The Ike Blog (May - June, 2011)
THE OFFICIAL BLOG OF EISENHOWER NATIONAL HISTORIC SITE
SADLY, THE CIVIL WAR DOESN'T HAVE A MONOPOLY ON WAR, ASSASSINATION, POLITICAL INTRIGUE, AND TRAGEDY
Putting the Brakes on Old Blood and Guts: The Relationship of Ike and Patton
Ike and the Aftermath of WWII
Passing the Torch: Exploring the Relationship Between Eisenhower and Kennedy
Guarding the Golden Years: Ike's Retirement with the Secret Service
Duty, Honor, and Country: Eisenhower at West Point
Ike's Life of Fitness
Khrushchev's Visit to America
We also offer at 12:15 pm and 3:15 pm the Ike and the Men of D-Day program, a hands-on look at the uniform and equipment the American soldiers wore and carried with them onto the beaches of Normandy on June 6, 1944. Included among a large array of items are the mainstay of the American infantry - the M-1 rifle, assorted grenades and rations, and some intriguing pieces unique to the D-Day invasion.
If you have time to spare before, during, or after the anniversary events and would like to momentarily enjoy a less crowded and hectic celebration of American history, check out the President's farm at Eisenhower National Historic Site. If you can't spare the time or have not yet been to Gettysburg, keep us in mind for a future visit.
We're talking about the Interstate Highway System.
He recognized the desperate need for a national highway system way back in 1919 after having taken part in the US Army cross country truck convoy. The Army had set out to test America's road system and see how long it would take transport troops from coast to coast. The army chose to follow the Lincoln Highway, America's first transcontinental highway, stretching 3400 miles from New York to San Francisco. It was merely a collection of interconnected roads, many unpaved, all designated as the Lincoln Highway with "L' labeled red, white, and blue signs.
It was a long, arduous road trip. They left Washington DC on July 7. They drove 7.25 hours that first day and covered 46 miles. The second day they spent 10.5 hours on the road and managed 62 miles. And that was making good time compared to many other days. Trucks broke down daily, were mired in mud, had to often circumnavigate ramshackle bridges and ford swiftly flowing streams, sometimes fell off the side of steep cliffs, and would often fail to make it up even mildly steep grades. The convoy did finally arrive in San Francisco two months later on September 6, having averaged 5 3/4 mph along the way.
It was this experience that planted the seed that eventually blossomed into Eisenhower's campaign for an interstate highway system. Later, it was his first hand experience with the German autobahn during the war that fertilized the seed.
The Interstate system would serve a variety of purposes and have a tremendous impact on the country. It spurred commerce, stimulated the travel industry, increased the mobility of Americans, and pumped billions into the national economy. It was the largest public works project in American history. The federal government could utilize interstate highway construction as a means of regulating the economy. And although it may now be largely overlooked, it still serves the purpose for which it was originally conceived - as a vital thoroughfare for the efficient and timely movement of troops in the event of a national emergency.
As President, Eisenhower heavily promoted the Interstate Highway bill, eventually to be known as the Federal - Aid Highway Act. He schmoozed and pressured Congress to make sure it was passed. In its final form, it didn't quite match his expectations. He envisioned highways that would by-pass the cities as in Europe. He was at first concerned that constructing superhighways through cities would be very costly. He later worried that doing so would result in congestion and an undermining of public transportation. However, the final bill designated a system that included both rural highways and urban thoroughfares. Today, congestion and pollution are two disappointing aspects of the Interstate's legacy.
There are now over 46,876 miles of Interstate Highway. In 1990, the Interstate system was officially named The Dwight D. Eisenhower National System of Interstate and Defense Highways. As you drive, you'll occasionally come across signs that proclaim it as such. They serve as a reminder that Eisenhower well deserves credit for its existence.
And happy birthday today to the National Museum of American History. Today in 1955, President Eisenhower signed the bill authorizing $36M for the museum.
One artist at the Farm chose as her subject the ancient sycamore sitting in the nine acre pasture south of the Eisenhower home. Excellent choice, I thought. She wasn't aware, until I told her, that Andrew Wyeth also chose to paint that very tree when he came to visit the President in 1959. He had actually come out to paint a portrait of the President for the cover of Time magazine. But he was so impressed with the tree, that he took a break from the portrait and set up his easel on the tree's far side. The sycamore was the focal point of the work and the Eisenhower home an almost insignificant backdrop.
It's a stately tree with its thick, gnarled, contorted limbs; smooth silver-white bark; and sitting very much alone and majestic as it does in the middle of the pasture. The Eisenhower grandkids fondly remember the tree and will walk over and check on it when they come to visit.
The President took a few moments to watch Wyeth paint the sycamore and was impressed. Not so much with the quality of the work as the speed with which it was completed.
Ike took a keen interest in Wyeth's work because he too was a painter, albeit a very amateur one. In fact, he wouldn't refer to his modest attempts as paintings, he preferred to call them his "daubs." He had taken up the hobby when he was 58 years old, partly at the urging of his friend Winston Churchill who had been painting for years and considered it both satisfying and relaxing.
