The Ike Blog
THE OFFICIAL BLOG OF EISENHOWER NATIONAL HISTORIC SITE
IKE AND JFK – FIFTY YEARS AGO
Ike looked shaken…
He hadn't initially cared much for the young senator from Massachusetts, cared for him even less once he declared himself a Democratic candidate for the presidency. Ike considered Kennedy unworthy of the presidency. He was too young, too inexperienced. His rich father was attempting to buy the presidency for him. And God forbid a Kennedy get into the White House. The family would establish a political machine to rival the likes of old Tammany Hall.
Eisenhower's dislike for Kennedy intensified when the candidate began to claim that Ike was responsible for a "missile gap" - that his administration had allowed America to fall dangerously behind the Soviets in missile production. But, Ike knew damn well there was no missile gap. If there was one, it was in favor of the U.S. ten times over. Ike was well aware that the Soviets had little in the way of missiles to match their bluster. The surveillance conducted by U-2 spy planes over Soviet air space provided the proof.
Of course, Kennedy ended up defeating Eisenhower's vice president, Nixon, in a very close race. Ike considered Kennedy's victory his biggest personal defeat. He couldn't fathom how America could possibly elect such a young, whippersnapping, big spending Democrat after his eight years of responsible fiscal leadership. As he saw it, the election results were a repudiation of his entire eight years in office.
When Kennedy paid a visit the White House prior to the inauguration, Eisenhower offered his advice. The incumbent president appeared to listen respectfully, but apparently heeded little of the insights the veteran president had to share. Ike would later be critical of what he perceived as the disorganized manner in which Kennedy ran his White House. It drove him crazy the way Kennedy and his staff seemed to so haphazardly deal with each crisis as it erupted instead of having regularly planned meetings and procedures and a chain of command to systematically iron out problems.
After the Bay of Pigs debacle, a despondent Kennedy invited Eisenhower to Camp David to discuss what went wrong and how the operation could have been salvaged. Ike expressed his opinion that the invasion should never have been launched in the first place. But since it was, Ike argued that the President should have gone ahead and ordered air support. Not doing so condemned the operation to failure. The famous Paul Vathis photo taken of the two presidents that day at Camp David captured their mood – the two walking slowly and pensively shoulder to shoulder down the walkway, heads bowed, Ike holding his hat behind his back in clasped hands, JFK with his hands in his suit coat pockets.
The following year Ike earnestly supported Kennedy during the Cuban Missile Crisis, offering his advice and publicly urging the entire country to join him in supporting the President during the Crisis.
And now, another year later, the young President was dead.
Eisenhower heard the news in New York City while attending a Columbia University dinner and a meeting with United Nations officials at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel. And now here he was, television cameras filming him as he emerged from the hotel to issue a statement. He offered his condolences to the Kennedy family and expressed how shocked and dismayed he and the entire nation were at "the despicable act that took the life of the nation's President." He assured reporters, though, that the "entire citizenry of the nation will join as one in expressing not only their grief but indignation at this act and will stand faithfully behind the government."
Ike, indeed, looked shaken, and at one point, almost on the verge of tears.
Ike and Mamie attended the Kennedy funeral at St. Mathew's Cathedral with, of all people, Harry and Margaret Truman. Ike and Harry had been bitterly estranged ever since the 1952 presidential campaign. But the death of the President brought them together again. Ike learned that Harry and his daughter were staying at Blair House and called to say they he and Mamie would like to pick them up for the funeral in their limousine. Then after the funeral, they all rode together to Arlington Cemetery.
Returning to Blair House, Harry invited Ike and Mamie in for a drink. And there the two former enemies sat together throughout the afternoon eating sandwiches, drinking coffee, and reminiscing about old times.
When it was time for them to head back to Gettysburg, the Trumans escorted Ike and Mamie to their car. Before parting, the presidents shared what one reporter referred to as a "long, lingering, silent handshake."
Kennedy's death also reunited Ike with LBJ.
During Ike's presidency, Johnson liked to brag that the three Texans could get things done, the three being LBJ - the Democratic Majority Leader of the Senate; Sam Rayburn – the Democratic Speaker of the House; and Eisenhower – the Republican president. All from Texas (Ike was born there). And now, unexpectedly, another of the three was president.
Eisenhower met with LBJ when he arrived at the White House on November 23 to view Kennedy's body. Over lunch they sat and talked, LBJ soliciting Ike's advice for the difficult weeks ahead. LBJ would continue to rely on Ike for advice throughout his presidency, even sending his helicopter to Gettysburg to pick him up and deliver him to the White House.
John F. Kennedy's death united three presidents and the entire country in shared grief and communal concern for the nation's future. Sadly, it seems to always take tragedy to get Americans to come together and to act as one.
Below are previous posts from the past couple months.
IKE AND SATCHMO
Aside from cool and instantly recognizable nicknames, Dwight Eisenhower and Louis Armstrong shared several other things in common:
Both were born in the South. Ike in Texas in 1890. Satchmo in New Orleans, 1902.
Both their houses were designated National Historic Landmarks and each was opened to the public for tours, Ike's Gettysburg farm house in 1980, Satchmo's modest Queen's residence 10 years ago this month – in 2003.
Both were American icons. Both household names.
Both were beloved throughout the world, Ike as the Supreme Commander who led the Allies to victory in WWII, and Satchmo as the ever-smiling, good natured, master jazz trumpeter and entertainer.
Both traveled around the world, although only one ever made it to Moscow, the other declining the opportunity to do so.
Both battled the specter of racial inequality, yet each was criticized for not fighting hard enough.
And it was over the issue of racial inequality that their paths would cross.
On September 17, 1957, two weeks after nine black students were barred from entering Central High School in Little, Rock, Arkansas, Louis Armstrong was interviewed before a concert in Grand Forks, North Dakota by a 21 year old journalism major from the University of North Dakota.
According to the Chicago Defender, what Armstrong had to say "had the explosive effect of an H-bomb."
The interview began innocently enough with some questions about music, but then it quickly took a different turn, steering headlong into the crisis at Little Rock. Before long, Armstrong was referring to Eisenhower as "two faced" and accusing him of having "no guts" for allowing the National Guard to surround Central High and prevent the black students from entering. He reserved a much more colorful torrent of expletives to describe the Arkansas governor, Faubus, all of which the interviewer edited down to the far less profane epithet "uneducated plow boy." "It's getting almost so bad a colored man hasn't got any country," Armstrong bitterly complained.
Armstrong then suggested he would no longer be interested in the good will tour to the Soviet Union that the State Department wanted to arrange for him. He declared, "The way they are treating my people in the South, the government can go to hell."
