“Some time during the latter half of that August I was sent as air service liaison officer to the headquarters of the Third Corps, giving me a week of ground duty. On the way thither, in the side car of a motorcycle, I recall passing by the roadside a large wood cross bearing the name of Quentin Roosevelt. The Germans had erected it after shooting him down….A good many incidents of that week stick in my memory, too many to write down.”
-2nd Lt. Theodore E. Boyd, 88th Aero Squadron, May 1, 1974
On July 14, 1918, Quentin Roosevelt, son of President Theodore Roosevelt, died outside of Chamery, France, his Nieuport 28 shot down by a German pilot. The Germans buried him there with full military honors and a wooden cross held together by wire from his aircraft. A few days later, American soldiers took the area and replaced the German cross with one of their own. The French added a wooden enclosure. To American aviators and soldiers, the grave of Quentin Roosevelt became a shrine, his death a touchstone for service and sacrifice, appearing in many World War I era scrapbooks and collections held by the National Air and Space Museum Archives.
German propaganda photographs of Roosevelt’s shattered body next to his plane circulated quickly amongst American servicemen. Oke Sieurin served in the 94th Aero Squadron as aircraft maintenance technician to American ace Harvey Weir Cook. He noted on the back of his photograph: “Please don't show everyone this picture aside from your personal friends. It is Lt. Roosevelt's plane and body. A gruesome sight. This picture was printed by the thousands by the German gov't to be used for propaganda telling how easy the task is to bring down the best American aviator.”
Sieurin also visited (or obtained an image of) Roosevelt’s grave before the French fence was built.
Images of the grave were reproduced and circulated. A Colonel Fowler included a real photo postcard of Roosevelt’s grave in his scrapbook. It is difficult to know if he visited the grave in person, since his scrapbook appears to have no geographic, thematic, or chronological design. Roosevelt’s grave shares a page with a “camouflaged French Heavy artillery on a railroad car near Vienne” (close to five hours away) and a photo of children with a dog.
By the time Underwood and Underwood printed a stereographic view of a soldier paying homage to Roosevelt, the fence had been built and the gravesite crowded with a headstone and floral arrangements.
Roosevelt served as a model for soldiers and for the mourning of the dead. John Pierson returned to the United States and gave a scrapbook to Mary “Mother” Tusch, joining many artifacts and photographs in her “Shrine of the Air,” across the street from the School of Military Aeronautics at the University of California, Berkeley. He featured an article about the erection of a monument showing the likeness of Quentin Roosevelt, "the ideal of the American soldier," in Champagne, France.
Quentin Roosevelt was also memorialized in a scrapbook created by Roderick Tower. Both men graduated from Harvard University, Class of 1915. They travelled in similar social circles and were together in early 1918 at Hazelhurst Field, Mineola, Long Island, New York, where many American aviators trained for war.
Captain Tower was in New York when Quentin Roosevelt died. In a letter to Roosevelt’s fiancée, Flora Payne Whitney, postmarked July 17, 1918, he wrote:
“…Q [Quentin] had a trifle more than done his part, and had attained the mark for which many thousands are reaching. He was a real person and found an end, better than which very few should hope for. I am proud to have known him.”
Whitney and Tower had met when he trained her brother, Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney. Now they mourned Roosevelt together. Whitney dedicated herself to her volunteer war work. After the war, the two became engaged, marrying in 1920 and divorcing in 1925.
Given how significant Quentin’s grave had become, the Roosevelts chose to leave him where he lay in France. According to Ernest’s Jones’s notes for his history of the Air Service of the American Expeditionary Force, Theodore Roosevelt responded to a sympathy letter: “Of course, his death is a very sad thing to his mother and myself; but it would have been a much worse thing if he had been afraid to face death, or if he had failed to do his whole duty and a little more than his duty, as a soldier of the American Army in this great war for liberty and for justice.” Already weak from an Amazon expedition and broken-hearted by Quentin’s death, Theodore Roosevelt died six months later.
And where is the grave of Quentin Roosevelt now? His remains still lie in France, though in 1955, they were moved to be with his brother Theodore, Jr., a World War II casualty, in Normandy American Cemetery. The original German cross is at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, in Dayton, Ohio. The National Air and Space Museum collection includes a cartridge and a bullet originally given to Mother Tusch "from the belt of Quintin [sic] Roosevelt's machine gun after his crash."