During the Second World War, he served as Supreme Commander of the Allied forces in Europe, with responsibility for planning and supervising the successful invasion of France and Germany in 1944-45. In 1951, he became the first supreme commander of NATO. As a Republican, he was elected the 34th U.S. President, serving for two terms. As President, he ended the Korean War, kept up the pressure on the Soviet Union during the Cold War, made nuclear weapons a higher defense priority, launched the Space Race, enlarged the Social Security program, and began the Interstate Highway System.
Early life and family
Eisenhower (originally "Eisenhauer") was born to a German American family in Denison, Texas, the third of seven sons born to David Jacob Eisenhower and Ida Elizabeth Stover, and their only child born in Texas. He was named David Dwight and was called Dwight. Later, the order of his given names was switched (according to the staff at the Eisenhower Library and Museum, the name switch occurred upon Eisenhower's matriculation at West Point). The Eisenhower family is of Pennsylvania Dutch descent.
His ancestors were Mennonites who fled from the Holy Roman Empire to Switzerland in the 17th century. Hans Nicol Eisenhauer and his family came to Lancaster, Pennsylvania in 1741. The family joined the River Brethren, and were pacifists during the nation's wars. They joined some 300 River Brethren in creating a colony in Kansas. After a brief sojourn in Texas, the family re-settled in Abilene, Kansas in 1892. Eisenhower's father was a college-educated engineer. Eisenhower graduated from Abilene High School in 1909.
Eisenhower married Mamie Geneva Doud (1896–1979) of Denver, Colorado on July 1, 1916. The couple had two children: Doud Dwight Eisenhower (1917–1921), whose tragic death in childhood from scarlet fever haunted them, and John Sheldon David Doud Eisenhower (born in 1922). John Eisenhower served in the United States Army, then became an author and served as U.S. Ambassador to Belgium. John's son, David Eisenhower, after whom Camp David is named, married Richard Nixon's daughter Julie in 1968.
Eisenhower's mother, Ida E. Eisenhower, previously a member of the River Brethren, joined the Watchtower Society (now more commonly known as Jehovah's Witnesses) in 1895, when Eisenhower was 4 or 5 years old. The Eisenhower home served as the local meeting hall from 1896 to 1915.
Witnesses are opposed to militarism and saluting the flag; Eisenhower's ties to the group were weakened when he joined the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York in 1911. By 1915, the home no longer served as the meeting hall. All the men in the household abandoned the Witnesses as adults, and some even hid their previous affiliation. However, on his death in 1942, Eisenhower's father was given his funeral rites as though he remained a Jehovah's Witness, and Eisenhower's mother continued as an active Jehovah's Witness until her death. Despite their differences in religious beliefs, Eisenhower enjoyed a close relationship with his mother throughout her lifetime.
Eisenhower was baptized, confirmed, and became a communicant in the Presbyterian church in a single ceremony on February 1, 1953, just 12 days after his first inauguration. He is the only president known to have pursued these rites while in office. Eisenhower was instrumental in the addition of the words "under God" to the Pledge of Allegiance in 1954, and the 1956 adoption of "In God We Trust" as the motto of the US, and its 1957 introduction on paper currency. In his retirement years, he was a member of the Gettysburg Presbyterian Church. The chapel at his presidential library is intentionally inter-denominational.
Dwight D. Eisenhower (and his six brothers) attended Abilene High School in Abilene, Kansas; Dwight graduated with the class of 1909. He then took a job as a night foreman at the Belle Springs Creamery.
After Dwight worked for two years to support his brother Edgar's college education, a friend urged him to apply to the Naval Academy. Though Eisenhower passed the entrance exam, he was beyond the age of eligibility for admission to the Naval Academy. Kansas Senator Joseph L. Bristow recommended Dwight for an appointment to the Military Academy in 1911, which he received. Eisenhower graduated in the upper half of the class of 1915.
