Quentin Roosevelt (November 19, 1897 – July 14, 1918) was the youngest and favorite son of President Theodore Roosevelt. Family and friends agreed that Quentin had many of his father's positive qualities and few of the negative ones. Encouraged by his father, he joined the US Army Air Corps where he became a fighter pilot during World War I. Extremely popular with his fellow pilots and known for his daring, he was killed in aerial combat over France.
Quentin was the youngest child of the Roosevelt family including half-sister Alice, sister, Ethel, and brothers Theodore Jr., Kermit and Archibald "Archie".
Quentin was only three years old when his father became president, and he grew up in the White House. By far the favorite of all of President Roosevelt's children,
Quentin was also the most rambunctious. He was nicknamed "Quentyquee" and "Quinikins" by his father. He shared T.R.'s physical, intellectual, and linguistic characteristics.
Quentin's behaviour prompted his mother, Edith, to label him a "fine bad little boy". Amongst Quentin's many adventures with the "White House Gang" (a name assigned by T.R. to Quentin and his friends), Quentin carved a baseball diamond on the White House lawn without permission, defaced official presidential portraits in the White House with spitballs, and threw snowballs from the White House's roof at unsuspecting Secret Service guards. Charlie Taft the son of President Taft was also part of the white house gang
He quickly became known for his humorous and sometimes philosophical remarks. To a reporter trying to trap the boy into giving information about his father, Quentin admitted, "I see him occasionally, but I know nothing of his family life." The family soon learned to keep him quiet during dinner when important guests were present.
Once, when his brother Archie was terribly ill, it was Quentin (with the help of Charles Lee, a White House coachman), who brought the pony Algonquin to his room by elevator, sure that this would make his brother better.
As a young man, Quentin displayed a natural mechanical aptitude. He could fix almost anything, and even rebuilt a motorcycle to present to a friend as a gift.
Quentin attended the Episcopal High School in Alexandria, Virginia
. Later he was a student at Groton School
. Quentin sailed through all his formal schooling, consistently scoring high marks and showing much of the intellectual capacity of his father. He was admitted to Harvard University
in 1916. Quentin loved machinery and rebuilt a motorcycle
while in college. By the time Quentin was a sophomore at Harvard, also like his father, he was showing promise as a writer.
The young Roosevelt was engaged to Flora Payne Whitney
, the great-granddaughter of Cornelius Vanderbilt
, one of the country’s richest men, and also an heiress to the Whitney family fortune. The couple met at a ball in Newport, Rhode Island
, in August 1916 and soon fell in love, although the alliance, between the modest, old-money Roosevelts and the flamboyantly wealthy Vanderbilt-Whitneys was at first controversial on both sides.
Quentin’s letters to Flora, from the time they met until his death -- discovered and first used by Edward Renehan in his book The Lion's Pride (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998) -- charted the course of America’s entry into the war. Theodore Roosevelt, incensed at America’s continuing neutrality in the face of Germany's actions -- including the sinking of the British passenger ship RMS Lusitania in May 1915, in which 128 Americans drowned -- campaigned unsuccessfully on behalf of the 1916 Republican Presidential nominee, Charles Evan Hughes, during which he severely criticized Woodrow Wilson. Wilson was subsequently reelected on a neutrality platform. While he was initially neutral, Quentin came to agree with his father, writing to Flora in early 1917 from Harvard University, where he was studying, “We are a pretty sordid lot, aren’t we, to want to sit looking on while England and France fight our battles and pan gold into our pockets.”
