Dwight David Eisenhower (1890-1969) was the leader of the victorious Allied military forces in Europe in World War II. His military career covered more than 30 years before he was elected Commander-in-Chief in 1952. The tall, bald-headed man known as Ike was loved throughout the world. He had a broad grin and a friendly personality that could make almost everyone feel comfortable around him. Ike was organized, thoughtful, and patient, and he thought that good leaders led best by inspiring others to cooperate and to rise to their full potential.
Ike faced many difficult decisions as President. There were widespread investigations because of fear of Communist influence in government. There were bitter disputes caused by new civil rights issues. There were crises in foreign affairs caused by Communist threats in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. The war-time hero who became Commander-in-Chief helped keep peace in the world.
Eisenhower was born October 14, 1890, in Denison, Texas. He was the third of seven sons born to his deeply religious parents. He was named David Dwight Eisenhower but was always called Dwight David Eisenhower. His parents were descendants of German and Swiss immigrants who settled in Pennsylvania in the 1700's. I wonder if his ancestors came to America because of the kindness shown by General George Washington to the captured German Hessian soldiers.
Ike was popular in high school but didn't know what to do after graduation. A friend suggested that he apply to the national military academies where the tuition was free. He received an appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York. He was respectful of his parent's opposition to war even though he chose a military career.. He played football at West Point but quit the team after injuring his knee In 1915 he graduated 61st in a class of 164 and was commissioned a second lieutenant. He was assigned to Fort Sam Houston near San Antonio, Texas.
While there he met Mamie Geneva Doud (1896-1979) who was visiting from Denver. They started dating and were married on July 1, 1916 - the same day Ike was promoted to first lieutenant. Ike and Mamie had two sons. The oldest, Doud Dwight Eisenhower, died at age 3 of scarlet fever. John Sheldon Doud Eisenhower became an Army officer and diplomat. John's son, David, married Julie Nixon, the youngest daughter of Richard M. Nixon.
During World War I (1914-1918) Ike directed tank training programs at Camp Colt in Gettysburg. Pennsylvania. After the war he served in the Panama Canal Zone on the staff of Brigadier General Fox Conner. With Conner's support, he was selected to attend the Command and General Staff School at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. In 1926 he graduated first in his class of 275 top Army officers to survive the demanding training. He held various positions before becoming an aide in 1933 to General Douglas MacArthur, the Army Chief of Staff, in Washington, D.C. When MacArthur was stationed in the Philipines in 1935, he took Ike with him. While in the Philipines, Ike took flying lessons and made his first solo flight in 1937 at age 47.
World War II began in 1939, and in 1940 the United States began building up its military in case it was drawn into the war. In 1941 Ike was appointed by the Army to plan the strategy for the Third Army in war games in Louisiana. The "enemy" force included a tank division commanded by Ike's friend George S. Patton, Jr., who also became a World War II hero.
Ike's performance in the brilliant win earned him a promotion to Brigadier General in September 1941. He also caught the attention of the new Army Chief of Staff, General George C. Marshall. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor forced the United States to enter World War II, Marshall assigned Ike to Washington, D.C. to serve in the Army's war plans division.
Ike was promoted to Major General in March 1942. In June 1942 he was named commanding general of United States forces in the European Theater of Operations, advancing over numerous senior officers. He became a Lieutenant General in July 1942 and named commander of Allied forces organized to invade North Africa. The invasion began in November 1942 and ended with the retaking of the region from German and Italian forces.
In February 1943 Ike was promoted to the rank of four-star general, then the highest rank in the Army. He organized the Allied invasions of Sicily in July 1943 and of Italy in September 1943. In December 1943 Ike was named supreme commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force in Europe.
The Allies planned to invade Normandy in northern France in early June 1944 by crossing the English Channel. This plan was history's largest seaborne invasion ever. "The success of Operation Overlord depended on low tides and calm seas for the landing boats, and clear skies fore the bombers protecting them. But on June 3, the weather turned bad, with rough seas and heavy clouds. Weather experts told Eisenhower there was a slim chance that the weather would clear up on June 6. If the invasion did not begin that day, it would have to wait two weeks until the next low tide.