Early military career
Eisenhower enrolled at the Military Academy in June 1911. His parents were against militarism, but did not object to his entering West Point as they were strong proponents of education. Eisenhower was a strong athlete. In 1912, a spectacular Eisenhower touchdown won praise from the sports reporter of the New York Herald, and he even managed, with the help of a linebacker partner, to tackle the legendary Jim Thorpe. In the very next week, however, his promising sports career came to a quick and painful end — he injured his knee quite severely when he was tackled around the ankles.
Eisenhower graduated in 1915. He served with the infantry until 1918 at various camps in Texas and Georgia. During World War I, Eisenhower became the #3 leader of the new tank corps and rose to brevet Lieutenant Colonel in the National Army. He spent the war training tank crews in Pennsylvania and never saw combat. After the war, Eisenhower reverted to his regular rank of captain (and was promoted to major a few days later) before assuming duties at Camp Meade, Maryland, where he remained until 1922. His interest in tank warfare was strengthened by many conversations with George S. Patton and other senior tank leaders; however their ideas on tank warfare were strongly discouraged by superiors.
Eisenhower became executive officer to General Fox Conner in the Panama Canal Zone, where he served until 1924. Under Conner's tutelage, he studied military history and theory (including Karl von Clausewitz's On War), and later cited Conner's enormous influence on his military thinking. In 1925-26, he attended the Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and then served as a battalion commander at Fort Benning, Georgia until 1927.
During the late 1920s and early 1930s Eisenhower's career in the peacetime Army stagnated; many of his friends resigned for high paying business jobs. He was assigned to the American Battle Monuments Commission, directed by General John J. Pershing, then to the Army War College, and then served as executive officer to General George V. Mosely, Assistant Secretary of War, from 1929 to 1933. He then served as chief military aide to General Douglas MacArthur, Army Chief of Staff, until 1935, when he accompanied MacArthur to the Philippines, where he served as assistant military adviser to the Philippine government. It is sometimes said that this assignment provided valuable preparation for handling the egos of Winston Churchill, George S. Patton and Bernard Law Montgomery during World War II. Eisenhower was promoted to lieutenant colonel in 1936 after sixteen years as a major. He also learned to fly, although he was never rated as a military pilot. He made a solo flight over the Philippines in 1937.
Eisenhower returned to the U.S. in 1939 and held a series of staff positions in Washington, D.C., California and Texas. In June 1941, he was appointed Chief of Staff to General Walter Krueger, Commander of the 3rd Army, at Fort Sam Houston, Texas. He was promoted to brigadier general in September 1941. Although his administrative abilities had been noticed, on the eve of the U.S. entry into World War II he had never held an active command and was far from being considered as a potential commander of major operations .
World War II
After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Eisenhower was assigned to the General Staff in Washington, where he served until June 1942 with responsibility for creating the major war plans to defeat Japan and Germany. He was appointed Deputy Chief in charge of Pacific Defenses under the Chief of War Plans Division, General Leonard T. Gerow, and then succeeded Gerow as Chief of the War Plans Division. Then he was appointed Assistant Chief of Staff in charge of Operations Division under Chief of Staff General George C. Marshall. It was his close association with Marshall which finally brought Eisenhower to senior command positions. Marshall recognized his great organizational and administrative abilities.
In 1942, Eisenhower was appointed Commanding General, European Theater of Operations (ETOUSA) and was based in London. In November, he was also appointed Supreme Commander Allied (Expeditionary) Force of the North African Theater of Operations (NATOUSA) through the new operational Headquarters A(E)FHQ. The word "expeditionary" was dropped soon after his appointment for security reasons. In February 1943, his authority was extended as commander of AFHQ across the Mediterranean basin to include the British 8th Army, commanded by General Bernard Law Montgomery.
