The Ike Blog (Jan. - Apr., 2013)
THE OFFICIAL BLOG OF EISENHOWER NATIONAL HISTORIC SITE
IKE'S FAVORITE POET
As we approach the end of National Poetry Month, the IKE BLOG would be remiss not to pay at least a moment's homage to President Eisenhower's favorite poet, Robert Frost.
Frost was for decades America's most beloved poet. His fans included President Kennedy and even Soviet Premier Khrushchev. He visited Moscow at the height of the Cold War and while there had a long talk with the Soviet Premier. He is the only poet to have won the Pulitzer Prize four times.
Robert Frost visited the Eisenhower White House several times, once during the early days of the administration when he read a few of his poems at a luncheon with the presidential staff, later as a guest at one of the President's stag dinners.
During one visit, he presented Ike with a book of poems. It was inscribed with a note of support: "The strong are saying nothing until they see." The words meant a great deal to Ike. They came at a time when he was being criticized by both the Right and the Left for not responding quickly enough to political pressures arising from domestic and foreign policy issues.
Ike would later write to a friend, "I like his maxim perhaps best of all."
When the Poetry Society of America honored Robert Frost in 1958, Ike was there. He remarked that it was clear why Americans so appreciated the New England poet - he could express so well "our innermost feelings and speak so clearly to us of our land and life."
Eisenhower would see Robert Frost again on his last day as President. It was at John Kennedy's inauguration. Ike stood near the poet as he was attempting to read the poem he wrote especially for the occasion. However, due to the glare of the sun and the wind rippling the pages, he was having a difficult time of it. A photo taken of the moment captures Ike looking very concerned for the poet.
Frost finally gave up, set his new poem aside, and instead recited from memory one of his old favorites.
Robert Frost would die two years later, on January 29, 1963, at the age of 88.
It was John Kennedy who expressed why it made perfect sense that a president should be so appreciative of a poet:
There is a story that some years ago an interested mother wrote to a principle of a school, 'Don't teach my boy poetry, he's going to run for Congress.' I've never taken the view that the world of politics and the world of poetry are so far apart. I think politicians and poets share at least one thing, and that is their greatness depends upon the courage with which they face the challenges of life.
IKE AND DE GAULLE TOUR THE BATTLEFIELD
On April 24 of 1960, President Charles de Gaulle of France paid a visit to President Eisenhower at his Gettysburg farm. The following month he, Ike, and Prime Minister McMillan were scheduled to meet with Soviet Premier Khrushchev in Paris. He had come to Gettysburg to strategize with Ike for that upcoming summit.
Ike, of course, knew de Gaulle well. He served with him during the War. De Gaulle was commander of the Free French Forces and often a thorn in Eisenhower's side. He was considered by many in the Allied command to be pompous, arrogant, and hopelessly obsessed with restoring France to its former glory. FDR couldn't stand him. The Brits weren't overly fond of him either - their code name for the French general was "Ramrod" because he had all the inflexibility of a fireplace poker without any of the warmth.
Ike, though, was far more patient and sympathetic with de Gaulle than many in the Allied command. And de Gaulle, in his fashion, appreciated that.
While at the farm, Ike and de Gaulle dispensed with their strategizing fairly quickly. De Gaulle agreed with Ike that despite Khrushchev's threats, West Berlin should not be handed over to the Soviets. Ike then brought up Algeria and France's efforts to suppress the rebellion. Ike expressed concern that if the rebels were too brutally suppressed it may drive other African nations into the Soviet camp.
What the two old soldiers were looking forward to doing was touring the Gettysburg Battlefield together. Ike always enjoyed giving tours of the battlefield to his guests, particularly to his old WWII compatriots. So, the two 70 year old generals ambled across the battlegrounds in their suit coats, bounding effortlessly over the stone walls, their aides struggling to keep up. Ike was very impressed with de Gaulle's knowledge of the battle, commenting that "he knows his Battle of Gettysburg like a West Pointer."
At one point they stood side by side near the Virginia Memorial and de Gaulle exclaimed, "Those gallant, crazy Southerners! How could they have charged into that wall of fire?!" He then declared, "The South had to be a wily fox to win, not a charging bull."
He concluded by adding, "Victory often goes to the Army that makes the least mistakes, not the most brilliant plans."
At least they enjoyed themselves on the Battlefield because the Paris Summit was a total wash. Khrushchev and his entourage stomped out of it in a huff after Ike refused to apologize for the U-2 spy plane over flights, pilot Francis Gary Powers and his U-2 having been shot down by the Soviets just two weeks before.
It was at that summit that de Gaulle endeared himself to Eisenhower forever. After Khrushchev walked out and Ike was left standing there angry, despondent, and realizing all his efforts to defuse the Cold War were shattered, de Gaulle put his hand on Ike's shoulder and said, "I don't know what will happen. I don't know what he will do. But I want you to know, I am by your side until the end."
Ike died in 1969. In attendance at his funeral was an impressive contingent of world leaders. But of all the kings and presidents and prime ministers there, it was Charles de Gaulle who was most openly weeping. He approached Ike's son John and with his hand on his heart said, "Le General etait pres de mon coeur." The General was close to my heart.
De Gaulle would pass away the following year.
FIVE FAVORITE QUESTIONS PARK RANGERS LIKE TO ASK PEOPLE TO PEOPLE STUDENTS WHILE ON THE SITE TOUR
People to People are back! Groups of 5th - 8th grade students from around the country and the world participating in the People to People World Leadership Forum in Washington have returned. They visit the Eisenhower site every spring and summer. In addition to their visit to Gettysburg and tours of the Capital, they attend a reception at the Saudi Arabian embassy, sit in on a congressional panel on Capitol Hill, and participate in seminars at the new Peace Institute.
