Many of you will be familiar with this quote:
It is no exaggeration to say that without [the Republic of Texas Navy] there would probably have been no Lone Star Republic and possibly the State of Texas would still be part of Mexico.
It comes originally from the introduction to Jim Dan Hill’s classic work, The Texas Navy: In Forgotten Battles and Shirtsleeve Diplomacy, that was first published in 1937. Recently I was watching Ken Burns’ series, The Roosevelts: An Intimate History, and it got me thinking about the man who wrote that introduction, Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. (1887-1944).
Ted Junior was the eldest son of President Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919). As Teddy’s son and namesake, Ted Junior was expected to follow a vigorous and active life, as all the Roosevelt children were. Ted Junior graduated from Harvard in 1909, and made a successful career in business prior to the United States entry into World War I. All four of the former president’s sons went into military service; the youngest, Quentin, would be killed in combat when his Nieuport fighter was shot down over the Western Front in July 1918.
Ted Junior rose to command the 26th Infantry Regiment. He was gassed and wounded at the Battle of Soissons in the summer of 1918. He received the U.S. Distinguished Service Cross for his actions during the war, and was made Chevalier Légion d’honneur by the French government. After his return to the United States, Ted Junior helped found the American Legion. He served in a series of government posts, including as Assistant Secretary of the Navy — a post previously held by both his father and his distant cousin, Franklin Roosevelt — and as Governor of Puerto Rico (1929-32) and Governor-General of the Philippines (1932-35).
Ted Junior remained a staunch Republican all his life, and held his distant cousin, Franklin Roosevelt, in some disdain. After Franklin won the presidency in 1932, when Ted Junior was asked how FDR was related to his own family, the Oyster Bay Roosevelts, he is said to have quipped, “fifth cousin, about to be removed.” Still, FDR kept him on as Governor-General of the Philippines for two more years, until 1935 when Ted Junior returned to the United States and took up executive positions first with the publishing firm of Doubleday, Doran & Company, and then with American Express. It was during his time at Doubleday that he penned the introduction to Hill’s history of the Texas Navy.
Ted Junior rejoined the U.S. Army on 1940, and was appointed commander of the 26th Infantry Regiment, his old unit from World War I. He led the regiment in an attack of Oran in North Africa as part of the Operation Torch landings in November 1942, for which he was awarded the French Croix de Guerre. He was subsequently promoted to be Brigadier General and Assistant Division Commander of the U.S. First Infantry Division, the famous “Big Red One.” It was in this role that Ted Junior and the First Division’s commander, Major General Terry Allen, ran afoul of George Patton (left), who considered both men to be un-soldier-like, and too solicitous of their men. Omar Bradley concurred, and both Allen and Roosevelt were relieved of their posts in the summer of 1943.
In early 1944, Ted Junior became Assistant Division Commander of the U.S. Fourth Infantry Division. When that unit was selected to go ashore in the first wave of troops on Utah Beach during the Normandy invasion, Roosevelt lobbied hard to be allowed to accompany them ashore. Permission was granted and, at the age of fifty-six, Ted Junior became the oldest man to go ashore in the first wave of the invasion, and the only general officer in the first wave. (Ted Junior was portrayed in the film The Longest Day by Henry Fonda.)
Roosevelt, who suffered from both a heart condition and arthritis that required him to use a cane, survived the landing on June 6, 1944. But he suffered a heart attack a little more than a month later, near Sainte-Mère-Église in Normandy. That same day, Bradley had recommended Roosevelt’s promotion to Major General. Generals Patton and Bradley, who had agreed to relieve Roosevelt a year before, served as his pall bearers. For his actions at Utah Beach, Roosevelt was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor. After the war, both Ted Junior’s remains and those of his younger brother, Quentin, were re-interred at the U.S. Cemetery in Normandy, where they now lay side-by-side.
Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. led a remarkable life that has largely been overlooked, standing in the shadows of two presidents, his father TR and his distant cousin, FDR. Nonetheless, he was a fine choice to write the introduction to Jim Dan Hill’s book, and would have been someone well known to Hill’s readers in the 1930s. As an author, soldier, and former naval administrator, Ted Junior was an outstanding choice for the task. You can order Hill book via Amazon or Barnes & Noble.