Theodore Roosevelt Jr. has returned to the hallowed ground where he was first laid to rest.
The American Legion founder who became the oldest U.S. officer to storm the beaches of Normandy in the June 6, 1944, D-Day invasion, is now cast in bronze and fragments from shells, bullet casings and other metals retrieved from the battle that led to Europe’s liberation in World War II.
He is now depicted in the first of two “Statues of Liberation” in Ste. Mere-Eglise, first village freed from German occupation after the massive invasion of western Allies. Roosevelt Jr. was 56 when he died of a heart attack in Normandy on July 12, 1944.
The sculpture of Brig. Gen. Roosevelt Jr. by renowned artist Pablo Eduardo of Massachusetts will be dedicated in a ceremony on the evening of June 6, 2022, in Ste. Mere-Eglise as part of commemorations to remember the 78th anniversary of the invasion. American Legion National Commander Paul E. Dillard is scheduled to speak at the dedication and other events there.
A second “Statue of Liberation,” of Supreme Allied Commander Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, a life member of The American Legion, is scheduled to be completed and dedicated in Ste. Mere-Eglise in June 2023.
A joint initiative between The American Legion, Operation Democracy of Locust Valley, N.Y., Amis des Veterans Americains (Friends of American Veterans) in Normandy, the City of Ste. Mere-Eglise and with support from FedEx, the “Statues of Liberation” will stand prominently in a community that has been dedicated to gratitude for American military sacrifice since paratroopers jumped into an ambush on the town square in the early-morning darkness there on June 6, 1944.
In the first wave of the D-Day beach landings, 56-year-old Brig. Gen. Roosevelt Jr. – armed only with a pistol and a cane – led a platoon inland through enemy fire after his Higgins boat reached the shoreline. In September 1944, Roosevelt Jr. received the Medal of Honor for his actions on D-Day.
He was initially buried at one of three temporary cemeteries in Ste. Mere-Eglise, where local citizens – led by Madame Simone Renaud, wife of Mayor Alexandre Renaud – tended the graves of some 15,000 fallen Americans. A photograph of the mayor’s wife placing flowers on Roosevelt Jr.’s grave in August 1944 appeared on the cover of LIFE Magazine, and Simone Renaud soon began a lifelong journey to remember the sacrifices that liberated France from Nazi Germany. That journey has helped make Ste. Mere-Eglise a centerpiece of World War II history, with a massive Airborne Museum and businesses in the town largely themed around the 1944 liberation.
Roosevelt Jr. now lies at the Normandy American Cemetery above Omaha Beach, which is under the administration of the American Battle Monuments Commission.
Simone Renaud, who decorated American graves and wrote to families until her death at the age of 88, founded the AVA, which her son Maurice now leads. Operation Democracy of Locust Valley, N.Y., later became a “sister city” with Ste. Mere-Eglise, sending clothing, shoes, food, school supplies and more to the war-torn community after the liberation. The founder of Operation Democracy, Cathy Soref of Locust Valley, has led most of the planning leading up to the dedication ceremony of the Roosevelt Jr. statue.
Theodore Roosevelt Jr. arranged the earliest meetings in January and February 1919 that led to the formation of The American Legion. He posthumously received the Legion’s Distinguished Service Medal in 1945 and was named a past national commander by vote in 1949.