Being dead is bully!
July 22nd, 1917
Letter from Major Horace S. Browntrout to Edith Roosevelt
Dear Mrs. Roosevelt,
Words cannot begin to convey the sense of tragedy and loss I feel at the death of your husband. He cast his resolute shadow over everything that moved—including the Saysquack, who was much bigger than he was. He was bull among cows; next to him our tallest mountain was but a heap of stones, our brightest light was the flicker of a match in the wind, the roar of lions more tame than the purr of a kitty cat.
I never dared imagine a world in which the Colonel’s blunderbuss lay silent, whilst my trumpet blared on. I always thought he was the Rock of Ages that would outlive all, but then he too, proved to be a mortal man. What now, I ask, shall become of the rest of us?
The Colonel taught me many things. He showed me that to truly live, one must grab the whirlwind by the tail, reel it in as though one were landing an enormous sea fish, gut it, bag it, and place it on one’s desk for use as a paperweight. He taught me that manliness can never be purchased in any department store, but must be obtained by bold deeds, done painfully, repeatedly, with wanton disregard for personal safety and with active hope for bodily annihilation.
Up until I received the sad news of his death, I had no idea that the Colonel was serving in any military, let alone in the armed forces of my countrymen. I take what comfort I can in knowing that he died after all, a brother in arms. Had he lived, this unicorn menace would not have had a chance, for the Colonel would have pulled out its horn and stabbed it in the heart until it offered no further resistance. That was the kind of man he was, a man in the arena.
I pray that whatever our past squabbles, bygones were bygones with him as they were with me. Know that the Browntrouts will always hold dear the Roosevelts, that you are ever in our thoughts and prayers, and if there is anything we can do to ease your suffering in this hour of darkness, my family is entirely at your disposal. Please accept these free tickets to our Frightening Forest of the Saysquack Education Show (which will promptly commence at the conclusion of the war assuming Stanley and I are yet alive) where the “man of action” and his deeds may yet live on. Know that you and your family are always welcome guests in all of our shows, whether they are sold out or not.
Horace S. Browntrout
July 23rd, 1917
Letter from Captain Rodney Forsythe to Edith Roosevelt
It’s me, Theodore! I had to let you know I’m not dead yet. Well, I am but I’m not. I’ve become someone else and let me tell you what great fun it is. I am having a bully time of it! You see, a shell hit so near the map room that the concussion blew out the walls and killed everyone inside. Everyone but me. I was bending over, tying my bootlace when it happened, and by sheer good luck the map table took the brunt of the force—and unfortunately so did everyone else in the room. I quickly saw that the entire command staff was dead.
There was no way to tell when the Germans might storm the trench. They could come any minute or not at all. They usually take officers alive. As an officer I have high value, but as Theodore Roosevelt, I would be a crown jewel. It quickly became obvious that I had to become someone else. I found poor Captain Forsythe slumped in the corner. As his girth approximates my own, and as he was not too badly mangled or bloody, I opted to switch places with him. That is, I took his tunic, rank insignia and papers and exchanged them for my own.
Then—and this was the most difficult thing I’ve ever done—I rummaged around until I found a shaving kit and then I defoliated my upper lip. My mustache was not finished with its service however, after removing it from my face, for to truly be “me,” I had to glue it upon poor, deceased Captain Forsythe’s face. Being that there was no glue, I was forced to use a mixture of rolled tobacco and chewing gum as the adhesive. I daresay if I need something to do after the war is over I could easily land a job in the theater, for I’ll be darned if I didn’t make a dead Theodore Roosevelt out of Captain Forsythe in under twenty minutes with nothing more than a pack of cigarettes and two sticks of gum! I was tempted to lollygag about, admiring my work, but I heard voices, so I grabbed Forsythe’s pistol and bolted from the ruined map room to meet my destiny.
Once at the top of the trench, all was chaos. The horses and men had all fled except for my favorite, the swayback Grainy, who stood there chewing his cud as shells exploded around him as though it were a day at the beach. Old Grainy wasn’t going anywhere! He would stand and fight! Well…he would stand anyway. Probably because he was trench sour, I couldn’t get him to move until I thumped his rump. Then he took off at a gallop, head long through the trench. We found the other Tommies, leapt up over them—or maybe they jumped out of the way—and then we happened across some Germans attempting to storm the trench. I shouted: Wo denkst du, gehst du hin, Jungs? [Where do you think you’re going, boys?] Surprised at this, one looked up. I aimed my pistol for his head, but the shot just broke off the point of his pickelhaube as though it was a target in a penny arcade.
The squad raised their Mausers at me, but a hail of bullets came from over the top of the trench. It took out every one of my attackers in an instant. Apparently, a Tommy Vickers crew had set up right over our heads on the other side of the trench and let fly. “Hold the line! Who is the officer in charge here, sir?” one yelled over the din. I looked up at him and grinned. “I am,” I said. With the aid of a winch, some ropes and pullies, we managed to get both myself and Grainy out of the trench without a scratch and back on to friendly ground. Sadly, the Allies lost ground that day and we were pushed back, but I got to become Captain Forsythe.
Of course, being commissioned a Lieutenant, it would be unethical for me to take advantage of any of the dead Captain’s rank, status or privileges, so I vowed I would not “do anything a lieutenant couldn’t do.” From the moment I took his identity, I swore I would do it honor. Similarly, I hoped that that the deceased Theodore Roosevelt had had a good life and would be accorded the honors due him. I believe he tried to be a good man. Part of me even hoped to attend his funeral…but then that would entail the possibility of being recognized.
At any rate, Edith I hope you understand that this gives me much greater opportunity to be of service than ever before. Please tell the children I am alive and well, albeit with another man’s name. Tell them their father loved them dearly and the new man that I am will love them like a father. No one can ever truly be Theodore Roosevelt, but if anyone can, I trust that Captain Rodney Forsythe’s corpse will do a dee-lightful job of representing me in my final repose.
I will continue to write you letters in Captain Forsythe’s name for now. After the war is ended, I will of course let the world in on the necessary subterfuge and set everything to rights once again. Be well. All my love to you and the children.