BG Elliott Roosevelt as 325th Wing commander
|Born||September 23, 1910|
|Died||October 27, 1990(aged 80)|
|Allegiance||United States of America|
|Service/branch||United States Army Air Forces|
|Years of service||1940–1945|
|Commands held||90th Photographic Wing
325th Photographic Wing
|Battles/wars||World War II|
Elliott Roosevelt (September 23, 1910 – October 27, 1990) was a United States Army Air Forces officer and an author. He was also a son of President Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882—1945) and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt (1884—1962).
After World War II, Roosevelt was called by a Senate subcommittee to testify about financial irregularities in which he had taken part regarding a contract for the experimental Hughes XF-11 reconnaissance aircraft. Subsequently, he had an extraordinarily varied career, primarily in broadcasting, ranching, politics and business.
Elliott was named after his maternal grandfather, Elliott Bulloch Roosevelt (1860—1894). His siblings were:
- Anna Eleanor Roosevelt (1906—1975)
- James Roosevelt II (1907—1991)
- Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Jr. (1914—1988)
- John Aspinwall Roosevelt II (1916—1981)
Elliott attended the Hun School of Princeton and went to Groton School, as did his brothers, but refused to attend Harvard University. Instead, he worked a series of briefly held jobs, beginning with advertising and settling in broadcasting in the 1930s, including a management position in the Hearst radio chain.
Elliott Roosevelt had always been interested in flight, and in 1933 he briefly served as general manager of Gilpin Airlines of Glendale, CA, a small airline owned by Rep. Isabella Greenway (D-AZ), a close friend of the family. Later that year he became aviation editor for the William Randolph Hearst papers. After controversial involvement in the Air Mail Scandal and a secret attempt to sell bombers in civilian disguise to the USSR, he was hired as vice president of the Aeronautical Chamber of Commerce (see Aerospace Industries Association), a post he held until 1935, when he moved to Fort Worth, Texas, and involved himself in broadcasting. His eyesight did not permit him to hold a pilot’s license.
Roosevelt received a captain's commission in the United States Army Air Corps on 23 September 1940, his 30th birthday. Elliott’s appointment in the middle of the 1940 election campaign caused a furious political row, although General Henry H. Arnold, the Chief of the Air Corps, asserted that there was no pressure or nepotism involved. After brief service at Wright Field, Ohio, Elliott took an intelligence course and served with the 21st Reconnaissance Squadron at the new U.S. facility in Gander, Newfoundland.
In the summer of 1941, he searched for and located air base sites in Labrador, Baffin Island, and Greenland and reported on conditions in Iceland and along the rest of the embryonic North Atlantic ferry route. During this time he coordinated closely with FDR, Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and General Arnold. Elliott was the first to interest Churchill in American bases in Africa (first, Bathurst in the Gambia, now Banjul), a step for which his father was not yet ready. He served as a procurement specialist, navigator, and intelligence and reconnaissance officer and rose to brigadier general by January 1945. Despite having poor eyesight and being classified 4-F (unfit), he also became a pilot and reportedly flew 89 combat missions by the time of his inactivation from the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) in August 1945.
While Elliott operated from Gander in August 1941, FDR detached him and brother Franklin D. Roosevelt, Jr. to attend the Argentia (Atlantic Charter) summit between Churchill and FDR. In January 1943, Roosevelt accompanied FDR as a military attaché to the Casablanca meeting and the subsequent Cairo and Tehran Conferences in November–December 1943. At an alcohol-drenched dinner during the Tehran Conference, Elliott Roosevelt applauded Joseph Stalin's proposal for large-scale executions of German POWs, which earned him Churchill's vocal and lasting hostility but Stalin's cheers.
