On October 14, 1890, Mrs. Ida Elizabeth Eisenhower gave birth to her third son, Dwight David. He was a younger brother to Arthur B. and Edgar A. Eisenhower. Dwight was born in Denison, Texas, where his family was living at the time.
After his father’s general store went out of business in Abilene, Kansas, they were forced to move to Texas, where Mr. David Eisenhower landed a forty-dollar a month job at a small railroad there. Back in Abilene, a new creamery plant was built and an old friend of Mr. Eisenhower asked him to move back and work for him. It did not pay much more than his job in Texas, but the chance of advancement was better. In the spring of 1891, the Eisenhower family boarded a train and left for Kansas.
They lived in a small house in Kansas on South East Second Street where Mrs. Eisenhower gave birth to three more sons. The first one born there was Roy J. who was strong and healthy like his older brothers. He was born on August 9, 1892. The next son, born on May 12, 1894, died after a few months. The last son was born on February 1, 1898 and was named Earl D. Needing a bigger house because of all the children, the Eisenhowers moved. Mr. Eisenhower’s brother, Abraham, sold them a house on 201 South East Fourth Street.
Growing up, Dwight’s older brothers gave him the nickname, Ike. Ike and his brothers did a lot of work around the house. They would alternate between waking up at four o’clock A.M. to shovel coal into the furnace, milking the cow, washing dishes, other housework, feeding the horse, tending the garden, and gathering eggs. They also had to cook meals. The only extra money the boys had was supplied by themselves. Their father gave them each a small portion of the garden to raise crops, and sell to the people of Abilene. Although it was not much money, the boys were happy with what they had.
Ike’s mother supplied the energy needed to run the house. While the children were at school and her husband at work, she managed the garden and livestock, thus feeding the family. She did most of the disciplining, except for the most severe misconduct, which was handled by her husband. Most importantly, she held the house together. She was a deeply religious woman. She believed firmly in her Christian beliefs and opposed all violence and war. Ike’s father was a quiet man who was well respected. He had a great reputation around town. Although he did not often show his love for his children, the boys knew how their father truly felt about them.
Ike was always full of courage. Most people believed that he got it from his mother. In eighth grade, Ike demonstrated this courage in a great way. On his way home from school, Ike fell and scratched his knee. It was a tiny cut and he thought nothing of it. However, over the next two days, blood poisoning set in and from the knee down swelled up, and turned black. The doctors then drew a black line right above his kneecap and insisted that they amputate, or Ike would die. Ike said that he would rather die than live as a cripple. His parents left the decision up to him. For the next two weeks, the swelling spread. When the pain became unbearable and Ike knew he was about to pass out, he called his brothers to his side and made them promise not to let the doctors amputate. Over the next few nights, Ike’s brothers stood guard at the door. As Ike’s leg grew blacker and swelled bigger, with a smelly pus oozing from the cut, doctors decided that it would be murder not to amputate, but Ike stood his ground. The next day, the swelling started to go down and the fever dropped, too. His recovery was slow, but complete.
As a boy, Ike had a horrible temper and was very stubborn. In high school, Ike acquired an outlet for his energies. He became one of the town’s top athletes, excelling as an outfielder in baseball and a tackle in football. He even organized and became president of the Abilene High School Athletic Association. The dues of the members of the club paid for the equipment.
As a student, Ike was a little above average. In his freshman year, he got a ninety-one in English, eighty-six in composition, eighty-six in geography, eighty-six in algebra, and eighty-nine in German. Although he was not the head of the class, he excelled in history – military history. In 1909, Ike graduated from high school. He wanted to go to college, as well as his brother Edgar, but the family did not have the money for either one of them to go. So Ike and Edgar worked out a plan. Edgar would go to the first year and Ike would get a job and send the money to Edgar, and they would alternate between college and work every year. Ike had many jobs, but ended up as a night foreman at the creamery, and managed to send Edgar more than two hundred dollars. Then one of Ike’s friends gave him a marvelous idea. He could call around and get Senators to put in a recommendation for him and he could go to West Point for free, and play football.
As soon as he could, Ike began to call around. Senators knew of his father and his reputation, thus they were happy to write a recommendation. After he had enough recommendations, he began to study vigorously to pass the entrance exam. In the spring of 1911, he went to St. Louis, took the exam, and passed. In early June of 1911, Ike was off to West Point.