Their visit to the Eisenhowers' Gettysburg home is significant. President Eisenhower established the People To People initiative at a White House conference in 1956 in an effort to ease Cold War tensions through cultural exchange programs. Today, his granddaughter, Mary Jean Eisenhower, is President of People to People International.
When escorting People To People on their tours of the Eisenhower home and grounds, park rangers like to focus on Eisenhower's interaction with visiting world leaders, especially Soviet Premier Khrushchev, as well as touch upon some of his presidential accomplishments.
Here are five favorite questions park rangers like to ask People to People students while on the site tour. How many can you answer?
1. Before meeting with Eisenhower at Camp David and the farm, Khrushchev embarked on a grand tour across America. His first stop was California. There was something in the Los Angeles area he apparently wanted to see above and beyond anything else in America. What do you imagine that might have been? (Hint: It's something you'd want to check out today if you were visiting California.)
2. Eisenhower's greatest accomplishment as President was keeping America at peace through his entire eight years in office. Why might someone consider it ironic that Eisenhower of all presidents would work so hard to keep his country out of war? But why does it make perfect sense?
3. When world leaders would first arrive at the farm, the President gave them a tour and showed off his cattle operation. He wasn't just conducting the tour to have them admire his cattle, though. What was his real motive?
4. Today, Eisenhower is typically rated 8th best president in American history. Who do you think is typically rated first? Who is typically dead last? (Hint: He is Pennsylvania's one lone native President.)
5. Another of Eisenhower's presidential accomplishments was the establishment of a government agency responsible for very, very, very, very, very long distance transportation (and exploration). What agency would that be? But… what for all of you, at least this week, is President Eisenhower's most significant accomplishment?
THE GREATEST IMPLEMENT OF BATTLE EVER DEVISED
It was the mainstay of the U.S. infantry during World War II.
General George Patton called it the greatest implement of battle ever devised.
It remained the principle rifle of the U.S. Army until 1957 and continued to be used through the 1960s.
It was the ever reliable M-1 Garand rifle, a 9.5 pound, 30 caliber semiautomatic, accurate up to 440 yards. It could fire 16-24 rounds a minute from an eight round clip which gave the American infantry soldier a decided firepower advantage over his German and Japanese counterparts armed with bolt action rifles.
The weapon did present a few problems. One was M-1 thumb. Upon inserting the clip, the rifle's bolt snapped forward and chambered a round. The bolt sprung so quickly that it often slammed closed on the soldier's thumb. And it hurt like a son of a gun. It happened so regularly that the Army came up with a medical term for it - M-1 thumb. The only remedy was preventative: ride the bolt forward with your hand and then strike the rod handle with the palm to ensure a closed bolt.
A second drawback was that unlike enemy rifles, the M-1 smoked after being fired. The enemy was able to detect where the weapon was being fired from and get a bead on the shooter. Thus, there was a high prevalence of head wounds among American infantry. But that was not so much a flaw of the rifle as it was of the cartridge powder.
Another perceived problem was the rifle's metal clip. After firing the last round, the clip automatically ejected, making a pinging sound as it hit the ground. Reports arose that the enemy had come to realize that the noise signalized the weapon was momentarily unloaded, enabling them to advance on the American soldier. The Army took the reports seriously enough that they began to experiment with plastic clips that would deaden the sound. They were never issued.
Realistically, in the chaos of battle, the ping of an ejected clip would not likely be heard. By the Korean War, GIs would carry extra empty clips and deliberately toss them to the ground to lure the enemy.
There was yet one more problem. But this was certainly not the fault of the rifle. It was a deficiency of the American soldier, at least according to respected military historian, S. L. A. Marshall: American infantry soldiers were reluctant to fire their weapon.
Marshall claimed that in many regiments only 15% of soldiers ever fired their weapon in combat. It was a deficiency, Marshall insisted, that could not be remedied by any amount of training or experience. General Omar Bradley wondered why his troops wouldn't advance with a marching fire. He had been trying to get his men to do it since the First World War, but they just wouldn't take to it. "They seem to need something visible to shoot at," he speculated.
This reluctance of American soldiers was considered a problem throughout the Cold War. However, some historians today dispute Marshall's contention and statistics.
During the summer season, rangers here at the Eisenhower site conduct an Eisenhower and the Men of D-Day program in which are displayed the weapons and equipment of the U.S. infantry soldier. Whenever WWII and Korean veterans are in attendance, they always make a point to come up and inspect, handle, and reminisce about the M-1. However, the site's M-1 has its bolt locked in place. Management didn't want the staff suffering recurring cases of M-1 thumb.
THE THREE AMIGOS
For most of the 1950s, they served together as Speaker of the House, Senate Majority Leader, and President. Perhaps they weren't exactly amigos, but they were Texans. Well, at least two were Texans and one a Kansan who was born in Texas. They were Sam, LBJ, and Ike. Democratic Representative Sam Rayburn, Democratic Senator Lyndon B. Johnson, and Republican President Dwight Eisenhower. Together they knew how to pass a bill.
It often wasn't easy, particularly when it came to civil rights. Civil rights bills would routinely fail because the pro-segregationist Southern Bloc in the Senate could always be counted on to prevent a vote with a filibuster. But those were actual filibusters, unlike today when a senator can simply mention his intention to filibuster and that mere intention is enough to stop a vote.
