Know Your Military

Medal of Honor Monday: Army Lt. Col. Teddy Roosevelt

Feb. 18, 2019 | BY Katie Lange

In honor of Presidents Day, we thought it would be worthwhile to honor the only president to have earned the Medal of Honor – President Theodore ''Teddy'' Roosevelt.

Roosevelt was known for many things — most notably his two terms as president, his exploration of the South American wilderness, having his profile carved into Mount Rushmore, and the many nonfiction stories he wrote. But he was most proud of his service during the 1898 Spanish-American War, which liberated Cuba from Spanish rule.

Before the war, Roosevelt served in the New York National Guard and had worked as the assistant secretary of the Navy. But he wanted to be part of the fight, so he lobbied the secretary of war for an Army commission. He got it and was named lieutenant colonel of the 1st U.S. Volunteer Cavalry Regiment — famously known as the ''Rough Riders.''

A man in uniform sits atop a horse.
Roosevelt Portrait
Army Lt. Col. Teddy Roosevelt in Cuba, 1898.
Photo By: National Park Service
VIRIN: 111213-O-ZZ999-380

Deployed to Cuba, Roosevelt led a few other men on a charge up Kettle Hill, part of San Juan Heights, on July 1, 1898. Roosevelt encouraged his troops to continue fighting against a faltering enemy. He rode up and down the hill on horseback, leaving no doubt that he was one of the enemy's most important targets. Yet he wasn't hit by any bullets. Instead, Roosevelt was the first to reach enemy trenches, where he quickly killed an enemy with his pistol. The assault helped turn the tide of the war in America's favor.

Despite Roosevelt's efforts and lobbying by his superior officers, he was initially denied the Medal of Honor by the War Department. It took more than a century for the nation to change its mind. On Jan. 16, 2001, the former president finally received the honor.

Three years after gaining fame for his charge up San Juan Heights, Roosevelt was elected president.

Theodore Roosevelt
Theodore Roosevelt
Theodore Roosevelt
Photo By: DOD Graphic
VIRIN: 190213-D-ZZ999-715

Roosevelt's son Theodore Roosevelt Jr. also received the Medal of Honor, one of only two father-son pairs to do so (the other is Arthur MacArthur Jr. and Douglas MacArthur). He served in World War I and WWII and gained a reputation for leading from the front.

At 56, Theodore Roosevelt Jr. was the oldest man and only general to storm the beaches of Normandy on D-Day with the first wave of American troops. He earned his medal at Utah Beach for ''gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life, above and beyond the call of duty'' while leading successive waves of troops inland to their objectives.

This article is part of a weekly series called "Medal of Honor Monday," in which we highlight one of the more than 3,500 Medal of Honor recipients who have earned the U.S. military's highest medal for valor.