Theodore Roosevelt, Father of Great White Fleet, Remembered

Story Number: NNS081028-14Release Date: 10/28/2008 6:37:00 AM
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By Chief Mass Communication Specialist (SW/AW) Eric Durie, Navy Office of Information, East

OYSTER BAY, N.Y. (NNS) -- Residents of Oyster Bay, N.Y., and representatives of the U.S. Navy gathered in Youngs Memorial Cemetery Oct. 27 to celebrate what would have been President Theodore Roosevelt's 150th birthday.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Great White Fleet, an initiative credited to the late President. More than a century ago, Roosevelt sent 16 battleships with the hulls painted white to circumnavigate the globe on a goodwill mission and display of American naval power. The ships were later known as the Great White Fleet.

When a devastating earthquake followed by a tidal wave hit Sicily and Southern Italy in late 1908, leaving an estimated 200,000 dead, ships from the fleet rushed to provide essential humanitarian aid and services.

U.S. Navy ships are currently retracing the course of the original Great White Fleet.

On the former President's birthday celebrants gathered where both Roosevelt and his wife, Edith Kermit Carow Roosevelt, are buried. The cemetery is located less than two miles from the couple's Sagamore Hill home on the coast of Long Island.

For the past 90 years, Roosevelt's grave has been the site of a memorial service dedicated to remembering the life of the 26th President of the United States.

"This ceremony," said John E. Hammond, chairman of the Town of Oyster Bay Historical Commission, "was once attended by kings and queens and presidents."

Although President George Bush was not able to attend, his office did send a wreath which was presented by Cmdr. Greg Erickson, commanding officer, Navy Operational Support Center, Amityville, N.Y. and Cmdr. Greg Zacharski, executive officer, Navy Recruiting District New York.

"It is a great honor for the U.S. Navy to be here representing the President," said Erickson after laying the presidential wreath before Roosevelt's grave. "Theodore Roosevelt taught us that a strong Navy is not just a force for war but a force for peace, commerce and diplomacy."

Also in attendance at the wreath-laying were Roosevelt's great-grandson, Tweed Roosevelt, and the Honorable Angelo Delligatti, councilman of Oyster Bay.

Delligatti spoke of Roosevelt's impact on public servants of the future.

"Theodore Roosevelt is an inspiration to anyone who has ever served in public office, and I am honored to be here."

Following a series of short speeches honoring Roosevelt, students from Oyster Bay's Theodore Roosevelt Elementary School sang "America the Beautiful." Afterward, Navy Band Northeast played Taps.

The ceremony concluded as the 60 elementary school students in attendance each laid a rose at the foot of Roosevelt's grave.

The wreath-laying was followed by a birthday celebration at Roosevelt's Sagamore Hill home.

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