Ike ended up painting over 260 canvases throughout his lifetime. He confessed though, that he threw away more than he ever completed. Of those he finished, 90% he just gave away. He was most comfortable painting landscapes. His best, however, is (ironically considering their stormy relationship) a portrait of Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery. It hangs today in the British Embassy in Washington.
At 58, Ike got a late start. Not as late as Grandma Moses though. She began painting when she was almost 70. Eisenhower happened to be fond of her work. So, to honor the President on the third anniversary of his inauguration, the Cabinet commissioned Moses to paint his Gettysburg Farm. Working from photographs, she finished and presented the painting to the President in 1956 when she was 96 years old.
Ike and Grandma Moses serve as inspiration to those of us who take up painting in their post middle age years. I started oils two years ago and today consider my style still very much influenced by the anal retentive school - I'm plodding, overly precise, and curse in despair at every frequent misstroke. But I'm slowly improving and learning… Just last week I found out what "plein air" means - "in the open air," taken from the French phrase "en plein air."
I've been thinking lately that I just might emulate Wyeth, and Ike, and last week's Festival artist. After the site closes one day, I'll set up my paints and easel near the old sycamore and spend several hours in the quiet of the early evening plein air painting and cursing - just me, the canvas, the old sycamore, and the spirits of Wyeth and Ike looking over my shoulder and hopefully nodding their heads in approval.
Dave had been a seasonal ranger at Gettysburg NMP and Eisenhower NHS off and on for over 50 years. He started on the Battlefield back in 1959 as a seasonal law enforcement ranger. His Dad, the town doctor, knew the Chief Park Historian, Dr. Frederick Tillburg, and somehow managed to corral him the job. This was when the NPS offices were in the second floor of the of the post office (now the library) and the Cyclorama was in a round brick building on Baltimore St. where the Battlefield Bus Tour Center is today. He occasionally worked the old Cyclorama with the legendary guide and history teacher, Colonel Sheads who was a seasonal park ranger back then. One of Dave's jobs was to lock up the Longstreet Tower whenever President Eisenhower came to spend the weekend at his Gettysburg farm.
He left for a three year stint in the army and then upon his return worked four seasons as an interpreter historian from 1962-65. He remembered those years as exciting times. In 1963, the new Cyclorama building opened, space age-like with its ultra modern architecture. This was the centennial year of the battle and the crowds were huge. Prior to 1963, there were very few interpreters. Now there were seven, and for the first time they were stationed throughout the battlefield. But he spent most of that year directing traffic. The uniform was felt hat, long sleeves & tie, and silver brass both winter and summer. Female ranger uniforms resembled vintage airline stewardess outfits.
He recalls 1963 as the last year a reenactment was held on the fields of Pickett's charge. It was the year President Kennedy came to the battlefield and personally requested seasonal ranger and guide Col. Sheads for his tour, bypassing the chief historian and others much to their dismay. It was the year his mother produced seven Civil War vignettes that were performed around the battlefield throughout the summer.
President Eisenhower was still living in town then. When he wasn't rangering, Dave drove the battlefield tour bus. The President's grandson, David, who was in high school at the time, sold the bus tickets. Dave would run into the President when he'd come to pick up his grandson, once mentioning that he was teaching history at Bermudian Springs High. That seemed to please the President. Whenever he would later see Dave, he'd greet him with, "Hello there history teacher."
Dave received his masters in guidance and counseling from Western Maryland University. He went on to be a high school counselor in England and Japan with the Department of Defense Dependent School System and then for 27 years at Westminster High.
It was in 1988 that he returned to work as a seasonal park ranger at both the Battlefield and Eisenhower Farm. Over the last several years , he worked exclusively at Ike's.
Dave was a favorite of visitors at the farm. They appreciated the way he shared his history - with a gruff, amusing patter and a twinkle in his eye. Senior groups in particular enjoyed his sense of humor, likening his comedic stylings to Tim Conway's (who was on McHale's Navy and the Carol Burnett Show). The new seasonal employees always got a kick out of talking with Dave every summer - he'd regale them with tales of Gettysburg, the NPS, and the Battlefield back in the old days. And I loved discussing baseball with him. He's a die-hard, life-long fan of the sad and lowly Orioles while I've been rooting for the perennially pathetic Chicago Cubs since I was three. We'd recount the previous week's worth of blunders and sub-par performances of our respective teams, sadly shaking our heads in dismay as we'd make our way down the Eisenhower drive to engage the first visitors of the morning.
You could always tell when Dave was on the job - a copy of the Carrol County Times sports page would be sitting on the table in the break room. Never any sign of the rest of the paper. Just the sports page.
Now there's no one with whom I can talk baseball and who can share my misery. No one to whom we can turn that will set us straight on what Gettysburg was like back in the day. And no one who can ever possibly be compared to Tim Conway.
We'll all miss Dave.
Eisenhower urged Vice President Nixon not to debate Senator Kennedy on TV during the 60 campaign. He suspected that any joint appearance could only benefit the lesser known Massachusetts senator. When Nixon agreed to the debate anyway, Eisenhower offered him the services of his media consultant, actor Robert Montgomery. Nixon turned down the offer, a decision that cost him the first debate.
