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A Dog, the President’s Son, and a Grieving Sailor

A Dog, the President's Son, and a Grieving Sailor, an Incredible Story from World War IISometimes historical research is dry, but often it brings up fascinating stories. While reading excerpts from 1945 issues of Time Magazine, a story grabbed my attention. It involved Antioch, California—the small (at the time) town I used as the hometown for the heroes in my Wings of Glory series. A bit of time over microfiche copies of the Antioch Ledger pulled the details together.

Like many good stories, this involves an unlikely assortment of characters.

The President’s Son and a Hollywood Actress

Brig. Gen. Elliott Roosevelt, Commander, 325th Photographic Wing, 1945 (US government photo)

Brig. Gen. Elliott Roosevelt, Commander, 325th Photographic Wing, 1945 (US government photo)

Col. Elliott Roosevelt, second son of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, served in the US Eighth Air Force based in England as a pilot and a commander of a reconnaissance wing. On December 3, 1944, he married glamorous film star Faye Emerson at the Grand Canyon. This was his third marriage.

Publicity still of actress Faye Emerson, 1943 (public domain via Warner Bros. Studio)

Publicity still of actress Faye Emerson, 1943 (public domain via Warner Bros. Studio)

A Small-Town Police Chief

In an entirely different world, Al LeRoy served as police chief in Antioch, California, population 7250. With his wife—also named Faye—he raised two stepsons and his son, Leon. At seventeen, Leon joined the US Navy and was assigned as a gunner on a tanker. Chief Al LeRoy was an upstanding member of the community—a World War I veteran and a member of multiple civic organizations. On December 6, 1944 he died of a heart attack at age 44. At sea, his 18-year-old son Leon was unaware of his father’s death.

A Dog Named Blaze

Back in England, Colonel Roosevelt bought a 130-pound bull mastiff named Blaze for his bride, and he had it shipped to her Hollywood home.

A Grieving Sailor

US poster, WWII

US poster, WWII

On January 4, 1945, Seaman 1/C Leon LeRoy’s ship docked in New York City. There he received a pile of letters—and he finally learned of his father’s death. He received a furlough to go home and visit his mother.

During the war, the transportation system was strained by the competing needs of civilian and military transport. Military travel took priority, but even in the military, priorities were assigned. Seaman LeRoy had “C” priority.

Bumped by a Dog

Douglas C-47 Skytrain of US Air Transport Command, 1940s (US Air Force photo)

Douglas C-47 Skytrain of US Air Transport Command, 1940s (US Air Force photo)

On January 9, 1945, the C-47 transport plane carrying Seaman 1/C Leon LeRoy landed in Memphis, Tennessee. Cargo was loaded carrying an “A” priority label, meaning it was “required by an emergency so acute that precedence should be given over all other traffic.” This crucial cargo was a large crate carrying Blaze the bull mastiff. To make room, Seaman LeRoy was bumped from the flight, along with a Seabee and Army T/Sgt. Dave Aks, home for the first time in thirty-one months to visit his critically ill wife in Riverside, California. Hitchhiking part of the way to Antioch, LeRoy wouldn’t arrive until January 16, leaving him only three days to stay at home.

National Scandal

The Antioch Ledger published the story on January 16, 1945. It was picked up by the UP on January 17, and the story made the January 29 issue of Time Magazine. The public was incensed, and the US Senate formed a committee to investigate the matter. Colonel Roosevelt had been due to receive a promotion to brigadier general on January 17, but this was held up until January 22 during the investigation.

Colonel Roosevelt stated he had never requested top-priority transport for his dog, and his wife hadn’t even known the dog was coming. Fingers were pointed, even to the president’s daughter, Anna, for arranging the transport. In the end, it was most likely a low-level bureaucratic error.

Justice

Seaman LeRoy’s furlough was extended an additional five days to January 27. In a nice twist, Lt. Harriet Ainsworth, a WAVE serving with the Naval Air Transport Service, arranged a priority Navy Transport Command flight for his return to New York City on January 26.

After the war, LeRoy returned to Antioch, where he served as a police sergeant for many years. In 1970, he co-founded the REACH Program, a youth counseling program still active in Northern California.

3 Responses to “A Dog, the President’s Son, and a Grieving Sailor”

  1. Dianne Bumgarner

    This is great! I saw it on your blog and wondered if you would make the story into a book!

    • Sarah Sundin

      No, but I did mention the incident in my novel Blue Skies Tomorrow, which is set in Antioch, CA at this time.