All the Roosevelt sons except Kermit had had some military training prior to World War I. With the outbreak of war in Europe in August 1914, there had been a heightened concern about the nation's readiness for military engagement. Only the month before, Congress had belatedly recognized the significance of military aviation by authorizing the creation of an Aviation Section in the Signal Corps. In 1915 Major General Leonard Wood
, a friend of Theodore Roosevelt since the Rough Rider
days, organized a summer camp at Plattsburg, New York, to provide military training for business and professional men at their own expense. It would be this summer training program that would provide the basis of a greatly expanded junior officers corps when the Country entered World War I. During the summer of 1915, many well-heeled young men from some of the finest East Coast schools, including Quentin Roosevelt and two of his brothers, attended the Camp. When the United States entered the War, commissions were offered to the graduates of these schools based on their performance. The National Defense Act of 1916 continued the student military training and the businessmen's summer camps and placed them on a firmer legal basis by authorizing an Officers' Reserve Corps and a Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC). Quentin, just out of the rigors of Groton and Harvard, did not really enjoy the training, but stuck it out anyway.
After the declaration of War, when the American Expeditionary Force was organizing, the Roosevelt boys' father, Theodore, wired Major General "Black Jack" Pershing asking if his sons could accompany him to Europe as privates. Pershing accepted, but, based on their training at Plattsburg, Archie was offered a commission with rank of second lieutenant, while Ted, Jr. was offered a commission as a rank of major.
With American entry into World War I, Quentin thought his mechanical skills would be useful to the Army. Just engaged to Flora, he dropped out of college to join a newly formed army aviation unit in the fledging Army Air Service. With his poor (Roosevelt) vision, he was forced to memorize the eye chart so that he could pass the physical exam. He trained on Long Island at an airfield later renamed Roosevelt Field in his honor. Today, a shopping mall sits on the site that is also named Roosevelt Field.
Quentin as an American Pilot in France
Finally sent to France, Lt. Roosevelt was a pilot in the 95th Aero Squadron, part of the 1st Pursuit Group. Though reportedly possessing poor distance vision, Roosevelt nevertheless claimed a German fighter shot down out of control on July 10, 1918. Just four days later, he was himself shot down behind German lines.
Captain Eddie Rickenbacker, Commander of the 94th Aero Squadron (also known as the "Hat-in-the-Ring" Squadron), in his memoirs described Roosevelt's character as soldier and pilot in the following words:
"As President Roosevelt's son he had rather a difficult task to fit himself in with the democratic style of living which is necessary in the intimate life of an aviation camp. Every one who met him for the first time expected him to have the airs and superciliousness of a spoiled boy. This notion was quickly lost after the first glimpse one had of Quentin. Gay, hearty and absolutely square in everything he said or did, Quentin Roosevelt was one of the most popular fellows in the group. We loved him purely for his own natural self.
"He was reckless to such a degree that his commanding officers had to caution him repeatedly about the senselessness of his lack of caution. His bravery was so notorious that we all knew he would either achieve some great spectacular success or be killed in the attempt. Even the pilots in his own flight would beg him to conserve himself and wait for a fair opportunity for a victory. But Quentin would merely laugh away all serious advice.
Quentin's plane (a Nieuport 28) was shot down at Chamery, near Coulonges-en-Tardenois. He was felled by two machine gun bullets which struck him in the head. The German military buried him with full battlefield honors. Since the plane had crashed so near the front lines, the Germans had to use two pieces of basswood saplings, bound together with wire from his Nieuport, to fashion a cross for his grave. For propaganda purposes, the Germans made a postcard of the dead pilot and plane. According to his service record at the New York State Archives, the site was at Marne Grave #1 Isolated Commune #102, Coulongue Aisne. The French government awarded him the Croix de Guerre with Palm.
Roosevelt's last combat flight and death over France
In 1921 Quentin's brother, Kermit Roosevelt edited and published Quentin Roosevelt: A Sketch with Letters
consisting of Quentin's letters from France as well as tributes to Quentin written after his death. Pages 169-171 describe the circumstances of Quentin's last flight and death. On that page, is a letter home from one of the other American pilots, Lt Edward Buford, detailing Quentin’s final mission. Buford, like Quentin, was also reported missing in action, but landed safely at the French aerodrome. He had personally witnessed Quentin’s last fight from the air and described it to his family, several months later:
- Sept. 5th, 1918
- FATHER DEAR, Baapji : -
- You asked me if I knew Quentin Roosevelt. Yes, I knew him very well indeed, and had been associated with him ever since I came to France and he was one of the finest and most courageous boys I ever knew. I was in the fight when he was shot down and saw the whole thing.
