Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Misunderstood Mariners: The Roosevelts

Theodore Roosevelt.
Although he never served in the US Navy, TR was intimately connected to it. While a student at Harvard (1876-1881), he began research into the early history of the US Navy, which would eventually lead to the publication of his book The Naval War of 1812.  The book is a highly detailed study of the tactics, ordnance, and leadership that was still being used decades later. TR's interest was instrumental in getting him Assistant Secretary of the Navy for just more than a year in 1897-98, under president William McKinley. It was an active year, though: the battleship Maine exploded in Havana harbor during this period. TR, who was effectively running the Navy department at this time, was the force behind the increased requisitioning, recruitment, and shipbuilding that would prepare the US for its imminent war with Spain. When war actually broke out, however, TR resigned his post to join the fighting Cuba; this was his famous Rough Rider period.

The Great White Fleet, 1909
As president (1901-1908), TR increased the size of the US Navy until it was the third largest in the world. He dispatched the famous Great White Fleet on a round-the-world tour; 18 battleships, six destroyers, and a variety of auxiliary vessels visited ports on every inhabited continent in 1907-09. TR is also famous for pushing the Panamanian revolution that cleared the way for the building of the Panama Canal.

Franklin D. Roosevelt. Fifth cousin to TR, FDR served as Assistant Secretary of the Navy during World War I under president Woodrow Wilson. He founded the US Naval Reserve and pushed Wilson and others to increase American submarine capacity in response to Germany's U-boat warfare. FDR also pushed for, and got, approval to arm US merchant mariners to defend themselves against German attack.

FDR's presidency (1933-1945) corresponded with World War II and a massive shipbuilding and mobilization effort. By the end of the war, the US had built more than 2,700 Liberty ships and boasted a Navy of more than 6,000 vessels.

FDR was also the force behind the founding of the US Merchant Marine Academy at King's Point, NY in 1942.

Ted Roosevelt
Theodore "Ted" Roosevelt, Jr. Ted, son of TR, was one of the the rare generation to see combat in both World Wars. Following his Army service in World War I, he was appointed Assistant Secretary of the Navy by president Warren Harding. His transfer of oil leases from the Navy to private companies, and his brother's connection to an oil company, connected his name with the Teapot Dome scandal of 1922-23, which led to his resignation.

Ted was the only general officer in the first wave of the D-Day invasion in 1944. He was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions during the Battle of Normandy He died of a heart attack a month after the invasion. He was portrayed by Henry Fonda in the film The Longest Day, based on Cornelius Ryan's book of the same name.

This is the first in a series of posts about presidents and near-presidents who had a nautical background, in honor of the US election this year.

Related Posts

Related Articles
Project Gutenberg: The Naval War of 1812
Department of the Navy, Naval History and Heritage Command: The Cruise of the Great White Fleet.

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