There are only two sets of fathers and sons who share the extremely heroic and honorable bond of being Medal of Honor recipients. To honor these heroes on Father’s Day, we’re highlighting their stories.
The first father and son pair to both be awarded the Medal of Honor began with Arthur MacArthur during the Civil War and later his son DouglasMacArthur during World War II. Lieutenant Arthur MacArthur was distinguished for his actions on November 25, 1863, at Missionary Ridge, Tennessee. At only 18 years old, he is credited for seizing the colors of his regiment at a critical moment and planting them on the captured works on the crest of Missionary Ridge.
Arthur MacArthur was one proud father when his son followed in his military hero footsteps. Douglas MacArthur was actually nominated for our nation’s highest honor twice before receiving it. He was eventually honored in 1942, for leadership in preparing the Philippine Islands to resist conquest, for gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty in action against invading Japanese forces, and for the heroic conduct of defensive and offensive operations on the Bataan Peninsula.
He mobilized, trained, and led an army which has received world acclaim for its gallant defense against a tremendous superiority of enemy forces in men and arms. His utter disregard of personal danger under heavy fire and aerial bombardment, his calm judgment in each crisis, inspired his troops, galvanized the spirit of resistance of the Filipino people, and confirmed the faith of the American people in their Armed Forces. In addition to his Medal of Honor, Douglas MacArthur is memorable for many other reasons, including college football, corncob pipes, and RayBan aviators.
The second father and son duo are prominent for other reasons. President Teddy Roosevelt is the only president to have received the distinction. And his son, Theodore Roosevelt Jr., earned the medal in World War II, making the pair one of only two father-son duos to both have been awarded the nation’s highest honor.
Roosevelt was known for many things – most notably his two terms as president, his exploration of the South American wilderness, having his profile carved into Mount Rushmore, and the many nonfiction stories he wrote. But he was most proud of his service during the 1898 Spanish-American War, which liberated Cuba from Spanish rule.
Prior to the war, Roosevelt served in the New York National Guard and had worked as the assistant secretary of the Navy. But he wanted to be part of the fight, so he lobbied the secretary of war for an Army commission, and he got it. He was named lieutenant colonel of the First U.S. Volunteer Cavalry Regiment – famously known as the “Rough Riders.”
Deployed to Cuba, Roosevelt led a few other men on a charge up Kettle Hill, part of San Juan Heights, on July 1, 1898. Roosevelt encouraged his troops to continue fighting against a faltering enemy. He rode up and down the hill on horseback, leaving no doubt that he was one of the enemy’s most important targets. Yet he wasn’t hit by any bullets. Instead, Roosevelt was the first to reach enemy trenches, where he quickly killed an enemy with his pistol. The assault helped turn the tide of the war in America’s favor.
Despite Roosevelt’s efforts and lobbying by his superior officers, he was denied the Medal of Honor by the War Department at the time. It took more than a century for the nation to change its mind. On Jan. 16, 2001, the former president finally earned the honor.
Three years after gaining fame for his charge up San Juan Heights, Roosevelt was elected president.
Roosevelt’s son might not be as well-known, but his military career could arguably overshadow his father’s.
Junior served in World War I and then volunteered for World War II. He was serving as brigadier general, leading troops in the Northern Africa campaign and in the invasion of Sicily, when he was reassigned to help plan the D-Day invasion. Junior petitioned several times to be on the front lines that day. He was denied many times, possibly because he was 56 years old, but his superior officers finally accepted.
So on June 6, 1944, Junior became the oldest man and only general to storm the beaches of Normandy with the first wave of troops. He did so with a pistol and a cane, something he needed to help him with the numerous health issues he’d incurred in World War I.
When Junior learned that they had drifted a mile from their original landing position at Utah Beach, he used his seasoned leadership to modify the original plans and kick the invasion off from where they stood. He repeatedly led troops from the beach and over the seawall to where they could safely set up inland. He was able to create order from chaos, and that inspired the troops around him.
Sadly, just a month later, Junior died of a heart attack during the Allied push across France. He was buried at the American Cemetery in Normandy, next to his brother, Quentin, who died in World War I. On Sept. 28, 1944, Junior posthumously received the Medal of Honor.
Fun fact: Junior also served beside his son at Normandy. Army Capt. Quentin Roosevelt II landed at Omaha Beach.
Another fun fact: Junior married a woman named Eleanor. She became Eleanor Roosevelt – not to be confused with the Eleanor Roosevelt who married World War II President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Who knew there would be two high-profile Eleanor Roosevelts in one era?
3rd fun fact: The only other father-son duo to earn the Medal of Honor was Civil War Army 1 Lt. Arthur MacArthur Jr. and his son, famed World War II Gen. Douglas MacArthur.