He was born to privilege, and along with that, high expectations. The son of President Theodore Roosevelt, Ted 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 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.
The three things that distinguish Theodore Roosevelt Jr. from other significant Americans all came together on the morning of June 6, 1944, the D-Day invasion. 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 Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. He had left the comforts of his home and business and 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 56, 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. Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. was truly one of our greatest Americans.