For The Madera Tribune
President Theodore Roosevelt’s son, Theodore Jr., was the only general who joined the landing troops on D-Day during World War II.
On June 6, 1944, Allied troops hit the beaches of Normandy to begin a drive across France and into Germany. While some American troops left their landing crafts at Omaha Beach and fought their way across the sand to put a stop to the withering German machine gun fire, those soldiers who had been assigned to Utah Beach encountered a different kind of problem. Due to a navigational error, they landed on the wrong inlet on Utah Beach. Thankfully, they had a battle-hardened brigadier general to lead them in correcting the mistake.
Instead of allowing panic to set in, the troops followed their leader without hesitation, for they knew that he was the first Allied general to wade ashore on the entire Normandy beachhead. Once they became organized after missing their assigned landing point, the general became a veritable lightning rod of leadership. What soldier would not follow such a man?
Quickly assessing the situation, the fighting general directed the remainder of the division into the “new sector” by yelling, “We’ll start the war from here.” He and his troops overwhelmed the German defenses and rapidly drove inland with fewer casualties than any of the divisions of the other four beachheads. Armed with only a pistol and walking with a cane due to arthritis, the general led several assaults along the beachhead.
So highly esteemed were his exploits on the beach that five weeks later word came that he had been promoted to Major General and reassigned to command another division. Unfortunately, he would never be able to assume his new assignment, for on the day the message came, the fighting general died of a heart attack.
They buried him on the battlefield at Normandy, and back in the States his widow accepted his Medal of Honor from her husband’s distant cousin, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who said simply, “His father would have been proudest,” and indeed he would have been. Gen. Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., had more than matched his father’s charge up San Juan Hill by choosing to lead his men himself through the horrors of the invasion of Normandy.