Being a military school, West Point was really tough. The leading officers convinced the young cadets that they were nothing. They were made to sleep in tents during the summer, most of which were torn down in their sleep by their instructors. Most of West Point’s rules were to deflate egos and weed out the men who did not want to work. Ike’s pride and humor helped him to survive the hazing. While at West Point, Ike did just enough to get by without being kicked out, but not enough to keep him from being in trouble. After his four years at West Point, Ike stood one hundred twenty-fifth in discipline out of one hundred sixty-two.
Ike played football and baseball his freshman year. Although he was too small to play varsity football, he played with the scrubs. Over the summer, he worked hard and the next year started for the baseball and football teams. He was the starting halfback. Papers were even saying that he was a possible All-American. During a midseason game, Ike twisted his knee. However, he was guaranteed to play the following year. Then a few days later, doing drills on his horse, his knee buckled and tore the cartilage and tendons. His athletic career was over, and he was horribly depressed. The only thing that kept him at West Point was the free education. His spirits were lifted a little, however, when he was assigned to coach the scrubs. He was also a cheerleader at the Academy.
Ike did not excel in the classroom as he did in sports. In his senior year out of one hundred sixty-four men in his class, he finished fifty-ninth in civil and military engineering, eighty-second in ordnance and gunnery, forty-fifth in law, seventy-second in Spanish, and fifty-seventh in practical military engineering. Overall, he stool sixty-first in his class. Although Ike’s officers saw him as nothing outstanding, his classmates thought differently. He was popular and well liked by everyone. Everyone was his friend, and everyone respected him. As a result of his injured knee, Ike could not be accepted into the military, but he did not care. He got information on Argentina and decided to go down there, but that plan was stopped short, also. The Army doctor gave in and gave him a spot in the Army. In June 1915, he became Second Lieutenant Dwight David Eisenhower, United States Army Infantry.
When the United States entered World War I in 1917, Ike was promoted to captain and assigned to training duty. He applied for an overseas assignment, but instead was put in command of Camp Colt at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania where one of the army’s first tank corps was being formed. In October of 1918, he finally got orders to take the tanks to France, but the war ended before his outfit could sail.
In 1919, Ike continued to work with tanks, this time at Camp Meade, Maryland. While serving there, he met Colonel George S. Patton Jr., who became a lifelong friend. In 1922, by now a major, he went to the Panama Canal Zone, where he served under Brigadier General Fox Conner. Conner was an outstanding soldier and teacher who was an expert on military history. He taught a lot to Ike. Conner recognized Ike’s potential and arranged for him to attend the army’s Command and General Staff School at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. It was extremely competitive but Ike graduated in 1926 as the top student in a class of nearly three hundred.
Ike’s performance got him a job as an aide to General John J. Pershing, former chief of staff of the army and currently head of commission supervising United States war memorials in France. Ike interrupted that service to attend the Army War College, where he graduated in 1928 as first in his class. Then he went to France to write a guidebook of the European battlefields of World War I.
In 1932, the then chief of staff, General Douglas MacArthur, made Ike his aide. In 1935 MacArthur stepped down as chief of staff to go to the Philippines as chief military advisor to the nation’s government. He brought Major Eisenhower along with him. Ike stayed in that post until 1939, when he returned to the United States Army to take another position. He was forty-nine years old and a lieutenant colonel.
World War II began in Europe in 1939, and although the United States was not yet involved, there was concern that it soon would be. The congress of the United States ordered a military draft that began in 1940. Suddenly the army was expanding and Ike’s abilities were in demand. On December 7, 1941, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, Hawaii and the next day, the United States entered World War II against the Axis Powers.
A week later, the army’s new chief of staff, General George C. Marshall, called Ike to the nation’s capital and put him in charge of the War Plans Division. Options differed on how to fight the war. The United States had been attacked in the Pacific Ocean, but Germany also threatened it from the Atlantic side. As Chief American War Planner, Ike favored the strategy of “Europe First”, meaning that the United States would make its major effort against Germany. He felt that a major attack should not be launched in the Pacific until the Alliesconsisting of the United States, Canada, Great Britain, France, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republic (USSR), and their partners in wardefeated Germany. Marshall and President Franklin D. Roosevelt agreed.