Of course, the one recent exception to that was Senator Rand Paul who actually filibustered for 13 hours However, Senator Paul's filibuster paled in comparison to Senator Strom Thurmond's 1957 filibuster in an attempt to stop the vote on Eisenhower's civil rights bill. Thurmond filibustered for over 24 hours. He took a long sauna beforehand to sweat the water from his system so he wouldn't have to quit the filibuster to visit the bathroom. Apparently it was a tactic Senator Paul failed to employ.
Despite Strom Thurmond and the rest of the Southern Bloc Ike's civil rights bill did pass. However, it survived only in a version much weaker than Ike had proposed. But still, the three got the job done and passed the first civil rights bill since Reconstruction.
IKE AND THE INFERNAL TELEPHONE
Visitors always remark on how there are so many phones in the Eisenhower home. Nine, actually. And that's not counting the three push button NPS phones. They also comment on the curious array of colors. There's a pink one, a couple gold, a red, a yellow, a green… 60s style options I suspect.
Upon seeing the red phone in the den, visitors often presume that's THE red phone - the hot line to the Kremlin. But, no. It's just A red phone. THE red phone didn't come into existence until after the Cuban Missile Crisis during the Kennedy administration. And in fact, THE red phone wasn't actually red nor was it a phone. It was a teletype machine.
Of course, all the Eisenhower phones are rotary. This prompts visiting students to persistently ask, "What are all those holes on top of the telephones?" And then they'll debate among themselves how to operate such complex pieces of machinery.
Ike himself was initially confused when first encountering a rotary phone. As President, he was used to picking up the receiver and having his personal operator respond and do his bidding. Attempting to use one of the new fangled rotary phones in his home for the first time was a frustrating experience:
Upon lifting the receiver, the President encountered a dial tone instead of the operator. He pressed the receiver button several times and still failed to produce a response. Then he hung up and began turning the phone's dial as though he were trying to open the combination lock on a safe. By this time he was red faced and flustered. Turning to his Secret Service agent, he supposedly bellowed, "Don't just stand there, tell me how to work this d*** thing!" After familiarizing himself with the machine's operation, he spent the next hour calling his friends, apparently delighted in his new-found phone dialing prowess.
Ike generally wasn't fond of phones. He preferred to gauge a person's face when talking to them. But more than that, phones persistently disrupted his enjoyment of a weekend golf game. Such disruptions were especially annoying since the caller was often Secretary of State Dulles phoning about something Ike considered less than an emergency.
Phones, too, were often the purveyors of bad news. While President, he had a plain looking, black government phone sitting on the desk of his office at his Gettysburg home. It was a direct encrypted line to the White House. It was from this phone that he received word that U-2 spy plane pilot Francis Gary Powers had been captured and the plane's wreckage recovered by the Soviets. That phone call was possibly the most disappointing moment of Eisenhower's entire presidency. Not only was the nation and the world now aware he had lied, (the administration had issued a statement claiming the U-2 was a weather plane, not a spy plane), but there was now a good chance that Khrushchev might scuttle the upcoming Paris peace summit. Which he did.
With that phone call, Eisenhower came to the realization that all his efforts to defuse the Cold War might now be shattered. Which they were.
One wonders how Ike would have managed emotionally in a world of the ubiquitous and inescapable cell phone.
Allied Supreme Commander Dwight D. Eisenhower never met Stalin during the war, although he did cable the Soviet leader, a decision for which he caught heavy flak from the British.
Eisenhower initiated contact with Stalin in an effort to coordinate their respective offensives as both their armies advanced into Germany. His cable informed Stalin that the Western allies would be targeting the Dresden-Leipzig area. Stalin, in turn, agreed that the Soviet army would meet up with American and British troops there and added that Berlin was no longer of strategic importance. That, however, was a lie. The Soviets still considered Berlin its primary objective and were deploying accordingly.
Ike's cable aroused the ire of the British who objected to Ike's bypassing the Combined Chiefs of Staff and contacting Stalin directly. The British feared that the trusting Eisenhower would be somehow hoodwinked by the wily dictator. And, perhaps in a sense, he was.
After the war, Stalin invited Eisenhower to Moscow. Eisenhower stood side by side with Stalin on top of Lenin's tomb and viewed an hours-long sports parade as it marched through Red Square.
Eisenhower impressed Stalin. He later told Ambassador Harriman, "General Eisenhower is a very great man, not only because of his military accomplishments, but because of his human, friendly, kind, and frank nature." Khrushchev, upon receiving an invitation to America years later, remembered how glowingly Stalin had spoken of Eisenhower, referring to him as a man of noble character.
Stalin even apologized to Eisenhower for having advanced on Berlin instead of Dresden and explained the military reasons.
While in Moscow, Eisenhower remarked to the press that he saw "nothing in the future that would prevent Russia and the United States from being the closest possible friends." But then he heard that the two atomic bombs were dropped on Japan. The news significantly deflated his optimism, leaving him questioning whether peace with Russia was now possible.
Stalin's death came just two months after Ike assumed the presidency. His death seems to have caught Ike and the administration off guard. They weren't sure how to precisely respond. Many critics in hindsight see his death as a missed opportunity by the West to begin seriously pursuing détente. The administration remained tentative, partly because of their inability to determine who was now in charge. It wasn't until the Geneva Summit in 1955 that it became clear to Eisenhower that Khrushchev was now the Number One man in the Kremlin.
However, the primary reason for the administration's reluctance to initiate peace overtures seems to be the McCarthy era anti-communist hysteria that had overtaken the country, making it politically unwise for anyone, even the President, to be perceived as soft on communism.