Analysts agree that Nixon lost the debate largely due to appearances. Proof of that is in statistics indicating that the majority of Americans who listened to the debate on radio thought Nixon won. Those watching on TV gave the edge to Kennedy. Nixon's disadvantage on TV was due to his refusal to wear make-up. He thus appeared pale, haggard, and overly glum. He even sported a 5 o'clock shadow. A made-up Kennedy in contrast looked fresh and invigorated.
Montgomery would have certainly convinced Nixon that wearing make-up was an absolute necessity.
Nixon didn't repeat the mistake. And Ike would later ply him with his own TV advice, urging him to have more "zip," "not appear so glum," and "appear to think about something before answering." But the damage was done. That first debate most likely cost Nixon the election.
Today's candidates can take away a few lessons from Nixon's experience:
Meanwhile, Ike's best friend, Swede Hazlett, was applying for an appointment to the Naval Academy and convinced Ike to give it a shot as well. If successful in finding sponsorship by a congressman and then scoring well on both the examination for appointment and entrance exam, Ike could free himself of the financial burden of a higher education. As a midshipman, his tuition would be taken care of.
Ike was successful. In fact, he came in #1 for the Annapolis appointment. But to his dismay, he was one year too old for admittance to the Naval Academy. The examination, however, applied to West Point as well and at 21 he was still within the age restrictions of the Military Academy. Thus, he became a cadet.
In his first two years, some of his most notable achievements were on the gridiron. As a sophomore, he played against the legendary Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian School. But not long after, he injured his knee in the Tufts game and never played football again.
Ike was a mediocre student, finishing 61st academically out of a class of 162. In discipline he stood 125th. In his autobiography, At Ease, he lists his demerits over the course of his last semester at the Academy - 17 in all, ranging from smoking in his room to being late for formation to not cleaning his room for inspection.
Nevertheless, he did demonstrate leadership ability and, according to his write-up in the 1915 West Point yearbook, had several claims to distinction:
He claims to have the best authority for the statement that he is the handsomest man in the Corps and is ready to back up his claim at any time. At any rate, you'll have to give it to him that he's well developed abdominally - and more graceful in pushing it around than Charles Calvert Benedict. In common with most fat men, he is an enthusiastic and sonorous devotee of the King of Indoor Sports, and roars homage at the shrine of Morpheus on every possible occasion.
Ike graduated in 1915. Years later, his class was referred to as "the class the stars fell on," because more graduates of that class became generals than any other in West Point history - 59 in all. It's also the only class that can claim two five star generals - Ike and Omar Bradley.
When looking back on his entire military career, Ike would always say that one of his proudest moments was when he recited the oath of allegiance on the West Point parade ground back in the summer of 1911.
I Love Lucy.
They can't relate to the Eisenhowers listening to Fred Waring and the Pennsylvanians on the hi-fi in the living room. Or the First Lady dialing the operator on the rotary phone in the foyer. Or the President recording letters on the Edison Voicewriter in his office. But they can relate to the Eisenhowers watching I Love Lucy on the TV.
The Eisenhowers watched I Love Lucy regularly back in the 1950s. Surprisingly, kids still enjoy watching it today, apparently on TV Land. And they consider it funny.
When I mention to a group of 5th graders that one of the Eisenhowers' favorite shows is one they might still watch today - an old black and white comedy - within seconds several students will blurt out "I Love Lucy!" Out of a group of forty, more than half will most likely have watched it. When I poll those who have, asking how many think it's really funny, 90% will enthusiastically raise their hand.
The Eisenhowers were big Lucy fans. In fact, their first year in office they invited the cast of I Love Lucy to the White House. Inviting Lucy, however, wasn't exactly politically expedient of the President. That's because Lucy was being branded a communist and had been summoned to appear before the House Unamerican Activities Committee. She had registered to vote as a communist back in the 30s, and now that America was in the midst of the Red Scare and McCarthy's communist witch hunt, her past had come back to haunt her. A hostile determination by the committee could spell the end of the show and her career.
But Ike didn't care. He blew it all off and invited her anyway.
She did appear before a HUAC investigator and was ultimately deemed not to be a security risk. Her defense was that she had registered as a communist only to humor her grandfather and had never actually got around to voting. The press had a field day pestering Lucy's husband and co-star Desi Arnaz about his wife's predicament. But Desi responded with a great line: "There's nothing red about Lucy except her hair and even that's questionable."
It's fun to imagine Fred, Ethel, Ricky, and Lucy all dropping by to spend the day with the Eisenhowers. It's hard to imagine though, 5th graders still laughing at those old Lucy episodes. And even harder still, to imagine TV comedies today remaining as funny to kids 50 - 60 years into the future.
During an ice breaker segment on their first day, I ask the interns a series of questions in an effort to get to know each of them. One of my favorite questions is: If you had a chance to sit down and talk with anyone living or dead for 30 minutes, who would it be? This year's nominees ranged from God to Harry Truman, with Nikola Tesla, Thomas Jefferson, and C. S. Lewis also among the elect. This is actually a test question. The correct answer is, of course, Eisenhower. Dismayed when no one responds correctly, I immediately fire them all…
Kidding. But I did dock their pay.