Ike impressed Marshall so much that in 1942, he promoted him to major general and put him head of the Operations Division. In June, Marshall put him in command of the United States Army’s European Theater of Operations, with headquarters in London, promoting him to lieutenant general. He would be leading the United States forces in the offense against Germany. Ike wanted to start the invasion in the spring of 1943, but the British felt that was too soon because the United States Army was still being built and had no combat experience. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill argued successfully for an invasion of North Africa instead. Marshall reluctantly agreed, and Ike was put in charge of Allied Forces for the North African campaign, called Operation Torch.
In November of 1942, Ike launched his first invasion, landing British and United States troops in Algeria and Morocco. The assault was a success, but the drive toward the city of Tunis quickly slowed down in the rain and mud. Meanwhile, Ike spent most of his time negotiating with the puppet regime the Germans had set up in Algeria. The regime offered its help against Rommel if Ike would leave it in control of Algeria for the time being. Ike argued and was promoted to the rank of general.
In February of 1943, Rommel counterattacked at Kasserine Pass in Tunisia. This battle, which was the first real one in Ike’s career, was fought poorly by him. His troops were badly defeated in the first days of the fighting, but he recovered. He stopped Rommel, and began on the offense. By early May, the Allies under his command had cleaned the Germans out of North Africa.
In July 1943, Ike launched the invasion of the Italian island of Sicily. It took more than a month to liberate the island. In September, Ike commanded the invasion of the German-occupied Italian mainland. His troops got ashore but were then held up in their drive toward Rome by a skillful German defense. The Italian campaign was still progressing, when in December 1943, the combined chief of staff of the Allies selected Ike to head Operation Overlord. Then they planned the invasion. The invasion force that was to cross the English Channel, land in France, and push on into Germany.
The invasion was set for the spring of 1944. British and American troops, already gathering in England for the invasion, numbered more than one hundred fifty thousand troops, with thousands of bombers, fighter planes, and ships. Ike was named Supreme commander of the Allied Expeditionary Forces. Ike drove himself and his troops relentlessly. He worked twenty hours a day and his men trained with live ammunition. His biggest problem was that he only had enough landing coast to open the attack to bring in eight divisions, while Rommel had more than fifty divisions. The Allies needed to surprise the enemy to succeed. Ike decided to attack south into Normandy rather than East toward Lalais, where the German forts and troop concentrations were strongest. The only way they would succeed was if the Germans did not shift more troops to Normandy before the invasion. Ike also needed to isolate the battlefield so that the Germans could not use the French railway system to rush in reinforcements. He insisted on using the Allied bomber fleet to destroy the railways. Ike felt so strongly about his plan that he threatened to resign if his plan, called the Transportation Plan, was not adopted.
Throughout the months of April and May, Allied bombers attacked railroad targets. By June, northern France had been isolated. The invasion day, also known by the military as D-Day, was set for June 5. However, on June 4, a storm swept into the English Channel and the invasion had to be postponed. In the early morning hours of June 5, Ike met with his officers. Although heavy rain and wind was there at the time, the storm was supposed to end by the afternoon and the weather for June 6 would be good enough for an amphibious assault. More than one hundred fifty thousand soldiers were waiting for their orders. Either they would invade that night, or they would have to wait until June 19, when the tides would again be right for a safe landing. Ike asked his associates for their opinions. The army generals, British commander Sir Bernard L. Montgomery, and United States General Omar N. Bradley, wanted to go. The air force generals and navy admirals wanted to postpone. Only Ike could decide. After thinking it over, Ike decided to go. Beginning shortly after midnight, the airborne troops began dropping into Normandy, with the infantry troops coming in by landing craft at first light. By nightfall of June 6, the Allies had most of their troops on the Normandy coast. The greatest invasion in the history of war had worked.
