Letter from Lieutenant Theodore Roosevelt to his wife Edith, sent from an undisclosed location on the Western Front
July 4th, 1917
They have had me in an underground map room with other officers for nearly a month now. While the generals make a big show of consulting my opinion over that of the other junior-grade officers, I can tell that it is a show. Perhaps it’s well-meant. I cannot disclose exactly where I am or the exact nature of what I do, but I can tell you that it involves pushing small soldier and tank figurines around on a large map, using a stick. Sometimes, when no one is looking, I pretend to make them fight, making explosion sounds under my breath.
I spent Independence Day fetching coffee for my British superior officers. Now that our boys are over here, it makes my position all the more ridiculous. Me, Edith! A British officer! It was silly enough to begin with, but now that we have entered the fight I should be wearing an American uniform. But alas, I cannot. I must uphold my duty here, knowing that I still help my country, even if only indirectly. Furthermore, Wilson — that pencil-necked tortoise — would not budge about letting me in the military where I belong. I would happily join the U.S. Army as a buck private! Just get me to the guns!
There are some fine horses they hold in the reserve cavalry battalions here, and not enough officers to keep them in condition, so I am encouraged to ride them in my off-hours. I have a favorite. He is an older, bony, swayback gelding. His name is Grainy. The calvary boys ride him least of any of the war ponies because in addition to his other faults, he is also trench sour. That is, Grainy has a favorite trench he likes to wander back and forth in; he gets ornery whenever we take him out of it — probably because he’s a bit myopic. He can buck some of the lighter boys — he has spirit — but he can’t throw me, so I am his master and he begrudges me rides now and again and the air does us both good.
Please write me with any word of the children. I hear rarely from Quentie-qee and very little word reached me from Ethel at the American Ambulence Hospital. We are all in the dark here, it seems.
July 12th, 1917
Letter from Edith Roosevelt at Sagamore Hill to Lieutenant Theodore Roosevelt, somewhere in a map room on the Western Front
It pains me to see you so grumbly after getting your wish. My love, you are in the war and have a vital role in it. Do not be so quick to discount your service. Did they not give you a gun and a uniform already, Theodore? It is only logical that 18–30-year-old’s will be asked to do the bulk of the fighting first. Don’t worry. They will call 50–70 year-old’s to the front as soon as everyone younger has expired, which should not be long now. I hear that in Russia they are already calling up the grey-hairs to the lines. Grace lies in doing a duty we do not deserve, but are forced to shoulder none the less. You know this.
I can, I hope, soothe your heart with news of the children. Quentin tinkers with his engines as always. Alice is now working with Ethel at the American Ambulance Hospital. While nurses are strictly forbidden from serving at the front, twice Alice has been reprimanded for dressing as a man and going to the front as a stretcher-bearer — with a pistol tucked into her belt. Ethel doesn’t know why her letters haven’t reached you. She had a very unusual encounter. She attended Dr. — now Lieutenant — Horace Browntrout and his batman (a kind of valet) Sergeant Stanley the Saysquack after they were injured at the Somme. Evidently, Horace and Stanley lead a combat platoon. They have been in the war since 1914. Ethel said Browntrout even offered to care for her in a fatherly way — not having any idea you were in Europe, of course. I thought that was very magnanimous of him.
I took the liberty of writing Mrs. Browntrout and telling her that her husband was alive and recovering, as we never know when letters will make it home from the war front. I daresay she was both disturbed over the grievous nature of the wounds and also ecstatic that he survived and was expected to fully heal; she was also quite surprised to be getting the news from me; indeed, she’d heard no news from the army about her husband’s health, only that his unit was decimated. I know you have ambivalent feelings toward Browntrout over the Saysquack expedition, but I know too that you have let bygones be bygones. I think it’s wonderful that our families have come together like this. You and Horace even serve in the same army.
October 17th, 1916
Letter to Effie Harris Browntrout from Edith Roosevelt (wife of Theodore Roosevelt)
Dear Mrs. Browntrout,
I know our husbands have had their quarrels in the past, and I pray you won’t find me out of line in reaching out to you. I just wanted to tell you that we heard about your husband and son’s service at the front. Our own children ache to serve — to say nothing of poor Theodore, who used to make machine gun and bomb sounds in his sleep. We also saw that Stanley the Saysquack is with him; we wish him well too. Our hearts go with you all as you face this menance to freedom and know that we long to join them. Our daughter Ethel has joined them. She has been serving at the American Ambulance Hospital as a nurse since the outbreak of the war. Ethel informed us that she treated an officer with an unusual last name along with a giant ape-man, Bigfoot or Saysquack who required a special bed be built for him. It did not take many inquiries to determine that your husband Horace was the man with whom her father once had a rainforest rivalry over the very creature laying in the bed next to him.
I will take the risk of sharing news you may have already heard, since letters from the war often arrive late or not at all. Horace was hit in the shoulder and abdomen by machine gun fire — which apparently came from our own side, from a new type of armored vehicle (which Theodore tells me is called a “tank”), the drivers of which were lost or confused. Stanley was also hit, but not quite as badly; he carried Horace until the tank driver could be made to slow down. The wounds both received small miracles: they missed arteries, bone and major muscle tissue before exiting the body. They are both expected to recover soon and be back at the front lines. I do hope you heard this information from Horace before you heard it from me.
Know that our children bear Horace no ill will for what happened and consider the matter closed. Some of Ethel’s colleagues even asked Horace and Stanley to autograph Horace’s book. Stanley loves to play “Go Fish” and smoke cigarettes with the rest of the wounded men and his uncomplaining and speedy recovery is a great source of hope and inspiration. Horace too, has brought good cheer to the wards. He and Stanley put on an “education show” with improvised materials and hand puppets as a way to pass the time and amuse the men. When Horace learned that Ethel was Theodore’s daughter, he was especially tender with her and said that if she needed for anything she should think of him as her “war father” and he would do his best to perform any service that Theodore could render — though knowing full well he could never live up to the standards he’d set.
What history will make of Horace and Theodore, I cannot say. There are those who say Horace is a villain and Theodore is a hero, and some who say the reverse. But ultimately, they are just two men who became caught up in their quest to write the history the Saysquack — to not just write it, but make it. It is a history that is still being made. Perhaps it will be the Saysquacks who will write their own history one day, if only someone will show them how.
At any rate, along with this letter please find a box of Belgian chocolates. They were among the last made before the war began so they’re a bit stale, but they’re still sweet and held up well and that’s what counts. I have sent some on to Horace as well. I hope you are bearing your heavy share of these burdens well, in these troubled times we live in. However you are, know that you are not alone.
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Care to read a hilarious account of Theodore Roosevelt hunting Bigfoot? Find it here: https://www.amazon.com/Squabble-Titans-Recollections-Roosevelt-Rainforest/dp/B097X4R4LN