Colonel Roosevelt at the Jamboree

Theodore Roosevelt III addressing Boy Scout troops circa 1923

Theodore Roosevelt III addressing Boy Scout troops circa 1923

Family names are a problem that I know something about. My father is also James, and his father was a James, and so were two others before him. The redundancy can complicate very trivial, ordinary things like bank accounts and family gatherings, but the confusion must be exceedingly acute if your father with whom you share your name was the President of the United States.

Theodore Roosevelt III was the eldest son of America’s 26th President, the Bull Moose himself, and it is safe to say that Roosevelt the Younger had a pair of impossibly large boots to fill. Father and son both served as New York State Assemblymen and as the Assistant Secretary of the Navy, but their parallel trajectories didn’t last long, and in the end, President Roosevelt even eclipsed his son in years. In 1944, Theodore Roosevelt III, then a brigadier general, died at the age of fifty-six, in France, thirty-six days after the Invasion of Normandy.

Roosevelt the Younger was not a Boy Scout, but he championed the Movement throughout his life. In 1937, Roosevelt delivered an inaugural campfire speech at the first National Jamboree, held on the grounds of the National Mall in Washington D.C.

Roosevelt said that his father was not a preacher, but he was a stern teacher who inspired useful action through his clarity of thought and speech. In the excerpts below, it’s possible to see how the voice of Roosevelt’s father spoke louder than his own.

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Roosevelt on his Father and Scouting:

“I think that I can say that I was a scout before Scouting was really started, because my father, before Scouting began, organized a troop, or what really was a troop, composed of all of us children and our cousins at Oyster Bay. There were seventeen of us. He used to take us on point-to-point hikes. He used to take us camping. He would take us out and say, ‘You see that barn a mile away? We’ll walk to that barn without turning to the right or left or anything.’ You would come to a haystack, and you couldn’t go around the haystack; you had to climb over it or under it. You would come to pond, and you couldn’t go around the bond, you had to go right straight across it.”

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Roosevelt on his Father and the Sewage Drain:

“I remember one time right down here in Washington, in the old days, we were walking together; as a matter of act, we were walking right over there. It was before the days of the park, and we came to a long, deep ditch, and my father, in good true Scout fashion, said, ‘We won’t go around, we’ll swim across.’ We all hopped into the water and swam across. But when we got out we noticed a very peculiar and rather offensive odor. We had swum across a drain by mistake.”

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To learn more about Theodore Roosevelt III and the Boy Scouts you may want to look at this post at Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub.

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