The 8th Army had advanced across the Western Desert from the east and was ready for the start of the Tunisia Campaign. Eisenhower gained his fourth star and gave up command of ETOUSA to be commander of NATOUSA. After the capitulation of Axis forces in North Africa, Eisenhower remained in command of the renamed Mediterranean Theater of Operations (MTO), keeping the operational title and continued in command of NATOUSA redesignated MTOUSA. In this position he oversaw the invasion of Sicily and the invasion of the Italian mainland.
In December 1943, it was announced that Eisenhower would be Supreme Allied Commander in Europe. In January 1944, he resumed command of ETOUSA and the following month was officially designated as the Supreme Allied Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF), serving in a dual role until the end of hostilities in Europe in May 1945. In these positions he was charged with planning and carrying out the Allied assault on the coast of Normandy in June 1944 under the code name Operation Overlord, the liberation of western Europe and the invasion of Germany.
A month after the Normandy D-Day landings on June 6, 1944, the invasion of southern France took place, and control of the forces which took part in the southern invasion passed from the AFHQ to the SHAEF. From then until the end of the War in Europe on May 8, 1945, Eisenhower through SHAEF had supreme command of all operational Allied forces, and through his command of ETOUSA, administrative command of all U.S. forces, on the Western Front north of the Alps.
As recognition of his senior position in the Allied command, on December 20, 1944, he was promoted to General of the Army equivalent to the rank of Field Marshal in most European armies. In this and the previous high commands he held, Eisenhower showed his great talents for leadership and diplomacy. Although he had never seen action himself, he won the respect of front-line commanders. He dealt skillfully with difficult subordinates such as Omar Bradley and Patton, and allies such as Winston Churchill, Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery and General Charles de Gaulle.
He had fundamental disagreements with Churchill and Montgomery over questions of strategy, but these rarely upset his relationships with them. He negotiated with Soviet Marshal Zhukov, and such was the confidence that President Franklin D. Roosevelt had in him that he sometimes worked directly with Stalin. During negotiations with the Soviets, he agreed that the Allied forces would halt before they reached Berlin, allowing the Russians to capture the capital first. He thus averted an estimated 100,000 American casualties. After the war his decision was sometimes criticized on the assumption that the Americans could have unified Germany in 1945. The Russians suffered 360,000 casualties in the street-by-street battle for Berlin.
It was never a certainty that Overlord would succeed. The tenuousness surrounding the entire decision including the timing and the location of the Normandy invasion might be summarized by a short speech that Eisenhower wrote in advance, in case he might need it. In it, he took full responsibility for catastrophic failure, should that be the final result. Long after the successful landings on D-Day and the BBC broadcast of Eisenhower's brief speech concerning them, the never-used second speech was found in a shirt pocket by an aide. It read:
“ Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops. My decision to attack at this time and place was based on the best information available. The troops, the air and the Navy did all that bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt, it is mine alone. ”
Aftermath of World War II
Following the German unconditional surrender on May 8, 1945, Eisenhower was appointed Military Governor of the U.S. Occupation Zone, based in Frankfurt am Main. Germany was divided into four Occupation Zones, one each for the U.S., Britain, France, and the Soviet Union. Upon full discovery of the death camps that were part of the Final Solution (Holocaust), he ordered camera crews to comprehensively document evidence of the atrocity so as to prevent any doubt of its occurrence.
He made the decision to reclassify German prisoners of war (POWs) in U.S. custody as Disarmed Enemy Forces (DEFs). As DEFs, they could be compelled to serve as unfree labor (see Eisenhower and German POWs). Eisenhower was an early supporter of the Morgenthau Plan to permanently remove Germany's industrial capacity to wage future wars. In November 1945 he approved the distribution of 1000 free copies of Morgenthau's book Germany is Our Problem, which promoted and described the plan in detail, to American military officials in occupied Germany.