One positive result of Stalin's death was that it brought a quicker end to the Korean War. Peace negotiations at Panmunjon appeared to be stalled, but now with the demise of the supreme Soviet leader who had approved and supported the invasion of South Korea, the Chinese became more eager to secure a truce.
It also helped that Eisenhower sent word via diplomatic channels through India that he would consider using nuclear weapons if the Chinese didn't start negotiating in good faith.
It was Nikita Khrushchev in his Secret Speech of 1956 who denounced Stalin for his crimes against the people and the Party. But a recent survey conducted by the Carnegie Endowment indicates that Stalin is still very much admired in Russia and former Soviet nations. His purges may have killed millions, but he won the war, made the Soviet Union a nuclear super power, and maintained national unity.
TWO OLD SOLDIERS SHOOT THE BREEZE: IKE VISITS THE POPE
With the startling resignation of Pope Benedict and the impending vote for a new pope so much in the news lately, it brought to mind President Eisenhower's visit to the Vatican in 1959.
The Pope was John XXIII and Eisenhower met with him on December 6 during his 11 nation good will tour which included Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Turkey, Greece, India, Morocco, France, and Spain.
Eisenhower's was the first presidential visit to a pope in 40 years. Woodrow Wilson was the last president to have visited the Vatican, conferring with Pope Benedict XV just after the end of WWI.
Wilson was actually the very first president to have visited the Pope, and President Obama, at this point, is the last. Both presidents met with Pope Benedicts, Obama with Benedict XVI in 2009.
Since Eisenhower, every president has met with the Pope.
Ike and the Pope were in audience for about 25 minutes, seated in two arm chairs placed side by side in the Vatican's Small Throne Room. Also present were a cardinal, an archbishop, and Lt. Col. Vernon Walters, Ike's interpreter and staff aide.
Ike and John appeared to have a great time together, according to the memorandum written up by Lt. Col. Walters. And I'm not surprised. I grew up Catholic and remember Pope John XXIII fondly, as nearly all Catholics do. He impressed everyone with his warmth and humility. Yet, in convoking the Second Vatican Council, he was very instrumental in modernizing the Church.
It turned out that Ike and John had several things in common. One was their efforts to bring peace to the world, each in his own way. The Pope curiously noted though, that they had both been soldiers at one time. When Ike suggested that having been soldiers and knowing the horrors of war lent force to their efforts to preserve peace, the Pope very much agreed.
The Pope told the President a story about the day he took the examination for his sergeant promotion. When he was ordered to prepare the platoon for an assault, he gave the command "Fix bayonets" and then "Forward Savoy" as was the custom in the Italian army back then. Unfortunately, as his troops advanced, he mindlessly forgot to advance with them and just stood and watched. The Pope said the board must have been in a good mood because they promoted him anyway.
Ike then, in turn, shared a story about his brother Milton's friendship with Cardinal Gibbons. When the Cardinal came to visit one day, his brother's precocious young daughter asked if he believed in the infallibility of the Pope. The Cardinal recalled that upon being received by the Pope one time, the Pope referred to him as Cardinal "Jibbons." He thus concluded that al least when it came to pronunciation, the Pope wasn't entirely infallible.
The Pope loved the story and remarked that it was a good example of why he was taking English lessons.
The Pope was also delighted with the coincidence that he shared the same name with the President's son John, who accompanied Ike on the visit.
This visit apparently wasn't the first time that the Pope had seen Ike. He mentioned having seen the President at the funeral of Marshal Tassigny in Paris. He watched from the Diplomat stand as the President stood with four other "great soldiers" around the bier after having walked behind it for miles throughout the city on an incredibly cold day. The Pope recalled that only Ike stood there perfectly erect. The Pope added that "this uprightness in the physical sense reflected an inner and spiritual uprightness."
Peace, though, was the primary theme of their conversation. Walters wrote:
The Pope, in turn, invoked "the powerful assistance of God," upon the President in his "noble efforts as the untiring servant of the cause of peace in the world."
THE TOP FIVE INDIVIDUALS WHO REALLY GOT ON PRESIDENT EISENHOWER'S NERVES
Senator Joseph McCarthy
Senator John Bricker
Bricker and his amendment were a constant irritation for Ike. "If it's true," he told his press secretary Jim Hagerty, "that when you die the things that bothered you most are engraved on your skull, I am sure I'll have there the mud and dirt of France during the invasion and the name of Senator Bricker."
But what really teed Ike off was Kennedy claiming that Ike was responsible for a missile gap with the Soviets. Ike knew very well there was no missile gap. And he knew Kennedy knew it. The U-2 over-flights had proven that if there was a gap it was in favor of the US, ten times over. However, he chose to keep the existence of the U-2 and the evidence it produced a secret from the public.
Ike was exceptionally perturbed when, during his summit with Khrushchev at Camp David, Alsop in his column compared him to Neville Chamberlain at Munich. Days later, according to Evan Thomas in his book Ike's Bluff, Ike called Secretary of State Christian Herter and raked him over the coals for having dared to speak with Alsop. His secretary Ann Whitman recalled that "the President in no uncertain terms said that he should never talk to that bastard and he should keep him out of the State Department… The President was unusually angry."
Dr. Howard Snyder
It was Snyder who often bore the brunt of Ike's displeasure on the golf course. After the president's heart attack, Snyder would accompany Ike on each round to monitor his vital signs. He worried about how Ike's propensity for passionate outbursts might affect his delicate condition and would attempt to soothe his temper by complimenting even the most poorly executed of drives, chips, and putts. This merely compounded Ike's fury. He would curse not only his shot and the golfing gods, but the doctor as well.