The article ran all over the country and created quite a furor. Many Americans denounced Mr. Armstrong's comments. Fellow artists refused to perform with him and fans boycotted his concerts. But the black community, including many in the entertainment industry, supported him.
Perhaps few noted it at the time, but it was ironic that Louis Armstrong made his comments where he did. Grand Forks was the home town of the judge who had just ordered that the desegregation of Central High School must proceed despite the attempts to block it. Armstrong's venue for that evening's concert was Grand Fork's own Central High School. And the hotel he was staying in, the best the city had to offer, never had a black guest until that very evening. Satchmo had desegregated the hotel.
A week later, after President Eisenhower sent in the 101st Airborne Division to desegregate Central High, Armstrong had a change of heart. He sent the President a telegram that read:
"Mr. President, Daddy if and when you decide to take those little Negro children personally into Central High School along with your marvelous troops please take me along. O God it would be such a pleasure I assure you. My regards to Brother Brownell and may God bless you President. You have a good heart."
Interestingly, the one other issue that Mr. Armstrong felt impassioned enough about to contact the President was, apparently, the legalization of marijuana. Armstrong smoked pot much of his life, insisting that "It makes you feel good, man. It relaxes you, makes you feel wanted…" In his biography, An American Genius, James Collier writes that Armstrong sent the President a letter urging him that marijuana be legalized since it was "less harmful than alcohol."
Satchmo was eventually reinstated as America's #1 good will ambassador and performed all over the world. But he never did make it to the Soviet Union, even despite his confidence that the Russians, "ain't so cold but what we couldn't bruise them with happy music."
IKE, THE FIRST TV PRESIDENT
If it wasn't for TV, Eisenhower would not have run again in 1956. He had suffered a heart attack the year before and believed his health couldn't withstand another exhausting and stressful campaign. He decided he could run only if it was feasible to wage the entire campaign via television. 70% of Americans in 1956 now owned a TV as opposed to only 30% in 52. Embracing those statistics, the Republican National Committee deemed victory through television was, indeed, entirely possible.
Campaign commercials created for Eisenhower in 1956 ranged from piggyback ads (five minute spots airing at the tail end of shortened 30 minute shows like Our Miss Brooks) to more innovative fare like: a coffee klatch featuring the President sitting around speaking informally with several women, a half hour travelogue, a people's news conference, a birthday party hosted by actor Jimmy Stewart – a sort of This Is Your Life production, and an hour long election eve extravaganza starring the Eisenhower and Nixon families.
Eisenhower's good will tour throughout Europe and the Near East was the biggest and most elaborate television production during his second term. Televising the tours was made possible by technological advances in overseas communication, video taping, and jet travel. Americans were treated each night with scenes of Eisenhower cheered by mobs from Italy to India, meeting with world leaders, and visiting the Pope, the Taj Mahal, and the US 6th Fleet. It was reassuring in the midst of a bitter Cold War for Americans to see their president treated with such adulation abroad.
As his Presidency drew to a close, Eisenhower willingly shared his acquired media expertise with Vice President, Richard Nixon. Eisenhower urged Nixon not to debate Kennedy on TV during the 1960 campaign. He suspected that any joint appearance could only benefit the lesser known
TV remained a big part of Eisenhower's life in retirement. He appeared on CBS's Town Meeting of the World where he exchanged ideas via satellite with European leaders. He went to
Out on the sun porch of his Gettysburg farm house, Ike happily adapted to using the latest television technology – the remote control. He'd arouse Mrs. Eisenhower's ire by constantly changing the three channels over and over and over. Among the shows he watched with his wife during those last years was Green Acres. Mamie was so taken with the show that she named their valet's pet pig after the show's popular porcine character, Arnold. Arnold had the run of the house and was allowed unrestricted access to the slip-covered porch chairs from which even the grandchildren were banned.
Fittingly, Eisenhower was awarded an Emmy for his contributions to the television industry. He was the first president to both love and exploit TV. That love and exploitation reflected the two opposing sides of his character – the modest, folksy Kansan and the shrewd, consummate politician/leader. TV showed off both those sides, depicting him as a man who could, as in the line from his favorite poem, "walk with kings nor lose the common touch." And that was just as he intended.
Ike remains the only Emmy Award-winning president.
Today, when you visit Eisenhower National Historic Site, you'll find the sun porch preserved as it was. Ike's chair, his RCA Victor console TV, his remote control all still there as though awaiting his return after a short bathroom break. Not surprisingly, the TV shares the same space in which Ike sat with visiting foreign leaders discussing the pressing issues of the day.
The Emmy Awards Show was on this past Sunday. I didn't watch, but I'm willing to bet no presidents were nominated for an Emmy this year. Nor for the past half century. "When HAS a president won an Emmy?" you may ask. Well actually, back in 1956. And it was Dwight D. Eisenhower.
Ike was the first TV President. He early on recognized the possibilities of the new medium for communicating a message and propagating an image. But he not only sought to exploit television, he unabashedly enjoyed watching it. He and his wife Mamie liked nothing more than viewing their favorite shows on their sun porch RCA Victor while partaking of TV dinners on TV trays. They regularly watched Arthur Godfrey, The Lawrence Welk Show, and I Love Lucy. They both enjoyed Lucy so much that the President invited its entire cast, Fred, Ethel, Ricky, and Lucy to the White House, the first time sit-com personalities received such an invitation.
Ike's first personal experience with television production came after the war when in 1949 he narrated segments of a TV series based on his WWII memoir, Crusade in Europe. Then during his initial run for the Presidency in 1952, Eisenhower became the first presidential candidate to take advantage of TV as a campaign tool. However, his very first TV spot was a disaster. The networks arranged for the formal announcement of his candidacy to be televised live outside his home in Abilene. A rainstorm hit at airtime. The drenched, unsheltered spectators could barely hear the poor candidate as he stumbled through an ill prepared speech with rain dripping from his glasses.
Thereafter, the Republican National Committee put Eisenhower in the hands of a Madison Ave. advertising agency that created for him a series of short, snappy commercials entitled Eisenhower Answers America. Each ad began with an ordinary citizen asking "Ike" a question. Eisenhower filmed 50 of the 20 second spots in one day, reading from large cue cards so he wouldn't have to wear his glasses. Despite their effectiveness, Ike hated the ads. "To think an old soldier has come to this," he'd say.
Meanwhile, his Democratic opponent, Gov. Adlai Stevenson, never came close to mastering the medium. His campaign stuck with the standard format for a campaign telecast – a 30 minute spot in which the candidate simply delivered a long speech. Long speeches were Stevenson's forte, but he couldn't seem to complete one within an allotted half hour time frame. His pacing was always erratic. He started slowly, raced frantically to finish, and then eventually was cut off the air in mid-sentence. Ed Murrow tried to coach him to no avail.