In the seven weeks that followed, the Allies gradually expanded their beach hold, but did not break through German coastal defenses. The British held the left side of the Allied front, while the Americans held the right. Finally, at the end of July, Bradley’s first Army broke through at Saint-Lo, and the United States Third Army, commanded by George Patton, went into action. In late August, Paris was liberated, and by September, the Germans had been driving from France. On December 15, Ike was promoted to the United States Army’s highest rank, General of the Army. The next day, Germany began its last offensive in the Ardennes region of Belgium. The attack caught the Allies by surprise. Badly outnumbered, United States troops were forced to retreat. The Allied air force, which had won control of the skies, was grounded by bad weather and could not help. The Allies were close to panic. The deep German penetration created a bulge in the Allied lines, giving the battle the name, Battle of the Bulge. When Ike called a conference of his senior generals on December 19, they showed up discouraged. He said that the Germans had come out from behind their fortifications and exposed themselves; now was the time to start a counterattack and catch them in the open. He identified Bastogne, a crossroads in Ardennes, as the key point to hold and ordered the United States One Hundred First Airborne Division to the town. The Germans surrendered it on all sides with superior forces, but the Americans resisted stubbornly. When the Germans delivered an ultimatum to surrender, Brigadier General Anthony McAuliffe, in command of the town, sent back the famous one-word reply, “Nuts!” The One Hundred First Airborne held out until Patton’s Third Army fought through and relieved Bastogne on December 26. Ike wanted Montgomery to counterattack from the north, but again Montgomery was too cautious and failed to respond. As a result, the German offensive in the Bulge was stopped but most of the German forces escaped. By early March 1945, the Allies resumed their broad-front offense. The plan called for the British to cross the Rhine River into Germany in the north and Patton to cross in the south, but the Germans foiled the plan by blowing up the bridges across the Rhine as they retreated. However, on March 7, the United States First Army found one bridge still intact, at Remagen and expanded the bridgehead.
German resistance everywhere began to crack. Britain, the United States, France, and the Soviets had agreed to partition Germany into eastern and western sectors. The city of Berlin was to be partitioned the same way. The British wanted to reach Berlin ahead of the Soviets to ensure that the city would be within the western sector. Ike did not believe his forces could get there in time without overcoming force resistance and was not willing to risk American lives for a purely political objective. He let the Soviets take Berlin, which was an action that lost them at least one hundred thousand men.
On May 7, 1945, the Germans surrendered unconditionally to Ike at his headquarters in Reims, France. General Marshall sent him his praise. Ike stayed in Europe through 1945 as commander of the American occupation forces in western Germany. He encouraged democratic practices that were unheard of under the previous regime in Germany, such as inviting news reporters to criticize him and schoolteachers to teach differing points of view.
From 1945 to 1948 Ike served as chief of staff of the army. It was an unhappy time for him because he had to preside over demobilization, which shrank the army from more than eight million men and women to less than one million. After retirement as a five-star general in 1948 he wrote his memoirs, Crusade in Europe. In the United States, Ike was extremely popular. He was so appealing that both political parties wanted to nominate him for the presidency in 1948. He turned them down, saying that a lifetime soldier should not go into politics. Instead he became the president of Columbia University in New York City form 1948 to 1950.
After the war, the Soviets had occupied not only East Germany but also several other countries in Eastern Europe. They imposed Communist governments on these nations and appeared to be threatening Western Europe. As a response, the United States, Canada, and then European nations created the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) as a defense alliance.
In 1950, President Harry S. Truman named Ike to command the NATO forces. His task was to build a NATO army that could stop a Communist advance into Western Europe. He had limited success for two reasons. First, the Europeans were still recovering from the destruction of the war and were unable to raise new armies. Secondly, American troops were diverted to South Korea when Communist North Korea invaded it, starting the Korean War in June 1950.
As another presidential election approached, Republican Party leaders who supported NATO came to Ike to ask him to run. The party had lost five presidential elections in a row and was now dominated by conservative Senator Robert A. Taft of Ohio, who had voted against NATO. They feared that Taft would get the nomination, and lose the election to President Truman or if he won, take the United States out of NATO. Truman strongly supported NATO, but his domestic policies were much too liberal for Ike. He became convicted that he had a duty to serve.
In April 1952 Ike announced that he would run for the Republican nomination. Although Eisenhower easily won a majority in state primary elections, the party in most states still selected convention delegates in meetings called caucuses. Taft supporters controlled the Caucuses, thus it seemed he would get the majority of the delegates. At the convention in Chicago, it appeared that thirty-five of the California’s seventy delegates would go to Taft. However, Richard M. Nixon, that state’s Junior Senator, prevented that and thereby ensured Ike’s nomination. Nixon’s reward was a spot on the ticket as candidate for vice president.