Who are your favorite musical artists? typically generates some surprising responses. What mildly astounds me is that nearly every year someone says the Beatles. And that's comforting. It offers reassurance that the generation gap between us isn't so incredibly wide. U-2 is always a popular answer. A couple years ago we had an intern that absolutely worshiped U-2. It annoyed her when I regularly confused Bono with Sonny Bono. Last year an intern confessed his favorite was Dean Martin. We spent the summer waxing nostalgic together over the Rat Pack and their Vegas performances in the early 60s. And he was only 24. He could even name Dino's hometown - Steubenville, Ohio.
Their choice of favorite movies varies widely, but there's one every year that names a relatively obscure foreign film. This year's was by some Italian director. One year it was a Fassbinder film. That intern could have named every single film ever directed by Werner Fassbinder.
What issue are you most impassioned about? arouses the most sincerely expressed and heartfelt responses ranging from the economic to the social to the political to the spiritual to the familial.
And then there's: What book has most influenced your life? This is the one that leaves me feeling sort of old. Most of the time they're books I've not only not read, but never even heard of by authors I'm totally unacquainted with. Not once has one come close to naming a book that inspired me and my generation: On the Road, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Catcher in the Rye, Invisible Man… But I should have known that would be the case. I've tried to get my own college age sons to read at least one of the four, if for no other reason than to just humor their father, but to no avail.
I can overlook our interns' lack of interest in my favorite books because I appreciate how my twelve weeks working with them is a consciousness expanding experience. Out of curiosity I make an effort to read about one of the guys they're so eager to talk with for 30 minutes. I sample some of their favorite artists I've only vaguely heard of on You Tube and check out one of their books I've absolutely never heard of at the library. May even try to find one of the movies they're so enamored of. In the process, I expand my narrow horizons and most of the time enjoy and learn from the experience.
That Fassbinder film, though - that is one weird movie.
His average height was 5' 8", average weight, 144 pounds. After a few months in the service he typically gained 7 lbs. When landing on the beaches, he was carrying over 80 lbs., although the recommended load was 44. The poor soldier assigned to the flame thrower was toting 132 lbs.
If he was a buck private he was paid $50/month. After three years he received a raise of $2.50. Combat pay earned him an extra $10. It wasn't much, but was more than what the British soldier earned. He thus had the edge when it came to dating the English girls, an advantage which gave birth to the British lament that he was overpaid, oversexed, and over here.
If he was in the infantry he made up only 14% of the forces serving under Eisenhower, yet comprised 70% of the casualties.
He used the lemonade crystals in his K rations to do his laundry. His lack of fondness for army coffee inspired him to lofty heights of poetry:
The coffee that they gave us,
The condoms he was issued were most commonly utilized as water balloons or as muzzle covers to keep his M-1 dry.
He was prone to getting his thumb caught in the bolt of his M-1 when it snapped forward, so often that the affliction was christened with its own medical term : M-1 thumb.
He was accused by the military historian SLA Marshall of an inherent tendency not to fire his rifle in the thick of combat.
He was awarded four Congressional Medals of Honor, yet only once did he survive long enough to actually receive it…
General Eisenhower talked with him on the eve of the D-Day invasion. It was before boarding the planes from which he would parachute in the dark behind enemy lines. Together they talked about fishing and baseball and working back home on the farm or in the factory. Eisenhower then silently watched as he boarded and flew out of sight. A near-by reporter noted that there were tears in the General's eyes. Eisenhower, of course, well knew how likely it was that he would never return.
He was GI Joe, the American soldier who landed by the tens of thousands in Higgins boats and by parachute onto the beaches and across the farm country of Normandy, France on D-Day.
This weekend, July 4 and 5, Eisenhower NHS will commemorate the anniversary of D-Day and remember those soldiers who took part in the invasion. Visitors will have an opportunity to experience two World War II army camps. U.S. Army infantry, paratroopers, tankers, and artillerymen will be portrayed by the 9th Infantry Division Living History Association and a British Commando unit by the Combined Operations Living History Association.
Also offered at 11:15 am and 2:15 pm each day is the Eisenhower and The Men of D-day program. Park rangers discuss the D-Day landings and provide a hands-on look at the weapons and equipment carried by the American infantry soldiers onto the beaches of Normandy.
On Sunday at 10 am and 1 pm, Licensed Battlefield Guide Ralph Siegel will conduct tours of the National Cemetery focusing on the World War II soldiers buried there. The tours are free of charge and begin inside the Taneytown Road cemetery gate.
General Eisenhower always said that the true hero of WWII was the common soldier - GI Joe. Join us in remembering him this weekend.
It all began after graduation from West Point in 1915 with a tour of duty at Fort Sam Houston., TX. These were the days that General Black Jack Pershing was pursuing an elusive Pancho Villa through the Mexican desert. Eisenhower applied to join the Punitive Expedition but his application was rejected. He hoped to see action two years later when America entered WWI. To his dismay, he was relegated stateside to Camp Colt in Gettysburg in order to train soldiers in tank warfare.
