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Profile - Franklinís Offspring at War

Some time ago we ran a piece about “Teddy’s Offspring at War.” Teddy Roosevelt’s fifth cousin and nephew-in-law Franklin D. Roosevelt and his wife Eleanor, Teddy’s niece, also sent their sons into military service.

James Roosevelt (1907-1991): The president’s eldest son participated in the Naval ROTC program while at Harvard (Class of 1930). In 1936, with his father in the White House, the Marine Corps thought it politic to give James a commission, despite nearsightedness, stomach problems, and flat feet. James did a tour with the Marine detachment aboard a heavy cruiser and then passed into the reserves, with a promotion to lieutenant colonel. In 1939 he traded in his commission as a lieutenant colonel in the reserves for the more appropriate one of captain.

Assigned to the staff of the U.S. Naval Attaché in London in late 1940, James was an observer with the British Army during operations in Crete and the Middle East the following year, occasionally coming under fire. After Pearl Harbor he returned to the United States. By June of 1942, James was a major in the 2nd Marine Raider Battalion (“Carlson's Raiders”), and was among the troops defending Midway Atoll during the famous air-sea battle that devastated the Imperial Navy. Later, as executive officer of the 2nd Raiders he participated in the Makin Island Raid on August 17-18, 1942. The following November and December he took part in the battalion’s 32-day “long patrol” behind Japanese lines on Guadalcanal, wearing tennis shoes due to his foot problems. In early 1943, James was given command of the 4th Raider Battalion, but was shortly relieved of command, his health having deteriorated further due to various tropical illnesses.

Thereafter James Roosevelt served as a staff officer, though he did see combat again in November 1943, as an advisor to the Army's 165th Infantry (New York’s “Fighting 69th”) during the capture of Makin Island. At that time he reportedly encountered some Makinese whom he had met during the August ’42 raid, who greeted him with "Welcome back, Mr. Roosevelt." Over the next 18 months James took part in planning several amphibious operations, including the liberation of the Philippines and the capture of Okinawa. Shortly thereafter he was once again declared fit for combat and was assigned to a unit earmarked for the invasion of Japan, about which he later wrote, “ . . . I could not know I would be coming back.” Discharged as a colonel, he was later promoted to brigadier general in the Marine Corps Reserve. During his military career, James Roosevelt was awarded the Navy Cross and the Silver Star.

Elliot Roosevelt (1910-1990): He joined the Army Air Corps Reserve in the summer of 1940. Although he had a civilian pilot’s license, Elliot never qualified as an army pilot, and was commissioned as a navigator. During the war he served in North Africa and Europe, rising to brigadier general and command of the 325th Photo Reconnaissance Wing, apparently the only non-military certified pilot to command an active wing. By war’s end, with occasional stints as an escort officer for his father during several summit conferences, Elliot was the chief reconnaissance officer for the European Theatre of Operations. He is believed to have taken part in an estimated 300 reconnaissance missions over enemy territory. Elliott often went on missions unofficially, frequently flying the aircraft, and flew a score or more different types of aircraft, both British and American during the war. On one occasion, when the pilot and co-pilot of an F-9 (a photo-reconnaissance B-17) were both wounded, he took the controls and brought the damaged airplane home, for which he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. Elliot also earned several awards of the Air Medal, plus the Legion of Merit, as well as the Order of the British Empire and the French Legion of Honor.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, Jr. (1914-1988): He joined the Naval Reserve in the late 1930s, and went on active duty early in 1941. In November of 1942 he served as a gunnery officer in the destroyer Mayrant (DD 402) during Operation Torch, the Allied landings in Morocco, and was wounded during the Naval Battle of Casablanca (November 8). He later commanded the destroyer escort Ulvert M. Moore (DE 442), in the Pacific, ending the war with the fleet in Tokyo Bay. During his fourteen months in command he earned the reputation of being “a wild-assed bastard” for his daring seamanship. F.D.R. Jr., was discharged in 1946 as a commander. In the course of the war he earned a Silver Star and Purple Heart.

John Aspinwall Roosevelt (1916-1981): The president’s youngest son served as a logistics officer in Rear Adm. J.J. “Jocko” Clark’s carrier task force during the air-sea battles in Pacific in 1944-1945, rising to lieutenant commander before being discharged in 1946. When the president died, Admiral Clark offered to send him go home for his father’s funeral, but the young officer said, “My place is here.” During the war he earned a Bronze Star.

The president’s only daughter, Anna (1906-1975) was married to John Boettiger, a professional journalist, who served as a U.S. Army civil affairs officer in Italy, 1943-1945.

Despite the distinguished services which his sons rendered, Roosevelt’s enemies constantly made all sorts of outrageous charges. Among these were claims that the young men were accorded special privileges and kept out of harm’s way, and that their promotions or decorations were all due to favoritism. These smears were so pervasive that famed columnist Walter Winchell recalled the president showing him a letter from one the boys that read “Dear Pop, I only hope one of us gets killed. Maybe then they will stop picking on the rest of the family.”

FootNote: The Lambertson Affair. William Lambertson, an isolationist member of the House from Kansas, was a prominent critic of FDR and his domestic policies, and opposed rearmament and aid to Britain before Pearl Harbor, after which he became a notable war hawk criticizing the nation’s unpreparedness. He spoke frequently about alleged favoritism to the Roosevelt boys, so stridently that Republican Party leaders leaned on him to shut up, but he persisted. Lambertson’s son was later found to have been a draft dodger, apparently with papa’s connivance, and the congresscritter lost his seat in 1945.

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