Following a navigator/bombardier course in the fall of 1941 and a brief stint on antisubmarine patrol duty with the 6th Reconnaissance Squadron at Muroc AAB, Elliott received a top-secret assignment to carry out clandestine reconnaissance flights over the Sahara, with emphasis on French West Africa, with which the United States was not at war. Having been successful with this (Project Rusty), he was given command of the new 3d Reconnaissance Group at Colorado Springs. From Gibraltar and then Oran, Algeria, he led this unit in Operation Torch, the invasion of Northwest Africa in early November 1942. Elliott (with a pilot) flew the first U.S. reconnaissance missions over the theater in a borrowed RAF de Havilland Mosquito. This led to a long campaign for the U.S. adoption of this British aircraft, as Elliott held the American counterparts (modified Boeing B-17Cs and early Lockheed P-38s) to be inadequate and unlikely to survive in contested airspace.
From Maison Blanche, Algeria, and after the fall of Tunis, La Marsa near Carthage, Elliott pioneered new tactics, including night aerial photography, and obtained before and after imagery of Rome during that city’s first heavy bombing on 19 July 1943. During this period, top Allied commanders recognized him as the leading air reconnaissance expert in the European Theater.
After his detachment to investigate reconnaissance issues in the United States (see the Hughes scandal section below), Elliott received command of the 8th Air Force’s reconnaissance wing in England: the 8th Provisional RW, later renamed the 325th Reconnaissance Wing. During this period, Elliott worked on the shuttle-bombing project with the USSR, and participated in the May 1944 mission to the USSR which inspected the new American bases at Poltava, Mirgorod, and Piryatin. His units also supported the invasion of Normandy and the bombing campaign against V-weapon sites.
Following threats of resignation and pressure from “very high topside,” in January 1945 General Arnold ordered General Carl Spaatz in England to appoint Elliott a rated pilot, and the president submitted his son’s name to the Senate for promotion to Brigadier General. By standard rules, Elliott was eligible for the rank, but not for the pilot’s wings. Elliott continued in that rank in Europe until his father’s death on 12 April 1945. After VE-Day, the Air Forces could no longer find a “suitable vacancy” for him, and he was on leave and had staff duties in the United States. By coincidence, his last day of service was VJ-Day.
Roosevelt commanded the following units:
- 3d Reconnaissance Group, 11 July–13 August 1942 at the rank of major; 30 September 1942–1 March 1943 ending at the rank of colonel
- Assigned to Twelfth Air Force and flew aboard numerous aircraft types during reconnaissance missions for the North Africa campaign in Algeria and Tunisia
- Northwest African Photographic Reconnaissance Wing, February 1943—November 1943, as lieutenant colonel and colonel. This was a composite unit with U.S., British, South African, and French squadrons.
- Assigned to Twelfth Air Force, command and control organization that provided photographic reconnaissance to both Twelfth and Fifteenth Air Forces. Operationally controlled both 3d and 5th Reconnaissance Groups in Tunisia. The 90th's subordinate units reconnoitered airdromes, roads, marshaling yards, and harbors in Italy after the Allied landings at Salerno.
- 325th Photographic Wing, 9 August 1944–17 January 1945 at the rank of colonel; 22 January–13 April 1945 ending at the rank of brigadier general.
- Assigned to Eighth Air Force, command and control organization that through subordinate units, flew reconnaissance over the waters adjacent to the British Isles and the European continent to obtain meteorological data. Wing aircraft collected weather information needed in planning operations; flew night photographic missions to detect enemy activity; and provided daylight photographic and mapping missions. The wing also flew photographic missions over the Netherlands in support of Operation Market Garden in September 1944 and operated closely with tactical units in the Battle of the Bulge (December 1944–February 1945).
