Theodore Roosevelt Jr. was commissioned as a Major in the U.S. Army at the onset of WWI due to his prior student military training. He volunteered to be one of the first soldiers to go to France and led his battalion in multiple battles including the Battle of Soissons where he was gassed and wounded. During this time, the Army was experiencing logistical problems and Theodore bought his entire battalion combat boots with his own money. He received the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions during WWI and left the war with the rank of lieutenant colonel.
After the war, Theodore Roosevelt Jr. was one of the founders of the soldiers’ organization that developed as the American Legion. He returned to active duty in April 1941 and was given command of the 26th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division, the same unit he fought with in WWI and was promoted to brigadier general. Brigadier General Roosevelt had already led troops in Northern Africa and Sicily when he was reassigned to England to assist in the Normandy Invasion. Roosevelt’s several requests to land with the first wave of the invasion were denied, but his final petition was accepted.
At 56, Roosevelt was the oldest man and only general in the first wave to storm the beaches of Normandy. In addition he was the only father to serve with his son on D-Day. His son, Capt. Quentin Roosevelt II, landed at Omaha beach. General Roosevelt who had longstanding health problems, arthritis, a heart condition and injuries sustained in WWI, charged the beach with his cane and pistol. Upon learning that the unit had drifted a mile off course during the landing, he modified the original plans under fire to attain objective success. Gen. Omar Bradley later recalled that Roosevelt displayed the single most heroic action he had ever seen in combat.
A little over a month after D-Day, Theodore Roosevelt Jr. died of a heart attack. He was buried at the American Cemetery in Normandy. Roosevelt was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor on Sept. 28, 1944, for his actions during the beach landing.
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