The Great War began on July 28, 1914 and ended on November 11, 1918. During the four years of global conflict, the United States lost over 116,000 military personnel to combat and disease. Quentin Roosevelt, Theodore Roosevelt’s son, was among those who died during the war.
From 1901 to 1909, Theodore Roosevelt was President of the United States. According to America 250, his eldest child was Alice, whose mother died a few days after giving birth to her. Roosevelt married his childhood friend, Edith Kermit Crow, two years after his first wife died, and they had five children together: Ted, Kermit, Ethel, Archibald, and Quentin. All four Roosevelt boys answered the call to duty and fought in World War I, but Quentin, the youngest Roosevelt child, did not return home alive.
Quentin Roosevelt was born in 1897, and he was only four years old when his father was elected President of the United States. Quentin was a mischievous child, according to the National Park Service. He and the children of other White House staff were known as the White House Gang, and they caused quite a commotion. They defaced portraits, threw snowballs at Secret Service agents, and once erected an illegal baseball diamond on the lawn. Quentin even snuck a pony inside the White House to cheer up his brother, Archie, when he was ill.
His parents were aware of his bad behavior and referred to him as a “fine bad little boy,” but despite his misbehavior, he performed well in school. He was accepted to Harvard University after attending the prestigious Groton School in Massachusetts (per ATI). He met and fell in love with Flora Whitney, the granddaughter of business magnate Cornelius Vanderbilt. Quentin, on the other hand, did not complete his Harvard education because he chose to drop out and fight in World War I.
In 1917, Quentin Roosevelt was in his second year at Harvard when he dropped out to join the New York National Guard’s 1st Aero Company. When President Woodrow Wilson declared war on Germany, Quentin volunteered to serve his country. According to ATI, he proposed to Flora Whitney before leaving for France. According to War History Online, Quentin was a skilled pilot who was known for taking risks, and he was assigned the task of escorting planes flying over German territory. In 1918, Quentin joined the 95th Aero Squadron and wrote to Flora about a German plane he shot down.
On July 14, Bastille Day, US pilots returning from a successful mission were ambushed by seven German planes. Except for one, the flight leader observed how his pilots retreated. “I shook the two I was maneuvering with and tried to get over to him but before I could reach him his machine turned over on its back and plunged down and out of control,” the flight leader recalled. The pilot that was shot down turned out to be Quentin, and his plane fell behind enemy lines. He was just 20 years old at the time of his death.
The German pilots were shocked to learn that they had killed Theodore Roosevelt’s youngest son. In an unprecedented show of respect, the Germans buried Quentin Roosevelt with full military honors outside the village of Chamery, France, where he crashed. According to an American prisoner of war, a thousand German soldiers paid their final respects and visited Quentin’s grave, which was marked by a makeshift cross that read, “Lieutenant Roosevelt, buried by the Germans.”
Theodore Roosevelt was devastated by the death of his youngest son. After the war, he was interviewed by a French reporter who inquired about his post-war thoughts. Theodore replied, “I have no message for France. I have already given her the best I had.” Later on, a cross was made and placed at Quentin’s grave. U.S. soldiers placed a monument without removing the one made by the Germans. A permanent headstone was placed at the location after the war, and Quentin’s body remained there until 1955 when the Roosevelt family had him exhumed and buried in the U.S. beside his father.