Eisenhower, Dwight D.
Dwight David Eisenhower was born Oct. 14, 1890, in Denison, TX, the third of seven boys. He grew up on a farm in Abilene, KS, in a religious family who read the Bible at breakfast and dinner. “Ike” was a family nickname for all the boys – “Big Ike” and “Little Ike,” referring to their last name. By adulthood, Dwight was the only one still called Ike.
Eisenhower was raised with chores, and with strict discipline for misbehaving. He enjoyed hunting, fishing, and reading his mother’s history books. When Eisenhower was a high school freshman, he had a leg infection so serious the doctor wanted to amputate. Eisenhower refused, and his leg healed but he had to repeat his 9th grade year. When he graduated from Abilene High School in 1909, there was not money for he and his brother to go to college at the same time. They agreed to alternate years, but after the first year of school, his brother wanted to attend a second, so Eisenhower kept working. It was then that the heard about the military academies. He found out he was too old to apply to the Naval Academy but was accepted into the U.S. Military Academy.
He loved the traditions and sports at the Academy, and he earned his share of demerits. Eisenhower’s big disappointment was not making the baseball team. He graduated in the middle of the class of 1915, the class “the stars fell on,” as 49 of the class became generals.
In 1916, he married Mamie Doud while he was stationed in Texas. They had two sons; the oldest, Doud Dwight, died of scarlet fever when he was 3.
When the United States entered World War I, Eisenhower requested an overseas assignment but was sent to Fort Leavenworth, KS, instead. He was assigned to the tank corps, and had two chances to go overseas, the last one ended by the Armistice. In 1919, he was assigned to an Army convoy to drive across the country, demonstrating the need for better roads. He was assigned to Camp Meade, MD, commanding a battalion of tanks.
Eisenhower served for three years as Gen. Fox Conner’s executive officer in Panama, where Conner mentored him in military history and theory. Eisenhower said later in life that Conner was a tremendous influence on him.
Eisenhower went back to Fort Leavenworth to attend Command and General Staff College where he graduated first in her class, and from there, went to Fort Benning as a battalion commander. He was then assigned to the American Battle Monuments Commission, headed by Gen. Pershing. After more military schooling, Eisenhower served as chief military aide to Gen. Douglas MacArthur, then Chief of Staff of the Army. At MacArthur’s behest, Eisenhower helped clear the Bonus March encampment in Washington, D.C., although was personally against this move.
Eisenhower went with MacArthur to the Philippines in 1935, where he helped organize the Philippine army. After the Louisiana Maneuvers in 1941, Eisenhower was promoted to brigadier general and became chief of the Army War Plans Division, which became the Operations Division, in Washington, D.C.
The summer of 1942, Eisenhower was promoted to lieutenant general and became Commander-in-Chief, European Theater of Operations. He was also assigned Supreme Commander, Allied Force Headquarters of the North African Theater of Operations. In December 1943, Eisenhower became Supreme Allied Commander of the Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force, surprising many that Gen. Marshall was not chosen. Eisenhower, as head of the international force, led the planning and implementation of Operation Overlord, the invasion of Europe, which began on D-Day, June 6, 1944. He was mindful of the number of casualties during the invasion and visited every division that participated.
In 1944, Eisenhower was promoted to General of the Army, one of a few to hold the five-star rank. In November 1945, Eisenhower returned to Washington, D.C., to become Chief of Staff of the Army when Gen. Marshall left active duty. In 1948, Eisenhower became president of Columbia University, after which he was Supreme Commander at NATO for a short time.
Eisenhower ran as a Republican and was elected President of the United States in 1952 and served two terms. He was the last President to be born in the 19th century. During his terms, he developed the Interstate Highway System, having learned from his earlier transcontinental trip the importance of safe and timely transport. The large highways could be used to evacuate cities and move military forces during the Cold War.
The nuclear arms race increased with the construction of interballistic missiles, and in May 1960, a U-2 spy plane crashed in the Soviet Union. Parts of the plane were recovered intact and the pilot captured. This was embarrassing to the United States and caused the collapse of a summit to improve relations between the two countries.
Progress was made in rocketry development toward space travel as well, but not at the pace at which the Soviet Union was moving. Their first satellite, Sputnik, beat the first U.S. satellite, Explorer I, by four months. Sputnik flew for three months; Explorer I didn’t re-enter the atmosphere until 1970.
Two states were admitted during Eisenhower’s time in office. Alaska became a state Jan. 3, 1959, and Hawaii on Aug. 21 the same year.
Eisenhower was a chain smoker most of his adult life. He had a serious heart attack in 1955, and a small stroke in 1957. He had several more heart attacks after leaving office, a serious one in August 1965 that ended his public life. He died of congestive heart failure March 28, 1969. He is buried in Abilene at the Dwight David Eisenhower Presidential Library.
To find other items that the Marshall Foundation has on Dwight D. Eisenhower, search “Dwight D. Eisenhower” in the library catalog: https://www.marshallfoundation.org/library/results/
Digitized items in the George C. Marshall archives: