Roosevelt returned to active duty in April 1941, this time as commander of the 26th Infantry Regiment of the 1st Infantry Division. He served in North Africa and Sicily, becoming assistant division commander of the "the Big Red One" under Major General Terry de la Mesa Allen. In Sicily, II Corps commander Major General Omar Bradley relieved both Allen and Roosevelt due to the division's sluggish advance across central Sicily and the undisciplined conduct of many of its soldiers.
Roosevelt then served as a liaison officer for the U.S. Fifth Army. In 1944, he was assigned as assistant division commander of the 4th Infantry Division for the Normandy landings. On several occasions, he requested permission to go ashore with the first assault wave, but Major General Raymond O. Barton, the division commander, repeatedly refused because Roosevelt, who had a severe case of arthritis, limped and walked with a cane. Roosevelt finally prevailed when he threatened to put his request in writing and send it up the chain of command.
Not only was Roosevelt the only general officer to land on Utah Beach on D day, he was also the only general officer on any beach to land in the first wave. At age 57, he was one of the oldest soldiers there. His son Quentin II also landed on one of the beaches that day, making them the only father and son pair to have landed on 6 June 1944. Drifting tides caused the Utah Beach assault force to land in the wrong place, which proved fortunate for the Americans because the spot where they did land was far less well defended. Once on the beach, Roosevelt made the tactically correct decision not to try to shift to the planned landing point but rather to direct the follow-on waves to the new landing points. He is said to have stated, "We'll start the war from right here."
Roosevelt repeatedly led small groups across the beach and established them inland, and he was under constant enemy fire the entire day. General Bradley later said that his conduct on Utah Beach was the bravest act he had seen in more than 40 years of military service. Roosevelt died in his sleep of a heart attack on 12 July 1944, most probably brought on in no small measure by the combat stress of D day. At the time, he had been selected for command of the 90th Infantry Division and promotion to major general. Roosevelt was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously and was later buried at the World War II American Cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer, Normandy. The remains of his younger brother, Quentin, who had been killed in World War I and buried at the Chateau-Thierry Cemetery, were moved to Normandy and interred next to him. With the long-overdue award of the Medal of Honor to Theodore Roosevelt Sr. for his own actions in Cuba in 1898, the Roosevelts became only the second father-and-son pair to be Medal of Honor recipients, after Arthur and Douglas MacArthur. David T. Zabecki
Ambrose, Stephen. D-Day, June 6, 1944: The Climactic Battle of World War II. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1994.; Jeffers, H. Paul. Theodore Roosevelt, Jr.: The Life of a War Hero. Novato, CA: Presidio, 2002.; Renehan, Edward J. The Lion's Pride: Theodore Roosevelt and His Family in Peace and War. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.
David T. Zabecki