President Theodore Roosevelt Jr.’s first son, Theodore III, and his youngest son, Quentin, were born 10 years apart. They’ve spent the last 60 years resting in the Normandy American Cemetery at Coleville-sur-Mer, France, on the verdant bluffs above “Bloody Omaha Beach.” The American Battle Monuments Commission’s policy is to bury brothers side by side.
President Roosevelt overcame childhood asthma to live larger than life, leading the charge up San Juan Hill in July 1898 against Spanish forces in Cuba, hunting big game and traveling the world. His four sons served during the “Great War.” Unfortunately, he and his wife, Edith, became grieving parents when they received word 20-year-old 1st Lt. Quentin Roosevelt was killed in action on July 14, 1918, Bastille Day. His plane crashed in the German-occupied sector of France. The German troops identified him as President Roosevelt’s son and gave him a proper burial and a personalized grave marker.
In World War II, Teddy III served as the assistant division commander for the 4th Infantry Division, “steadfast and loyal.” He led the Division’s 8th Infantry Regiment troops at Utah Beach on D Day. Being the oldest soldier “hitting the beach” at 56, he was the only father to have a son, 24-year-old Captain Quentin Roosevelt II. Captain Roosevelt was in the first wave at “Bloody Omaha Beach” and survived. Five weeks after D-Day, Teddy died of a heart attack on July 12, 1944.
On June 8, 1944, the United States First Army established the St. Laurent Cemetery, the first American cemetery on European soil above “Bloody Omaha Beach,” which became The Normandy American Cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer, dedicated in 1955.
Quentin’s family had his remains exhumed after 37 years and placed beside his brother, Teddy III, with 9,385 Americans boys buried at the cemetery. The cemetery has three Medal of Honor recipients and 41 sets of brothers.
After Quentin’s death, the former president no longer spoke about the glory of war. Both parents grieved deeply. Less than six months after Quentin was killed in action, Teddy’s health deteriorated. He died on Jan. 6, 1919, at 56 years.
During my formative years, I can relate to grieving parents. My mother’s parents, Pop and Martha, lost their middle son, Richard, on Dec. 3, 1943. Uncle Richard was killed while battling German troops on Monte la Difensa in Italy.
The Department of War sent a telegram Dec. 22, 1943 to my grandparents — “The Secretary of War desires me to express his deep regret that your son, Private Richard E. Daigle, was killed in action in defense of his country on three December in Italy.”
Telegrams sent by the Department of War required a signature when received. Pop found the telegram stuck under the front door. Aunt Phil returned home from high school to hear her father “wailing” in the laundry room with the door closed. “It was the only time I heard Pop cry,” she said.
At least 10 years after Richard’s death, Pop would be quietly sitting in his chair at a family gathering. One of his daughters would approach him, “What are you thinking about, Pop?”
His answer was always, “Richard.”
It doesn’t matter; parents everywhere suffer a similar horrible pain when they bury a son or daughter.
The chapel wall at Normandy American Cemetery has a quote — “Think not only upon their passing. Remember the Glory of their spirit.”
Ken Beaton of Carson City contributes periodically to the Nevada Appeal.