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Theodore Roosevelt and the Great War

On this date in 1917, the United States was on the verge of declaring war on Germany – an action that Theodore Roosevelt vigorously supported. He had made his blistering antagonism toward Woodrow Wilson’s former neutrality abundantly public.

Just days after the declaration of war on April 6th, the old Colonel met with President Wilson proposing that he lead a fighting force – just as he had in Cuba 19 years before.

“I told Wilson that I would die on the field of battle, that I would never return if only he would let me go. The President received me with the utmost courtesy and consideration (to lead) part of any expeditionary force to France. I am aware that I have not enough experience to lead a division myself, but have selected the most experienced officers from the regular army for my staff.”

Wilson ultimately denied the request from the 58-year-old, veteran Roughrider.  But all four of Roosevelt sons served. The youngest boy, Quentin, was killed – shot down in his bi-plane over the fields of France, devastating his proud father who abhorred being left on the sidelines. Quinton’s body lies in France today.

“We are fighting this war for others. But we are also, and primarily, fighting it for ourselves. We wish to safeguard to all civilized nations which themselves do justice to others, the right to enjoy their independence, and therefore to enjoy whatever governmental system they desire. But rightly and properly our first concern is for our own country. Our own welfare is at stake. Our own interests are vitally concerned. We are fighting for the honor of America and for our permanent place among the self-governing nations of mankind. We are fighting for our homes, our freedoms, our independence, our self-respect and well-being. And to divert measureless disaster in the future from the land in which our children’s children are to dwell when we are dead.”

Dakota Datebook: Remembering Theodore Roosevelt is written and performed by Steve Stark. Funding is provided by the Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation.

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