On July 14, 1918, a little over a year after the United States entered World War I, Quentin Roosevelt, the youngest of Theodore and Edith Roosevelt’s 6 children, was shot down and killed by a German Fokker plane over the Aisne River in France. His plane fell behind enemy lines, near the village of Chamery. He was a pilot and flight commander with the 95th “Kicking Mule” Aero Squadron in the United States Air Service.
It may seem strange that the son of a US president was fighting on the front lines. But Quentin was a Roosevelt and Roosevelt men felt they had to “man-up” to prove themselves. When World War I began, Theodore, age 58 and no longer in the White House, passionately pleaded with then President Woodrow Wilson to allow him to enter the fighting and command his own combat regiment on the Western front. Well, as you might imagine, President Wilson said “No!” So, almost as an alternative, Theodore’s four sons - Ted (Theodore Roosevelt, Jr.), Kermit, Archie and Quentin - would all serve in their father’s stead.
Theodore and Edith worried about all of their boys as they went off to fight in the war. But it was Quentin, the youngest, whom they worried about most of all.
“It was hard when Quentin went,” his mother, said. “But you can’t bring up boys to be eagles, and expect them to turn out sparrows.”
Before the United States entered the Great War on April 6, 1917 Quentin was a student at Harvard. But, by the end of the month, he had left school, enlisted in the military, passed his military physical by memorizing the eye chart and lying about a serious chronic back injury --- and proposed to Flora Payne Whitney. (Flora was the granddaughter of Cornelius Vanderbilt and daughter of Gertrude Vanderbilt and Harry Payne Whitney.)
Three months later, on July 23, 1917, Quentin set sail to France for his military training. Over the next year, he struggled with difficult flight training on planes considered by the French to be totally unsuitable aircraft (Nieuport planes), brutally cold weather, life in mud up to his knees, inadequate clothing (such as boots) and a bout with pneumonia. All while his three brothers were already serving at the front. Quentin desperately wanted to equal his brothers and enter the fighting! He did make it into the battle. But, he had only served at the front for about a month when he was killed.
Out of respect for the Roosevlet family, the German soldiers buried Quentin where he fell. Many years later, his remains were removed and buried in the American Military Cemetery at Normandy, France.
Quentin had grown up in front of the American people and they adored him for his charming antics and vibrant personality. They followed his military career, and when he died, they mourned his loss.
Quentin is the only child of a presidential couple to be killed in action for his country. His two brothers, Ted and Archie, were wounded in the war, leading their father to say proudly, "Haven't I bully boys, one dead and two in the hospital." Both boys recovered. During WWII Ted (then age 57) landed in the first wave at Normandy and died of a heart attack a month later. He was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor posthumously. He is buried in the American Military Cemetery at Normandy, France alongside Quentin.
This summer through December, Sagamore Hill, the Oyster Bay, New York home of the Theodore Roosevelt family, are presenting a temporary exhibit to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Quentin’s death. The exhibit allows visitors to see –
- a film of Quentin leading his squadron in flight
- objects, such as Quentin's ID tag and the personal effects he was carrying when he was shot down
- Quentin's original letters sent home from the line of battle
- Quentin’s childhood report cards
- rare family photographs
Visitors are also invited to -
- Immerse themselves in the sights and sounds of World War I while taking photos with Quentin and his training plane.
- Attend a series of talks and programs about the Roosevelt family in World War I.
The exhibit runs through December.
It’s open Wednesday to Sunday, 10 am to 5 pm.
It’s free and open to the public.
About Sagamore Hill National Historic Site
Sagamore Hill National Historic Site, located in Oyster Bay, New York, is a unit of the National Park Service. The site was established by Congress in 1962 to preserve and interpret the structures, landscape, collections and other cultural resources associated with Theodore Roosevelt’s home in Oyster Bay, New York, and to ensure that future generations understand the life and legacy of Theodore Roosevelt, his family and the significant events associated with him.
Resources Used for this Blog:
- https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/169368 --- article written by David Pietrusza, author of TR’s Last War.
- https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/magazine-25988145/what-does-a-collection-of-100000-american-war-letters-teach-us --- This is a video about the work of Andrew Carroll, founder of the Center for American War Letters at Chapman University, an archive of wartime letters from every U.S. conflict. He is also the author of the 2017 book My Fellow Soldiers: General John Pershing and the Americans Who Helped Win the Great War, a vivid retelling of the American experience in World War I.
- Monjo, F.N. The One Bad Thing About Father. New York: Harper Collins, 1970.
- Selda, Toby. Simply "Father" Life with Theodore Roosevelt As Seen Through the Eyes of His Children. Fort Washington, Pennsylvania: Eastern National, 2007.