Historian Stephen Ambrose draws the conclusion that, despite Eisenhower's later claims that the act was not an endorsement of the Morgenthau plan, Eisenhower both approved of the plan and had previously given Morgenthau at least some of his ideas on how Germany should be treated. He also incorporated officials from Morgenthau's Treasury into the army of occupation. These were commonly called "Morgenthau boys" for their zeal in interpreting the occupation directive JCS 1067, which had been heavily influenced by Morgenthau and his plan, as strictly as possible.
Eisenhower served as Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army from 1945-48. In December 1950, he was named Supreme Commander of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and given operational command of NATO forces in Europe. Eisenhower retired from active service on May 31, 1952, upon entering politics. He wrote Crusade in Europe, widely regarded as one of the finest U.S. military memoirs. During this period Eisenhower served as President of Columbia University from 1948 until 1953, though he was on leave from the university while he served as NATO commander.
After his many wartime successes, General Eisenhower returned to the U.S. a great hero. He was unusual for a military hero in that he never saw the front line in his life. The nearest that he came to being under enemy fire was in 1944 when a German fighter strafed the ground while he was inspecting troops in Normandy. Eisenhower dived for cover like everyone else and after the plane flew off, a British brigadier helped him up and seemed very relieved that he was not hurt. When Eisenhower thanked him for his solicitude, the brigadier deflated him by explaining that "my concern was that you should not be injured in my sector". This incident formed part of Eisenhower's fund of funny stories that he would tell now and again.
Not long after his return, a "Draft Eisenhower" movement in the Republican party persuaded him to declare his candidacy in the 1952 presidential election to counter the candidacy of isolationist Senator Robert Taft. (Eisenhower had been courted by both parties in 1948 and had declined to run then.) Eisenhower defeated Taft for the nomination but came to an agreement that Taft would stay out of foreign affairs while Eisenhower followed a conservative domestic policy. Eisenhower's campaign was a crusade against the Truman administration's policies regarding "Korea, Communism and Corruption."
Eisenhower promised to go to Korea himself and end the war and maintain both a strong NATO abroad against Communism and a corruption-free frugal administration at home. He and his running mate Richard Nixon, whose daughter later married Eisenhower's grandson David, easily defeated Democrats Adlai Stevenson and John Sparkman in a landslide, marking the first Republican return to the White House in 20 years. Eisenhower was the only general to serve as President in the 20th century.
Interstate Highway System
One of Eisenhower's most enduring achievements as President was championing and signing the bill that authorized the Interstate Highway System in 1956. He justified the project through the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956 as essential to American security during the Cold War. It was believed that large cities would be targets in a possible future war, and the highways were designed to evacuate them and allow the military to move in.
Eisenhower's goal to create improved highways was influenced by his involvement in the U.S. Army's 1919 Transcontinental Motor Convoy. He was assigned as an observer for the mission, which involved sending a convoy of U.S. Army vehicles coast to coast. His subsequent experience with German autobahns during World War II convinced him of the benefits of an Interstate Highway System.]
Throughout his presidency, Eisenhower preached a doctrine of Dynamic Conservatism. Although he maintained a conservative economic policy, he continued all the major New Deal programs still in operation, especially Social Security. He expanded its programs and rolled them into a new cabinet level agency, the Department of Health, Education and Welfare, while extending benefits to an additional 10 million workers. His cabinet, consisting of several corporate executives and one labor leader, was dubbed by one journalist, "Eight millionaires and a plumber."
Eisenhower was extremely popular, winning his second term in 1956 with 457 of 531 votes in the Electoral College, and 57.6% of the popular vote.
After the Suez Crisis, the United States became the protector of most Western interests in the Middle East. As a result, Eisenhower proclaimed the "Eisenhower Doctrine" in January 1957. In relation to the Middle East, the U.S. would be "prepared to use armed force...[to counter] aggression from any country controlled by international communism." On July 15, 1958, he sent just under 15,000 soldiers to Lebanon (a combined force of Army and Marine Corps) as part of Operation Blue Bat, a non-combat peace keeping mission to stabilize the pro-Western government. They left in the following October.