BANANA JOE, TELEK, AND WILLIE
A little black fur ball of an affenpinscher named Banana Joe edged out an old English sheep dog to win best of show at the Westminster Dog Show this week. I mention it only because Banana Joe reminded me of another little black fur ball of a dog that received press coverage back during the Second World War - General Eisenhower's dog, Telek.
Telek was a Scottish terrier acquired by Ike in 1942 when he assumed the command of ETOUSA (European Theater Command, US Army) in London. Ike expressed his need for a dog thusly, "You can't talk war to a dog, and I'd like to have someone or something to talk to occasionally that doesn't know what the word means…" He named it Telek after Telegraph Cottage, his retreat outside of London.
Telek wasn't as well trained as Banana Joe. He frequently left piles and puddles in his wake and liked to drag logs from the fireplace and scatter them about the cottage.
Ike's compatriot and good friend, General George Patton, had a dog as well - Willie. Willie looked like Spuds McKenzie, the dog in the old Budweiser commercials. Willie was an abject coward and would cower under the table upon hearing gunfire. He also snored.
Perhaps Willie's finest hour though, came the day he had it out with Telek. In November of 1944, Ike and Telek joined Patton and Willie for lunch at 3rd Army headquarters. It wasn't long before a ruckus broke out between the two dogs under the table. It took four generals to break up the fight and even then they had to douse the antagonists with water. And it was cowardly Willie who got the best of un-housebroken Telek.
Patton was ecstatic. "But my Willie was chewing the bejesus out of your gawdamned little Scottie, rank or no rank!" he kidded his Supreme Commander.
Telek and Willie remained with their masters through to the end of the war.
After Patton died in a jeep crash in December of 1945, Willie went to live with the General's widow. He passed away at the age of 13. After the war, Telek was adopted by General Eisenhower's driver, Kay Summersby. He lived with her until his death at the ripe old age of 17.
It was a Scottish terrier that won best of show at Westminster in 2010. A Spuds McKenzie won in 2006, but he was brown, not white like Willie. From the film footage I've seen, they appeared to be more courageous and less incontinent than bothTelek and Willie.
THE RETURN OF AMERICA'S MOST FAMOUS SPY - 51 YEARS AGO TODAY
Eisenhower was very much embarrassed when several days later the Soviets gleefully produced the proof that it was, indeed, not a weather plane. They had the pilot's confession to the contrary, and the pilot himself.
Powers was incarcerated and interrogated for 61 days at Moscow's notorious Lubyanka Prison, attempting, as best he could, to ply the Soviets with misinformation. In August he was tried and convicted of espionage by a Soviet court and sentenced to 10 years "deprivation of liberty." Meanwhile, back home many Americans were denouncing him as a traitor for surviving the crash and appearing to cooperate with the Soviets. In September he was transferred from the solitary confinement of Lubyanka to Vladimir Prison outside of Moscow where his request for a cell mate was granted. While in prison his alcoholic wife was legally declared incompetent and committed to a psychiatric facility by her mother and siblings.
On today's date, 51 years ago, February 10, 1962, Powers was released by the Soviets to the U.S. on Glienicker Bridge in Berlin in exchange for Soviet spy Rudolph Abel.
Powers spent his first eight days back in America being debriefed by the CIA in a safe house not too far from Eisenhower's farm in Gettysburg. Then he endured a 12 day formal board of inquiry. He was hailed by some as a hero, but many continued to accuse him of being a traitor. His wife divorced him less than a year after his return.
The 1970s began much more promisingly for Powers. He was happily remarried, he published his memoirs, and he was hired to fly helicopters and cover the weather for KNBC in Los Angeles.
On August 1, 1977, he died when his helicopter crashed after running out of fuel while he was covering a brush fire in Santa Barbara. Conspiracy theorists charged that his helicopter was sabotaged, although no evidence was ever uncovered to support their claims.
His last desperate act was to steer his falling helicopter away from a school yard.
Powers was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, the CIA Director's Medal, and the Silver Star. His Silver Star citation notes that while enduring interrogation, harassment, and unmentionable hardships at the hands of his Soviet captors, he exhibited "indomitable spirit, exceptional loyalty, and continuous heroic action."
THE TERRIBLE TEMPERED MR. BANG
Ike had an explosive temper. A journalist once referred to him as the "the terrible tempered Mr. Bang." An aide compared witnessing an irate Eisenhower to "looking into a Bessemer furnace." Ike's doctor, Harold Schultz, once described the President as being "sore as a bear with an ***hole full of bees." When he got mad, which was fairly often, his bald head would turn red and a vein would visibly throb in his forehead. Author Evan Thomas notes several of these episodes in his recently published book, Ike's Bluff.
Ike, though, was well aware of this deficiency of character and worked hard to control it. He felt he succeeded in so far as he learned to let his anger dissipate quickly and not to act or make a decision until it did. An array of different circumstances and a handful of particular individuals regularly ignited Ike's temper. Here is a list of the top ten:
The Top 5 Circumstances Most Likely to Set Off Ike's Temper:
A Badly Played Card
Squirrels and Pigeons Invading his Turf
His mother later came to his room and soothed him with a homily that he claimed was one of the most valuable moments of his life. He took to heart and never forgot her words that evening: "He who conquereth his own soul is greater than he who taketh a city."
Next Post: The Top 5 Individuals Who Really Got on Ike's Nerves
MEETING THE HOOVERS
Visitation is very slow in January. Typically only a handful of folks come out on the couple of shuttle buses scheduled each day. But with so few visitors, the rangers have a greater opportunity to spend time shooting the breeze with each and every one.
