Brigadier General Theodore Roosevelt
Beyond the Call of Duty
He was born with American blood coursing through his veins. He was the son of President Theodore Roosevelt. Theodore (Ted) Roosevelt’s course resembled his father’s in many ways. But in one way, he was destined to be much more than the son of a President. He was destined for greatness.
Ted’s Early Life
Like his father, Ted attended Harvard and graduated with excellent grades. Upon graduation, he married Eleanor Alexander in 1910 then began his political career into the New York Assembly. Soon after, he became Assistant Secretary of the Navy. In 1929, Hoover appointed him Governor of Puerto Rico then Governor General of the Philippines.
Ted was never afraid to defend his country in times of war. He fought in both World War I and World War II. He was a heroic soldier who received the Distinguished Service Cross and Silver Star as a result of his heroism in WWI. Although he showed great courage in time of action, it would be nothing compared to his efforts and actions on the beaches of Normandy.
An Unexpected Return
In February 1944, Roosevelt was assigned to England to help lead the Normandy invasion. Roosevelt requested to be one of the first to land with the assault. He wrote a petition to Major General Barton requesting to be sent.
“The force and skill with which the first elements hit the beach and proceed may determine the ultimate success of the operation…. With troops engaged for the first time, the behavior pattern of all is apt to be set by those first engagements. [It is] considered that accurate information of the existing situation should be available for each succeeding element as it lands. You should have when you get to shore an overall picture in which you can place confidence. I believe I can contribute materially on all of the above by going in with the assault companies. Furthermore I personally know both officers and men of these advance units and believe that it will steady them to know that I am with them.”
Barton approved but with much hesitation. He was later noted for saying that he did not expect Roosevelt to return alive. Roosevelt was assigned to the U.S. 4th Infantry Division with an approved request to land first with the rest of the company. He would be the only general on D-Day to land by sea with the first wave of troops. Roosevelt was one of the first off the landing craft along with Captain Leonard T. Schroeder Jr. Upon landing, Roosevelt was informed that the landing craft had drifted more than a mile south of their objective thus the first wave was a mile off course.
With perseverance in his eyes, Roosevelt didn’t let the off-course hindrance stop him from what he came to do. He immediately made a reconnaissance of the area to the rear of the beach to locate the causeways that were to be used for the advance. He then returned to the landing point to contact the two battalion commanders. At which time, all parties coordinated the attack on the enemy positions that were soon starting to surface. Roosevelt infamously said, “We’ll start the war from right here!” Although spontaneous, the plan worked with little confusion or disarray. Roosevelt calmed the nerves of the frantic company as they landed on the beach. Telling jokes and reciting poetry, Roosevelt stayed cool and collected therefore reassuring the regiment. Working much like a traffic cop, Ted pointed each regiment to their newest objective. As he dodged bullets, he unscrambled traffic jams of trucks and tanks all struggling for the inland.
General Barton later wrote about the war and of Roosevelt. With a dear love for the man, he noted, “He had landed with the first wave, had put my troops across the beach, and had a perfect picture (just as Roosevelt had earlier promised if allowed to go ashore with the first wave) of the entire situation. 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 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 [near La Grande Dune]. He was bursting with information.”
General Omar Bradley was once asked what he felt was the most heroic action he had seen in combat. Without hesitation, Bradley responded, “Ted Roosevelt on Utah Beach.”
Tragically, Roosevelt died one month after D-Day of a heart attack. Upon his death, he was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his valiant efforts.
In times of great struggle, where fear runs rapid and spreads like an unknown disease, it’s easy to succumb to the terror and fall with the rest. Roosevelt didn’t have time for that. He was helping his fellow troops, directing traffic, creating improv objections. A war hero isn’t someone who creates a plan then executes it flawlessly without much effort or obstruction. A war hero stands in the face of what’s to come, struggles to make it out alive, but more importantly fights to the end for the sake of the rest.