In addition, Eisenhower explored the option of supporting the French colonial forces in Vietnam who were fighting an independence insurrection there. However, Chief of Staff Matthew Ridgway dissuaded the President from intervening by presenting a comprehensive estimate of the massive military deployment that would be necessary.
Eisenhower supported the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka U.S. Supreme Court decision, in which segregated ("separate but equal") schools were ruled to be unconstitutional. The very next day he told District of Columbia officials to make Washington a model for the rest of the country in integrating black and white public school children. Liberal critics complained Eisenhower was never enthusiastic about civil rights, but he did propose to Congress the Civil Rights Acts of 1957 and 1960 and signed those acts into law, although both Acts were very weak and added little to the total electorate. Nonetheless, they constituted the first significant civil rights Acts since the 1870s.
The "Little Rock Nine" incident of 1957 involved state refusal to honor a federal court order to integrate the schools. Eisenhower placed the Arkansas National Guard under federal control and sent Army troops to escort nine black students into an all-white public school; this integration did not occur without violence. Eisenhower and Arkansas governor Orval Faubus engaged in tense arguments during this tumultuous period in history.
People to People
Eisenhower founded People to People in 1956; it was and remains an ambassador program for gifted students in elementary, middle and high school.
Retirement and death
On January 17, 1961, Eisenhower gave his final televised speech from the Oval Office. In his farewell speech to the nation, Eisenhower raised the issue of the Cold War and role of the U.S. armed forces. He described the Cold War saying: "We face a hostile ideology global in scope, atheistic in character, ruthless in purpose and insidious in method..." and warned about what he saw as unjustified government spending proposals and continued with a warning that "we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex... Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together."
After Eisenhower left office, his reputation declined and he was seen as having been a "do-nothing" President. This was partly because of the contrast between Eisenhower and his young activist successor, John F. Kennedy, but also because of his reluctance not only to support the civil rights movement to the degree that more liberal individuals would have preferred, but also to stop McCarthyism, even though he opposed McCarthy's tactics and claims. Such omissions were held against him during the liberal climate of the 1960s and 1970s. Since that time, however, Eisenhower's reputation has risen because of his non-partisan nature, his wartime leadership, his action in Arkansas and an increasing appreciation of how difficult it is today to maintain a prolonged peace. In recent surveys of historians, Eisenhower often is ranked in the top 10 among all US Presidents.
Eisenhower retired to the place where he and Mamie had spent much of their post-war time, a working farm adjacent to the battlefield at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. The Gettysburg farm is a National Historic Site. In retirement, he did not completely retreat from political life; he spoke at the 1964 Republican National Convention and appeared with Barry Goldwater in a Republican campaign commercial from Gettysburg.
Because of legal issues related to holding a military rank while in a civilian office, Eisenhower resigned his permanent commission as General of the Army before entering the office of President of the United States. Upon completion of his Presidential term, his commission on the retired list was reactivated and Eisenhower again was commissioned a five-star general in the United States Army.
Eisenhower died at 12:25 p.m. on March 28, 1969, at Walter Reed Army Hospital in Washington D.C., of congestive heart failure at the age of 78. He lies alongside his wife and their first child, who died in childhood, in a small chapel called the Place of Meditation, at the Eisenhower Presidential Library, located in Abilene. His state funeral was unique because it was presided over by Richard Nixon, who was Vice President under Eisenhower and was serving as President of the United States.
Tributes and memorials
Eisenhower's picture was on the dollar coin from 1971 to 1978. Nearly 700 million of the copper-nickel clad coins were minted for general circulation, and far smaller numbers of uncirculated and proof issues (in both copper-nickel and 40% silver varieties) were produced for collectors. He reappeared on a commemorative silver dollar issued in 1990, celebrating the 100th anniversary of his birth, which with a double image of him showed his two roles, as both a soldier and a statesman.