Eisenhower's successful manipulation of TV throughout his Presidency owed much to the guidance of actor Robert Montgomery. Montgomery was the first presidential media consultant. He instructed Eisenhower in facial make-up, shirt color, lighting angles, and camera positions. He instilled in him a sense of timing and poise. He encouraged him to be natural, which the President complained was difficult when having to read from "that damn teleprompter." The goal as Montgomery saw it was to establish Eisenhower as a down-to-earth everyman and at the same time preserve his aura of leadership. The key was in exploiting Ike's warm, good natured smile while still projecting the dignified air of the presidency.
Montgomery's first presidential TV production was Eisenhower's Christmas Eve telecast from the south lawn of the White House in 1954. In a setting warmed by candles and Christmas decorations, the President urged Americans to count their blessings and then proceeded to extol his year's worth of successes. The telecast concluded with the lighting of the National Christmas tree. Political it was, but subtle enough that viewers simply saw it as a feel-good holiday message.
Eisenhower's most important contribution to presidential TV was the establishment of the televised press conference. He saw such regularly scheduled telecasts as a means to go over the heads of Congress and speak directly to the American people. Eisenhower went on to conduct more televised press conferences than any other president, averaging over 22 a year. This despite facing criticism for both his fractured elocution and his penchant for frankly admitting, "I don't know."
TO BE CONTINUED...
TWO WORLD WAR II VETS REMINISCE ABOUT IKE
As we prepare for our annual World War II Weekend this Saturday and Sunday, I was reminded of some of the stories visiting World War II vets have shared with us over the years. Here are two of my favorites:
A veteran touring the Eisenhower home one day stopped to reminisce about having seen Ike during the liberation of Paris. During a grand parade down the Champs Elysees, General Eisenhower and General De Gaulle were standing side by side reviewing the troops as they marched by. De Gaulle was so heavily bedecked with medals across his chest that he looked like he might just fall over from all that dead weight hanging from his uniform. But what the vet remembered most vividly was Ike. There he was, the Supreme Commander, and all he had on his entire uniform was two small ribbons.
That, to the old vet, reflected General Eisenhower's modest, down-to-earth nature and it left a lasting impression. Ike didn't expect to be, or acted like he should be, treated like a god as did De Gaulle or Douglas MacArthur. He seemed to be a regular guy, "just like the rest of us."
During the course of another house tour, a vet remembered the day General Eisenhower came out to the front lines to talk with the troops. He seemed genuinely concerned that they were all being fed well. "How's the food?" he kept asking everyone. No one considered it great, but not awful enough to gripe to the General about.
The vet said he recalled Ike's concern weeks later when his unit was standing in the chow line not far from the front lines. As the cooks were ladling out the grub, one suddenly pulled his revolver and yelled for the MPs. The MPs rushed in and hauled off one of the soldiers in line. It turned out that the guy was actually a German dressed in an American soldier's uniform.
After the incident, everyone gathered around the cook asking him how he figured it out. The vet and his buddies were right next to the guy and they had no idea that he might be a German. The cook replied simply, "I knew he wasn't one of you guys. He came back for seconds."
To hear personal first-hand accounts like these about Eisenhower and his life and times is one of the highlights of working at Eisenhower NHS. Among national historic sites, Eisenhower's is one whose history is so contemporary that many who visit have personally experienced it and are inspired by their visit to share their memories. Hardly a day goes by without at least one visitor having a story to share.
You got to swim in the White House pool and putt on the White House putting green.
Roy Rogers showed up as a surprise guest at your birthday party.
Grandpa invited the President of France to come visit your house.
You got to shoot baskets on the President's farm with British Prime Minister MacMillan.
You could impress your dates by introducing them to the President of the United States.
You had a chance to meet movie stars wandering around the White House like Jerry Lewis and Charlton Heston.
You had the opportunity to work as a farmhand on the President's farm for 75 cents an hour and the distinction of being personally fired by the President for returning late from lunch after having played cards with your buddies for several hours.
You got to ride horses with Secret Service agents.
You got to hang out at Camp David and shoot skeet.
You had presidential retreats named after you.
The President came out to watch your Little League baseball games.
Soviet Premier Khrushchev sat you on his knee and instructed you on how to say your name in Russian and then even gave you a big Communist pin to wear at school the next day.
You got lots of press coverage when telling reporters that you wouldn't mind being a Communist because Nikita Khrushchev was a nice guy.
You could eventually accumulate enough memories and material about the President to write a book about him.
You could end up marrying your Grandpa's Vice President's daughter.
IKE AND THE LAST UNION SOLDIER
The last surviving Union soldier, Albert Woolson, died at the age of 109 on August 2, 1956. At 17, he had served as a drummer boy for the 1st Minnesota Heavy Artillery. He was born during the administration of James Polk. He died during the second term of Dwight D. Eisenhower.
On his 109th birthday, President Eisenhower sent him a letter of congratulations:
This anniversary, I am certain, will be rich like its predecessors in memories and warm wishes from friends in many parts of the nation. With them I am delighted to join once again in saluting you.
Woolson, in turn, shared his assessment of Ike in several birthday interviews: "Eisenhower strikes me as a man with much common sense," he opined. "Common sense is fine for men who run the government." He went on to compliment Ike for doing a "creditable job" but expressed the hope he would be "more decisive." He also gave the President advice on how to handle the Formosan Crisis. "If the President asked me, I'd say stay at home and mind our own business. I'd caution Ike to keep out of those islands."
Although he admired Ike, Mr. Woolson made it clear that Ulysses S. Grant was his favorite president. "Now there was a great man. No palaver about that fellow, no nonsense either." Woolson said he was born a Republican. The first president he voted for was Lincoln. He was just 17 at the time, but a special dispensation had given the ballot to all soldiers.
He admitted to voting Democrat just once – for FDR in 1932.
Albert Woolson was born in the small town of Antwerp, NY on February 11, 1847. His father was a carpenter and a musician in a circus band who enlisted in the Union Army in 1861. After not having been heard from for over a year, the family learned that he had been wounded at Shiloh and was convalescing at a Minnesota hospital. The family made the long trek to Minnesota to be at his bedside only to see him die shortly after their arrival. The family remained in Minnesota and Albert went to work as a carpenter.
In 1864, Albert got his mother's consent to join the 1st Minnesota. He recalled that at the time there was an uprising of Sioux tribes throughout the state and that 38 Sioux were hanged in Mankato the day he left for the Army.
