Every man who fought on the beeches of Normandy during D-Day is a hero. On June 6th, 1944, the largest military seaborne invasion in history took place on the Western Front in France. By late August, all of France had been liberated, and within less than a year, the Nazis faced total defeat. Here is the story of one of those heroes.
Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. (Ted) was the eldest son of President Theodore Roosevelt. When he was born in 1887, his larger-than-life father was just beginning his political career. The younger Roosevelt graduated from Harvard in 1909 and became a successful business man.
When America went to war during World War I, Ted, a reservist, was called to duty and became volunteered to become one of the first soldiers to go to France. There he was known as one of the best battalion commanders in his division. He was so concerned for his men, he once paid for them to all have combat boots with his own money. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his bravery.
After the war, he went back into business and became one of the founders of the American Legion. He remained in the military reserves and took advanced officer’s training. He also served in politics and was the assistant secretary of the Navy for a while.
In 1941, shortly before World War II, Ted returned to active duty in the Army and was promoted to a one star general. When he was assigned to the D-Day task force in 1944, he wrote letters to Major General Barton asking to be allowed to take part in the invasion. His requests were denied numerous times because Barton believed he wouldn’t survive. Finally Barton relented and allowed Ted to lead the battle on Utah Beach.
During the invasion, Ted was one of the first to land on the beach and led his men with courage and calmness. He stood on the beach leaning on a cane reciting antidotes about his father to his troops to steady their nerves. After discovering they had drifted a mile from the invasion site, he said, “We’ll start the war from right here.” Sometimes he worked under fire as a self-appointed traffic cop, untangling traffic jams of trucks and tanks all struggling to get inland and off the beach. One GI later reported that seeing the general walking around, apparently unaffected by the enemy fire, even when clods of earth fell down on him, gave him the courage to get on with the job, saying “if the general is like that it can’t be that bad.”
Roosevelt Jr. died of a heart attack on July 12, 1944, shortly after the D-Day invasion. He was buried near Normandy, and his brother Quentin, who was shot down and killed during World War I, was re interred there. During his time in the military, Roosevelt Jr. was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, the Distinguished Service Cross, Army Distinguished Service Medal, four Silver Star awards and the Legion of Merit. Years later, when General Omar Bradley was asked to name the single most heroic action he had ever seen in combat, he said, “Ted Roosevelt on Utah Beach.”
Today we honor Theodore Roosevelt Jr. and every other brave soldier who died during the D-Day invasion.