Saturday, December 23, 2017

Father and Son Medals

The outside temperature has dropped to the point where I am invoking the Age Rule:  Until the outside temperature is greater than my age, I’m going to stay inside and read biographies. 

Trivia time:  Which father and son combination both received the Medal of Honor?  How many times has that happened?   What father received the Medal after his son did? 

Only twice in our nation’s history has this happened, so far.  Arthur MacArthur (Jr) and Douglas MacArthur each received the Medal.  Arthur MacArthur was a lieutenant in the 24th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry Regiment during the Civil War and participated in battles at Stone River, at Chickamauga (where one of my ancestors died fighting for the Confederacy), and in the Atlanta campaign.  On November 25, 1863, at a crucial point in the Battle of Missionary Ridge, MacArthur planted the regimental flag on the crest of the ridge, shouting “On Wisconsin!”  This inspired brevity not only rallied the troops to win the battle, but simultaneously got him the Medal, gained him a promotion to Brevet Colonel at the tender age of 19, established the Wisconsin State song, and created the fight song for the University of Wisconsin.  Not bad for shouting two words.

General Arthur MacArthur’s son, Douglas MacArthur, was nominated for the Medal three times; The first time during the American occupation of Veracruz, in 1914, for a reconnaissance mission so daring that the only reason he was refused the medal—despite the endorsements of both his commanding general and the army's Chief of Staff—was the fear that it might inspire other officers to act similarly. 

The second nomination was for his leadership on the Western Front during World War I.  Though he was again denied the Medal, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the Distinguished Service Medal, seven silver stars, two wound chevrons, the Croix de guerre and made a commander of the L√©gion dhonneur.  For his actions during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive he was nominated for Medal of Honor and a promotion to Major General.  Although he did receive his second Distinguished Service Cross, he received neither the Medal of Honor nor the promotion. 

MacArthur finally did receive the Medal of Honor in World War II, for his leadership in the defense of the Philippines.  Nominated by General Marshall, he accepted it as recognition of the courage of the army he had led.

For almost six decades, the MacArthurs were the only father and son combination to have received our nation’s highest medal, but this changed in 2001.

The children and grandchildren of President Theodore Roosevelt have had distinguished and unusual military careers.  His youngest son, Quentin Roosevelt, died at nineteen as a pilot in World War I.  Kermit Roosevelt, the second-oldest, served as a US officer in the First World War, and as an officer in the British Army in WWII, then as an American officer again.  Archie Roosevelt is the only man in history to be discharged from the Army with a 100% disability—twice.  Enemy fire effectively destroyed his left knee twice—once in each of the world wars. 

Theodore Roosevelt, "Jr.", the oldest son, was an officer who served with distinction in the First World War.  In the late 1930’s, recognizing that another war was eminent, Roosevelt returned to the Army before Pearl Harbor.  Serving with the same regiment as in the First World War, Roosevelt fought in North Africa and Sicily, quarreled with Generals Patton and Bradley, and still managed to lead the invasion on Utah Beach, despite having a heart condition and crippling arthritis that should have ended his military service.  Among the men he led ashore was his son, Quentin Roosevelt II.  They were not only the only father and son combination in the Normandy Invasion, but at age 58, Theodore Roosevelt III was the oldest man on the beach and the only general to land in the first assault wave.

Walking the beach with a cane and a pistol, Roosevelt discovered that the invasion craft had drifted too far south to meet their initial objectives.  Gathering the commanders, Roosevelt calmly stated, “We’ll start the war from right here.”  He then redirected the units, assigning new objectives to every subsequent unit as it came ashore.

Years later, when General Omar Bradley was asked to give the best example of bravery under fire, he answered with, “Ted Roosevelt on Utah Beach.”

Less than a month later, Ted Roosevelt died of a heart attack, unaware that he had just been promoted to the rank of Major General and given command of the 90th Division.  Two months later, he posthumously received the Medal of Honor.  He is buried in France beside his brother, Quentin.

Which leaves Teddy Roosevelt, who would receive his Medal of Honor in unique fashion, some fifty-seven years after his son had received his medal and over a century after his own military service.  As everyone knows, Teddy was the leader of the Rough Riders during the Cuban campaign of the Spanish-American War.  On July 1, 1898, Roosevelt rode his horse, "Texas", at the front of his dismounted men as they attacked up Kettle Hill and then across the saddle of land to San Juan Hill.  His bravery that day would soon catapult him into the governor’s mansion of New York and then on to the White House.

His commanding officer, General Wood (himself a recipient of the Medal of Honor), recommended Roosevelt for the Medal—as did Wood’s commanding officer, General Wheeler, and his commanding officer, General Shafter—another recipient of the Medal.  Richard Harding Davis, the famous war correspondent, wrote glowing accounts of Roosevelt’s bravery, convincing most Americans that Roosevelt was a hero deserving of the Medal. 

The Army did not agree—and whether this was a political decision or it was because Theodore Roosevelt so openly coveted the medal is still a matter of debate.  At best, Roosevelt was denied the medal because he was so far in front of the action that there were few corroborating officers to have witnessed his actions.  At worst, Roosevelt was denied the medal because of the hatred and envy of Russell Alger, the Secretary of the Army who was later removed from office for incompetence.

And so the matter simply rested for over a century. 

In 1998, Congress passed a law changing the time limit for consideration for medals, chiefly to redress the shameful withholding of awards for minority soldiers during World War II and Korea.    Among the recommendations reviewed for reconsideration were the century-old documents for a Lieutenant Colonel of Volunteers for his action in Cuba a century earlier.

On January 16, 2001, President Clinton presented the Medal posthumously to Tweed Roosevelt, the president’s great-grandson.  It is on display, along with President Roosevelt’s Nobel Peace Prize, in the Roosevelt Room of the White House.

Of course, there are also the five sets of brothers who received the medal, but you will have to wait for a blizzard before I tell that long story.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks Mark. I love your stories. The MOH is kind of hard to get. My wife's cousin, Loyde "Snake" Arender ran into a mine field in Vietnam and carried out 8 wounded Marines. His commanding officer put him in for the Medal of Honor, but was killed a few days later and the nomination never went any further. Snake was well-respected in the veterans community. He raised funds to guild monuments to WWII vets in Louisiana and was an accomplished warrior poet. I wish I could get him the MOH for his poetry which is carved on one of the monuments put up by his comrades. Lots of politics involved in the MOH sadly. MacArthur should have got it for his earlier actions. His defense of the Philippines was not his finest hour compared to the earlier acts. I knew TR III had been at Utah beach, but I didn't realize he'd received the MOH. It's nice that his Dad finally got his MOH for the San Juan Hill action.

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