His unit never saw action. Thus, he never played his drums while leading the 1st Minnesota into battle, but he did keep a slow, steady beat for many a burying detail. He remembered one in particular:
Going out we played proper sad music, but coming back we kinda hit it up. Once a woman came onto the road and asked what kind of music that was to bury somebody. I told her that we had taken care of the dead and that now we were cheering up the living.
One memory he particularly relished was of the time he shot one of the regiment's cannons:
The colonel handed me the end of a rope and said, 'When I yell, you stand on your toes, open your mouth wide, give a yell yourself and pull the rope.' I yanked the lanyard and the cannon went off and scared me half to death.
Woolson returned to carpentry after the war, formed a drum and bugle corps with an old friend in 1867, and was married the following year. He eventually became a member of the GAR, the Grand Army of the Republic. He was one of six Union vets who attended the last National Encampment in 1949. It was there that he and the few other surviving GAR members voted to disband.
Woolson was laid to rest in the family plot in Duluth, MN on August 6, 1956. Thousands attended the funeral. The 5th Army Band playing Chopin's Funeral Dirge and an army marching unit of 109 accompanied the casket to the cemetery.
Albert Woolson outlasted 2,200,000 of his fellow Union soldiers. Following his death, a fellow old soldier turned politician who knew the Civil War well and whose home was on the fields of its greatest battle, shared these sentiments:
The American people have lost the last personal link with the Union Army. His passing brings sorrow to the hearts of all of us who cherished the memory of the brave men on both sides of the War between the States.
IKE, ABE, AND THE EXECUTION OF PRIVATE EDDIE SLOVIK
Back in 1963, Civil War historian Bruce Catton conducted an interview with Dwight Eisenhower asking the former president about his views on President Lincoln and the Civil War. The interview was aired as a half hour TV special, entitled Lincoln, Commander in Chief. It was a fascinating exchange, Ike and Catton sharing assessments of President Lincoln and Ike holding his own fairly well with the eminent historian. It was obvious they both held Lincoln in high esteem.
One of the most interesting moments of the interview was when Ike expressed his approval of Lincoln's penchant for issuing pardons during the war, particularly for soldiers sentenced to death for desertion. Lincoln continued to issue pardons despite often receiving harsh criticism for his leniency. Ike appeared to enjoy quoting Lincoln's reasoning: "A man just has cowardly legs. You can't blame him for that."
What made Ike's approval noteworthy was its irony. Eisenhower had approved the execution of an army private for desertion in 1944. It was the only such execution for a military offense since Lincoln's time.
What had compelled Eisenhower, who so admired Lincoln for his compassion, to approve a death sentence for a military offense?
Private Eddie Slovik of Co. G, 109th Infantry Regiment, 28th Division, was 23 years old when drafted in January of 1944. Because of his prison record he was originally classified 4-F, but draft standards were soon lowered and he was eventually reclassified as 1-A.
He arrived in France in August of '44, was assigned to the 28th Division five days later, and deserted on October 8. A day later, he surrendered voluntarily, handing over a note in which he confessed to desertion and blatantly stated, "And I'll run again if I have to go out there." He was advised to tear up his confession and return to his unit, but he refused to do so and was confined to the division stockade.
The judge advocate offered Slovik an opportunity to return to his unit and have the charges suspended. But again Slovik refused. He was court martialed, found guilty, and sentenced to death. The sentence was reviewed and approved by the division commander and approved again by the theater judge advocate.
On December 9, 1944 Private Slovik penned a letter to Supreme Commander Eisenhower pleading for clemency. In part, he wrote:
How can I tell you how humbly sorry I am for the sins I've committed. I didn't realize at the time what I was doing, or what the word desertion meant. What it is like to be condemned to die. I beg of you deeply and sincerely for the sake of my dear wife and mother back home to have mercy on me. To my knowledge I have a good record since my marriage and as a soldier. I'd like to continue to be a good soldier.
To Slovik's misfortune, the letter reached Eisenhower at an inopportune time. Its arrival coincided with the German's surprise offensive in the Ardennes, the Battle of the Bulge. U.S. troops were suffering high casualties, Bastogne was surrounded, troop morale was low and desertions problematic. Ike, who at any other time would have likely recommended clemency, concurred with the execution order on December 23, noting that it would serve as an example to discourage other desertions.
The sentence reportedly came as a shock to Slovik who anticipated he would simply serve jail time as other deserters had in the past.
Private Eddie Slovik was executed on January 31, 1945. Moments before being led to the firing squad, he insisted, "They're not shooting me for deserting the United States Army, thousands of guys have done that. They just need to make an example out of somebody and I'm it because I'm an ex-con. I used to steal things when I was a kid, and that's what they are shooting me for…"
Of the 49 American soldiers that were convicted and sentenced to death for desertion from 1942 to 1948, only Slovik was executed.
Slovik remained buried in an American cemetery in France alongside 95 American soldiers executed for violent crimes, their graves marked only with numbers. In 1987, President Reagan ordered that his remains be allowed to be returned home. He was reburied in a Detroit cemetery beside his wife.
So, Ike may have agreed with Lincoln that you can't blame a man for cowardly legs. But apparently, he did feel blame was justified when a man steadfastly refused the opportunity to redeem himself, and particularly so during pressing circumstances when such an affliction might very well infect others.
Of all the family members and associates who were with Ike on a regular basis throughout his presidency, this gentleman serves as the most frequent target of Ike's irritability and impatience. Certainly, he more than anyone experienced the brunt of the President's exasperation with the restrictions imposed on his activities and diet after his 1955 heart attack.
He was the 70+ year old doctor whom Ike's secretary called Old Duck - the President's personal physician, Howard Snyder.
There were those who questioned whether the elderly Snyder was qualified to serve as physician to the President of the United States. When he appeared to have misdiagnosed Ike's heart attack in 1955 as indigestion, confidence in Dr. Snyder among the President's friends plummeted. But Ike felt comfortable with Old Duck. And Dr. Snyder knew his patient well, patiently tolerating his moodiness and foibles and tantrums.
Dr. Snyder went everywhere with the President, would even accompany him out on the golf course to periodically take his vital signs. Ever concerned that Ike's blood pressure would skyrocket during a poorly played round, the good doctor would consistently compliment the President on his play. Ike though had little patience for such patronizing. Once, when Snyder had yelled "Fine shot!" after Ike had taken a particularly horrible one, the President exploded and threw his wedge at the doctor, hitting him in the knee. Ike immediately apologized and begged his pardon.
We're aware of this incident because Snyder included it in his medical diary. The doctor maintained a medical diary of the President from his heart attack to his last days in the White House and beyond. It was an almost hour by hour account of the President's activities. It not only recorded the medications taken, the blood pressure readings, the President's general mood and physical condition throughout the day, but also detailed what was eaten at each meal, how many highballs or scotch and waters the President drank, who he met with, what movie he watched that evening, what his golf score was and how much money was wagered on each hole, even what cards were played at his bridge games.
