Quentin Roosevelt is the Only Child of a US President to Be Killed in Combat

Photo Credit: 1. San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive / Wikimedia Commons / No Known Restrictions 2. Unknown / National Museum of the U.S. Air Force / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain (Colorized by Palette.fm, Enhanced by DeepAI)
Photo Credit: 1. San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive / Wikimedia Commons / No Known Restrictions 2. Unknown / National Museum of the U.S. Air Force / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain (Colorized by Palette.fm, Enhanced by DeepAI)

Many US presidents served in the military before taking office – in fact, 31 have had some experience in the armed forces. There’s long been a tradition of their sons entering active service, as well, and only one gave their life in combat: Quentin Roosevelt. The youngest Roosevelt was a pilot during the First World War, and he perished during aerial combat over France on Bastille Day.

Theodore Roosevelt got his start in politics

Portrait of Theodore Roosevelt and his four sons
Theodore Roosevelt with his sons: Ted, Kermit, Quentin and Archibald, 1900. (Photo Credit: Arthur Hewitt / Archive Photos / Getty Images)

Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt set a high bar for his descendants. The 26th president of the United States spent his early life sick and in bed at home. Rather than giving in to his debilitating asthma, however, Roosevelt saw it as a challenge that needed to be conquered through constant exercise and effort. He became a champion boxer at Harvard University, despite his frail frame.

Following a short stint in politics as a state assemblyman, Roosevelt, enamored with the rancher lifestyle, moved to the Dakota Territory to work with cattle in the 1880s. Politics, however, kept calling him, and he re-entered it, serving first with the United States Civil Service Commission and later becoming the New York City Police Commissioner and Assistant Secretary of the US Navy.

Theodore Roosevelt’s ‘Rough Riders’

Portrait of Theodore Roosevelt and his Rough Riders
Theodore Roosevelt and his Rough Riders, 1898. (Photo Credit: Smith Collection / Gado / Getty Images)

Following the outbreak of the Spanish-American War, Theodore Roosevelt, eager to test his mettle, resigned from his position with the US Navy and formed the 1st US Volunteer Cavalry Regiment with US Army Col. Leonard Wood. The Rough Riders, as they came to be known, fought in Cuba, with their first engagement coming on June 24, 1898, with the Battle of Las Guasimas. Victory was swift, with the American forces and Cuban rebels chasing out the Spanish troops from the area.

This, paired with the success of the Battle of San Juan Hill, which Roosevelt dubbed “the greatest day of my life,” cemented the politician-turned-military man into a heroic figure in the eyes of the American public. He became the governor of New York for two years, after which he was the vice president of the United States, under William McKinley.

Shortly into his presidential term, McKinley was assassinated, leaving Roosevelt in charge of the country. He served two terms and continued to be involved in politics long after he’d left office.

Quentin Roosevelt’s early life

Theodore Roosevelt standing with Quentin, who is on horseback
Theodore Roosevelt with his son, Quentin, 1902. (Photo Credit: Library of Congress / CORBIS / VCG / Getty Images)

Quentin Roosevelt was the youngest of Theodore and Edith Roosevelt’s children. His siblings were half-sisters, Alice and Ethel, and brothers, Theodore III (“Ted”), Kermit and Archibald (“Archie”).

When his father became president in 1901, the younger Roosevelt was only three years old. Just like his father, he was incredibly rambunctious and known as a troublemaker. He and his friends defaced pictures in the White House, carved a baseball diamond into the lawn and threw snowballs at Secret Service agents.

Like his father, Roosevelt was a fantastic student. Before attending Groton School in Massachusetts, he was educated at Episcopal High School in Alexandria, Virginia. He later attended Harvard like Theodore and was known for his writing skills. He received a posthumous degree from the school in 1919.

Entering service with the US military

Quentin Roosevelt sitting in the cockpit of a Nieuport
Quentin Roosevelt in the cockpit of a Nieuport. (Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain)

The Roosevelt boys were always expected to serve their country; they received military training from their father. In 1915, Quentin attended a camp run by Maj. Gen. Leonard Wood, and once World War I began, all four entered the US military as officers.

Roosevelt enlisted with the 1st Reserve Aero Squadron, and after training in Long Island was sent to France as a lieutenant. Upon his arrival, he helped set up a training base at Issoudun, after which he became a supply officer and, then, one of the men charged with running one of the American training bases in Europe.

Before, long, he’d become a pilot with the 95th Aero Squadron, 1st Pursuit Group.

Quentin Roosevelt lost his life in aerial combat

Quentin Roosevelt sitting with a dog
Quentin Roosevelt, 1917-18. (Photo Credit: Unknown / National Museum of the U.S. Air Force / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain)

Once in the air, Quentin Roosevelt showed his prowess as a combat pilot, securing his first confirmed kill on July 10, 1918, during the German Spring Offensive. While skilled, he still hadn’t quite shaken the recklessness from his childhood, with fellow pilot and Medal of Honor recipient Capt. Eddie Rickenbacker once commenting:

“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.”

A few days after downing his first enemy aircraft, Roosevelt himself was taken out by the Germans over Chamery. He was hit by two machine gun bullets, which pierced his head, killing him. The Nieuport 28 C.1 he was piloting crashed and was recovered by the Germans.

It hasn’t been confirmed who, exactly, was responsible for taking out Theodore Roosevelt’s son. Three German pilots have been given credit throughout history, but none of them have been concretely determined to have been the person. They are: Sgt. Carl Graeper, Lt. Karl Thom and Lt. Christian Donhauser.

Paying respect to Quentin Roosevelt

Soldiers saluting Quentin Roosevelt's grave
Soldiers saluting Quentin Roosevelt’s grave, 1953. (Photo Credit: Keystone-France / Gamma-Rapho / Getty Images)

Quentin Roosevelt was buried by the Germans with full honors, and a cross was fashioned with two pieces of wood and wire from his aircraft. Once the Allied forces retook the ground where he was buried, his grave was visited by thousands of troops who were inspired by his heroics. In 1955, his remains were exhumed and reinterred at the World War II American Cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer.

Theodore Roosevelt was shaken by the death of his youngest son. He wrote in a letter to one of Quentin’s friends, “To feel that one has inspired a boy to conduct that has resulted in his death, has a pretty serious side for a father, and at the same time I would not have cared for my boys and they would not have cared for me if our relations had not been just along that line.”

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The mourning Roosevelt patriarch didn’t outlive his youngest son for long. On January 6, 1919, he passed from a blood clot that had detached from a vein and traveled to his lung. He was 60 years old.

Todd Neikirk

Todd Neikirk is a New Jersey-based politics, entertainment and history writer. His work has been featured in psfk.com, foxsports.com, politicususa.com and hillreporter.com. He enjoys sports, politics, comic books, and anything that has to do with history.

When he is not sitting in front of a laptop, Todd enjoys soaking up everything the Jersey Shore has to offer with his wife, two sons and American Foxhound, Wally.