KERMIT ROOSEVELT Born 10 October 1889 and educated at Groton and Harvard, Kermit — like all the boys — shared his father's love of the outdoors and physical activity. He accompanied TR on his post-presidential safari in Africa, and later joined the 1914 exploration of the River of Doubt (subsequently renamed Rio Roosevelt) in the heart of the Amazon. After returning from South America in 1914, TR credited Kermit with saving his life during the course of that expedition.
It seemed it was always Kermit — the lucky one, his brothers called him — who got to go along with TR on his most splendid adventures. Family tradition says Kermit’s luck was not, however, accidental. Early on, TR sensed in Kermit the seed of something he had seen before, in his brother Elliott. There was, it seems, something about the young Kermit that TR recalled from many years before, in the years before his beloved brother became a full-blown addict enslaved by drink and drugs. In an effort to head-off what he hoped would not be a repeat of Elliott’s tragedy, TR made a special effort to spend time with young Kermit.
And there would, indeed, be some measure of drink and some measure of tragedy in Kermit’s future, but there would also be great successes. He proved a worthy man of business in his early years after his marriage to Belle Wyatt Willard in 1914, organizing the Roosevelt Steamship Company and the United States Lines. He was also, like his father, a great hunter, explorer and writer on these themes, and he enjoyed splendid literary friendships with the likes of Rudyard Kipling, Edwin Arlington Robinson, Gertrude Stein and William Butler Yeats. A few of the gems from Kermit’s pen include The Happy Hunting Grounds (an eloquent look back on his outdoor experiences both with and without his father), Trailing the Great Panda (co-authored with his brother and fellow explorer, Theodore Jr., with whom he traveled to China in 1929 in quest of a Panda for display by the Field Museum), and Quentin Roosevelt: A Sketch with Letters, which commemorated the youngest Roosevelt brother who died in the First World War.
Along with being a fine writer, Kermit was also a courageous soldier. Unwilling to wait for American entry into World War I, he fought first with the British in the Middle East and subsequently served with the American Expeditionary Force in France. He later wrote a splendid memoir of his time fighting with the British entitled War in the Garden of Eden. During World War II, he once again served briefly with the British in the days before the United States entered the fracas. He subsequently received a commission in the United States Army, this despite the fact that his recent years of hard-drinking and hard-living had rendered his body useless for the type of service he most craved: front-line action, the absence of which made him feel inadequate and went against his Rooseveltian grain.
Assigned to Fort
Richardson, Alaska without any specific portfolio, he endeavored to
create his own. He convinced army pilots to allow him to come along
as an observer when they made bomb runs over Japanese positions in the
Aleutians. And he volunteered to help his friend Muktuk Marston establish
a territorial militia of Eskimos and Aleuts — these to form the backbone
of an insurgent underground should the Japanese overrun the region.
Two or three times a week he’d visit a little place in Anchorage called
Nellie’s Diner and have a few glasses of wine — all his broken body
could handle. He was severely weak: his stomach distended, his arms
and legs mere sticks. He had little strength, and found most tasks exhausting.
Towards the end, it was all he could do to gather himself to make the
rounds and enforce the local blackout, which he did many an evening
in the company of Marston. This is how the two men were occupied early
in the evening of June 3rd, 1943. When they were done, and had returned
to the post, Kermit asked Marston what he was going to do next.
A short while later, alone in his room, Kermit put a .45 to his chin and pulled the trigger. His father had always said: “Where a tree falls, there let it lay.” Kermit lays today at Fort Richardson in Grave 72, Plot-A, beneath a simple white military headstone no different from that of any other serviceman.
-- Written for the TRA
Like most of the other Roosevelt children, Kermit, began his formal education at the local public school. As his father's career relocated the family he proceeded to Albany Academy, and eventually followed his father and older brother Ted's footsteps to Groton, a prestigious private boarding school.
Kermit went on to Harvard, completing the standard four year course in a mere 2 1/2 years after accompanying his father on the African Safari.
The most sensitive of the children, Kermit first found companionship in his imagination. Though he and Ethel later ruled together over Archie, their earliest contacts with each other were disagreeable; they were constantly waging war on each other. Dreamy and detached as a child, Kermit developed into a great source of pride to his father.
The 3rd child and 2nd son, was a fierce defender of his father as a young boy, close companion as a young man and as his father neared the end of his life, Kermit became one of his father's "closest confidantes". At the age of nine, his father was preparing to go to war - Kermit knocked down and bloodied a boy who said Roosevelt would be killed. Kermit accompanied his father on both the African safari in 1909, and again in 1914 for the exploration of the River of Doubt (renamed Rio Roosevelt) in the Amazon of Brazil.
Kermit accompanied his father on both the African safari in 1909, and again in 1914 for the exploration of the River of Doubt (renamed Rio Roosevelt) in the Amazon of Brazil.
athletic and intellectual, Kermit was also moody, described as having
black moods, a black heart. In a letter to Ethel during his African
excursion in 1909, TR said of Kermit, "It is rare for a boy with his
refined tastes and his genuine appreciation of literature - and of so
much else - to be also an exceptionally bold and hardy sportsman."
It is possible that Edith was never told the true cause of her son's death; initially at least her family apparently told her Kermit died of heart failure. Not until the 1980's, well after Edith's death, was his suicide openly discussed.
In her diary Edith wrote Kermit's epitaph:
[Source: Edith Kermit Roosevelt by Sylvia Jukes Morris]
Resources for this web page include: Old Orchard Label Copy; Edith Kermit Roosevelt - Portrait of a First Lady, by Sylvia Jukes Morris; The Roosevelt Women, by Betty Boyd Caroli; Edward J. Renehan and Dr. John Gable of the Thedore Roosevelt Association.