One circumstance that helped our character development: we were needed. I often think today of what an impact could be made if children believed they were contributing to a family's essential survival and happiness. In the transformation from a rural to an urban society, children are—though they might not agree—robbed of the opportunity to do genuinely responsible work. —from his memoir, At Ease, Stories I tell to Friends (Doubleday, 1967)
Kinship among nations is not determined in such measurements as proximity of size and age. Rather we should turn to those inner things--call them what you will--I mean those intangibles that are the real treasures free men possess.
To preserve his freedom of worship, his equality before law, his liberty to speak and act as he sees fit, subject only to provisions that he trespass not upon similar rights of others--a Londoner will fight. So will a citizen of Abilene.
When we consider these things, then the valley of the Thames draws closer to the farms of Kansas and the plains of Texas. —London Guild Hall Address, June 12, 1945
When people speak to you about a preventive war, you tell them to go and fight it. After my experience, I have come to hate war. ... War settles nothing.
From this day forward, the millions of our school children will daily proclaim in every city, every village, and every rural schoolhouse, the dedication of our nation and our people to the Almighty.
—signing into law the phrase "One nation under God" into the Pledge of Allegiance.
Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. [...] This is not a way of life at all in any true sense. Under the clouds of war, it is humanity hanging on a cross of iron.
—April 16, 1953
I like to believe that people in the long run are going to do more to promote peace than our governments. Indeed, I think that people want peace so much that one of these days governments had better get out of the way and let them have it.
—TV Talk with Prime Minister Macmillan, August 31, 1959
In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.
—Farewell Address, January 17, 1961
Should any political party attempt to abolish social security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history. There is a tiny splinter group, of course, that believes you can do these things. Among them are H. L. Hunt (you possibly know his background), a few other Texas oil millionaires, and an occasional politician or business man from other areas. Their number is negligible and they are stupid.
—letter to his brother Edgar, November 8, 1954
I voiced to him (Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson) my grave misgivings, first on the basis of my belief that Japan was already defeated and that dropping the bomb was completely unnecessary, and secondly because I thought that our country should avoid shocking world opinion by the use of a weapon whose employment was, I thought, no longer mandatory as a measure to save American lives.
Peace and Justice are two sides of the same coin.
A people that values its privileges above its principles soon loses both.
—Inaugural Address, January 20, 1953
In preparing for battle, I have always found that plans are useless but planning is indispensable.
—as quoted by Richard Nixon in “Six Crises" (Doubleday, 1962)
The United States never lost a soldier or a foot of ground in my administration. We kept the peace. People asked how it happened — by God, it didn’t just happen, I’ll tell you that.
—summing up his eight years in office
Eisenhower was 5' 10" in height.
He suffered from Crohn's disease.
Eisenhower smoked four packs of Camel cigarettes every day.
The loblolly pine tree on the left side of the fairway at the 17th hole at Augusta National Golf Club is known as the Eisenhower Tree. He put his ball in the tree so many times he campaigned to have it removed. It stands to this day. The membership built a cabin for Eisenhower, one of 12 on the course. The cabin, built to Secret Service specifications, still stands on the course and is adorned with an eagle on the front porch.
Eisenhower has been portrayed by several actors, including Tom Selleck in the 2004 television program Ike: Countdown to D-Day which depicts the 90 days leading up to the D-Day Invasion. On June 6 of that year, Eisenhower's grandson, David, along with Roosevelt's grandson, David, and Arabella Churchill, granddaughter of British Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill, appeared on MSNBC during the network's coverage of the 60th anniversary of D-Day and talked about the roles their grandfathers played during the allied invasion.
Eisenhower enjoyed cooking as a hobby throughout his life, with particular emphasis on outdoor cooking. During his time as President, he even cooked food on the White House roof, a photo of which exists in the National Archives. Notwithstanding her husband's cooking, Mamie once famously said, "Ike runs the country; I turn the pork chops."