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SEPTEMBER 24, AN ANNIVERSARY OF FAMILY TRAGEDY
Originally Posted: September 26, 2011

There is one date the Eisenhowers would come to associate with family tragedy.All of us likely have such a date that stands out in our family histories –the one that marks the anniversary of some afflictive, anxiety-laden event.The Eisenhowers' was September 24.

On September 24, 1955, President Eisenhower suffered his first heart attack.It came about during a visit to the In-laws.

The President and First Lady were paying a visit to Mamie's parents in Denver, CO.The day before, Ike had played a round of golf.At 1:30 am on the 24th, he awoke with chest pains. It wasn't until he reawakened at noon, that the pains were diagnosed as a heart attack.The President was rushed to Fitzsimons Army Hospital where he would remain for the next seven weeks.

The President was initially put in an oxygen tent.He was in pain, but conscious and cogent.Still, he was surrounded by panic and turmoil and in the midst of it felt he must come to a decision. How much in the way of details about his heart attack should be revealed to the public?Ike vied for full disclosure.That day and on a regular basis thereafter press conferences were conducted to keep the media abreast of Ike's condition and progress.

A fascinating documentation of Ike's heart attack and long recovery is provided by the medical diary of the President's doctor, Howard Snyder.It details Eisenhower's daily activities from heart attack to the end of his presidency.If you want to determine where Ike was on a particular day, what he was doing, who he was meeting with, what he ate, how many scotches he downed, what his mood was, what movie he watched, how many rounds of golf he played, you can consult the medical diaries.

The heart attack was the source of great consternation among Americans. First of all, they were concerned for Ike's personal well being.But they were also worried about the country.Now that the President was out of commission and the country was seemingly rudderless, might this not be an ideal opportunity for our enemies to attack us?Fortunately for the nation, it worked out to be a very opportune time for the President to suffer a heart attack.We were conveniently in between Cold War crises.The Korean War had ended, the Chinese had stopped bombing the Formosan islands and the Hungarian revolution, the Suez crisis, the Berlin crisis, the U-2 crisis hadn't erupted yet.It was fortunate timing for the President as well –it was too early to be worried about hitting the campaign trail for the 56 election.

Many Americans were also troubled by the consequences that would likely result from the President's death.For one, Vice President Nixon would become President. Some found the prospect disconcerting. Many had little confidence in the young Nixon's ability to lead the country.

The White House staff had a further concern.So what do we do if the President survives, yet remains incapacitated?There was no legislation or amendment dictating that the vice president would take over under such a circumstance.The 25th amendment which finally addressed the issue wouldn't be ratified until 1967.

After his long stint at Fitzsimons, Ike finally made his way in November to his Gettysburg home to continue his recovery.He returned to the White House right after the holidays.

Throughout his ten weeks of recuperation, Ike was proud of how well the White House ran without him. The Vice President and Cabinet ran it as a committee with Chief of Staff Sherman Adams serving as liaison between Ike and his staff. Ike saw its undisrupted efficiency as a testament to how well he had organized the White House.The press saw it differently, however –as an illustration of how superfluous Ike was to White House operations.

Upon his return to Washington, one question remained unanswered for months to come.Would Ike be well enough to run for reelection?Of course he would be, and clobbered democrat Adlai Stevenson once again in 56.

But it wasn't only because of Ike's heart attack that Sept. 24 was viewed as such a fateful day by the Eisenhowers.Sept. 24 was the eve of the stroke that would lead to Mamie's death in 1979.But most significantly, it was the date Ike and Mamie's first son was born.A joyous event, but one soon associated with tragedy when "Icky" died at the age of three of scarlet fever during the Christmas holidays of 1921.

It was on Sept. 24 every year that Ike would give Mamie a bouquet of yellow roses. Because yellow had been Icky's favorite color.

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Did You Know?

Ike and Nixon at 52 Convention

Dwight D. Eisenhower conducted the last of the great whistle stop campaigns, logging over 51,000 miles aboard the Eisenhower Special during the presidential campaign of 1952. In that same year, he became the first presidential nominee to launch a television campaign.