosevelt Jr. By now, he was 56 years of age, required a walking stick and was suffering with arthritis and cardiac troubles. Yet still he led men on to Utah Beach. Meanwhile, his son Quentin Roosevelt II was part of the landings on Omaha Beach.
The troops sent to Utah Beach actually ended up a mile or so from their target destination. Yet Roosevelt Jr. reacted to this calmly, reportedly stating, “We’ll start the war from right here.” People present that day have claimed that Roosevelt Jr. kept his men calm and focused, driving them forward in the face of extreme danger.
As Roosevelt Jr. was leading his men, he was also apparently soaking in data regarding his environment. Indeed, by the time he again crossed paths with Major General Barton, he had much to report to his superior. Barton later recalled this meeting and his surprise at seeing Roosevelt Jr. in writings after the war.
Barton wrote, “I loved Ted. When I finally agreed to his landing with the first wave, I felt sure he would be killed. When I had bade [sic] him goodbye, I never expected to see him alive. You can imagine then the emotion with which I greeted him when he came out to meet me. He was bursting with information.”
Yet, of course, Roosevelt Jr. was aging by this point in his life, and had suffered with health problems. On July 12, 1944, he had reportedly seen his son Quentin, who’d also been part of the landings. Later that day, though, Roosevelt Jr. had a heart attack and passed away aged 56.
Roosevelt Jr.’s efforts during the war had not gone unnoticed by his superiors. Barton, in fact, nominated him for the Distinguished Service Cross. However, this was later changed to the even more esteemed Medal of Honor. Roosevelt Jr. was granted this prize in September 1944, a few months after his death.
According to the citation, Roosevelt Jr. was awarded the Medal of Honor for “his valor, courage, and presence in the very front of the attack.” It also referenced the fact that “his complete unconcern at being under heavy fire inspired the troops to heights of enthusiasm and self-sacrifice.” All in all, he was given the award for what was perceived as a significant contribution to the invasion’s success.