The Other Teddy Roosevelt
By Congressman Joe Pitts
This year marks 70 years since Allied troops landed on the beaches at Normandy. The stories of the heroism and bravery displayed that day have filled hundreds of books. While the last of the D-Day vets are still with us, I have no doubt that we will continue to remember them many years from now.
Four American soldiers were recognized with the Congressional Medal of Honor for their actions on D-Day. One of them bears a famous name, Theodore Roosevelt, Jr.
Ted, as he was known, was the oldest son of the President. In memoirs, he recalled walking to work with his father and listening to tales of famous battles. Occasionally, the elder Theodore would map out battlefields and troop movements in the dust with the tip of his umbrella.
Ted answered the call in World War I and fought with distinction. He had a successful career in business and was heavily engaged in Republican politics but connected to the Teapot Dome scandal of the 1920s, preventing him from becoming governor of New York. He publicly feuded with his distant cousin, Franklin, who ended up having a much more successful career in politics.
Ted rejoined the Army at the start of World War II and rose to Brigadier General. As D-Day was being planned, he repeatedly requested to land on the beach with his men and lead from the front. His first two written requests were turned down, but finally his third was accepted despite the misgivings of his commanding officer, who wrote that he did not accept to ever see Roosevelt alive again.
On June 6, 1944 the men sent to Utah Beach found themselves landed a mile away from their main objective. They were coming ashore successfully, but the critical question was how to adapt their battle plan to a different battle field.
Brigadier General Roosevelt was the oldest American soldier to come in on the first wave. Due to arthritis and heart problems, he walked with the assistance of a cane carrying only a pistol. It was said that he did not enjoy wearing a helmet and so wore only a cloth cap during the invasion.
As shells rained down on the beach and soldiers tried to clear our machine gun nests, Roosevelt and his fellow commanders plotted out a new strategy for getting men off the beach and completing their primary objective. Tanks started to come ashore and fire back at German artillery.
The general headed back to the beach to personally welcome each new wave onshore. Soldiers wrote about their amazement at seeing Roosevelt standing calmly amid the shellbursts and how it gave them confidence to join the fight.
His presence was not only for morale boosting purposes. As the soldiers came ashore, he issued new orders to the units based on the beach they were now unexpectedly landing on.
The official Medal of Honor commendation notes that: “Under his seasoned, precise, calm, and unfaltering leadership, assault troops reduced beach strong points and rapidly moved inland with minimum casualties.”
By the end of the day, 23,250 troops and 1,700 vehicles had landed on Utah Beach. Only about 200 casualties were recorded.
D-Day was successful, but the struggle in Normandy was not decided in one day. Fierce German resistance continued and the fight in the hedgerows continued for weeks.
On July 12, Roosevelt had a long talk with his son Quentin, who had landed at Omaha Beach on D-Day. That evening, he suffered a heart attack and died. Just hours later, General Eisenhower would approve a promotion for Roosevelt only to find that he had passed just a few hours before.
Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. was certainly born into a life of privilege. He could have stayed on the homefront, managing industries. He chose to join the fight despite his physical challenges and he chose to be in the first wave despite the danger.
He was one of many heroes on that day. And while his father is the more famous Theodore Roosevelt, we should not forget the incredible contribution he made to preserving our liberty. Today, he rests with thousands of other Americans at the Normandy American Cemetery, one white cross among the many who sacrificed their lives for our freedom.