Last week I was talking at the end of the tour with several Midwesterners who had shown up on the 10:00 shuttle. An elderly couple from Iowa began telling me about how their daughter had taken a class at University of Pennsylvania taught by David Eisenhower, the Eisenhowers' grandson. It was a class on the Presidency. Each student selected a president to do a paper on and their daughter had chosen President Hoover. David eventually invited them all to dinner with him and wife Julie.
As I was thinking that the Hoover paper must have been pretty exceptional to prompt David to issue them all a dinner invitation, the other Iowan in their group nudged the wife and urged her, "Go ahead, you have to tell him." And then with a smile she added, "The reason our daughter chose Hoover is because her father here is Herbert Hoover's grandson."
Andy Hoover said that he spent a lot of time with his grandfather. When I asked what were some of his fondest memories of the President, he said they were of the holidays, especially Christmas. He recalled how he and the other grandkids would decorate grandfather's Christmas tree for him. The President was very exacting as to how the tree should be decorated. The tree was always a spruce with those small sharp needles. Grandfather would instruct the kids to apply each strand of tinsel individually, wrapping each strand several times around each tiny needle. Andy said that he and the others would gripe and complain the entire time.
After sharing several stories, the Hoovers mentioned that the friend accompanying them was from West Branch, President Hoover's hometown. The friend then proceeded to tell a story of how he had met two presidents in one day at the Hoover Presidential Library. He had been employed as a wage grade 2 maintenance worker at the library and was there at the grand opening when President Truman visited. As President Hoover gave his good friend President Truman the tour, he was assigned to follow behind the two. While doing so, he overheard their entire exchange.
He recalls how they addressed each other as "Mr. President" the entire time. At one point, President Truman says to President Hoover, "Mr. President, it's a fine looking library, but it's too damn small." Hoover smiles and replies, "Mr. President, since it is run by the federal government, I'm sure it will compensate for its small size by being well overstaffed."
At the conclusion of his reminiscence, Mr. Hoover and his wife interjected that the former WG-2 went on to become the Director of the Herbert Hoover Library.
We did manage to discuss Eisenhower, but the last half hour pretty much belonged to Hoover and West Branch.
No telling who you'll run into on a slow Monday in January at the Eisenhower Farm.
Happy 100th Mr. Vice President!
January 9th was Richard Nixon's 100th birthday. And here we are a century after his birth, 40 years after Watergate, and nearly ten years after his death, and Nixon remains one of the most disfavored figures in American history.
However, were it not for the paranoia and personal demons that fueled his foray into crime and cover-up, he would today be considered among the greatest of American presidents.
And possibly too, of American vice presidents…
As Eisenhower's VP, Nixon was perhaps the hardest working and most underappreciated vice president in history. It was a wild, roller coaster eight years for Nixon. The ride was turbulent from the start, beginning with his vice presidential candidacy in 1952 when he was accused by Democrats and the Press of having a "slush fund." Eisenhower faced pressure from the party to remove him from the ticket until Nixon successfully defended himself on national television with his corny but compelling Checkers speech.
His term began with an ambitious and exhausting 70 day good will tour of Asia in which he paid state visits, to among many other leaders, Emperor Bao Dai of French Indochina, Syngman Rhee of South Korea, Chiang Kai-Shek of Taiwan, Nehru of India, and Ayub Khan of Pakistan. He proposed the establishment of an Asian version of NATO which eventually materialized as SEATO.
He paid state visits to Central America and Mexico in 1955. In 1957, it was off to Africa where he met with leaders of eight different countries and had a long talk with Martin Luther King in Ghana. He met with King again over the 1957 Civil Rights Bill which he (Nixon) was lobbying hard for in Congress. In 1958, during a good will tour of South America, he routinely ventured into the midst of hostile university crowds to debate with students. While in Caracas, his motorcade was attacked by rioters. His vehicle's windows were smashed with rocks and bats and he was nearly yanked out of the car by the mob before the road was finally cleared and the motorcade sped to safety.
He traveled to the Soviet Union in 1959 and faced off with Khrushchev in a rowdy exchange later dubbed the Kitchen Debate. It was an encounter that set up Khrushchev's later historic visit to America. While there he addressed the Soviet people on Russian television and then stopped in Warsaw where he was greeted as a hero by hundreds of thousands.
When not on foreign policy missions, Nixon served as Eisenhower's point man in Congress, working to keep the conservative and moderate Republicans united and dissuading, successfully for the most part, McCarthy from pursuing plans to investigate various federal agencies and oppose Eisenhower appointments. During the 1954 Congressional elections he campaigned for Republicans in 95 cities throughout 30 states. And when Eisenhower suffered his heart attack, Nixon assumed chairmanship of cabinet and National Security Council meetings. He was acknowledged by all to have done a "very poised but unpresumptuous" job taking over for the President in a delicate and trying situation.
But despite his loyalty and hard work, Nixon once again had to suffer through a concerted effort by the Party to dump him from the ticket during the 56 campaign.
The final indignity suffered as vice president occurred during his hard but cleanly fought campaign for the presidency in 1960. When Eisenhower was asked by reporters to come up with an instance where Nixon as vice president contributed to the making of a major executive decision, the President responded, "Give me a week and I'll think of one."
It was during his eight years as vice president that I tend to think Nixon was at his best, his most personally and politically congenial. He seemed to have outgrown his penchant for ruthless, take-no-prisoner campaigns and tempered his fervent anti-communism. And he hadn't yet been consumed by the power and paranoia of his Presidency.
Belatedly, happy birthday Mr. Vice President.