Roosevelt stated that he flew 89 combat missions and 470 combat hours prior to being called back for his father's funeral in April 1945 (he did not return to active theaters). These numbers were disputed at the time. His decorations included the Distinguished Flying Cross. He also received the Order of the British Empire, the Croix de Guerre and Legion d'Honneur, the Moroccan Order of Ouissam Alaouite, and the U.S. Legion of Merit. He ended the war holding the Air Medal with reportedly eleven clusters. As a chase pilot for the Operation Aphrodite flights in 1944, Elliott said he witnessed the death of Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr. over Blythburgh, England.(There is no evidence in Aphrodite files that Elliott participated in this project, nor did he fly as chase pilot and witness the death of Joseph P. Kennedy. reference: 519.428-1 Aphrodite. Reel No. A5687, Air Force Historical Research Agency, Maxwell AFB, Alabama) 
After the war, Elliott Roosevelt no longer played a significant role in aviation, although he maintained a private pilot’s license and owned a small aircraft. He briefly served as president of short-lived Empire Airlines of New York (1946), citing his influence with the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB), which however did not result in route awards. Reported attempts to assist Howard Hughes’s TWA in obtaining air routes to the USSR also did not succeed.
Warplanes purchasing scandal
In August 1943, Colonel Roosevelt was asked by the Chief of the Army Air Forces, General Henry H. "Hap" Arnold, to investigate several reconnaissance aircraft under development to select a successor to the Lockheed P-38 (F-4 and F-5 in the recon version), though the reason for Arnold's choice of Roosevelt was not made public. Roosevelt assembled a group of five air officers including veteran RAF reconnaissance pilot Wing Commander D. W. Steventon. Upon their arrival in Los Angeles Roosevelt and his group were met by eight limousines arranged by John W. Meyer, a publicist and former nightclub owner who was employed by Hughes Aircraft. On his first day in town, Roosevelt was taken by Meyer to the Hollywood film studio of Warner Bros. and introduced to Faye Emerson, an actress with whom Roosevelt was soon linked romantically. Over the next three days, Roosevelt and his group were seen with Meyer in Hollywood nightclubs and at parties in luxurious mansions in the company of aspiring actresses paid $100–400 per night by Meyer, the higher figure equivalent to $5,400 in current value.
On August 11, Howard Hughes showed the group his Culver City aircraft factory, then personally flew them to see the private-venture Hughes D-2, an experimental twin-engine, wooden aircraft then being test-flown at a Hughes facility at Harper Dry Lake in the Mojave Desert. The aircraft had already been turned down ten months earlier by Chief of Army Air Forces Material Division, Oliver P. Echols, for being inadequate to military service; it was considered unlikely to become successful for numerous reasons, wooden construction and Hughes's limited facilities among them. Roosevelt and his committee, however, fervently recommended the D-2. When Roosevelt returned to the East Coast, Meyer hosted another round of parties and nightclub outings in Manhattan, and arranged for Faye Emerson to accompany Roosevelt. Among many favors, Meyer gave Emerson $132 worth of nylon stockings, a rare treat during wartime rationing.
On August 20, Roosevelt sent a report to General Arnold recommending immediate purchase of the D-2. On September 1, Arnold ordered Echols to contract with Hughes for an all-metal reconnaissance aircraft "against my better judgment and the advice of my staff." During these two weeks, Arnold, Elliott and FDR conferred frequently at the White House and it is documented that Elliott complained to his father about Arnold's reluctance to order the F-11.
Major General Charles E. Bradshaw wrote to Arnold to suggest that the Lockheed XP-58 Chain Lightning was much farther along in development and could outperform the D-2 in every important aspect, but was unsuccessful in halting the Hughes contract. Implicating Roosevelt and United States Secretary of Commerce Jesse H. Jones, Assistant Secretary of War Robert A. Lovett noted to Major General Bennett E. Meyers that "Hughes has got powerful friends here in Washington" and that, if the background of the contract were uncovered, "there's going to be an awful smell." Nonetheless, Hughes was given $43 million (worth $580 million today) to build 100 all-metal aircraft, to be designated the Hughes XF-11.