After the war he volunteered to take part in the army's first cross country truck convoy, an arduous two month experiment that convinced him of America's desperate need for an adequate interstate road system. A year later he and his buddy Georgie Patton were together at Camp Meade and were strongly advocating a revolution in army tank tactics, going so far as to publish articles arguing that tanks should be used en masse to spearhead assaults, not dibbied out piecemeal to infantry units - just the sort of tactics the Germans would use so successfully at the beginning of the next war. Their efforts earned them the enmity of their superiors and orders to keep their ideas to themselves.
His first tour of duty overseas was at Camp Gaillard in the Panama Canal Zone in 1922. Later in the 20's he was summoned to Washington by Gen. Pershing to write a guide to the American battlefields in Europe and was then sent to France to do a revision of the guidebook.
His next assignment was to the Office of the Assistant Secretary of War to prepare plans for the mobilization of industry in the next war, whatever war that might be. It was here that he perhaps began to develop a sensitivity and a burgeoning concern for what would become the military- industrial complex. Here too he earned the respect of Chief of Staff Douglas MacArthur. He was an aid to MacArthur in Washington during the Bonus March in the summer of '32 and tried to convince the General not to lead troops against the tired and jobless World War I vets protesting for their promised bonuses. He later served as MacArthur's personal assistant in the Philippines, 1935-39. He claimed to have learned a lot about theatrics serving under MacArthur.
He was Chief of Staff of the Third Army during the massive Louisiana Maneuvers in 1941, pitting the 180,000 men of the Second Army against the 240,00 of the Third. His performance earned him a promotion to brigadier general and the attention of both the press and Chief of Staff George Marshall. Five days after Pearl Harbor, Marshall called him to Washington to take charge of the War Planning Division.
On June 11, 1942, Marshall appointed him Commander of the European Theatre of Operations. Two weeks later Eisenhower arrived in London. He was finally granted his longed for opportunity to see action oversees after having been denied 25 years earlier.
Although the war in Europe ended on May 7, 1945, Eisenhower's military service to his country did not. He was appointed Commander of the US Occupation Zone in Germany and eventually returned home to serve as Chief of Staff - assignments which both proved to be bigger headaches than that of being Supreme Commander. His military career concluded with his appointment as Supreme Commander of NATO by Truman.
Eisenhower at one point in his career was confident he would never advance beyond the rank of major. As it turned out, he was one of just 5 five-star generals in American history.
Although he was retired from the military when he was elected president, Eisenhower was still a general. Once a general, always a general. But in the tradition of George Washington, he chose to resign his commission as General of the Army so that he could serve as a civilian president. Congress took away his five stars. They restored them, however, when he left the presidency eight years later. In retirement, Eisenhower once again flew his five star flag beneath Old Glory on his backyard flagpole. He insisted no one call him Mr. President any longer. He made it clear that everyone should address him as General.
Before he died, Eisenhower had one request - to be buried in a plain wooden coffin. Because that's how a soldier is buried. That's how his soldiers had been buried.
The request was granted.
If you can keep your head when all about you
If you can dream - and not make dreams your master;
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
I don't know if he did, but I suspect Ike would of appreciated one of Tennyson's poems as well, even though it is blank verse. I can picture a frail Ike sitting on his sun porch alone in the gray evening stillness of his waning years, gazing out on the east pasture, and reading the following lines from Ulysses while thinking back not on his time in the White House, but farther back to when he and Patton and Bradley and Gerow and Spaatz and Tedder and Alexander and Monty embarked on their great crusade and together saved the world:
There lies the port; the vessel puffs her sail:
Closely surveying the room for signs of "dishes," it took a moment or two to register. But then I figured it out. What the youngster had referred to as dishes were actually ashtrays. He had never seen ashtrays.
It seems the accoutrements of smoking are fast becoming cultural artifacts. And cigarettes, an iconic remnant of a past America. Largely gone are the days when a thick haze of tobacco smoke was a common indoor atmospheric condition and non-smokers a minority.
I remember when everyone still smoked. It was the 70s and I was in the Army. We would be double timed to the shooting range and when the sergeant halted us for a break after several miles, everyone in the company would be bent over coughing, spitting, and desperately trying to catch their breath. But no sooner did the sergeant bark, "Light 'em if you got 'em," than every wheezing soldier in the company had a freshly lit cigarette in their mouth. If you were white, it was a Marlboro. If black, a Kool.
During The War, soldiers were expected to smoke. Before boarding their ships and landing craft for the D-Day invasion, American soldiers were each issued two cartons of cigarettes. One soldier was so addicted to Camels he bartered his way to a supply of ten cartons which he somehow found room to stuff in his assault bag.
During his war years, General Eisenhower smoked four packs a day. In many of the WWII photos, if you look closely, Ike has a cigarette in his hand. Four packs and 20 cups of coffee a day, three hours of sleep each night was his daily regimen, according to Stephen Ambrose.