In one entry for 1930 hours on Nov. 12, 1959, Dr. Snyder writes:
Bridge was immediately in order. In an early hand George Allen had bid four hearts which was doubled. George, after leading several clubs, led the Queen of Diamonds from his dummy. The President's partner, Bill Robinson, played a small diamond; George played a small diamond; and the president took the trick with a Jack of Diamonds and handed it to his partner, who was keeping the tricks. The President then led a club….
And this goes on for another two paragraphs!
He records snippets of conversation between the President and his friends. Here's one that occurred late in the evening in the fall of 59 while the President was vacationing at his cottage at Augusta National Golf Club:
After bridge, they sat around until 2340 hours discussing Rockefeller, Nixon, and other possible candidates for the Republican Party President. Eisenhower propounded his theories about maintaining of the national economy said that expenditures for missile and space programs should be reduced by several hundred million, and that the defense budget should be reduced by several billion. He said that he couldn't put this over with Congress because the popular political approach for the people was that of "to hell with the budget; everything for defense.
Then they discussed the possible Democratic candidates. As they went over the list of governors, all agreed that Governor Brown of California was stupid. Similar comments were made about all the other prominent Democratic potential candidates.
Another discussion after breakfast one day:
We also got on the subject of how ineffective and how disliked Montgomery had been, and how near he had been to being set down by the British on occasion during the war. The President told about how McNaughton, the Commanding General of the Canadian Forces, had said that Monty had been about to be kicked out, but had gone to the British crying for another chance. McNaughton said that Monty's staff had carried him. McNaughton hated Montgomery….
Throughout the diary are intimate vignettes starring the President's friends, particularly the ever jolly and loquacious George Allen. In one entry, the doctor documents how he gave poor George flak for trying to catch some sleep during the First Lady's birthday party:
Fat George Allen had sacked up at the time the President began his second nine, and was still in the hay when I arrived… The President asked where George was, so I went in to him and announced that the President had asked for him. He aroused and said he would be out. Five minutes later, I went back and found him still in bed. I said to him, "Get the hell out here for the birthday party!
There are candid moments when a weary and frustrated President suggests, "Let's just get drunk," a lovely description of the President's response to the jubilant reception his motorcade receives when he arrives in Chicago for the 1960 Republican National Convention. And there's Snyder repeatedly offering up his theory as to why Ike's blood pressure has risen yet again:
The blood pressure, I think, was due to the fact that the President was angry at himself because of his rotten play. He did not have a single par.
Dr. Snyder's medical diary is a wealth of information. In small doses, it can be a pretty entertaining read.
IKE'S DEFEATED HERO: ROBERT E. LEE
Eisenhower enjoyed oil painting and often chose his heroes as subjects for his canvases. He painted Lincoln. He painted Washington. But despite also being among his pantheon of heroes, he never painted Robert E. Lee. He tried. Over and over. But each attempt ended in failure. He said he could never get the whiskers quite right.
Ike admired Lee for his brilliant generalship. Nevertheless, he blamed Lee for the Confederate defeat at Gettysburg. In Ike's view, Lee's inefficient staff resulted in mass confusion on the battlefield and his misjudgment of Union morale led to the foolish decision of assaulting the center of the Union line.
But he also admired Lee for his character. For Ike, one of Lee's finest hours was in defeat on the third of battle at Gettysburg. As Pickett's men retreated, fraught with despair and abject disappointment, Lee rode his horse back and forth assuring them, "It is my fault. It is all my fault…"
Similarly, after the D-Day invasion was launched, Supreme Commander Dwight Eisenhower wrote himself a speech he intended to deliver if the operation failed. In it he praises the valor of his troops and makes it clear that, "If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt, it is mine alone."
One wonders how much Robert E. Lee may have inspired those words.
Ironically, Ike was once accused of publicly denigrating General Lee. It was on a tour of the Gettysburg Battlefield with his WWII compatriot Field Marshal Montgomery in 1957. Monty, for the benefit of the trailing press, loudly commented that both Lee and Meade should have been sacked. Then he called out, "Don't you agree, Ike?" Eisenhower, who had already been heading back to the car, turned, and in an attempt to defuse the aspersion, directed his response to the press: "Look, I live here. I represent the North and South. He can talk."
Despite Ike's measured reply, headlines in southern newspapers the next day stridently proclaimed EISENHOWER JOINS MONTGOMERY IN CRITICIZING LEE AND MEADE and SOUTHERN BLOOD BOILS! One editorial cartoon depicted the ghosts of Lee and Meade taking a tour in a jeep of the Ardennes, the site of the Battle of the Bulge, with Lee commenting that the generals responsible for the debacle should be sacked.
Monty's next stop after Gettysburg was the Deep South and Montgomery, Alabama. He couldn't understand why his reception there was less than warm. Meanwhile, in a press conference two days later, Ike defended himself against the accusations of Lee bashing. He insisted he had great admiration for General Lee and the proof of it was the portrait of Lee that hung prominently in his Oval Office.
Many southerners were indignant that one who suffered failures like Kasserine Pass and the Ardennes should dare to criticize Robert E. Lee. Years later, Russel Weigley, the eminent military historian from Temple University, put Ike and Lee in perspective. Weigley boldly ranked the three greatest generals in American history:
The greatest, Weigley contended, was Ulysses S. Grant because he demonstrated such great flexibility in adapting different strategies and managed to successfully coordinate operations in such a huge area comprised of several theaters. He ranked Washington second for his ability to fight and win with such an obvious lack of resources. And third was Eisenhower. Not only for his military diplomacy, but for his underrated generalship. Eisenhower advanced relentlessly from victory to victory through Africa and Europe. Even the Battle of the Bulge was quickly exploited as an opportunity to surround the German army and deliver a crushing blow. Many have a tendency to diminish Ike's generalship and to chalk up his success to an advantage in resources. But Weigley insisted that Ike never possessed the overwhelming material advantage needed for an offensive war. He consistently suffered from high casualty rates, inferior tanks, and a lack of reserves.
And Robert E. Lee? He didn't make Weigley's list.
THAT IKE GRADUATED FROM WEST POINT... PURE LUCK OR DESTINY?
Back in June of 1915, Cadet Dwight D. Eisenhower graduated from the United States Military Academy and was commissioned a 2nd lieutenant in the U.S. Army infantry. That he graduated from West Point and was commissioned at all was pure luck. Or destiny.
