Daily Flight Stories
Historic Wings is pleased to present our daily story celebrating what happened today in aviation history.
Published on July 14, 2012
On this date in aviation history in 1918, Quentin Roosevelt, the youngest and favored son of former President Theodore Roosevelt, was shot down and killed by what was most likely a German Fokker DVII. Quentin Roosevelt was serving as a Second Lieutenant with the US Army Air Service with the 95th Aero Squadron, of the 1st Pursuit Group, and flying a French-built Nieuport 28 aircraft. The Nieuport 28 was a nimble, fast machine, but somewhat outclassed by the new generation of German aircraft such as the Fokker DVII, which was widely viewed the finest aircraft of the war.
Roosevelt and three others from his squadron crossed German lines looking for observation planes to attack. Instead, while over Chamery, near Coulonges-en-Tardenois, France, they were jumped from above. Seven Fokkers came out of the sun and quickly scattered the American formation. The Germans had everything going for them — numeric superiority, speed, altitude, as well as better aircraft. In the melee, three German aircraft set upon Roosevelt’s plane and one of the German pilots, a non-commissioned officer by the name of Sergeant Carl Greper of Jasta 50 (having flown from the airfield at Rocourt Saint Martin), would report that he hit the plane and that it fell near Chamery.
A Letter Home Describes the Last Fight
Two years later, in 1921, Quentin Roosevelt’s brother, Kermit Roosevelt, published a book entitled, “Quentin Roosevelt: A Sketch with Letters.” In it, he quoted letters that documented Quentin’s life, including one from Edward Buford to his father describing his eye witness recollections:
Four of us were out on an early patrol and we had just crossed the lines looking for Boche observation machines, when we ran into seven Fokker Chasse planes. They had the altitude and the advantage of the Sun on us. It was very cloudy and there was a strong wind blowing us farther across the lines all the time. The leader of our formation turned and tried to get back out, but they attacked before we reached the lines, and in a few seconds had completely broken up our formation and the fight developed into a general free-for-all. I tried to keep an eye on all our fellows but we were hopelessly separated and out-numbered nearly two to one. About a half a mile away I saw one of our planes with three Boche on him, and he seemed to be having a pretty hard time with them, so I shook the two I was maneuvering with and tried to get over to him, but before I could reach him, his machine turned over on its back and plunged down out of control. I realized it was too late to be of any assistance and as none of our machines were in sight, I made for a bank of clouds to try to gain altitude on the Huns, and when I came back out, they had reformed, but there were only six of them, so I believe we must have gotten one.
Afterward, the Germans would send a note of condolences. When investigating the crash site, they had found Quentin’s body and papers identifying him as President Roosevelt’s son. They noted that Quentin had been hit twice in the head by bullets, which clearly meant that he had died instantly. The Germans buried him with great ceremony and the highest honors — reportedly, over 1,000 men attended — a rare and possibly unique honor for any American airman downed during the war. His grave was marked with pieces of the broken propeller, a wooden cross and the upturned landing gear of his aircraft.
The loss of his son was a serious blow to the aging former President Roosevelt. He would live on just six more months. Years later, Quentin Roosevelt’s body would be exhumed and buried at Colleville-sur-Mer, Normandy, France, so as to be next to his elder brother, General Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., who had died of a heart attack following his own military service in France from D-Day onward.
Hempstead Plains Aerodrome, renamed by the US Army as Hazelhurst Field, was the spot on Long Island where Quentin Roosevelt received his flight training before shipping off to France. The airfield was renamed Roosevelt Field in his honor just two months after his death in France. From that very airfield, numerous aviation records would be made. Among the most notable records would be Charles Lindbergh’s solo flight across the Atlantic, Wiley Post’s and Harold Gatty’s round the world trip in 1931. Today, all that is left of the once great airfield is a shopping mall, aptly named Roosevelt Field Mall.