D-Day: Teddy Roosevelt would have been proud of his son.

August 16, 2015

Theodore Roosevelt Jr shortly after D-Day, and only days before his death.

Teddy Roosevelt,our 26th President, would have described D-Day as the single most important day in modern history. Teddy Roosevelt would have wanted to be in the D-Day fight. He passed away, however, in 1919, and his legacy of living life to its fullest is well known. Dynamic and highly energetic, the exuberant Teddy Roosevelt was a champion for individual rights and freedoms. After the U.S. entered World War I, the 58 year old former President offered his military services to President Woodrow Wilson. His offer was declined. Despite failing health, he held out hope that he would still be called up to fight, but later that year he died. He would have, however, been proud of his son Teddy Jr., who was at D-Day. At age 56, Teddy Roosevelt Jr. was not only the oldest soldier on the beach, he was the only general who came ashore with his men. Simply put, the freedom of the world was at stake and Teddy Jr. did what he thought his father would have expected.

Theodore Roosevelt Jr. was born to privilege, and along with that, high expectations. The son of the President, Teddy Jr. was Harvard- educated, and by his late twenties he had made his own fortune in business. Roosevelt could have played it safe, and stayed in the shadow of his larger than life father. He chose, however, to participate in both World War I and II, and, he was on the front lines each time.

Like his siblings, Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. was highly influenced by his father. Teddy Roosevelt impressed upon his children the importance of honor, and most importantly defending the country during war times. When the United States entered World War I, the three Roosevelt brothers volunteered to serve. They each served with distinction, and exhibited their father’s trademark of fearlessness. Both Ted Jr. and his brother Archie were wounded in combat, and sadly, their brother Quentin was killed. Theodore Roosevelt Jr. received many awards for his bravery and was the youngest regimental officer to serve in World War I.

Once the World War I was over, Roosevelt went back to running a successful investment business and he received several significant governmental appointments, including assistant Secretary of the Navy, and Governor of Puerto Rico. With a wife and growing family, Roosevelt had a comfortable and enviable life. The war, however, had strengthened his feelings of patriotism.

On the morning of June 6, 1944, the D-Day invasion began, and General Theodore Roosevelt Jr had much on his mine. In addition to the welfare of his men, Teddy Jr. may have thought about his late father. Under heavy enemy fire, thousands of American and Allied forces landed on the beaches of Normandy, France. Arriving on a landing craft with other first-wave soldiers was General Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. He had left the comforts of his home and had volunteered to defend his country once more.

Despite the urgings from others to remain on ship, he felt that his duty was to be with his men. At age 57, Roosevelt was the oldest man to participate in the D-Day invasion, and the only general. Despite his poor eyesight, bad heart, and arthritis that was so severe that he walked with a cane, Roosevelt bravely led men from the beach and over the seawall to safer areas. He continued this all throughout the landing invasion. He inspired, encouraged, and joked with the younger men in order to maintain their spirits, and directed many to safety, while putting his own life at risk.

A month later, and shortly after intense combat, Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. was dead, succumbing to a heart attack, He was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his courage and leadership during the D-Day invasion.

How do you measure the greatness of a person? Sometimes society puts forward the winner, or victor, as an example of greatness. Other times greatness is bestowed by birth, or awarded for someone’s genius that contributes to a better world. Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. was a man who already had accomplished much in his life. He was a man who simply did what he thought was the right thing and what his heart told him to do. Yes, his father would have been proud.

More about Allen Cornwell

Allen Cornwell is a self-employed business owner and an adjunct American History professor at a small college. He lives in rural Virginia and enjoys history, sports, old movies and visiting all types of museums. Cornwell has had a number of American history articles published and he earned his M. A. degree in American History from Virginia Commonwealth University. He can be contacted at: allencornwell@mac.com

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