Wednesday, December 2, 2020


A bum knee and a rheumatic hip forced Roosevelt to carry a cane, which he wielded as if it were a rapier, slicing the air and pointing at exits through the dunes. Rarely did he speak at any volume lower than a bellow, and now in his foghorn voice he roared, again and again, “Get into the battle!” 

“I will always be known as the son of Theodore Roosevelt,” he had written in 1910, at the age of twenty-three, “and never as a person who means only himself.” He spent the subsequent three decades proving himself wrong. Decorated for valor in the 1st Division during the Great War—he had been gassed at Cantigny and wounded at Soissons—young Ted then amassed both a fortune and a reputation independent of his father. A wealthy investment banker by age thirty, he lost the 1924 New York gubernatorial race to Al Smith by 100,000 votes, then pressed on in various public and private roles: as the governor of Puerto Rico and the Philippines; as the author of eight books; as a senior executive at American Express and Doubleday; as an early activist in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People; and as an explorer and a hunter, whose trophies for the Field Museum in Chicago included the rare mountain sheep Ovis poli and a previously unknown deer subsequently named Muntiacus rooseveltorum. He was plainspoken—“I’m anti-bluff, anti-faker, anti-coward, that’s all”—and unaffected. “Do fill your letters with the small beer of home, the things we knew in the kindly past,” he had written his wife, Eleanor, on June 5. “Also gossip. I love gossip.” A week later he wrote her a poem that began, “This dark, grim war has swallowed all / That I loved.” 

Perhaps not quite all, for certainly he loved the Big Red One, as the 1st Division styled itself. “Ted Roosevelt is perhaps the only man I’ve ever met who was born to combat,” wrote the veteran war correspondent Quentin Reynolds, and soon after returning to active duty in 1941, Roosevelt became the division’s assistant commander. “Whenever you write a message, remember you’re writing it for a damned fool,” he advised junior officers. “Keep it clear and simple.” Troops adored his bluff pugnacity and considered him “an intellectual because he carries a considerable stock of books in his blanket roll,” observed the journalist A. J. Liebling. A 26th Infantry medic recalled, “When he got up to leave, we willingly got up and saluted.” In the Tunisian campaign, he again demonstrated extraordinary valor, winning the Distinguished Service Cross at the battle of El Guettar.

Rick Atkinson, The Day of Battle: The War in Sicily and Italy, 1943-1944  (The Liberation Trilogy Book 2) . Henry Holt and Co.. Kindle Edition.

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