When God made Theodore Roosevelt Jr., he threw away the mold. There will never be another man like him! The ever popular “Teddy Bear” was named after him. But he was anything but a soft, cuddly, comfort giver. The fact is, he was a political revivalist, a justice warrior, and a patriot par excellence who jumped at the chance to tackle any challenge. Many considered him too loud for comfort. He spoke out against the “political correctness” of his day.
Few people in American history exemplified indomitable courage like the one and only Teddy Roosevelt.
“TR” served as our 26th president from 1901-1909, launching America into the 20th century with a bang. He was a statesman, politician, conservationist, naturalist, writer, and so much more. His face is carved on Mt. Rushmore–alongside Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln–a well-deserved honor. He lived an intrepid life. This man is a national treasure!
Though many examples of indomitable courage emerge throughout his life, I will showcase just one, an incident that happened toward the end of his career.
TR had already served two terms as president and was running yet again as a third party candidate when on October 14, 1912, in the midst of the campaign, an assassination attempt was made on his life. A saloonkeeper named John Flammang Schrank unloaded a .38 caliber bullet from his colt revolver pistol at close range, striking him in the abdomen.
Amazingly, the bullet passed through Roosevelt’s 50 page speech (which was folded in half in his pocket) and a steel lens case, slowing down considerably before it lodged in his chest cavity.
This 54 year old American warrior, who had battled men and beast fearlessly throughout the course of his life, had a stroke of good luck when it really counted.
It was the Roman Stoic philosopher Seneca who said “Luck lies at the intersection of preparation and opportunity.” TR was anything but a Stoic, be he was prepared for any adventurous opportunity that came across his path, invited or uninvited.
When the bullet pierced his chest, Roosevelt shrugged it off, refused to go the hospital and insisted on delivering his scheduled speech. But before he took the stage, he asked for the would-be assassin to be brought to him. Schrank had been wrestled to the ground and would have been lynched on the spot had TR not insisted that the bodyguards stand down.
The Wikipedia description is golden:
“As onlookers gasped and screamed, Elbert Martin, one of Roosevelt’s secretaries, and an ex-football player, was the first to react, leaping at Schrank, wrestling him to the ground and seizing his gun. A. O. Girard, a former Rough Rider and bodyguard of the ex-president, and several policemen were upon Schrank at the same moment. Roosevelt stumbled, but straightened himself, and again raised his hat, with a reassuring smile upon his face. His aide, Harry Cochems, asked Roosevelt if he was hit, and Roosevelt simply said assuredly, “He pinked me, Harry.” As Schrank was subdued and held up on his feet, the crowd went into a frenzy. Several of the closest men around Schrank began pummeling him, and others screamed “kill him!”, and “hang him!”. Roosevelt, seeing what was happening, shouted to the crowd, “Don’t hurt him. Bring him here. I want to see him.”
The feisty ex-President put his hands on Schrank’s head, stared into in the eyes, and said “What did you do it for?”
Schrank just stared at him in stone cold silence as the police stood by.
“You poor creature.” Roosevelt said, then turning to the police, ordered, “Officers, take charge of him, and see that there is no violence done to him.”
Never one to pass up the opportunity to give a good speech, TR spoke for 90 minutes before getting medical attention. With blood seeping into his shirt, he took the platform, pulled out the 50 page type-written speech that had saved his life, and bellowed to the crowd:
“Ladies and gentlemen, I don’t know whether you fully understand that I have just been shot, but it takes more than that to kill a Bull Moose. But fortunately I had my manuscript, so you see I was going to make a long speech, and there is a bullet – there is where the bullet went through – and it probably saved me from it going into my heart. The bullet is in me now, so I can not make a very long speech, but I will try my best.”
He went on to say:
“I am telling you the literal truth when I say that my concern is for many other things. It is not in the least for my own life. I want you to understand that I am ahead of the game, anyway. No man has had a happier life than I have led; a happier life in every way. I have been able to do certain things that I greatly wished to do, and I am interested in doing other things. I can tell you with absolute truthfulness that I am very much uninterested in whether I am shot or not…I am in this cause with my whole heart and soul.”
An x-ray later showed that the bullet had lodged in his chest muscle, but did not penetrate the pleura. Doctors decided it was better to leave it than remove it, and Roosevelt carried the bullet with him for the rest of his life.
No doubt he bore it close to his heart as one more badge of honor for a life well lived.