Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Strenuous Life

“I preach to you, then, my countrymen, that our country calls not for the life of ease but for the life of strenuous endeavor. The twentieth century looms before us big with the fate of many nations. If we stand idly by, if we seek merely swollen, slothful ease and ignoble peace, if we shrink from the hard contests where men must win at hazard of their lives and at the risk of all they hold dear, then the bolder and stronger peoples will pass us by, and will win for themselves the domination of the world. Let us therefore boldly face the life of strife, resolute to do our duty well and manfully; resolute to uphold righteousness by deed and by word; resolute to be both honest and brave, to serve high ideals, yet to use practical methods. Above all, let us shrink from no strife, moral or physical, within or without the nation, provided we are certain that the strife, through hard and dangerous endeavor, that we shall ultimately win the goal of true national greatness.”

Theodore Roosevelt – before the Hamilton Club of Chicago, April 10, 1899

This is one of several iterations of Theodore Roosevelt’s viewpoint on the Strenuous Life. Elsewhere, TR wrote that he embraced the Vigorous Life, suggested to him by a correspondent, as an improvement as a summary of the concept. Our trip around the country has been both Strenuous and Vigorous. Today, we begin month six and happily it’s a day that will find us home as a family for the first time since we left on February 16.

A highlight of our tour was this past weekend’s Strenuous Life Adventure hosted in Medora, North Dakota by the Theodore Roosevelt Association ( Known as the TRA, the association was founded in 1919 by family, friends and admirers of Theodore Roosevelt with the mission to preserve the memory and legacy of Theodore Roosevelt, to encourage an appreciation for the life, thoughts, words, principles and actions of this great American. I’m delighted to be a member of the TRA, and I strongly encourage anyone who might read these words to join. As I explain to audiences, there is much that TR said that bears repeating, much for which TR fought that deserves championing today.

A highlight of the TRA activities is the annual meeting, usually held on a weekend proximate to TR’s October 27 birthday. This year, the meeting will be held in Oyster Bay, Long Island, October 24-26, and I hope you’ll consider joining Jenny, Sam and me as we celebrate TR’s 150th birthday.

This past weekend, the TRA’s Strenuous Life Weekend in North Dakota featured horse riding, gun shooting, lasso practice, hiking and branding. The weekend and this spring’s TRA Seattle event celebrating the centennial of the Great White Fleet herald a rejuvenation of the national organization that is occurring under the presidency of former Smithsonian officer, Jim Bruns and the chairmanship of Barbara Berryman Brandt. Both of these TRA events were spearheaded by TRA member Michele Bryant, she the wife of Capt. David Bryant, U.S. Navy Retired, the former commanding officer of the U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt, the Navy’s “Big Stick” aircraft carrier. Lt. Rebecca Rickey, U.S. Navy Retired, co-chaired the fun in Medora.

TRA membership is growing, local chapters are being formed and good works are being undertaken in the spirit of TR. It’s a pleasure for me to work with TRA Trustee Jim Pehta to establish a Chicago Bull Moose Chapter of the TRA. Jim is helping to lead a national campaign where thousands of Teddy Bears are being donated by TRA to dozens of children’s hospitals around the country. Nationally and in its local chapters, the TRA sponsors police awards, acknowledging TR’s history as President of the New York City Board of Police Commissioners and especially honoring our men and women in blue who carry the front line in the battle for America. The wonderful police tradition in Chicago deserves an annual TR award, too.

Jenny, Sam and I had a fantastic time in Medora, entertaining a luncheon at the Rough Rider Motel and recreating the barroom fight with the Mingusville Bully in the Iron Horse Saloon. Great fun. We have spent much of the last five months racing about the country in a mad dash to capture all the TR sites we possibly can. With all three of us a bit under the weather, it was good to rest a day or two, to ride horses, shoot guns and enjoy the camaraderie of our TRA friends.

At Medora we met Mrs. Harold Schafer whose late husband is responsible for the vision of the Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation. Sheila Schafer and her staff were tremendously kind and gracious, sharing that Medora hospitality that has made the town a destination for families from throughout the world for decades.

As I write this, we are leaving Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where we just visited the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Milwaukee. The hotel is at the southwest corner of Kilbourne and 3rd Streets and it stands where the Hotel Gilpatrick stood in 1912. In the Hyatt’s lobby a plaque marks the spot where John Schrank shot TR in the chest with a .38 caliber pistol from close range on October 14, 1912. The plaque was sponsored by the Wisconsin Veterans of the Spanish War and is surrounded by photos and newspaper facsimilies recounting the dreadful event. TR famously refused medical attention and demanded to go to the nearby auditorium where some 2000 men and women were waiting to hear him speak.

“It takes more than that to kill a Bull Moose!” TR famously told the shocked audience. TR spoke for nearly eighty minutes. Later that night doctors x-rayed the president and decided to leave the bullet in his chest. The bullet had pierced his sixty page folded speech and his steel eye glass case.

“I don’t care a rap for being shot!” He told the crowd that the Progressive campaign was not about himself, but rather about the Progressive cause, especially the need to ease the burden of the working man and especially to ease the burden of women and children.

Can any of us imagine such a man today? I share with audiences that TR, being a hunter, spit into his hand, and seeing no blood in his spittle had concluded that his lung had not been punctured and that he had the duty, like the duty of an officer for his regiment, to see the thing through that night.

As we celebrate our homecoming, as we look back on our adventures of the first five months, and as we look forward to the adventures to come, I am doubly inspired by the man who preached and lived the Strenuous Life. He fought for righteousness with everything he had and more. He inspired a generation of Americans to act not only in their own self interest and in the interest of their families, but to care for their neighbor and for the welfare of those who bore the heavy burdens of a hard life.

As a week or more has passed since last I wrote, I want to pause and acknowledge the anniversaries of the deaths of two of TR’s four boys. On July 12, 1944, General Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. – “Ted” – died of a heart attack while serving in combat in France. On June 6, 1944, General Roosevelt, TR’s oldest boy, was the only general officer to go ashore on D-Day, leading his troops at Omaha Beach, returning to the beach to lead wave after wave of men to the front, directing men with his cane. Twenty-six years before, on July 14, 1918, Quentin Roosevelt, the youngest boy and an Army Aviator, was shot down and killed over the Marne in France. Today, the brothers lie side by side in the American cemetery in Normandy, a testimony to a nation and a family that believed in fighting and sacrificing for the sake of righteousness.

God bless and keep all the men and women who serve in the tradition of Theodore Roosevelt and his children. Our nation and the people of the world owe them a debt which we can only hope to repay in some small way by living a Strenuous Life, dedicated to carry on that fight.

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