- Four of us were out on an early patrol and we had just crossed the lines looking for Boche observation machines, when we ran into seven Fokker Chasse planes. They had the altitude and the advantage of the Sun on us. It was very cloudy and there was a strong wind blowing us farther across the lines all the time. The leader of our formation turned and tried to get back out, but they attacked before we reached the lines, and in a few seconds had completely broken up our formation and the fight developed into a general free-for-all. I tried to keep an eye on all our fellows but we were hopelessly separated and out-numbered nearly two to one. About a half a mile away I saw one of our planes with three Boche on him, and he seemed to be having a pretty hard time with them, so 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 out of control. I realized it was too late to be of any assistance and as none of our machines were in sight, I made for a bank of clouds to try to gain altitude on the Huns, and when I came back out, they had reformed, but there were only six of them, so I believe we must have gotten one.
- I waited around about ten minutes to see if I could pickup any of our fellows, but they had disappeared, so I came on home, dodging from cloud to cloud for fear of running into another Boche formation. Of course, at the time of the fight I did not know who the pilot was I had seen go down, but as Quentin did not come back, it must have been him. His loss was one of the severest blows we have ever had in the Squadron, but he certainly died fighting, for any one of us could have gotten away as soon as the scrap started with the clouds as they were that morning. I have tried several times to write to Col. Roosevelt but it is practically impossible for me to write a letter of condolence, but if I am lucky enough to get back to the States, I expect to go to see him.
- (END OF LETTER by Edward Buford)
Kermit continues with the following on page 172-178:
- Two days after Quentin fell, the following German communiqué was intercepted by our wireless:
- On July fourteenth, seven of our chasing planes were attacked by a superior number of American planes north of Dormans. After a stubborn flight, one of the pilots – Lieutenant Roosevelt, - who had shown conspicuous bravery during the fight by attacking again and again without regard to danger, was shot in the head by his more experienced opponent and fell at Chamery.”
- Not long afterward a German official bulletin was found on a prisoner:
- Group “Jeporen” (name of the general?)
- General Command Headquarters.
- Ic.? – The Intelligence officer, in the name of the General.
- No. 128133
- (German) Army Corps Headquarters
- The 24th of July, 1918/
- Edition including even the Companies, except those
- which are just now on the front lines, and which
- will be only mentioned after their relief/
- Sheet of Information, No. 10.
- From the 21st of July to the 23rd of July, 1918
- THE SON OF FORMER PRESIDENT OF
- THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
- ROOSEVELT, FOUND DEATH ON AN
- AERIAL FIGHT ON THE MARNE
- At the time of a struggle between a German Pursuit squadron of seven machines and twelve American pursuit aviators above the Marne, a fight took place between the German pursuit pilot a non-commissioned officer Greper and an American pilot. After a long fight, the German flyer succeeded in bringing down his gallant antagonist.
- The hostle airman had been killed by two bullets in the head. He was identified by his papers as Lieutenant Roosevelt, of the U.S.A. Flying Corps.
- A clipping from the Kölnische Zietung obtained through the Spanish Embassy gave this account of the fight:
- “The aviator of the American Squadron, Quentin
- Roosevelt, in trying to break through the airzone over the Marne, met the death of a hero. A formation of seven German aeroplanes, while crossing the Marne, saw in the neighborhood of Dormans a group of twelve American fighting aeroplanes and attacked them. A lively air battle began, in which one American (Quentin) in particular persisted in attacking. The principal feature of the battle consisted in an air duel between the American and a German fighting pilot named Sergeant Greper. After a short struggle, Greper succeeded in bringing the brave American just before his gun-sights. After a few shots the plane apparently got out of his control; the American began to fall and struck the ground near the village of Chamery, about ten kilometers north of the Marne. The American flier was killed by two shots through the head. Papers in his pocket showed him to be Quentin Roosevelt, of the United States army. His effects are being taken care of in order to be sent to his relatives. He was buried by German aviators with military honors.”