Ike pretty much quit smoking cold turkey around 1949 at a doctor's suggestion. But Mamie smoked. You can still find a pack of her Philip Morris cigarettes in a wooden cigarette box in the sun porch. She never smoked in public, only in private. In fact many First Ladies were clandestine smokers, including Jackie, Lady Bird, and Pat.
It wasn't only Mamie who smoked in the Eisenhower home. Nearly every adult who visited in the 50s and 60s smoked as well. In photos of the family on the sun porch or of Ike working with his staff on the budget out on the porch, many have a cigarette in hand. There's grandson David, home from college, relaxing with a cigarette. And Ike's chain smoking press secretary, James Hagerty - you can always count on him to be lighting or brandishing a cigarette in most photos.
Many adult visitors today point out the prevalence of ashtrays and lighters throughout the home. They were there not only to accommodate Mamie's habit but that of all the guests. We have evidence that there was a lot of smoking going on in the home. When the curator sent out the silver plated dining room sconces (light fixtures) to be professionally polished, the firm contracted to do the work commented that there was a thick layer of nicotine covering each piece.
Ike died of heart failure. You can't help but suspect that smoking may have been a contributing factor. But he may also have had a fairly high cholesterol count considering his penchant for dining on rare Angus steaks. And then there was the stress. Year after year of it as Allied Supreme Commander, Chief of Staff, NATO Supreme Commander, and then President for two terms during the Cold War. Stress must have taken its toll.
Cigarettes, red meat, and decades of stress… Considering it all, having made it to 78 perhaps wasn't too bad.
There were some difficult times, particularly during the President's earlier military years. The tour in Panama back in the 20s was among the worst. The quarters they were assigned to hadn't been occupied in 10 years. It was on stilts in the jungle, thick vines winding around the window screens, the porch rotted and collapsing, the inside infested with lizards, spiders, cockroaches, and snakes. To kill the bedbugs they placed metal bed legs in cans of kerosene and set them on fire. Their quarters was also frequently invaded by bats. One night she had the future president jumping around the bedroom in his pajamas trying to kill a bat with his ceremonial dress saber.
To have bats crawl in under the door at night and fly around was not my idea of a good time. Then when those huge cockroaches would jump at you from the top of the door, I mean those things I wasn't used to.
First Lady Mamie Eisenhower will reminisce about those early days as well as her eight years in the White House when she returns to Gettysburg this Saturday, May 21. Local resident Ruthmary McIlhenny will portray Mamie in her program, Mamie Remembers Gettysburg, at 11:15 a.m. and 1:45 p.m. Attired in Mamie pink, sporting a fashionable 1950s pillbox hat, and capturing the cadence of the First Lady's delivery complete with comedic asides, Ruthmary's Mamie relates the story of how she met Ike and their tough times together when she "learned how to squeeze a dollar until the eagle screamed." She recalls their greatest tragedy and the joys of being First Lady. And she relives the sadness of her last ten years alone when she would quietly visit Ike and Icky's grave in Abilene, no one knowing she was there until the locals spotted the limousine driving up to the take out window at Taco Bell.
One aspect of being First Lady that Mamie thoroughly enjoyed was her role as fashion icon. She had her own quirky style, accessorizing haute couture with dime store jewelry and $9.95 mail order hats. Designers loved her and she made the list of best dressed women every year. Fittingly, The Victory Society will also be on hand Saturday to present a 1950s fashion show, Fashions of the Fifties, at 12:15 p.m. and 2:45 p.m.
We invite you to come out to the Eisenhower Farm on Saturday to visit with Mamie and wax nostalgic over what America considered stylish back in the days when Elvis was king, Lucy was queen, and Ike was president.
Why is Eisenhower deserving of such a high ranking? I'll occasionally offer that up for visitor debate at the tail end of an orientation tour. One could argue that it's because he kept America at peace throughout eight years in office despite a Cold War crisis erupting just about every six months during his administration. He kept us out of war and kept the nation's prestige intact.
Some visitors note the irony of that. Here he had been a professional soldier for 30 years, yet worked so tirelessly to keep his country at peace. And perhaps being a professional soldier is precisely why. He had experienced first hand the horrors of war. When it comes down to it, who would be more inclined than a soldier to want to keep his country out of war?
But he also strived to keep defense spending down, balanced the budget three different times, warned us about the military-industrial complex, established the Interstate Highway System, and was looked upon by both Democrats and Republicans as a man of character.
Certainly, there are factors that suggest such a high ranking may not be entirely deserved: a lukewarm support of civil rights, a reluctance to denounce Sen. Joseph McCarthy, and his ultimate failure to reduce Cold War tensions. He may have successfully steered us clear of a hot war, but he couldn't thaw the cold one, despite numerous attempts to do so. Those are criticisms that may forever keep him from surpassing Thomas Jefferson in the surveys.
It's fun to discuss the presidential rankings with school groups. They're fascinated with who is ranked where and why. When asked who they think is rated #1, their first guess is always Washington. Their second guess, Lincoln, is the correct one. Washington is typically rated # 2. They can't figure out who #3 might be without a hint. Kennedy (6th), Teddy Roosevelt (4th), and Reagan (10th) are their primary suspects. But it's actually FDR.
