Soldier, Supreme allied Commander in WWII, President of the United Statesby Rit Nosotro First Published:: 2003
Dwight Eisenhower was a talented organizer and leader of men. He commanded the largest military endeavor in history, the invasion of Europe (D-Day), and later went on to be elected President of the United States. He served two terms.
Although Eisenhower would have a great career in the military and later in politics, his beginnings were humble. Descended from a line of German immigrants, he was born in Denison Texas, the third of seven sons, to David and Ida Stover Eisenhower. One year after his birth in 1890, the family moved to Abilene, Kansas, where Eisenhower’s father got a job as a mechanic at a creamery. This job, however, could barely provide enough money to support the Eisenhower family. Thus, Eisenhower and his brothers were constantly working; growing food, feeding chickens, chopping firewood, and when they were old enough, getting regular jobs like their father.
The Eisenhower family was also deeply religious. They attended church every Sunday, and read the bible and prayed every night. An example of how religion shaped his perspective was reiterated by Dwight Eisenhower latter in his life. Eisenhower related that he had a bad temper in his youth. He remembers when he was not allowed to go trick-or-treating with his brothers, and stood pounding on an apple tree until his fists began to bleed. His mother found him, bandaged his hands, and said to him “He that conquereth his own soul is greater than he who taketh a city.” This religious influence instilled important principles in Eisenhower, including a strong work ethic, responsibility, and honesty.
After graduating from high school, Eisenhower and his brother, Edgar, wanted to go to college. However, both could not afford to go. After considering, they decided to compromise. The first year, 1909, Edgar would go to school, while Dwight stayed home and earned the money for Edgar to attend college, and the next year, they would change places. Dwight stayed home, went to work with his father, and was able to send his brother over $200 dollars for his schooling. The next year, however, Dwight learned that if he was appointed to West Point Military Academy, he would get a free education. Though not particularly enthusiastic about joining the military, Eisenhower passed the entry exam and was appointed to West point in 1911. At West Point, Eisenhower was in sports, especially football, until a knee injury forced him to quite the team. Dwight Eisenhower was an attentive but average student, graduating in 1995, 61st out of a class of 164.
During his first assignment (at Fort Sam Huston, Texas), Eisenhower met
his future wife, Mamie Geneva Doud. The two were married on July 1st,
1916. A year later, in 1917, the United States entered into World War
I. Eisenhower hoped to obtain an assignment overseas, but his superiors,
placing a great value on his training and organizational skills, promoted
him to captain and assigned him to train one of the new tank corps. Eisenhower
never went into combat in WW I, and stayed with the tank corps. In 1922,
then-Major Eisenhower was assigned as executive officer to General Fox
Conner in the Panama Canal Zone.
Eisenhower was then recommended to the army’s Command and General Staff School at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas in 1924. After training there for two years, he graduated at the top of his class and was assigned as battalion commander at Fort Benning, Georgia. For several years after this he served as an executive officer to General George V. Moseley, until being assigned as chief military aide to General Douglas MacArthur. MacArthur was then assigned to the Philippines, and took Eisenhower with him as his chief of staff. Eisenhower served there until 1939, when WW II started in Europe. The United States feared it would soon be drawn into the conflict, and instituted a military draft in 1940. Whereas Eisenhower’s skills in training and organization had not been needed previously, they now became indispensable. Serving as a staff officer during maneuvers in Louisiana, Eisenhower proved incredibly valuable, and earned a promotion to Brigadier General.
After the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941, Eisenhower was assigned to the General Staff in Washington. From there, he slowly ascended until he was named Assistant Chief of Staff. Here, he served under General George C. Marshall until 1942. General Marshall recognized Eisenhower’s incredible military strengths, and it was his association with Marshall that helped Eisenhower obtained a command position. Eisenhower was soon promoted to major general and appointed Commanding General, European Theater, stationed in London. From 1942 till 1943, General Eisenhower planned and enacted several operations in North Africa. In December of 1943, however, he was appointed Supreme Commander, Allied Expeditionary Forces, and put in command of planning Operation Overlord; the invasion of Normandy.
This operation was possibly the largest military action ever attempted. The invasion force alone consisted of 50 divisions (150,000 troops), not counting all the personnel needed to maintain and operate the thousands of bombers, fighters, and ships needed to commence the operation. Given the situation, General Eisenhower was the best choice for command. His incredible ability to organize military operations and men, and a knack for leaderships and diplomacy, helped him not only plan the operation, but also get all of the elements of the allied forces to work together. This had originally been a problem, as the troops and commanders of the allied expeditionary forces came from different countries, and often disagreed. For this invasion to work, all the officers and men had to be united under one man, and that man was General Eisenhower. The invasion, two years in the planning, began on June 6, 1944: D-Day. Due to incredible secrecy, false information passed to the Germans, the dedication of the troops, and the leadership of Supreme Commander Eisenhower, the invasion was a resounding success.
Perhaps most remarkable, however, was General Eisenhower’s dedication
to God, even through all the rigors of war, and his belief that he was
truly doing God’s will in freeing Europe from the clutches of the
Third Reich. The following is part of a letter sent to all troops before
the commencement of D-Day:
“Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force! You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you. In company with our brave Allies and brothers-in-arms on other Fronts, you will bring about the destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Europe, and bring security to yourselves in a free world…. I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty and skill in battle. We will accept nothing less than full Victory! Good Luck! And let us all beseech the blessing of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking.”
After the unconditional German surrender on May 8, 1945, General Eisenhower served as commander of the Allied occupational forces. Soon after, he was appointed chief of staff of the US Army, and served until 1948, at which point he retired as a five star General. In 1950, President Harry S. Truman appointed Eisenhower to help create NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, which was an allied defense force. Eisenhower was then approached by the Republican Party to run for president. Running with Richard Nixon as his vice president, Eisenhower pledged “I shall go to Korea”, and favored liberating communist controlled areas in Eastern Europe. Eisenhower and Nixon were elected by 55% of the popular vote.
After his election, President Eisenhower threatened the Communist Chinese with the use of nuclear weapons, causing them to cease actions in Korea, returning the country to its prewar status. Also during his campaign Eisenhower refused to enter into combat in Vietnam, and did not take aggressive action against Communism in Eastern Europe, thinking it would eventually collapse on its own. President Eisenhower also passed a civil rights bill to guarantee blacks the right to vote in the south.
In 1955 Eisenhower suffered a small heart attack, but recovered soon after, and was told by doctors that he had at least 10 years to live. He ran for another term, and was elected again. During Eisenhower’s second term, Fidel Castro came to power in Cuba. Eisenhower did not believe Castro’s claims that he was not communist, and imposed a blockade on Cuba. He also had the CIA plan an invasion of Cuba, which President John Kennedy would later attempt unsuccessfully. Leaving office in 1961 after two successful terms as president, he retired to a farm in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. His health began to fail in 1965, and he suffered three more heart attacks. On his deathbed in 1969, he said: “I’ve always loved my wife. I’ve always loved my children. I’ve always loved my grandchildren. And I have always loved my country.” His last words echoed his belief in his religion, “I want to go. God take me.”
Encyclopedia entry on Dwight Eisenhower. MSN Encarta. 9/20/04
Encyclopedia entry on Dwight Eisenhower. Wikipedia. 9/20/04
Ambrose, Stephen. D-Day. Rockefeller Center: Simon & Schuster,1994.