Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Monday, December 2, 2013

Theodore Roosevelt's Family at War

The photo we ran on 22 November of Kaiser Wilhelm marching with his sons, reminded me that during the war the martial contributions of his family were contrasted in the American press with those of former President Theodore Roosevelt's.  As you can see in the table below, four of T.R.'s sons saw frontline action, including his youngest, Quentin, who may have been the most famous U.S. soldier to die in action. Furthermore, his daughter Ethel served as a nurse in France alongside her husband Dick Derby, and T.R.'s daughter-in-law served as a YMCA volunteer.  The only Roosevelt offspring who did not make it to the war zone was TR's oldest daughter, the fabled Alice Roosevelt Longworth, who was the wife of Congressman and future Speaker Nicholas Longworth by the time the war came along.

Click on Image to Expand

The Roosevelt Family, 1903

Quentin, T.R., Theodore Jr., Archibald, Alice, Kermit, Mrs. Roosevelt, Ethel

Theodore Roosevelt's children grew up in the glow of Roosevelt's crowded hour.  All of the boys in their time tromped the grounds of Sagamore Hill and the White House, re-enacting the battle at San Juan Ridge.  They all either absorbed or inherited his reckless, all-or-nothing approach to hazards and most certainly caught both their father's attraction to warfare and his egalitarian ethic. Here is a summary of the service of the family members in the Great War. Their father, of course, had wanted to command a division in the Expeditionary Force, but was been turned down by President Wilson.

Click on Image to Expand

The death of his youngest son, Quentin, affected Theodore Roosevelt powerfully.  The day after being notified of his son's passing, he spoke to a Republican group in Saratoga, NY. Without revealing the death of his boy, he told the crowd:

"The finest, the bravest, the best of our young men have sprung eagerly forward to face death for the sake of a high ideal. . ." he said. "When these gallant boys, on the golden crest of life, gladly face death. . . shall we who stay behind, who have not been found worthy of the great adventure. . . try to shape our lives so as to make this country a better place to live in. . . for the women who sent these men to battle and for the children who are to come after them?" 

In the succeeding weeks, Roosevelt started to vaguely resemble himself again, even though he would never again be as he had been before the loss of Quentin. Despite his affable good humor and energetic need to continue to contribute to public life, his old exuberance had left him, never to return. No one was more attuned to this fact than Edith. "Quentin's death shook him greatly," she wrote Kermit. "I can see how constantly he thinks of him and not the merry happy silly recollections which I have but sad thoughts of what Quentin would have counted for in the future." 

After his son's death, Theodore Roosevelt's health declined rapidly. He died within six months on 6 January 1919. 

Source: Theodore Roosevelt's Family in the Great War by Edward J. Renehan, Jr. 

1 comment:

  1. Eleanor, Theodore Roosevelt, Jr.'s wife, was well-known for her service in France and is credited with designing the uniform that the YMCA volunteers wore.