When Ike became a candidate, President Truman decided not to run for a second term. The Democrats then nominated Governor Adlai E. Stevenson of Illinois. The issues did not get as much attention as the personalities. Ike’s slogan, “I like Ike”, as well as his generous personality and caring heart helped him to win. Ike received thirty-four million votes to Stevenson’s twenty-seven million and carried thirty-nine of the forty-eight states. The Republicans won both houses of Congress. It was a great victory for the Republican Party who had lost the last five elections.
After the inauguration, it soon became evident that Ike did not want to be on the offensive in the Korean War, but to end it. He warned the Communist Chinese that unless they signed an armistice, he would “not be constrained” in the weapons he would use, a reference to the possibility of nuclear weapons. In July 1953, the Chinese signed the armistice. South Korea was preserved, and the two Koreas went back to their previous boundaries.
The following year, Ike’s secretary of staff, John Foster Dulles, and Vice President Nixon urged him to intervene in Vietnam, but Ike refused. The Communist Vietminh Army trapped the French Colonial Forces in Vietnam at Dien Bien. The French surrendered at Dien Bien, and Vietnam was divided into two states: the Communist North and the anti-Communist South. In September 1954 he extended United States protection to South Vietnam under the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization and also provided economic aide. During the campaign, Ike had called for liberation of the Communist-dominated countries in Eastern Europe. However, once in office, Ike and Dulles accepted Truman’s containment policy. They made no offense against the Soviets, even in 1956 when Soviet leader Nikita Krushchev sent Soviet tanks into Hungary to stop an uprising. Ike’s refusal to intervene in Hungary was based on his own theorythat nuclear was unthinkable. He believed that Communism was a bad system that would eventually shut itself down.
Because Ike wanted peace, on several occasions he turned down recommendations by members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff that he launch a first-strike nuclear attack on the Soviets while the United States still had more atomic bombs. He called his defense policy the New Look. It relied on nuclear weapons to deter the Soviets, but he refused to spend even half as much on those weapons as politicians demanded, and he was very reluctant to spend money on rocket development. As a result, he was embarrassed in 1957 when the Soviets launched the first manmade satellite into space. Ike was a fiscal conservative who put balancing the federal budget first and refused to lower taxes until that was done. He managed to balance three of his eight budgets. Conservative Republicans wanted him to reverse Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal programs and return to a less active government. He disappointed them. He continued most of the New Deal programs, such as Social Security. In fact he greatly expanded Social Security in 1954 to include seven million self-employed farmers and added a provision for federal disability insurance. His public works programs were bigger than Roosevelt’s had been. They included the Saint Lawrence Seaway (1954) and the Interstate Highway System (1956), the largest construction project in history. He also encouraged the building of nuclear power plants and government-sponsored research into other peaceful uses for nuclear energy.
In 1955, Ike suffered a heart attack. He recovered fairly quickly, and although doctors assured him ten more years of living and that he would be physically able to serve another term, he wanted to retire. The Republicans, however, feeling that without him they would lose the 1956 election, again convinced him that he had a duty to serve. He was nominated without opposition. The Democrats again nominated Stevenson. Ike won by nine and a half million votes, nearly twice the margin of 1952.
Ike had severe problems in his second term. His chief of staff, Sherman Adams, was accused of corruption for accepting gifts from a businessman who had problems with the Internal Revenue Service, along with many other problems. Other problems Ike had during his second term included a civil rights crisis in 1957, problems with Fidel Castro, clashes with Communist China in 1955 and again in 1958, and with the Soviets over Berlin in 1959. Overall, as a political leader, Ike rejected extremes. He sought the middle ground on every political problem, and believed that the extremes to the right and to the left in any political dispute are always wrong. The Constitution prevented Ike from running again in 1960, thus he retired to a small farm he owned outside Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. There he raised cattle on his farm and spent the winter months in Palm Desert, California playing golf. Although he was retired, he still played a part in politics. In 1964, he endorsed Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater, who lost, and in 1968 supported his former Vice President, Richard Nixon, who won.
Soon after, Ike’s health began to fail. In 1965, he suffered three more heart attacks, and spent his last few months in Walter Reed Army Hospital. Ike died on March 28, 1961.