- The German pilot who shot down Quentin Roosevelt told me of counting twenty bullet holes in his machine when he landed after the fight. He survived the war but was killed in an accident while engaged in delivering German airplanes to the American Forces under the terms of the Armistice.
- Funeral services held by the Germans were witnessed on July fifteenth by Captain James E. Gee of the 110th Infantry, who had been captured and was being evacuated to the rear. Captain Gee passed through Chamery, the little village near which the plane crashed to earch. He thus describes the scene:
- “In a hollow square about the open grave were assembled approximately one thousand German Soldiers, standing stiffly in regular lines. They were dressed in field gray uniforms, wore steel helmets, and carried rifles. Near the grave was a smashed plane, and besides it was a small group of officers, one of whom was speaking to the men. “I did not pass close enough to hear what he was saying; we were prisoners and did have the privilege of lingering, even for such an occasion as this. At the time I did not known who was being buried, but the guards informed me later. The funeral certainly was elaborate. I was told afterward by Germans that they paid Lieut. Roosevelt such honor not only because he was a gallant aviator, who died fighting bravely against odds, but because he was the son of Colonel Roosevelt whom they esteemed as one of the greatest Americans.”
- On July 18, in a great allied counter-attack, the village where Quentin fell was retaken from the Germans, and his grave was found by some Americans soldiers. At its head was a wooden cross, on which was printed:
- Lieutenant Roosevelt
- Buried by the Germans.
- Following the custom that sprang up in the heroic soil of the air-service, the broken propeller-blades and bent and scarred wheels of the plane were marking his resting-place.
- Near by lay the shattered remains of the airplane, with the seventy-six “wound stripes” which Quentin had painted on it, still to be seen.
The engineer regiment of the division that had retaken Chamery marked the spot where the
airplane fell, and raised a cross at the grave with the inscription
- Here rests on the field of honor
- Quentin Roosevelt
- Air Service U.S.A.
- Killed in action July 1918.
- The French placed an oaken enclosure with a head-born reading:
- Quentin Roosevelt
- Escadrille 95
- Tombé glorieusement
- En combat aerien
- Le 14 Juillet 1918
- Pour le droit
- Et la liberté
After his grave came under Allied control, thousands of American soldiers visited it to pay their respects. Quentin's resting place became a shrine and an inspiration to his comrades in arms.
Quentin's death was a great personal loss to his father Theodore, who understood quite well that he had encouraged his son's entry into the War. It is said that he never fully recovered from Quentin's death. Within six months, Theodore himself would be dead.
When the World War II American Cemetery was established in France at Colleville-sur-Mer, Quentin's body was exhumed and moved there. He is buried next to his brother Brigadier General "Ted" Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., who had died of a heart attack in France shortly after leading his troops in landings on Utah Beach on D-Day as Assistant 4th Infantry Division Commander. Quentin's original gravestone is now currently on display at Sagamore Hill. The German-made basswood cross that marked Quentin's original gravesite is on display at the United States Air Force Museum, at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, in Dayton Ohio. A young Quentin Roosevelt and his father president Theodore Roosevelt are mentioned in the children's story book "Brighty of the Grand Canyon" on the occasion of Quentin's first mountain lion hunt.
June 2007 trip to Quentin's French battlefield monument
In June 2007, several Roosevelt family members as well as members of the Theodore Roosevelt Association
(TRA) visited the small monument in France at the French village over which Quentin was shot down in 1918. Their purpose was to restore the monument and prepare a report to the TRA on the work accomplished by this trip.
Quentin Roosevelt II (1919-1948), the fourth son of Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. was named after Quentin, and also died in a plane crash.
Notes and references