Dwight Eisenhower had actually intended to go to University of Michigan like his older brother. The plan was that he would work to support his brother going to university and then after graduating his brother would support him.
Thus, a major incentive for Ike giving consideration to the military academies was the free tuition. A second motivating factor was his friend Swede Hazlett. Swede was aiming to become a midshipman and encouraged Ike to join him in taking the Naval Academy exam. Fortunately, Ike also found sponsorship from a local congressman who thought highly of his father.
Both Ike and Swede took the exam and it was Ike who ended up ranked number 1 for the Annapolis appointment. Unfortunately, the Navy rejected him. It turned out he didn't meet the age specifications for the Academy. On the verge of turning 21 by the time the next class was to enlist, he was a year too old to be accepted.
Fortunately, the same exam qualified him for eligibility at West Point. Unfortunately, he finished second for that appointment. Fortunately, the candidate who ranked above him failed the physical exam. And Ike was in.
Ike was an average student. What was more important to him than academics was football. He was a promising halfback who garnered some great press his sophomore year. But alas, he injured his knee in the Tufts game that year, aggravated the injury again during horse riding drills, and was never able to play again. The injury devastated him, sending him into an emotional tail spin of despair and apathy during which he stopped attending classes and lost his incentive to even bother graduating. He only very slowly emerged from his funk and managed to finish ranked 61st out of 162 students in the class.
Although he finally graduated, it was very likely he was going to be denied a commission into the Army because of his knee injury. The academy surgeon finally agreed that he would approve the commission only if Ike applied to the coastal artillery. Ike refused. And with that stubborn refusal Ike believed he had forfeited any chance of making the Army a career.
Fortunately, the academy surgeon called him back the following day and offered a compromise. If Ike agreed not to select the cavalry as a preference, he would sign off on the commission. And so Ike joined the infantry.
If he could have afforded it, Ike would have gone to U. of M. If he had a choice between West Point and Annapolis, he would have chosen the Naval Academy. If he had been healthier, he may have well been commissioned as a cavalry officer.
But in the end, fate set his course and steered him in the direction of his ultimate destiny – the Supreme Allied Command and the Presidency.
On June 15, 1955, atomic bombs rained down on America. The Soviets had targeted 61 of America's largest cities and wrought incredible carnage – nearly 4 million dead in New England alone. A photo taken during the attack shows President Eisenhower and his cabinet continuing to run the country from long tables in a large tent at their secret evacuation center. Secretary of the Treasury George Humphrey is there sporting a conspicuously wide grin despite the nuclear devastation.
Fortunately, this was all theater, a production called Operation Alert staged by the Federal Civil Defense Administration. Operation Alert was the first nation-wide civil defense test in which the federal government actually evacuated Washington and of which an accounting was made of casualties inflicted by an imagined nuclear attack. In 1955, American scientists felt reasonably capable for the first time of calculating the spread of radioactive fallout. The previous year fallout was detected over 7,000 square miles of the Pacific after the H-bomb test at Bikini Atoll.
The attacks began on June 15, 1955 in New Bedford, Massachusetts at 1:22 pm. Of the cities targeted by the alert, some, like San Francisco, had no advance notice of the attack. The President, however, had advanced warning and left Washington at noon for his secret emergency hideout in Virginia. Fifteen thousand federal employees were also evacuated, but Congress remained in the Capital, having as of yet no secret evacuation center to escape to. The Deputy Director for Civil Defense in the District of Columbia, who declared the exercise ridiculous and refused to participate, was promptly fired.
The President broadcast a message to the American people from his secret evacuation hideaway. "We are here to determine whether or not the Government is prepared in time of emergency to continue the function of government so that there will be no interruption in the business that must be carried on," he explained. It was aired on the NBC and DuMont TV networks.
How did Americans respond to the staged attacks? In New York City, most citizens played along and retreated inside for 10 minutes when the sirens sounded. Wall Street suspended trading, but 17,000 fans at the Yankees game remained in their seats throughout the drill. Twenty eight peace protesters conducting a sit-in demonstration at City Hall Park were arrested for not participating.
Philadelphians were not warned about the alert beforehand and consequently ignored it as did most residents in Atlanta, Honolulu, and L.A. except for government workers. Civil defense officials in Peoria refused to participate even though a radioactive dust cloud from Chicago was covering the city.
The New York Times hailed Operation Alert as a success, adding that it was satisfying to note that Soviet Foreign Minister Molotov was in New York City at the time of the test and thus too would have been among the casualties incinerated by the five megaton thermonuclear bomb dropped on the city.
Among those not pleased with the test results were the wives of the White House cabinet members. According to syndicated columnist Doris Fleeson, "Apparently it had not dawned on those ladies until they actually saw their husbands pack a suitcase for a three day stay that no such plans had been made for them or their children. Their wives' farewell embraces were described by some of the men as rather lacking in warmth."
What upset the wives most, however, was that their husbands' secretaries were taken along.
FONDLY RECALLING THOSE FIRST APPREHENSIVE WEEKS OF THAT VERY FIRST SUMMER AS A SEASONAL PARK RANGER…
Last week we welcomed aboard the park's new crop of summer interns and seasonal rangers.
During the course of introductions in the opening minutes of their first day of training, I looked out at all those expectant, enthusiastic, and slightly apprehensive faces and couldn't help but recall my first summer as a seasonal park ranger…
It was at Devil's Tower National Monument in Wyoming and I was initially pretty apprehensive. My duties included conducting an evening program several times a week. I wasn't so much nervous about presenting the program as I was about trying to get the campfire started every night. There's nothing more embarrassing than a park ranger who can't get his fire started as 150 expectant and ultimately disillusioned campers look on. Not only do visitors to a natural park typically expect a ranger to be able to start a campfire effortlessly, but to practically do so by rubbing two sticks together. Alas, I was pyrotechnically challenged. I began to arrive at the amphitheater an hour and a half early so I could furtively douse my logs with a half a can of lighter fluid without any visitors witnessing the sacrilege.
I was also responsible for conducting rock climbing demonstrations. Devil's Tower is a Mecca for rock climbers from all over the world. Sadly, I had never rock climbed before and was also afraid of heights. But here I was putting on the "John, The Master Rock Climber Show. " I had little idea what I was doing and feared that at any moment I would be detected as a rock climbing fraud.
Throughout my first couple weeks, I persistently questioned whether park rangering was my true calling. But by the middle of the season I had come to the realization that I actually sounded like I knew what I was talking about and that I only needed a quarter of a can of lighter fluid to start my fire and that this summer as a park ranger was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.
