Blaze Hero, or simply Blaze, was a 135-pound, floppy-eared English bullmastiff who belonged to President Franklin Roosevelt’s son, Elliott Roosevelt.
In November 1944, Elliott, then 34, was a colonel in the U.S. military and was fighting overseas in Europe when he acquired Blaze. Because the war was no place for a dog, Blaze needed to be sent back to the United States. Elliott Roosevelt flew with Blaze back to Presque Isle, Maine, where he and the dog disembarked.
A few days later, Blaze was flown to New York, and from there a Marine Corps pilot flew Blaze to Washington, D.C., where White House staff picked him up. From here, Blaze needed to travel to California, to Elliott’s wife, Faye. However, this leg of the journey caused some controversy.
At the White House for Just a Short Time
Anna Boettiger, Elliott’s sister, was in the White House at the time and took charge of getting Blaze to Hollywood, where Faye lived. Boettiger called Col. Ray Ireland of Air Transport Control. For some reason, Col. Ireland assigned Blaze an “A” rating, which essentially means he got top priority — even over other soldiers.
At a stop in Memphis, Tennessee, cargo that had a “B” rating had to be added to the flight, which bumped three servicemen who had come home on emergency leave to see their families.
The incident was chronicled by Time magazine:
Seaman First Class Leon LeRoy, 18, had an emergency leave and a No. 3 priority. He was on his way to Antioch, Calif., to comfort his recently widowed mother. At Memphis, Bluejacket LeRoy was told to get his gear off the plane: His No. 3 priority had been trumped by a No. 1; 300 pounds of critical material was coming aboard. A Seabee and an Army technical sergeant, both on their way to ailing wives, had to get off too.
“LeRoy’s eyes popped and his temperature rose when he saw what was remaining aboard the plane. It was a huge crate occupying three seats’ worth of space in the transport. In it was a big, tawny dog. On the crate, sure enough, was a No. 1 priority sticker. The crate also bore a label signifying that the beast within was the property of Colonel Elliott Roosevelt, the son of the President of the U.S.”
Maj. Gen. H.R. George conceded a mistake had been made in classifying Blaze as “A” cargo:
The fundamental basis for the establishment of any priority, whether for passengers or cargo, is that the mission of the passenger or the need for the cargo is of such urgency that transportation by air is necessary and also necessary to the prosecution of the war. Therefore, establishing an A priority for the dog was unauthorized under regulations relating to air priorities. A serious mistake was made and it cannot be justified.”
When Elliott Roosevelt was asked why his dog had received such priority, he seemed bewildered, stating that he had simply asked for the dog to be transported whenever there was a flight that had space available.
One thing was for sure: America was heated about it. Angry calls and letters to newspapers and the White House abounded, and the “Bonehead Club” of Dallas even tried to airmail a St. Bernard to the White House.
A Vicious Attack
In fall 1945, after his father’s death, Elliott Roosevelt and his wife (and Blaze) moved to Hyde Park, New York, to be near his mother, Eleanor. Unfortunately, during a Thanksgiving weekend visit with Eleanor, Blaze attacked Fala, the Roosevelts’ famous Scottish terrier. Fala, being much smaller than Blaze, suffered serious wounds to his right eye and his back.
Because Blaze had attacked Fala so suddenly and viciously, Elliott Roosevelt decided to euthanize him the next day, to prevent further attacks and out of fear that Blaze may have had rabies. The same doctor who treated Fala, Dr. Thomas Sheldon, euthanized Blaze on Sunday, Nov. 25, 1945. Tests for rabies came back negative.