Sainte-Mère-Église, Normandy, France July 14, 1944

On this date, Bastille Day in France, the U.S. Army laid to rest Brig. Gen. Teddy Roose­velt, Jr., at the U.S. ceme­tery in Ste-Mère-Église a few miles west of Utah Beach in Normandy. The 56‑year-old Roose­velt had died of a heart attack less than two days before at Méautis, a village 12 miles south of the first of two burial sites where his body was interred and 13 miles from Utah Beach, where he and men of the 4th Infan­try Divi­sion landed 37 days before, on D‑Day, June 6, 1944. Among Roose­velt’s honor­ary pall­bearers were Lt. Gen. Omar Brad­ley, Com­mander of First U.S. Army and Lt. Gen. George S. Patton, Jr., Com­mander of the not-yet-acti­vated Third U.S. Army.

Son of the 26th president of the United States (1901–1909), Roose­velt had close to three decades of polit­i­cal and mili­tary expe­ri­ence before his death. He served in office under one state governor (New York), four presi­dents, one with whom he shared a dis­tant rela­tion­ship (Frank­lin D. Roose­velt), and was a vete­ran of two world wars. During the inter­war years he served in the Army reserves. With the out­break of World War II in Europe the 50‑year-old Roose­velt returned to active duty rising to the rank of one-star gen­eral with the 1st Infantry Division, the Big Red One.

Earning a reputation as a hard-fighting front­line gen­eral during Oper­a­tion Torch (1942–1943) in North Africa and the Italian Campaign (July 1943 to May 1945) that followed—in both under­takings winning the esteem and admi­ra­tion of the units he com­manded—Roose­velt peti­tioned First U.S. Army com­mander Brad­ley for a com­bat role in the planned inva­sion of North­ern France, Oper­a­tion Over­lord. In Febru­ary 1944 the scrappy, 5-foot-8-inch tall general was ordered to England and made assis­tant com­mander of the untried 4th Infan­try Divi­sion, the Ivy Division, Maj. Gen. Raymond O. Barton com­manding. To Brad­ley’s way of thinking, if Roose­velt went in with the leading wave, he could steady the green­horn sol­diers as no other man could owing to the gutsy war­rior’s immu­nity to fear. Bradley didn’t hold back his own fear, warning Roose­velt, “You’ll prob­a­bly get killed on the job.” Barton ini­tially voiced mis­givings about Roose­velt being in the assault wave as well but withdrew them.

When the Higgins boat carrying Roose­velt and E Com­pany, 2nd Battalion, 8th Infan­try Regi­ment hit Utah Beach early on June 6, Roose­velt was the first one off the landing craft. Roose­velt looked for land­marks he expected to find, only to deter­mine that the first assault wave was over a mile east of the 4th Infan­try Divi­sion’s desig­nated landing spot. He became a D‑Day legend when he exclaimed: “We’ll start the war from here!”

Bradley’s prediction was spot on that Roose­velt would be an inspi­ra­tion to his green troops. Leaning on his ever-present cane and wearing his trade­mark grin, Roose­velt prowled much of the three assault sec­tors, shrugging off the defenders’ auto­matic wea­pons and field artil­lery fire while urging his men to hasten up the sandy, duned beaches, ford the flooded low-lying areas behind the landing areas, and make con­tact with 101st Air­borne para­troopers to the rear. That hap­pened by noon. By end of the first day the 4th Divi­sion had pushed inland about 4 miles (6 km). Iron­i­cally for an assault that began in error, the Utah Beach landings ended the day in spec­tac­u­lar fashion: 20,000 troops and 1,700 vehicles were on French soil at a cost of fewer than 300 casualties.

Roosevelt spent his last full day, June 11, 1944, at the front. Later that day he was visited by his son, 24‑year-old Cap­tain Quen­tin Roose­velt II. The junior and senior Roose­velts were the only father-son team to land in Normandy on D‑Day. Quentin spent 2½ hours con­versing with his father before taking his leave. After Roose­velt had crawled into a con­verted sleeping truck cap­tured from the Germans, the gen­eral was stricken with chest pains about 10:00 p.m. He was quickly sur­rounded by medi­cal help, dying around mid­night, June 12, 1944, of a heart attack.

Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., at Utah Beach, June 6 to July 14, 1944

Utah Beach Uncle Red Sector HQ D-DayU.S. Utah Beach Roosevelt with cane

Left: Throughout that “longest day” Roose­velt did his level best to steady the nerves of scared, wet young sol­diers who had never seen com­bat until D‑Day, June 6, 1944. The assis­tant com­mander of the 4th Infan­try Divi­sion was all over Utah Beach. He scouted for cause­ways behind the beach sectors for the divis­ion’s push inland. He directed regi­ments to their changed objec­tives. He per­son­ally led a group of sol­diers in a charge over a sea­wall, estab­lished them inland, and then returned to the beach to orches­trate more incoming men and mate­riel. He helped un­tangle traffic jams of armor and trucks all struggling to move inland from the water’s edge. When Bradley was asked several years later to name the single most heroic action he had seen in com­bat, he summed it up in five words: “Ted Roose­velt on Utah Beach.” Roose­velt’s master­ful leader­ship at Utah Beach was recalled by Cor­nelius Ryan in his 1959 classic best­seller, The Longest Day. He was por­trayed by Henry Fonda in Darryl F. Zanuck’s 1962 blockbuster of the same name.

Right: On the day of Roosevelt’s death, mid­night June 12, 1944, Brad­ley had selected the one-star gen­eral for pro­mo­tion to the two-star rank of major gen­eral with com­mand of the 90th Infan­try Divi­sion. Gen. Dwight D. Eisen­hower, Supreme Allied Com­mander in Europe, approved the assign­ment, but Roose­velt died the day before he was to assume his new com­mand and before his battle­field pro­mo­tion could be awarded. “The Lion is dead,” Quentin wrote his mother on June 12. The funeral ser­vice was con­ducted in the offi­cial ceme­tery at Sainte-Mère-Église, a few miles west of Utah Beach. Roose­velt had a fibril­lating heart con­di­tion and trouble­some arthri­tis linked to his World War I injuries that forced him to use a cane. He kept his heart con­di­tion secret from army doctors and his superiors.

Roosevelt’s honorary pallbearers Sainte-Mère-ÉgliseBradley and generals at Roosevelt’s funeral Sainte-Mère-Église

Above: Lt. Gen. Patton wrote in his diary that Teddy Roose­velt, Jr., was the bravest sol­dier he ever knew. Brad­ley agreed: “I have never known a braver man nor a more devoted sol­dier.” Both gen­erals were among the 10 gen­erals who volun­teered to be Roose­velt’s honor­ary pall­bearers (left frame). They included Maj. Gen. Bar­ton, Roose­velt’s senior officer in the 4th Infan­try Divi­sion; Lt. Gen. Clarence Hueb­ner, former com­manding gen­eral of the 1st Infan­try Divi­sion to which Roose­velt had once been attached; Lt. Gen. Courtney Hodges, deputy com­mander of Bradley’s First Army; and Maj. Gen. J. Lawton “Light­ning Joe” Collins, who forced the sur­ren­der of the stra­tegic Normandy port of Cher­bourg where Roose­velt had briefly served as mili­tary gover­nor. Collins appears in the right frame, goggles on his helmet, par­tially hiding Patton (dark uni­form), while Brad­ley stands in the center of the group of gen­erals. Inter­est­ingly, a passer­by with a Leica camera and col­laps­ible 3.5 Elmar lens, Army Pfc. Syd­ney Gutell, stopped by the ceme­tery known collo­quially as Jay­hawk ceme­tery. For 53 years Gutell had no idea whose funeral it was, nor who the atten­dees were apart from Bradley and Patton, and snapped the only photos of Roosevelt’s burial.

Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., 1887–1944, a Short Autobiography Read by Roosevelt’s Grandson