"Eisenhower faced the anguish of decision. He could risk millions of lives on the small chance of good weather, or he could delay the landing and probably lose the vital military element of surprise. On June 5, Eisenhower made his final decision. `OK, let's go!' he ordered. The invasion began early in the morning of June 6, 1944, a day that became known as D.-Day. By nightfall, the Allies had a firm hold on the beaches of Normandy. After 11 more months of bloody fighting, Germany surrendered on May 7, 1945" (Elmo Richardson, World Book Encyclopedia, Vol. 6 , p 150).
Eisenhower received the newly created rank of five-star general in December 1944 and returned to the United States to a hero's welcome in June 1945. He wanted to retire from the military but accepted the position as Army Chief of Staff in November 1945. Ike retired from active military service in 1948, became president of Columbia University in New York City, and wrote a best-selling book about his wartime experiences. He was called back into the military when he became the supreme commander of the newly formed North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) forces in Europe. He was eager for the opportunity to work with the unique international army.
Ike became active in politics as a result of divisions in the country over the Korean War , which started in June 1950. Many Republicans thought the United States should withdraw from the bloody conflict. Ike thought the United States needed to be involved in problems facing the rest of the world in order to live in peace and freedom.
Many Republicans urged Ike to run for President arguing that only he could unite the party's conservative and liberal wings. He was concerned that there had been no Republican presidents for twenty years but would not run against Harry S. Truman. When Truman chose not to run for re-election, Ike retired from the Army - again - without pay or military benefits and became a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination. He was not the leading candidate, but he won the nomination on the first ballot and chose Richard M. Nixon to be the vice presidential candidate. Republicans won the election with 55% of the ballots cast and gained control of both houses of Congress.
Many people admired Ike's experience and integrity and believed he would restore government to its proper role as well as protect against Communism. As President, Ike delegated wide powers to aides. He made each Cabinet officer and White House assistant responsible for an area of government affairs. He chose officials for their strong convictions and managerial abilities. Soon after he became President, the Department of Health, Education and Welfare (now the Department of Health and Human Services) was created, making ten Cabinet positions. Eisenhower and Nixon were elected for a second term in 1956 - by an even greater victory than in 1932.
Ike was the first President prohibited from running for a third term by the 22nd Amendment to the Constitution, which became law in 1951. He left office in January 1961 and retired to his farm in Gettysburg. There he raised cattle and wrote three books of memoirs. He died of heart failure on March 28, 1969, after a series of heart attacks. He was buried in Abilene, where a library with his papers opened for researchers.
Some highlights from the world of President Eisenhower are: 1) "The Korean War ended, after three years of fighting, with the signing of a truce agreement on July 27, 1953; 2) Controlled nuclear energy came into use. The U.S. Navy launched the first nuclear-powered vessel, the submarine Nautilus, in 1954. The first large-scale nuclear power plant began operations in 1956 at Calder Hill in England; 3) Segregated public schools were outlawed by the Supreme Court of the United States in 1954. In a landmark case, Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, the court ruled that racially segregated schools were unconstitutional; 4) Rock 'n' roll became the leading form of popular music. A band called Bill Haley and His Comets recorded one of the first rock hits, "Rock Around the Clock," in 1955; 5) The merger of the American Federation of Labor (AFL) and the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) in 1955 united the two leading U.S. labor federations; 6) The first polio vaccine, developed by the American medical researcher Jonas E. Salk, was declared safe in 1955; 7) The Vietnam War began in 1957, when Viet Cong guerrillas started to attack the South Vietnamese government; 8) The St. Lawrence Seaway, linking the Atlantic Ocean and Great Lakes, was completed by the United States and Canada in 1959; 9) Fidel Castro took over the government of Cuba in 1959 and soon turned the country into a Communist state; 10) New inventions included the laser, a device that produces a narrow beam of intense light, and xerography, an ink-less copying process perfected by the Xerox Corporation" (Elmo Richardson).
I was not aware of most of these highlights while they were happening. I knew about the labor union merger because my U.S. History teacher hammered into his students the wrongness of this merger. I remember receiving polio vaccine and the fear associated with the disease. I had a good friend who wore a full-length brace on one of his legs from elementary school through high school. I remember seeing him running across the school yard.
The Vietnam War was on the news a lot in my older teens and young married life. I knew several young men who served in Vietnam. I grew to adulthood believing that Eisenhower was a really good President. I remember when he left office and also when he died. He was well-loved and respected by American citizens. My brother-in-law served in the U.S. Navy during the Korean War. He liked Eisenhower so much that he called his beloved little dog Ike.
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