Quentin and Theodore Roosevelt, brothers-in-arms.

Of the many personal stories that form a bridge between the two World Wars, that of two Roosevelt brothers is especially memorable. All four sons of ex-President Theodore Roosevelt served in uniform during the First World War. The youngest, Quentin, then aged 19, arrived in France in 1917 with the Signal Corps and became supply officer at the 3rd. Aviation Instruction Center, Issoudun. Quentin received flying instruction at the Center and in May 1918, despite poor eyesight, joined the 95th. ‘Kicking Mule’ Pursuit Squadron with the rank of 1st. Lieutenant. He flew his first mission on July 1 and shot down an enemy plane on July 11. Three days later he was shot down behind enemy lines near Chamery village, 25 km north-east of Belleau Wood.39 The Germans realized his identity and buried him with full military honours near the crash site. When the front advanced eastwards, his grave became accessible as a sort of shrine for numerous doughboys. Today, at the roadside near Chamery, there is a large stone trough and water fountain dedicated to his memory. It is inscribed ‘Only those are fit to live who are not afraid to die’.40 Deeply affected by Quentin’s death, his father died six months later. For many years a memorial to Quentin Roosevelt has been maintained in Château-Thierry (Fig. 23). In renovated form, it is now situated in the Maison de l’Amitié Franco-Americaine (M.A.F.A.). The ensemble of remembrance still centres on what appears to be a Salmson aero engine. (It is not the air-cooled rotary Gnome engine from Roosevelt’s crashed Nieuport 28). The AEF used about 300 Salmson 2A2 two-seater reconnaissance planes powered by this type of watercooled radial engine.

Fig. 23 – Previous memorial to Quentin Roosevelt at Château-Thierry (1999).

Quentin’s brother, Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., served with distinction as Major and Colonel in the 1st. Division, AEF. In 1919, he and other AEF officers founded the American Legion.41 A generation later, leaning on a stick to counter pain from an arthritic hip, he waded ashore as a Brigadier General with the first assault wave of the 4th. Division at Utah Beach on June 6, 1944. He and Major General Raymond O. Barton then proceeded to direct traffic of the 4th. Division and urge movement inland. Aged 57, Roosevelt was reputedly the oldest man in the Normandy invasion landings. He was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his actions on D-Day. By the time of his death in July 1944 from a heart attack after the fall of Cherbourg, he had won every combat medal awarded by US ground forces.

In September 1955 the remains of Quentin Roosevelt were exhumed at Chamery and reinterred in the Saint-Laurent Cemetery, Normandy at the side of his brother Theodore.42 Here, at the seaward edge of the vast cemetery above Omaha Beach, they are in the honourable company of more than 9,000 American servicemen and women who died during the liberation of Europe. Amongst their number, thirty-two other pairs of brothers lie side by side. To hear the bugle call ‘Taps’ played here through loudspeakers, rising above the sound of surf breaking on the long stretch of Omaha Beach, is an unforgettable experience.43

  1. Edward V. Rickenbacker, Fighting the Flying Circus (New York: Doubleday & Co. Inc., 1965) Chap. 20. ISBN 0 8094 7954 0. []
  2. Rose E. B. Coombs, Before Endeavours Fade: A Guide to the Battlefields of the First World War (London: Battle of Britain Prints International Ltd., 1994) 158. ISBN 0 900913 85 1 []
  3. Thomas A. Rumer, The American Legion: an Official History 1919-1989 (New York: M.Evans & Co. Inc., 1990) ISBN 0 87131 622 6 []
  4. The rule that this cemetery is reserved for those who died in Second War II was waived when the Roosevelt family requested that the two brothers be buried there. []
  5. The form of this emotive 24-note bugle call, ‘the soldier’s last sad farewell’, is attributed to the Union General Daniel Adams Butterfield (1862). []