The WWI veteran who stormed Normandy with nothing but a cane and pistol

Published: 6 June 2024

By Claire Barrett
via the Military Times website

Roosevelt jeep

Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., poses with his jeep in France. (Library of Congress)

“We’ll start the war from right here!” Brig. Gen. Theodore Roosevelt Jr. purportedly declared as his Higgins landing craft drifted about a mile from its target destination on Utah Beach the morning of June 6, 1944.

At the age of 56, Roosevelt, the son of President Theodore Roosevelt, was not only the oldest soldier deployed during Operation Overlord, but the highest-ranking American figure to storm the beaches during the invasion of Normandy.

And he did so armed only with a cane and a pistol.

A veteran of the First World War, Roosevelt was among the first American doughboys to land in France in 1918, seeing action during the Battle of Cantigny. Reenlisting at the outbreak of World War II, Roosevelt led four amphibious assaults, from Operation Torch — the invasion of North Africa — to fighting on the beaches of Sicily and in the mountains of Italy.

Well-liked and respected by his men, Roosevelt had to campaign hard, however, to deploy during the invasion of Normandy. His superior officer, Maj. Gen. Raymond “Tubby” Barton, initially rejected Roosevelt’s request to enter the European Theater and lead the 8th Infantry Regiment into combat.

In a personal letter to Barton dated May 26, 1944, Roosevelt pleaded his case in seven succinct bullet points, noting that “I personally know both officers and men of these advance units and believe that it will steady them to know that I am with them.”

Roosevelt’s letter to Barton, dated May 26, 1944. (Theodore Roosevelt Digital Library)

Barton eventually relented.

Amid withering fire from German coastal installations, machine-gun nests, and densely packed minefields lining Utah Beach, Roosevelt remained a calm figure guiding successive waves of scrambling soldiers to the beachhead.

Read the entire article on the Military Times website here:

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