On this day 75 years ago, soldiers from Fort Carson's 4th Infantry Division stormed Utah Beach on the Normandy coast of France amid chaos and conspicuous valor.
The day started badly for the division when its ships arrived at the wrong point on the coast. But a hero arose who braved heavy enemy fire and became the highest-ranking member of the division to ever earn the Medal of Honor. He was also the first member of the division to earn the nation's top decoration for battlefield valor.
The division's deputy commander, Brig. Gen. Theodore Roosevelt Jr., son of the famous Rough Rider president, took charge on the beach despite gimpy knees. Wielding his cane, he led the 4th Division soldiers inland to victory.
"When it was realized that the landings had been made at the wrong place, he personally made a reconnaissance of the area immediately to the rear of the beach to locate the causeways which were to be used for the advance inland," the Army's official history of the invasion says.
At 56, Roosevelt was the oldest man on the beach and the only general to storm it.
He didn't have to be there. Roosevelt already had amassed a stellar record as governor-general of the Philippines and as governor of Puerto Rico. He had served in the Army during World War I.
But as war clouds loomed in 1940, Roosevelt returned to the ranks.
In the run-up to Operation Overlord, the invasion of Nazi-occupied France, Roosevelt asked to join the invasion, and his bosses turned him down repeatedly before finally relenting.
When the landing was botched, other leaders were rattled. Not Roosevelt.
"We'll start the war right here," Roosevelt famously said.
At Fort Carson's museum, where a statue of Roosevelt presides over an exhibit detailing the landing, acting director Joseph Berg said it's hard to overstate his role.
"He just started waving his cane around and started pointing out the objectives for the company commanders on the beach," Berg said. "He is certainly one of the division's greatest heroes, and he's the reason the casualties for the 4th Infantry Division were so low."
Of 21,000 4th Infantry Division troops to hit the beach, 197 died. In other units, nearly one soldier in 10 was injured or killed.
Roosevelt braved enemy bullets and shrapnel to lead his men off the deadly beach.
It was Roosevelt's last battle. He died of a heart attack in France a month after the landing.
He died on the same day he was nominated for a second star and command of a division of his own.
But Roosevelt's actions on D-Day live on in Army lore.
"His valor, courage, and presence in the very front of the attack and his complete unconcern at being under heavy fire inspired the troops to heights of enthusiasm and self-sacrifice," the citation accompanying his Medal of Honor says. "Although the enemy had the beach under constant direct fire, Brig. Gen. Roosevelt moved from one locality to another, rallying men around him, directed and personally led them against the enemy. Under his seasoned, precise, calm, and unfaltering leadership, assault troops reduced beach strong points and rapidly moved inland with minimum casualties."
Contact Tom Roeder: 636-0240