JANUARY 20th - THE BEGINNING AND THE END:
January 20, 1953 was the date Ike's presidency officially began - the day of his first inauguration. January 20, 1961 was the date of President Kennedy's inauguration - Ike's very last day as president.
January 20, 1953 was a fairly balmy day for a presidential inauguration - cloudy but with a noontime temperature of 49. Truman and Ike arrived together at the Capitol in the White House Lincoln, both wearing homburgs instead of the traditional top hats. Ike was sworn in on the East Portico by Chief Justice Frederick Vinson on two bibles: one used by George Washington when he took the oath to become the first president in 1789 and the other Ike's personal West Point Bible.
Ike then broke from tradition and prefaced his inaugural address by reciting a prayer that he had written that morning. His address was 2446 words. It returned again and again to the notions of peace and freedom, strength and security.
The inaugural parade went on for 4 hours and 39 minutes. 750,000 spectators lined the parade route. Ike and Mamie led the parade riding together in a white Cadillac with the top down, the first time a new President and First Lady had ever ridden together in the parade. Ike and Mamie watched the remainder of the parade from the reviewing stand in front of the White House accompanied by former President Herbert Hoover, Ike's WWII boss, General George Marshall, and Mrs. Clare Booth Luce.
Perhaps the highlight of the day was when a palomino-riding California cowboy in the parade, Marty Montana, paused in front of the reviewing stand and lassoed the President. The moment was captured by a Life photographer.
The January 20th eight years later in 1961 was a fairly depressing day for Ike. Ike didn't mind leaving the presidency so much as having to turn it over to that young, whippersnapping, big spending Democrat, John F. Kennedy.
Kennedy irked him. Ike considered him too young and inexperienced to deserve the presidency. He felt the election was bought by JFK's father Joseph Kennedy and that once a Kennedy got into the White House the family would establish a political machine far greater than even Tammany Hall. He became particularly upset when Kennedy claimed during the campaign that Ike was responsible for a missile gap with the Soviets. Ike knew that was an outright lie. The U-2 over-flights had proven that if there was a missile gap, it was one that was by far in favor of the US.
A couple days prior to the inauguration, Ike bemoaned to a friend that he could hear the carpenters building the scaffolding for the inaugural parade reviewing stand outside the White House. He then added that he now knew how the condemned man feels when listening to the gallows being constructed right outside his cell.
January 20th, 1961 was a very cold, snow packed day. Ike met with the incoming president for coffee at the White House and they drove together to the Capitol, not in homburgs this time, but in the traditional top hats. Cardinal Cushing delivered a very long invocation (While sitting on the inaugural platform, California Governor Pat Brown leaned over to LBJ's 12 year old nephew beside him and said of the Cardinal, "If he doesn't stop now, I'm quitting the Church."). Robert Frost recited a poem from memory because he was so blinded by the sun's glare he couldn't read the poem he had written especially for the inauguration. Marion Anderson sang the Star Spangled Banner.
JFK then proceeded to deliver the most memorable Inauguration speech in American history.
Ike and Mamie left the Capitol for a farewell reception at the F Street Club and then made their way to their Gettysburg home in a 1955 Chrysler Imperial driven by chauffeur Leonard Dry and escorted by a lone Secret Service vehicle.
As the Eisenhowers drove through the gate at the entrance to their farm, the Secret Service vehicle honked its horn, U-turned, and headed back in the direction of Washington.
That was the moment Ike said when it all hit home. After eight years, he was no longer President.
For Ike, it was preserving the dignity of the office that was so important. That's why he refused "to get into a pissing contest with that skunk." The "skunk" was Senator Joseph McCarthy. Ike felt that contesting McCarthy - roiling in the muck with such a crude and ruthless adversary - would only demean the Presidency.
Then there was a visiting 10 year old last week who expressed grave concern about the maintenance of his personal dignity…
The ten year old in question was with his 5th grade class. They were at the site to participate in Eisenhower: Man of Many Hats, a character education program. A ranger leads the class on an intensive two hour tour of the President's home and farm. Along the way, the ranger and the class together reflect back on Eisenhower's life, from boyhood to retirement, and examine the different character traits he developed from his life experiences - the traits that molded him into such an effective leader.
The highlight of the program for the students is that they are each selected to wear a hat representing a different period in Ike's life, an Abilene High School baseball cap, a West Point dress cap, a WWII army helmet, a fedora much like the one Ike wore as President, etc. At each stop, one of the chapeaued students indulges in a bit of playacting, pretending to be Ike at a certain age and introducing himself with the help of a cue card.
One of the hats happens to represent Mamie Eisenhower - a pink 1950s pillbox hat similar to the ones she wore as First Lady.
This particular 10 year old's class was very small - only nine students. And all guys. As I was pulling out the hats, I came to Mamie's and asked who they all thought might have worn one like it.
"Sure. And I suspect no one here would be overly anxious to wear this thing all morning so I'll just…"
But to my surprise, one of the little guys piped up, "I don't mind. I'll wear it." He sealed his commitment with a dramatic no-big-deal shrug of the shoulders.
"You sure? It's going to require some impressive Academy Award winning acting to pull off wearing this hat, you know."
"That's okay, I'll do it."
His classmates razzed him good- naturedly for a moment but then went on to take his act of heroic self sacrifice pretty much in stride.
And off we went…
Halfway through the program though, we were all walking down the trail and I noticed the student no longer had his Mamie hat on.
"Hey Mamie Eisenhower, where's your hat?" I yelled back at him.
And he says to me,
"John, I can't wear it the WHOLE time. I need to maintain SOME semblance of dignity."