The following summer I worked at Olympic National Park. I was much more confident now, but still found the first couple weeks to be challenging. I was assigned to conduct three different campfire programs each week. I only had a week and a half to get my slide show presentations together. In desperation, I chose the banana slug, Olympic's most noteworthy and ubiquitous resident, as one of my program topics. To my dismay, the park slide collection had only a couple banana slug slides. So I was forced to head out and take photos of slugs myself. Of course, when you need one, you can't find a slug anywhere. As a last resort, I selected two ripe bananas and photographed them posing on the forest floor and strung from trees. My program slides ended up being mostly of bananas, but you could hardly tell the difference. Halfway through my program though, I would typically begin to hear visitors muttering, "Hey wait, those aren't slugs, those are bananas."
I suspect it's needless to say – my supervisor wasn't overly appreciative of my impressionistic interpretation of banana slug life.
But I survived that less than sterling first few weeks as well. And I experienced again what I considered another rewarding and productive season.
I've since been a park ranger for thirty years.
If there's a lesson I could impart to our new interns and seasonals from my experience, I suppose it would be not to let yourself get too frustrated, discouraged or overwhelmed during the first couple weeks. You'll get through it. And by halfway through the season, I can almost guarantee you'll find this summer to be one of the most rewarding experiences of your life.
As for myself, I've since learned to repress the impulse to do anything as interpretively foolish as substitute bananas for slugs in a campfire presentation. But I have to say, I miss that reckless and exuberant ingenuity of youth.
IKE'S LEAST FAVORITE GETTYSBURG BATTLEFIELD COMMANDER
When sharing his assessments of the Battle of Gettysburg with friends or reporters, there were three Gettysburg battlefield commanders of whom Eisenhower was sharply critical.
One was Lee. Although he considered Lee a brilliant general and a man of character, he held Lee responsible for the Confederate defeat at Gettysburg. In Ike's view, Lee's inefficient staff resulted in mass confusion on the battlefield and his misjudgment of Union morale led to the foolish decision of assaulting the center of the Union line.
Another was J.E.B. Stuart. Ike complained that Stuart was more interested in winning personal glory than he was providing his commander the critical assistance required to win a battle.
But Ike's most disparaging criticism was reserved for the ever colorful and often despicable General Dan Sickles.
The reasons for Ike's seething disdain were threefold:
First, Sickles was a political general. As Ike saw it, political generals couldn't be counted on to be competent battlefield commanders. In Sickle's case, Ike judged him to be "guilty of the type of parochial thinking that loses a battle - a man that can only visualize his own problems and can't see beyond it to the whole."
However, Ike didn't blame Lincoln for appointing political generals like Sickles. Lincoln was forced to do so to keep Democrats in support of the war. Although refraining from criticizing Lincoln for the appointments, Ike felt it fair to fault him for actually using those generals in battle.
Secondly, Sickles was just an all-round "terrible person." His conduct, even off the battlefield, was reprehensible:
Thirdly, and most unforgivingly, Sickles disobeyed orders. During the second day of fighting at Gettysburg, Sickles defied Meade's orders and moved his entire 2nd Corps a half mile closer to the Confederate line, leaving big gaps in the Union line. The result was near disaster for the Union army. Nevertheless, Sickles claimed that his quick thinking and aggressiveness saved the day for the Union and insisted that he should rightly be acknowledged as the Battle's savior.
As Ike saw it, it was bad enough Sickles almost cost the Union Army the battle, but far worse was the simple fact he disobeyed orders. For that, there was no excuse.
I was asked once by a visitor what personal relevance Eisenhower National Historic Site had for me. It was a good question.
One summer, many years ago, I listened to a park ranger as he waxed passionately about how personally relevant his park was to him. His park was Yellowstone.
He spoke about growing up in the city, but how his Dad made a point of packing up the station wagon every summer and driving the family out west for several weeks to visit national parks. He wanted his children to experience the rugged beauty and grand majesty of nature that the west offered. And each summer, Yellowstone was part of the itinerary. He recalled the sheer joy and enthusiasm emanating from his father as he shared with his kids his love of the park and its mountains and wildlife and waterfalls and geysers... His father had since passed away, but he could easily imagine how excited the old man must be that his son is now a park ranger at that very park, sharing everyday with visitors his father's love of Yellowstone.
Although certainly nowhere near as inspiring as what the Yellowstone ranger had to say, this is how I responded to the question:
Dwight D. Eisenhower was inaugurated three days before I was born. His presidency and post-presidency coincided with the golden years of my childhood and thus harbor for me some very positive associations: security, family, innocence, a simpler time, a time when every dream possessed the potential to be realized. I can remember all the VOTE FOR IKE signs on the front lawns up and down our block during the 1956 election. This despite the fact his opponent, Governor Adlai Stevenson, owned a farm just the next town over.
Ike's face - the bald head and endearing smile - is one of the indelible images of my youth. He was my first president while, for my Dad, he was the general he served under during the war. Although my Dad never talked about the war, he had a scrapbook tucked away on the closet shelf that I would pull down and page through. There were photos of him and his Army buddies, photos of some of the towns in France and Luxembourg they liberated, European coins he had saved in an envelope taped to the scrapbook's inside back cover… The connection wasn't explicit, but I was always aware there was this war time connection between Eisenhower and my Dad.
The simplicity of the Eisenhower home and how it epitomizes the style of the 1950s and early 60s takes me back to that time. As it does for many visitors, the home and farm reflect a time I remember as well as aspects of the man who perhaps best emblemizes it: his modesty and down to earth nature, his respect for and love of the land, his acknowledgement of his flaws (his fiery temper) and efforts (often in vain) to overcome them, his ability to relate to and respect others - from the lowliest private to the loftiest head of state, his ability to keep a level head and make sound, rational decisions in the face of crisis… His appeal for me derives from these aspects of his character and I find myself searching for similar traits (often in vain) in our current leaders.
So there you have it. I didn't verbalize it as clearly as I've written it here, but this is what I meant to say when answering the question. Of course, the challenge of being an historical interpreter is to try and churn up some semblance of personal relevance to the site and its history among each and every visitor. And here at Eisenhower NHS, the greatest challenge is arousing that sense of relevance among school children for whom the years of separation from Eisenhower is as broad as mine was from Woodrow Wilson and WWI when I was a kid.
The highlight for students is always the marching and singing cadence.
There's wearing the hats (the WWII steel helmet, army officer cap, West Point cap, Army overseas caps, the fedora, Abilene H.S. baseball cap…); there's touring the Eisenhower home; there are the stories of Ike's fight with Wesley Merryfield and saving the life of his horse, Blackie; and then there are the mini reenactments of the landing on the Normandy beaches, Ike and the First Lady arriving via helicopter, West Point plebe Eisenhower being harangued by upperclassmen…
But throughout the entire two hour program, it's the marching and "sounding off" that generates the most enthusiasm.
