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First Name: Theodore

Last Name: Roosevelt

Birthplace: New York City, NY, USA

Gender: Male

Branch: Army (1784 - present)

Date of Birth: 27 October 1858

Date of Death: 06 January 1919

Rank: Colonel

Years Served: 1898
Theodore Roosevelt

•  Spanish-American War (1898)


Theodore Roosevelt
Colonel, U.S. Army / Commander-in-Chief U.S. Armed Forces
Medal of Honor Recipient
Spanish-American War

[This biography is deliberately limited to the military phases of Roosevelt's life. For a biography with details about his political career, visit Wikipedia.]

Childhood Years

Theodore Roosevelt was born on 27 October 1858, in the modern-day Gramercy section of New York City. He was the second of four children born to Theodore Roosevelt, Sr. (1831-1878) and Martha "Mittie" Bulloch (1835-1884). He had an elder sister, Anna, and two younger siblings; his brother, Elliott (the father of future First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt); and his sister, Corinne.

As a child, Roosevelt had frequent ailments and was asthmatic. He had to sleep propped up in bed, or slouching in a chair, during his early childhood. Despite his illnesses, he was hyperactive and often mischievous; he was also tone deaf. His lifelong interest in zoology was formed at age seven upon seeing a dead seal at a local market. After obtaining the seal's head, the young Roosevelt and two of his cousins formed what they called the "Roosevelt Museum of Natural History." After learning the rudiments of taxidermy, he filled his makeshift museum with many animals that he killed or caught, studied them, and prepared them for display. At age nine, he codified his observation of insects with a paper titled "The Natural History of Insects."

To combat his poor physical condition, his father encouraged him to take up exercise, so young "Teedie," as he was nicknamed as a child, began boxing lessons.

Theodore, Sr. had a tremendous influence on his son, of whom Roosevelt wrote, "My father, Theodore Roosevelt, was the best man I ever knew. He combined strength and courage with gentleness, tenderness, and great unselfishness. He would not tolerate in us children selfishness or cruelty, idleness, cowardice, or untruthfulness."


Teedie was mostly home schooled by tutors and his parents. A leading biographer says: "The most obvious drawback to the home schooling Roosevelt received was uneven coverage of the various areas of human knowledge." Thanks to his observations on all his travels with the family, he was good in geography; very well read in history; and strong in biology, French, and German. However, he was deficient in mathematics, Latin, and Greek.

Roosevelt matriculated at Harvard College in 1876. His father's death in 1878 was a tremendous blow, but Roosevelt redoubled his activities. He did well in science, philosophy and rhetoric courses but fared poorly in Latin and Greek. He studied biology with great interest and was already an accomplished naturalist and published ornithologist. He had a photographic memory and developed a life-long habit of devouring books, memorizing every detail. He was an eloquent conversationalist who, throughout his life, sought out the company of the smartest people. He could multitask in extraordinary fashion, dictating letters to one secretary and memoranda to another, while browsing through a new book. While at Harvard, Roosevelt was active in rowing, boxing, the Alpha Delta Phi literary society, the Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity, and was a member of the Porcellian Club. He also edited a student magazine and was runner-up in the Harvard boxing championship.

Upon graduating, Roosevelt underwent a physical examination, and his doctor advised him that, due to serious heart problems, he should find a desk job and avoid strenuous activity. Instead, he chose to embrace a strenuous life. He graduated Phi Beta Kappa (22nd of 177) from Harvard in 1880, and entered Columbia Law School. When offered a chance to run for New York Assemblyman in 1881, he dropped out of law school to pursue his new goal of entering public life.

Military Life

Assistant Secretary of the Navy

Roosevelt had always been fascinated by naval history. Urged by Roosevelt's close friend, Congressman Henry Cabot Lodge, President William McKinley appointed Roosevelt to the post of Assistant Secretary of the Navy in 1897. Because Secretary of the Navy John D. Long was highly inactive, Roosevelt had control over the department. Ten days after the battleship Maine exploded in the harbor of Havana, Cuba, the Secretary left for a massage, and Roosevelt became Acting Secretary for four hours. Roosevelt told the Navy worldwide to prepare for war, ordered ammunition and supplies, brought in experts, and went to Congress asking for authority to recruit as many sailors as he wanted, thus moving the nation toward war. Roosevelt was instrumental in preparing the Navy for the Spanish-American War and was an enthusiastic proponent of testing the U.S. military in battle, at one point saying, "I should welcome almost any war, for I think this country needs one"

War in Cuba

Upon the 1898 Declaration of War launching the Spanish-American War, Roosevelt resigned from the Navy Department. With the aid of U.S. Army Colonel Leonard Wood, Roosevelt found volunteers from cowboys from the Western territories to Ivy League friends from New York, forming the First U.S. Volunteer Cavalry Regiment. The newspapers called them the "Rough Riders."

Originally Roosevelt held the rank of Lieutenant Colonel and served under Colonel Wood. In Roosevelt's own account, The Rough Riders, "after General Young was struck down with the fever, Wood took charge of the brigade. This left me in command of the regiment, of which I was very glad, for such experience as we had had is a quick teacher." Accordingly, Wood was promoted to Brigadier General of Volunteer Forces, and Roosevelt was promoted to Colonel and given command of the Regiment.