The students are particularly fond of conjuring up speculations as to who might be the absolute worst president in American history, according to the survey. When asked today, they initially respond in unison, "Obama!" If asked several years ago, their consensus was Bush. After ruling out Bush and Obama, Nixon (27th) is a popular choice as is Clinton (15th), Hoover (34th), and Grant who skyrocketed up to 23rd from 33rd ten years ago. Students seldom if ever come up with the correct answer, even when supplied with a couple hints: He was Pennsylvania's only president (Ike was really a Kansan) and his first name is James…..
Of course, it's James Buchanan! Pennsylvania's pride and joy. Worst president in American history.
And why? Why Buchanan? I guess you could simply say that he just sat on his tush allowing tensions to rise higher and higher between the North and South and then just plopped the Civil War into poor Lincoln's lap.
Sometimes, a school group and I could easily spend half their visit just discussing the presidential ratings. Ultimately, all those surveys are meaningless. But I would never dismiss them entirely out of hand, particularly with Eisenhower faring so well in them lately. But that wasn't always the case. In a 1962 survey, Ike was 22nd right behind Chester Arthur. And you really have to know your American history to name even one accomplishment of President Chester Arthur's.
MONTY: THE INTEPRETERS' FAVORITE
It was in the spring of 1957, May 11 to be precise, that Monty arrived in Gettysburg to pay the President's farm a visit. He had been threatening to visit Ike for years ever since the war ended. When scheduled to embark on a speaking tour of the states, he felt it an ideal opportunity to drop in on his former commanding officer.
Some may find it odd, considering their stormy relationship, that Monty would be so intent to visit Ike. Theirs was, in fact, a difficult relationship from its very beginnings. They first encountered each other in 1942 at a meeting in England to discuss a recently conducted field exercise. Ike made the mistake of lighting up a cigarette and Monty promptly informed him, "I don't permit smoking in my office." Ike put it out. And this set the tone for much of their interaction during the war.
Monty was persnickety. And, fair to say, self infatuated. My favorite Monty story stems from the Field Marshal's inclination to play up to the press. He was such a press hound that many Brits thought he may have been grooming himself to be prime minister. Such speculations gave birth to a story that circulated throughout England: Prime Minster Churchill meets with King George one day and remarks to the King, "Your majesty, I think Monty's after my job." And the king replies, "Well, thank God! I thought he was after mine!"
Monty was also resentful of Eisenhower for having been chosen Supreme Commander. Monty considered himself much more qualified. After all, he had been fighting the Germans for the past couple years and had also fought them in the First World War. In contrast, Eisenhower had no combat experience what so ever.
But Monty, in his own peculiar way, was fond of Eisenhower. And perhaps, rightfully so. Ike was certainly much more patient with and forgiving of Monty than other American generals, and even more so than some of the British high command.
Monty's visit to America in 1957 began with his arrival in New York on May 7. Two days later he gave a speech in Baltimore in which he condemned the Eisenhower administration for siding with the Egyptians during the Suez crisis. Shortly after, he showed up at the President's farm.
Ike was not overly thrilled. But he attempted to play the gracious host. In fact, he and Monty toured the battlefield together, not once, but twice. The press accompanied them the second time and recorded their ongoing commentary on the battle:
On Culp's Hill, Monty reiterated that Meade and Lee should have been sacked at Gettysburg and added that he never would have fought the battle that way himself. Ike, in an attempt to lighten the mood, responded, "If you had, I would have sacked you." At the Virginia Memorial, Monty was heard to say, "It was a monstrous thing to launch this charge. Monstrous thing.." And later when Ike tired of Monty's incessantly loud pontificating and made his way back to the car, Monty shouted out, "Lee and Meade should have both been sacked.. Don't you agree Ike?" Ike directed his diplomatic reply to the press: "Look, I live here. I represent both the North and the South. He can talk."
Despite that carefully worded response, the generals' comments ignited a fire storm. The following day newspapers raged that Ike and Monty had bashed Meade and Lee. A headline of a southern paper read, Southern Blood Boils. An editorial cartoon depicted the ghosts of Meade and Lee driving a jeep through the Ardennes (site of the Battle of the Bulge) with Meade bemoaning, "What a monstrous thing," and Lee blustering that the generals responsible for the debacle should have been sacked.
In a press conference several days later Ike had to defend himself. He insisted he had always admired Lee and offered as evidence the portrait of Lee in his office.
Monty left Gettysburg the day after the battlefield tour. His next stop was Montgomery Alabama where he was taken aback by the hostile reception. A less than gracious welcome in Montgomery must have been disappointing since Monty reportedly was under the impression that the city was named after him in honor of his military exploits.
Monty never returned to Gettysburg. After his visit, he published his memoirs which were very critical of Ike's generalship during the war. The memoirs upset Eisenhower. Obviously, the book had been written prior to the visit. While Ike had been playing host, Monty had already penned the disparaging critique.