In 1947, Roosevelt telephoned Hughes to warn him that a Senate subcommittee (the "Brewster Committee," formerly the "Truman Committee") intended to call them both to account for financial irregularities regarding the XF-11 as well as for Hughes's H-4 Hercules, popularly known as the "Spruce Goose". As part of the ongoing "Investigation of the National Defense Program", on August 4, 1947 the subcommittee called Roosevelt and Meyer to testify about the Hollywood and Manhattan parties and women that Meyer had arranged and paid for. Meyer's extensive financial records during such parties showed him paying $200 for "presents for four girls" and $50 for "girls at hotel (late)." At one point, Roosevelt asked Meyer whether "any of those girls who were paid, were they procured for my entertainment?" Meyer responded "I don't like the word 'procured,' because a girl who attends a party and is given a present is not necessarily 'procured.' " The committee found that Meyer had spent at least $1,000 in picking up Roosevelt's hotel bills as well as his nightclub and party checks, and Faye Emerson's bets at Agua Caliente Racetrack, and that Meyer had arranged for weekends in Palm Springs and Washington, D.C. for Roosevelt and Emerson, who eventually married in December 1944 after Roosevelt divorced his second wife in March 1944. The wedding at the Grand Canyon was also paid for by Meyer.
All told, Meyer reported to the committee that he had spent $5,083.79 ($67,415 in today's dollars) on entertainment for Roosevelt. In his own defense, Roosevelt testified that he had never heard of the XF-11 until "Hap" Arnold let him know about it, and that several of the parties appeared to have taken place on days when he was out of the country on active duty. Roosevelt said "If it is true that for the price of entertainment I made recommendations which would have in any way endangered the lives of the men under me . . . that fact should be made known to the public."
After FDR's death in 1945, Roosevelt and his family moved to Top Cottage to be near his mother, who considered him her favorite child. She gave him financial assistance throughout her life. In 1947 she bought from the FDR estate Val-Kill farms, the home she lived in after FDR's death, and deeded the property to Roosevelt. After Elliott moved to Miami Beach and Habana with his fourth wife, in 1952, Roosevelt's brother John bought the Hyde Park tract. Later, the property became Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site.
Roosevelt pursued many different careers during his life, including owning a pre-war radio station network (Texas State Network) in Texas and living as a rancher. After brief ventures in Cuba and Colorado, he was involved (not criminally) with a bank embezzlement scandal in Sheldon, Iowa (1960). He again moved to Florida and was elected mayor of Miami Beach, Florida (1965), being unseated two stormy years later. After a business career marked by ties to organized crime, he was investigated by the Senate ("Jackson Committee") in 1973. He emigrated to Portugal in 1972, but left for England after the revolution in 1975. He moved back to the United States, living in Bellevue, Washington, Indian Wells, California, and finally Scottsdale, Arizona. As Roosevelt approached his eightieth year, his final ambition was to "outlive James." However, Roosevelt died at age 80 of congestive heart failure. His brother James Roosevelt survived Roosevelt by one year.
Author and biographer
Elliott authored numerous books, including a mystery series in which his mother, Eleanor Roosevelt, is the detective. However, these murder mysteries were researched and written by William Harrington. They continued until Harrington's death in 2000, ten years after Elliott's death.
Roosevelt described his experiences with his father during five important war conferences in his best-selling book As He Saw It. He also edited FDR: His Personal Letters, published after the war in four volumes.
With James Brough, Roosevelt wrote a highly personal book about his parents called The Roosevelts of Hyde Park: An Untold Story, in which he revealed details about the sexual lives of his parents, including his father's unique relationships with mistress Lucy Mercer and secretary Marguerite ("Missy") LeHand as well as graphic details surrounding the illness that crippled his father. Published in 1973, the biography also contains valuable insights into FDR's run for vice-president, his rise to the governorship of New York, and his capture of the presidency in 1932, particularly with the help of Louis Howe. A sequel to An Untold Story with James Brough, published in 1975 and titled A Rendezvous With Destiny, carried the Roosevelt saga to the end of World War II. Mother R.: Eleanor Roosevelt's Untold Story, also with Brough, was published in 1977; The Conservators, a political book, in 1982. Eleanor Roosevelt, with Love: A Centenary Remembrance, came out in 1984.