Last week we conducted yet another round of our Eisenhower: Man of Many Hats education programs for 5th grade classes. As we tour the site, we have the students wear an assortment of hats representing different periods in Eisenhower's life. The students "portray" Ike as we look back on his life and reflect on the character traits he developed that contributed to his success.
At one point, everyone is inducted into the Army and issued actual Army overseas caps to wear. Then after a few moments of close order drill to learn the commands, we march off to meet General Eisenhower. We sing the traditional Sound Off cadence, with lyrics slightly altered:
I don't know but I've been told,
Up at 5 and march all day,
It's really the cadence more than the marching that arouse the students' enthusiasm. And it's Private Willie Lee Duckworth we have to thank for that.
As a black soldier in America's segregated Army in 1944, Private Duckworth was assigned to drill the troops by his commanding officer. To enliven their step and help them keep time, Duckworth created the now familiar rhythmic chant, Sound Off:
Ain't no use in going home,
Anyone who served time in boot camp remembers it. It's one of everyone's indelible memories of basic training. It's even been heard in movies beginning with Battleground in 1949 and Sound Off with Mickey Rooney in 1951.
It was Duckworth's superior officer who saw to it that Duckworth's Sound Off was copyrighted. Duckworth, who returned to the small town of Sandersville, Georgia after the war, received royalty checks for Sound Off until his death in 2004.
It's only recently that Duckworth has been recognized. There's now a section of Georgia Highway 242 named for him and a granite marker dedicated to him on the grounds of the Washington County courthouse.
It wasn't until last year, almost 40 years since I first Sounded Off in boot camp, that I discovered I owed it to a young black private from a small town in Georgia for making all that marching so tolerable.
And now some PA and MD fifth graders have discovered it too.
LIVING ON AN EISENHOWER FARM
Not many visitors realize it, but there are four farms on Eisenhower NHS. All four are leased out to a local farmer as cropland and pasture while two of the farmhouses are rented out to park staff. So, you might ask (as many do), what's it like living on an Eisenhower farm? Well, I can tell you…
Back around the turn of the millennium, when our kids were little, we rented out the house on Farm 3, right across the road from the President's. It was once part of Eisenhower's cattle operation and one of his farmhands had lived there.
The old farm house is pre-Civil War. It has a porch that stretches along the entire front where we would sit on summer evenings while the boys chased lightning bugs in the yard. The farm is located on the outskirts of the Gettysburg Battlefield, off the beaten trail. So living there wasn't like residing in one of the historic homes smack in the middle of the Battlefield where if you walked out of the shower you had to be wary of troops of boy scouts peering through your windows. Although, for some reason, van loads of Japanese tourists would periodically drive up our gravel lane and inquire, "Eisenhower?"
The house was then surrounded by big Norway maples which kept it cool in the summer. But it had no insulation, so it was always cold in the winter. The oil furnace churned full blast non-stop during a cold snap, yet the house never warmed up to more than 55 degrees.
The house wasn't haunted as some insist other old homes on the Battlefield are. Legend has it there was gold buried somewhere on the property to keep it out of Confederate hands during the battle. We never understood why no one would have dug it back up after the battle.
It was a great place for our two boys to grow up. Here they were living on a working farm without having to do any of the farm chores themselves. In the spring, the farmer would give them rides on the tractor as he spread manure across the fields and they'd watch as the cows gave birth to their calves in the pasture.
The boys were fond of the cows. They enjoyed deliberately kicking the soccer ball into the pasture so they'd have an excuse to climb the fence and retrieve it from the midst of the herd. Anytime the herd broke out of the pasture, which they frequently did, the boys liked to rush out and try to shoo them back in, the cows typically ignoring them while continuing to munch on the grass in the back yard.
The cows could be counted on to be discrete accomplices. Whenever the boys were ordered to sit at the dinner table until they finished their vegetables, one would inevitably slip out and feed the ill-tasting morsels to the herd, thereby quietly disposing of the evidence.
In the summer, the boys and I would play baseball in the front yard, hitting the ball into the high corn, again and again having to venture into the rows to search for it. We would lose at least 10 balls through the course of the summer, eventually recovering a few after harvest. We'd walk the dogs in the late summer afternoon along the edge of the fields to the Battlefield's outdoor amphitheater, tearing apart milkweed pods along the way to watch the seeds waft through the air like snow. The cows were fascinated with our two dogs and the entire herd would tag along beside the dogs the whole way.
Upon reaching the deserted amphitheater, we'd camp it up on stage as though we were great orators or rock and roll stars.
Since we lived across the road from my place of employment, the Eisenhower home, I could have easily bicycled or even walked to work each morning. Shamefully though, I chose to drive in order to allow myself an extra ten minutes in bed. But the wife and I did always enjoy bicycling down Pumping Station Road after work with the kids strapped in kiddie seats. Our route took us down through the covered bridge where folks were always fishing and seemingly never catching anything, past the old house that served as a battlefield hospital, across the old iron bridge from which you could see egrets in the creek, then past the farm with the cows that always smelled so much worse than ours, to yet another creek where you would occasionally spot a blue heron.
One summer the creek across the road flooded and the water filled our garage and nearly floated our truck away. The flood knocked the covered bridge off its foundation. It sat along the side of the creek for months afterwards along with a mud filled trailer that had washed up from God knows where.
Sometimes we'd pedal off in the other direction, down Black Horse Tavern Road, to the small roadside cemetery overgrown with weeds where broken, eroded tombstones marked the graves of Revolutionary War veterans.
One evening, when pedaling to the covered bridge, we watched as a scene from a Civil War movie was being filmed. They were hanging a Confederate soldier from the rafters of the bridge.
In the fall, as the boys played football with the dogs in the leaf carpeted yard, they could look over and count 60 deer congregating in the farmer's fields devouring what was left of the crops. It was in the fall that I loved the cows, at least once I realized that when I raked all the leaves into piles along the fence line, the cows would stretch their necks over the fence and eat them. Most convenient method for disposing of leaves I've ever encountered.
When the kids got a bit older, we finally bought our own home and moved out to a neighborhood full of kids our boys' age, which was great. But it was also claustrophobically filled with next door neighbors, which took some getting used to. We still have lots of trees, but now I have to bag the leaves in the fall.
I miss the cows.
I also miss what I like to remember as a near idyllic existence - living on a Civil War battlefield farm, just across the street from Ike's.
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.
Did You Know?
President Eisenhower considered the establishment of the Interstate Highway system to be one of his proudest accomplishments. He had advocated the building of an interstate system ever since spending two months driving coast to coast in a US Army truck convoy in 1919.