Under his leadership, the Rough Riders became famous for dual charges up Kettle Hill and San Juan Hill on 1 July 1898 (the battle was named after the latter "hill," which was the shoulder of a ridge known as San Juan Heights). Out of all the Rough Riders, Roosevelt was the only one with a horse, as the troopers' horses had been left behind because transport ships were in short supply. He rode back and forth between rifle pits at the forefront of the advance up Kettle Hill, an advance which he urged in absence of any orders from superiors. But, he was forced to walk up the last part of Kettle Hill on foot, due to barbed wire entanglement and after his horse, Little Texas, tired.

For his actions, Roosevelt was nominated for the Medal of Honor, which was subsequently disapproved. As historian John Gable wrote, "In later years Roosevelt would describe the Battle of San Juan Hill on 1 July 1898, as 'the great day of my life' and 'my crowded hour.'.... (but) Malaria and other diseases now killed more troops than had died in battle. In August, Roosevelt and other officers demanded that the soldiers be returned home. The famous 'round robin letter,' and a stronger letter by Roosevelt - now acting brigade commander - were leaked to the press by the commanding general, enraging Secretary of War, Russell Alger and President McKinley. Roosevelt believed that it was this incident that cost him the Medal of Honor."

In September 1997, Congressman Rick Lazio, representing the 2nd District of New York, sent two award recommendations to the U.S. Army Military Awards Branch. These recommendations, addressed to Brigadier General Earl Simms, the Army's Adjutant General, and Master Sergeant Gary Soots, Chief of Authorizations, were successful in garnering the award. In 2001 Roosevelt was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions.

Medal of Honor

The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress, 3 March 1863, has awarded in the name of The Congress the Medal of Honor to


for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty:

Citation: Lieutenant Colonel Theodore Roosevelt distinguished himself by acts of bravery on 1 July 1898, near Santiago de Cuba, Republic of Cuba, while leading a daring charge up San Juan Hill. Lieutenant Colonel Roosevelt, in total disregard for his personal safety, and accompanied by only four or five men, led a desperate and gallant charge up San Juan Hill, encouraging his troops to continue the assault through withering enemy fire over open countryside. Facing the enemy's heavy fire, he displayed extraordinary bravery throughout the charge, and was the first to reach the enemy trenches, where he quickly killed one of the enemy with his pistol, allowing his men to continue the assault. His leadership and valor turned the tide in the Battle for San Juan Hill. Lieutenant Colonel Roosevelt's extraordinary heroism and devotion to duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon himself, his unit, and the United States Army.

The Medal is displayed in the Roosevelt Room of the White House. Theodore Roosevelt was the first and to date, the only President of the United States to be awarded America's highest military award for valor, the Medal of Honor. He is also the only person in history to receive both his nation's highest award for military valor, the Medal of Honor, and the world's foremost prize for peace, the Nobel Peace Prize (1906). His oldest son, Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., would also be awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously, for his actions at Normandy on 6 June 1944.

After his return to civilian life, Roosevelt preferred to be known as "Colonel Roosevelt" or "The Colonel." As a moniker, "Teddy" remained much more popular with the general public, despite the fact he found it vulgar and called it "an outrageous impertinence." Political friends and others working closely with Roosevelt customarily addressed him by his rank.

Roosevelt and World War I

When World War I began in 1914, Roosevelt strongly supported the Allies and demanded a harsher policy against Germany, especially regarding submarine warfare. Roosevelt angrily denounced the foreign policy of President Wilson, calling it a failure regarding the atrocities in Belgium and the violations of American rights. In 1916, he campaigned energetically for Charles Evans Hughes and repeatedly denounced Irish-Americans and German-Americans who Roosevelt said were unpatriotic because they put the interest of Ireland and Germany ahead of America's by supporting neutrality. He insisted one had to be 100% American, not a "hyphenated American" who juggled multiple loyalties. When the U.S. entered the war in 1917, Roosevelt sought to raise a volunteer infantry division, but Wilson refused.

Roosevelt's attacks on Wilson helped the Republicans win control of Congress in the off-year elections of 1918. Roosevelt was popular enough to seriously contest the 1920 Republican nomination, but his health was broken by 1918, because of the lingering malaria. His family and supporters threw their support to Roosevelt's old military companion, General Leonard Wood, who was ultimately defeated by Warren G. Harding.

His son, Quentin, a daring pilot with the American forces in France, was shot down behind German lines in 1918. Quentin was his youngest son and probably his favorite. It is said the death of his son distressed him so much that Roosevelt never recovered from his loss.

Despite his rapidly declining health, Roosevelt remained active to the end of his life. He was an enthusiastic proponent of the Scouting movement. The Boy Scouts of America gave him the title of Chief Scout Citizen, the only person to hold such title. One early Scout leader said, "The two things that gave Scouting great impetus and made it very popular were the uniform and Teddy Roosevelt's jingoism."

Death and Burial

On 6 January 1919, after a 2½-month illness described as inflammatory rheumatism, Theodore Roosevelt died in his sleep at Oyster Bay of a coronary thrombosis (heart attack). He is buried at Young's Memorial Cemetery in Oyster Bay, Nassau County, NY.

Upon receiving word of his death, his son, Archie, telegraphed his siblings simply, "The old lion is dead." The U.S. Vice-President at that time, Thomas R. Marshall, said that "Death had to take Roosevelt sleeping, for if he had been awake, there would have been a fight."

Honoree ID: 1942   Created by: MHOH




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