Friday, December 25, 2015

#CollisionWithFame: Quentin Roosevelt, July 14 1918

Quentin Roosevelt was the fourth and youngest son of President Theodore Roosevelt.  The Roosevelts were a modern celebrity family, the first First Family to occupy the White House amidst the pop of flashbulbs and the turning of newsreels.  They were made a larger-than-life, vigorous family because of the larger-than-life image of the pater familias, who had charged San Juan Hill, tamed crime in New York, built a Navy and learned to wrestle wolves (all before he was forty).  
Born during his father’s meteoric rise in American politics – from the time of his birth until his fourth birthday, TR would be Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Colonel of US Volunteers (the Rough Riders), Governor of New York, Vice President, and President of the United States – young Quentin literally grew up in the White House.  In 1915 Quentin joined a voluntary officer-training program organized by TR’s longtime friend Major-General Leonard Wood (the program was the forerunner of the modern ROTC). Quentin took aviation training and in 1917, with the organization of the AEF, dropped out of Harvard and along with his brothers Teddy and Archie, went to Europe and the Great War. 

Flying with 95th Aero Squadron, Quentin would down an enemy fighter on July 10, 1918, but just four days later died in combat when his French-built Nieuport 28 was shot down.  As was the practice at the time, Roosevelt’s grave behind German lines was marked by a cross constructed from the prop of his crashed plane. After the war the family replaced the cross with another marker, and took the propeller-marker back to the family home at Sagamore Hill, where it is on display to this day.  Ironically, his namesake nephew, Quentin Roosevelt II, fourth son of Teddy Roosevelt Jr., died in a plane crash in December 1948.

 From the AEF’s after action report on the record of Quentin Roosevelt, as reproduced in the 1921 honorific edited biography of Quentin by his brother, Kermit Roosevelt, Quentin Roosevelt: A Sketch with Letters.



July 26, 1918.


FOR: The Adjutant General, A. E. F.

SUBJECT: Official Record of 1st Lieutenant Quentin Roosevelt, Air Service.

1. Lieutenant Quentin Roosevelt landed Liverpool August 8th 1917, assigned Issoudun August 17th, assigned School Aerial Gunnery Cazaux March 1st 1918, to duty Officer in charge Training Field seven Issoudun March 24th, to duty Orly May 31st Chartres June llth Toul June 13th Colombey-les-Belles June 21st, assigned to 95th Aero Squadron Toul June 24th, duty Chartres June 25th Toul July 6th Touquin July 13th, reported missing July 17th, confirmation by German Red Cross of death in aerial combat July 22nd. Confirmed by International Red Cross from Berne, Switzerland, July 24, 1918 as follows:

"International Red Cross wires that German Red Cross confirms newspaper reports Quentin Roosevelt's death in aerial combat further details lacking King Godson."

2. Lt. Quentin Roosevelt during his whole career in the Air Service both as a cadet and as a flying officer was a model of the best type of young American manhood. He was most courteous in his conduct, clean in his private life and devoted in his duty. As an Officer he had the best interests of the service always at heart, performed his duty no matter what it was, whether agreeable or not, always to the best of his ability and without question or remark.

3. After completion of his training as a pilot he was selected on account of his efficiency as an instructor and had charge of one of the most important flying instruction fields. His great desire and hope was to be allowed to get to the front. This opportunity was not practicable for a comparatively long time on account of his expert services being more needed as an instructor.

4. When the order assigning him to duty with a squadron finally came on June 24th he lost no time in reporting and arrived just in time to take part in the last great enemy offensive where the combat work by his squadron was most strenuous and aided materially in the success of the battle.

5. Lieutenant Roosevelt had already brought down one enemy plane and had aided the squadron in a number of fights against large enemy air formations where the American units dispersed the enemy and brought down a number of their aircraft. His work during these combats was exceptionally good, his endeavor being the success of the squadron rather

than to get individual airplanes to his personnel credit.

6. His loss was deeply felt by his flying comrades in the squadron as well as by all officers and soldiers with whom he had ever come into contact


Colonel, Air Service,

Asst. Chief of Air Service.

Finally, the following passage is from Kermit’s volume, and recounts the recollection of Quentin’s downing as observed by Lt. Edward Buford, who was also reported missing in action during the same combat.  Buford in fact landed safely and returned to friendly lines; he shared his thoughts and memories in a letter to his father:


You asked me if I knew Quentin Roosevelt. Yes, I knew him very well indeed, and had been associated with him ever since I carne 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 in a general free-for-all. I tried to keep an eye on all of 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 them, our 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 other machines were in sight, I made for a bank of clouds to try and 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 pick up any of our fellows, but they had disappeared, so I came on home, dodging from one cloud to another 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.