While all FDR’s sons attracted public controversy, James and Elliott were scandal-plagued throughout their lives. When (in 1946) Elliott Roosevelt published his defense of his father’s foreign policy, As He Saw It, he triggered a long-standing historiographical dispute over the truthfulness of his recollections of the wartime summits. Many historians were very dubious of the strident anti-British and pro-Soviet tone, and some (including the FBI) thought Elliott used a ghost writer, who “was a communist.” A young Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. opined that other memoirs would have to confirm Elliott’s accounts before they could be taken at face value. When Winston Churchill published his history of the war five years later, he pronounced Elliott’s stories “rubbish.” Still, the frequent absence of detailed minutes leads historians to rely considerably on As He Saw It, and even the official Foreign Relations of the United States (Foreign Relations Series) sometimes fills in the gaps with Elliott’s details.
The controversy was rekindled when Elliott’s trilogy about the FDR years came out in the 1970s, even though Elliott again used a professional writer and many of the anecdotes were clearly drawn from secondary references. The row was exacerbated by Elliott’s frank writings about his parents’ sex lives, although these accounts were also not news to historians.
Elliott Roosevelt’s wartime recollections became demonstrably more dramatic and heroic as the decades passed. Thus, shortly before his death he wrote in Remembering War (Keyssar, Posner, 1990) that he had been shot down three times, had been taken captive by the Germans and, after a week, escaped riding a burro; that a Russian pilot mistakenly shot him down, and that the Russian was promptly shot; and that he negotiated the shuttle-bombing project directly with Stalin in May 1944. None of this is supported by official records. However, some of these things did happen to pilots under his command.
Most famously, Elliott claimed that he nearly lost his life when flying through the fireball of the explosion that killed Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr. in August 1944. Air Force records show that a Mosquito photographic airplane did indeed suffer this dramatic fate, but its crew was a pilot and a photographer under Roosevelt’s command, and Elliott’s participation is unmentioned in official accounts.
Elliott’s New York Times obituary claimed that he had been twice wounded, and his widow had written (I Love a Roosevelt, 1965) that he had received four purple hearts (“for each of the four times he was wounded”). His discharge papers explicitly state that he was not wounded (although he had close calls in aircraft). Consequently, the Veterans Administration rejected his disability claims.
The question of Elliott’s veracity in his wartime conference memoirs belongs in context with the many other scandals and controversies he was involved in throughout his career. Congress investigated Elliott numerous times: for the attempted sale of bombers to the USSR (1934); for allegations of broadcast industry corruption (1937–45); for the Blaze affair (his dog’s travel on emergency war priority, 1945); for his promotion to general, demanded by his father (1945); for the Hartford loan scandal (1945); for his denunciation of U.S. foreign policy during a visit to the USSR (capped with a visit with Stalin) (1946); for the Hughes F-11 purchase (1947); and for involvement with organized crime and securities fraud in Miami and the Bahamas (1973). Of Elliott’s wide-ranging activities, many others attracted political or law enforcement interest, but charges were never referred to the Justice Department.
Marriages and children
Roosevelt was married five times:
- On January 16, 1932 he married Elizabeth Browning Donner, daughter of William Henry Donner. They had one son, William Donner Roosevelt (1932—2003). The marriage ended in divorce in 1933. She died in 1980.
- On July 22, 1933, in Burlington, Iowa, he married Ruth Josephine Googins (Ruth G. Eidson). They had three children: Ruth Chandler Roosevelt (b. 1934), Elliott "Tony" Roosevelt, Jr. (b. 1936), and David Boynton Roosevelt (b. 1942). Elliott and Ruth were divorced in March 1944. Ruth died in 1974.
- On December 3, 1944, at the Grand Canyon in Arizona, he married actress Faye Emerson. They were divorced on January 17, 1950. She died of stomach cancer in 1983 in Spain.
- On March 15, 1951, at Miami Beach, Florida, he married Minnewa Bell (Gray Burnside Ross). They were divorced in 1960. Minnewa died in 1983.
