By Katie Lange
DoD News, Defense Media Activity
Did you know that President Teddy Roosevelt was a Medal of Honor recipient? He’s the only president to have received the distinction. And his son, Theodore Roosevelt Jr., earned the medal in World War II, making the pair one of only two father-son duos to both have been awarded the nation’s highest honor.
NOTE: Since they both have the same name, to make things less confusing, from here on out I’m going to call the president “Roosevelt” and his son “Junior.”
Roosevelt was known for many things – most notably his two terms as president, his exploration of the South American wilderness, having his profile carved into Mount Rushmore, and the many nonfiction stories he wrote. But he was most proud of his service during the 1898 Spanish-American War, which liberated Cuba from Spanish rule.
Prior to the war, Roosevelt served in the New York National Guard and had worked as the assistant secretary of the Navy. But he wanted to be part of the fight, so he lobbied the secretary of war for an Army commission, and he got it. He was named lieutenant colonel of the First U.S. Volunteer Cavalry Regiment – famously known as the “Rough Riders.”
Deployed to Cuba, Roosevelt led a few other men on a charge up Kettle Hill, part of San Juan Heights, on July 1, 1898. Roosevelt encouraged his troops to continue fighting against a faltering enemy. He rode up and down the hill on horseback, leaving no doubt that he was one of the enemy’s most important targets. Yet he wasn’t hit by any bullets. Instead, Roosevelt was the first to reach enemy trenches, where he quickly killed an enemy with his pistol. The assault helped turn the tide of the war in America’s favor.
Despite Roosevelt’s efforts and lobbying by his superior officers, he was denied the Medal of Honor by the War Department at the time. It took more than a century for the nation to change its mind. On Jan. 16, 2001, the former president finally earned the honor.
Three years after gaining fame for his charge up San Juan Heights, Roosevelt was elected president.
The Next Generation
Roosevelt’s son might not be as well-known, but his military career could arguably overshadow his father’s.
Junior served in World War I and then volunteered for World War II. He was serving as brigadier general, leading troops in the Northern Africa campaign and in the invasion of Sicily, when he was reassigned to help plan the D-Day invasion. Junior petitioned several times to be on the front lines that day. He was denied many times, possibly because he was 56 years old, but his superior officers finally accepted.
So on June 6, 1944, Junior became the oldest man and only general to storm the beaches of Normandy with the first wave of troops. He did so with a pistol and a cane, something he needed to help him with the numerous health issues he’d incurred in World War I.
When Junior learned that they had drifted a mile from their original landing position at Utah Beach, he used his seasoned leadership to modify the original plans and kick the invasion off from where they stood. He repeatedly led troops from the beach and over the seawall to where they could safely set up inland. He was able to create order from chaos, and that inspired the troops around him.
Sadly, just a month later, Junior died of a heart attack during the Allied push across France. He was buried at the American Cemetery in Normandy, next to his brother, Quentin, who died in World War I. On Sept. 28, 1944, Junior posthumously received the Medal of Honor.
Fun fact: Junior also served beside his son at Normandy. Army Capt. Quentin Roosevelt II landed at Omaha Beach.
Another fun fact: Junior married a woman named Eleanor. She became Eleanor Roosevelt – not to be confused with the Eleanor Roosevelt who married World War II President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Who knew there would be two high-profile Eleanor Roosevelts in one era?
3rd fun fact: The only other father-son duo to earn the Medal of Honor was Civil War Army 1 Lt. Arthur MacArthur Jr. and his son, famed World War II Gen. Douglas MacArthur.