I was impressed. Not only that a 5th grade boy would good naturedly agree to wear a goofy looking 1950s ladies hat, but that he would also express concern about his personal dignity.
5th graders are great.
THE DAY "THE CLASS THE STARS FELL ON" CAME TO GETTYSBURG
On a small table in the front hall of the Eisenhower home sits Mamie's guest book. Everyone who visited signed it, from world leaders to the Eisenhower grandkids who lived half a block down the road.
For the past month, the curator has had the guest book opened to the page dated September 11, 1967. That page is lined with 22 signatures. Twenty one are of Eisenhower's classmates from his West Point graduating class of 1915. The 22nd belongs to Ike himself.
In our site research library, we have a copy of the The 1915 Howitzer, Ike's West Point yearbook. It includes a lively, tongue-in-cheek write-up on each of that year's graduating cadets. Here's what The Howitzer had to say about a few of Ike's classmates who visited that day:
George "Runt" Peabody
Thomas "Tom" Larkin
Douglas "Doug" Weart
Charles "Buzz" Busbee
Vernon "Blister" Evans
Henry "Dutch" Aurand
Omar "Brad" Bradley
Dwight "Ike" Eisenhower
They call the class of 1915 "the class the stars fell on" because more graduates of that class went on to become generals than any other in West Point history. Fifty nine of Ike's fellow classmates retired as generals. It was also the only class to have two five star generals emerge from it ranks.
The distinction was largely due to timing. They were all mid-ranking officers when the Second World War broke out and were quickly promoted. For those visiting Ike, at least, the timing had been fortunate. They survived the war and grew to be old men.
WHAT DO THE FIRST WWII VETERAN U.S. PRESIDENT AND FIRST BLACK U.S. PRESIDENT HAVE IN COMMON?
What do Presidents Obama and Eisenhower have in common? They both had a popular vote total over 51% in both their elections. In fact, they are the only presidents over the past 60 years to have reached 51% in both. President Obama's total in 2008 was 53%. After more provisional ballots were recently counted, Obama's total reached 51.6% for the recent election, giving him a 5 million vote margin of victory. Ike's totals were a bit more impressive. 55.2 % in 1952 and 57.4% in 1956. No other presidents since FDR share that distinction, although President Reagan came pretty close.
While Morrow's efforts were typically stymied in the White House, blacks at the same time gave him "hell" over the Administration's indifference to the plight of Negroes in the South. While Negro churches and homes were being bombed and destroyed after the Supreme Court ruled that bus transportation in Montgomery must be integrated, the President had no forceful response. Blacks accused the President of giving far more attention to the Hungarians victimized by the Russians than blacks victimized by whites in our own country.
Blacks wrongly viewed Morrow as the President's civil rights advisor and thus held him responsible for what they considered the President's civil rights "blunders." Morrow was shocked to be told he was accused by some of being a traitor to his race.
When the President admitted in a press conference that there were aspects of his civil rights bill (being bitterly fought over in Congress) that he wasn't familiar with nor completely understood, Morrow was flooded with calls and letters from all over the country. Most criticized him for the Presidents' seeming lack of support for his own bill and his refusal to "assume the moral leadership of the country." There was even a letter from Jackie Robinson urging him to advise the President to veto the bill because Congress had revised and amended it to the point it was useless. After a while, Morrow dreaded even going to the office to have to face the barrage of call and letters.
Morrow's advice and concerns were not only often ignored by the Eisenhower White House, but also by Vice President Nixon during his 1960 campaign for the presidency. When Martin Luther King was thrown into an Atlanta jail shortly before the election, Morrow urged Nixon and his campaign managers to issue a statement denouncing the jailing. They chose to do and say nothing. Kennedy, on the other hand, phoned Mrs. King to express his concern, wired the mayor of Atlanta, and 24 hours later MLK was released. Kennedy, with that gesture, won the Negro vote and Nixon lost the election.
Morrow winds up his book expressing his frustration with the President, noting sadly how Eisenhower's "lukewarm stand on civil rights made me heartsick," and how "His failure to clearly and forthrightly respond to the Negro's plea for a strong position on civil rights was the greatest cross I had to bear in my eight years in Washington."
But nevertheless, through the entirety of the book, Morrow makes it evident that he retained the greatest respect and admiration for both the President and Vice President. He refers to both as being warm, friendly, decent, reasonable, courteous, astute, and practical minded. Even when most frustrated, he confesses that "if the President did not have the character, decency, and courageous spirit he has, it would not have been possible for me to be here in the first place or to have remained."
One of Morrow's most poignant stories is one that he doesn't include in his book but shares in an interview: The President towards the end of his second term has promised Morrow that he would consult with his corporate friends and see if he could round up a post White House job for him. Weeks later, the President walks up to Morrow at a dinner they are both attending. With tears welling up in his eyes, and with obvious disappointment and frustration, the President imparts to Morrow the news that despite his efforts, he was unable to secure him a decent position. He says, sadly, that corporate America is not yet ready to offer a Negro a position of responsibility.
Frederick Morrow died in 1994 at the age of 88. After he left the White House, he became an assistant vice president for Bank of America and worked as an executive associate at the Educational Testing Service in Princeton. His book, Black Man in the White House, referred to as "a political bombshell" in a New York Times book review, was published in 1969 and is now out of print.
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Did You Know?
President Eisenhower enjoyed oil painting and encouraged the artistically challenged to give paint-by-numbers a try. He presented his staff with paint-by-number sets and invited them to display their masterpieces in the White House. Even J. Edgar Hoover contributed a painting to the “gallery.”