Saturday, December 19, 2015

The Death of Quentin Roosevelt


This lonely grave on a broad plain hard by the little village of Chamery, near the city of Reims, in France, will ever be sacred to American young manhood because it contains the remains of one who embodied in his own person to an eminent degree those qualities of heart and soul which led so many thousands of them to cross the seas and to face for their country's sake death and mutilation in a foreign land. 

Quentin Roosevelt, the youngest of Theodore Roosevelt's children, a lieutenant in the 95th American Aero Squadron, First Pursuit Group, fell in single combat with a more experienced adversary, at Chamery, near Reims, on July 14th, 1917. Although new to the flying game he had but three days before won the Croix de Guerre by a daring exploit typical of the man. While scouting over the German lines he became separated from his companies and, on dropping through a patch of cloud, found himself in the rear of six German machines. Prudence dictated an about face and retreat, but it was never Roosevelt's way, to retreat, and he resolved to attack. When within shooting distance he opened on them with his machine gun and had the satisfaction of seeing one of the enemy lurch to a side and fall. Instantly veering in a wide arc he flew for the Allied lines, pursued by the five remaining German planes. Bullets flew overhead and on every side, but fortune was with him that day and he escaped without a wound. 

One of our own doughboys, in the cap and ulster we so well remember, stands by Lieutenant Roosevelt's grave in silent tribute to the dead, as many Americans will stand in the years to come. 

-Inscription on the back of Keystone View Company's stereopticon card depicting the grave of Quentin Roosevelt (Roosevelt's death date is actually July 14th, 1918)

Quentin Roosevelt's death at the tender age of 20 provides us with a unique glimpse into how Americans viewed not only the Roosevelt family, but World War I as well. As I read this small piece, the first thing I noticed was that the writer lists Quentin as Theodore Roosevelt's youngest child. It was certainly common knowledge that Roosevelt had had a daughter, Alice, with his first wife, Alice Lee, who died shortly after the birth of her daughter in 1884. Perhaps the author meant that Quentin was the youngest of Theodore and Edith Carow Roosevelt's children. Or, could the author have been omitting Alice from his statement because of her keen ability to attract scandal? It is impossible to know...

The writer's statement also glorifies the service of Quentin and other doughboys without giving in to the shocking brutality and seemingly needless loss of life that came with World War I. We aren't given an account of Quentin's death, but his heroism in other instances is documented in detail. Making sense of his death by emphasizing the heroism he had shown, great service he had done for his country, and example he set for other young men to follow was integral for justifying the great loss of life. 

The death of Quentin Roosevelt came about after he was shot down by German Fokker Chasse airplanes while he was out on a patrol in his Nieuport 28. The plane in this photo is quite similar to the one Roosevelt flew: 

Roosevelt was buried where he fell by German soldiers, which is the gravesite that is depicted in the photo (One of his original burial crosses is also displayed at The National Museum of the U.S. Air Force in Dayton, OH). In the 1950s, his body was exhumed so it could be buried next to his brother, Ted, who perished during World War II.