- On November 3, 1960, at Qualicum Beach, British Columbia, Canada, he married Patricia Peabody Whitehead. Her four children, James M. Whitehead, Ford Whitehead, Gretchen Whitehead, and David Macauley Whitehead, all adopted Roosevelt as their surname. The couple's only child together, Livingston Delano Roosevelt, died in 1962 as an infant.
Honors and Awards
- Legion of Merit
- Distinguished Flying Cross
- Air Medal with eleven oak leaf clusters
- American Defense Service Medal
- American Campaign Medal
- European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal
- World War II Victory Medal
- Commander of the Order of the British Empire (United Kingdom)
- Legion of Honor (France)
- Croix de Guerre (France)
- Staff. "ELLIOTT ROOSEVELT GETS AVIATION POST; President's Son is Elected Vice President of Aeronautical Chamber of Commerce. HE IS PRAISED AS A FLIER Head of Trade Body Says Youth Will Devote Full Time to Job -- Now on Visit to Texas.", The New York Times, June 15, 1934. Accessed March 6, 2011. "Mr. Roosevelt, who is 23 years old, has been an officer of advertising agencies, a rancher, vice president of an airline and aviation editor of the Hearst newspapers since his graduation from the Hun Preparatory School in Princeton, N.J., in 1930. "
- National Park Service. Elliott Roosevelt (1919–1990), archived URL. Retrieved on June 12, 2009.
- Hansen, pp 40-175
- Hansen, pp 4-17
- Montefiore, pp 469–70
- Maurer, 1983, p. 34
- Hansen, pp 235-285
- Maurer, 1983, p. 410
- Maurer, 1983, p. 426
- Hansen, pp 427-432
- The New York Times, obituary, October 28, 1990.
- Hansen, pp 433-5
- b-29s-over-korea.com, Wayland Mayo. The Secret Mission of Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr. Part 2: "The Actual Tragic Mission"
- Time, "Pay Dirt", August 11, 1947.
- Barlett, 2004, pp. 125–126.
- Porter, 2005, pp. 548–549.
- Barlett, 2004, pp. 88, 108–109.
- Barlett, 2004, p. 127.
- Ward, 1995, p. 239-240.
- Barlett, 2004, p. 129.
- Barlett, 2004, p. 149.
- Time, "Check, Please!", August 4, 1947.
- Higham, 2004, p. 114.
- Hansen, pp 604-607
- Hansen, passim
- Hansen, pp 665-672
- Hansen, quoting the FBI's FOIA file on E.R.
- Hansen, pp 666-667
- Hansen, pp 354-386
- Hansen, quoting Aphrodite folders at Air Force Historical Research Agency.
- Hansen, pp 433-435
- Barlett, Donald L.; Steele, James B. Howard Hughes: His Life and Madness. W.W. Norton, 2004. ISBN 0-393-32602-0
- Flynn, John T. The Roosevelt Myth, (New York: Devin-Adair, 1948)
- Hansen, Chris. Enfant Terrible: The Times and Schemes of General Elliott Roosevelt. Tucson: Able Baker Press, 2012. ISBN 978-0615-66892-5
- Higham, Charles. Howard Hughes: The Secret Life. Macmillan, 2004. ISBN 0-312-32997-0
- Maurer, Maurer. Air Force Combat Units Of World War II. Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama: Office of Air Force History, Diane Publishing, 1983. ISBN 0-912799-02-1.
- Porter, Darwin. Howard Hughes: Hell's Angel. Blood Moon Productions, 2005 ISBN 0-9748118-1-5
- Roosevelt, Elliot and Brough, James. The Roosevelts of Hyde Park: an Untold Story (New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1973)
- Roosevelt, Elliott. As He Saw It, Greenwood Press, 1946.
- Ward, Geoffrey C. Closest Companion, Simon & Schuster, 1995.
- Montefiore, Simon Sebag. The Court of the Red Tsar, Random House: 2003.
- National Park Service. The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers
- The New York Times, October 28, 1990. "Elliott Roosevelt, General and Author, Dies at 80".
- Time, August 4, 1947. Check, Please!.
- Time, August 11, 1947. Pay Dirt, page 2 of 3.