Despite the book's criticisms though, Monty did admit that Eisenhower was the only one who had the personality to get all those massive egos (like De Gaulle and Patton and Monty himself) to cooperate and win the war. No one else could have done it.
Nevertheless, Monty was never invited to the Farm again.
Allow me to conclude with another of my favorite Monty-Churchill stories:
We shouldn't complain though. The water table is restored, the grass is green, and dogwoods on the Eisenhower farm are the best they've looked in 10 years. And we certainly haven't suffered the flooding that those along the Mississippi have as of late.
A couple Saturdays ago, we had 4 and a half inches of rain. The Eisenhower Farm staff salutes the members of the 29th infantry Division Living History Group that was encamped out on the site's pasture that day. It was a long wet, muddy day for them as they dutifully portrayed soldiers of Co. A, 116th Infantry Regiment training for the D-Day invasion. By 5:00 they looked as though they had fought in WWII. Yet they stuck it out. One member of the unit tried driving into town and had to abandon his car in the middle of flooded Red Rock Road. Water he had judged to be only about a foot high was over three feet. His vehicle stalled out and had to be towed back to dry land.
The rangers working that day had a difficult time escaping the site that evening - roads were flooded on all four directions. For several days after, site volunteers were calling to apologize for not coming in to work - they were still trying frantically to bail out their flooded basements.
One sure sign that it's a very wet spring is that visitors are beginning to ask, "What are all those yellow flowers growing in the fields everywhere? They're beautiful."
It's wild mustard they're referring to - a weed. Not considered very beautiful by the farmers. Its prevalence is a sure sign that it's been so wet that the farmers haven't had the chance to plow and plant. In fact, the farmers are way behind on their planting.
Sadly, by the time summer roles around and the farmers desperately need the rain, we'll be in the midst of yet another drought. I'll lay 5 to 1 odds on it.
The farmers' concern about the inevitability of drought despite a wet spring is something Eisenhower could relate to. When Eisenhower farmed here he was always worried about drought and planned ahead for it:
He grew sorghum as cattle feed because it was drought resistant. If the corn crop failed, he could fall back on the sorghum.. He also gave serious consideration to setting up an irrigation system. Mr. Piper, the local county agricultural agent, discouraged him, arguing that the substantial financial investment would far outweigh the benefits in this area.
The likelihood of dry summers even infringed on one of the President's dreams. There's a small creek bordering the property that he had longed to transform into a trout stream. Unfortunately, it dried up every summer and Mr. Piper convinced him that the dream was far too impractical to realistically pursue.
Ike had experiences with floods as well. Not here in Gettysburg, though. His memories of floods stemmed from his Abilene boyhood. He and his brother Edgar fondly recalled that one of their great adventures growing up was when the river flooded Abilene one spring. The brothers found a piece of boardwalk that they turned into a raft and used it to float down the street through the neighborhood. They pretended they were pirates and were having a grand time, totally unaware they were fast approaching the raging river where their makeshift raft would surely capsize. A neighbor on horseback rescued them. They got a whipping upon returning home because they were supposed to be heading to the creamery to deliver lunch to their father,
Too bad nature can't be less erratic and distribute its rain and sunshine much more evenly. Unlike Eisenhower who always preferred and advocated a middle way, nature apparently abhors a happy medium.
I had seen the 20th anniversary production back in 1987 in San Antonio and was sorely disappointed. But this latest revival was well worth the ticket price - exuberant, humorous, with great performances. It nicely captured the spirit of the original.
Most of the audience was in their 60s, members of the very Woodstock generation portrayed in the musical. Some of the older guys still sported pony tails as they probably had back in the 60s. The majority though could sympathize with the gentleman who remarked to me in the restroom, "The last time I saw this I actually had hair."
Ike didn't care for the long hair, and beads, and anti establishment attitude of rebellious youth. He had no patience for hippies, and harbored little tolerance for their anti-Vietnam War sentiments.
Eisenhower in his retirement years was for winning the war in Vietnam at all costs. He advised LBJ to mine the harbors and bomb the North. He was adamant that the war shouldn't be run from Washington. Let the generals do their job.
His hawkish attitude in the late 60s may seem difficult to reconcile with his more cautious approach toward Vietnam while President. When the French clamored for American military support against the Viet Minh in 1954, Ike was very reluctant to grant it. He didn't like the idea of America supporting the colonial efforts of a European power, although he did fear a communist takeover of Vietnam. And he did believe in the Domino principle - if Vietnam fell to communism so would all southeast Asia, one country after another.
He was also concerned about our military's capability of winning a war in Vietnam. "The jungles would swallow up divisions of troops who, unaccustomed to this kind of warfare, would have sustained high losses," he warned.
Why the change of tune 12 years later? The difference was that in 1967-68 we were already embroiled in the war. Back In 1954, Ike recognized what a potential quagmire a war in Vietnam could be. But with America already at war in the late 60s, his mind-set as a career soldier dictated that once in you were in, you were in to win, a view perhaps best summed up in his axiom:
Never use force in international affairs. Never. But if you do, use it overwhelmingly.
LBJ sought Eisenhower's advice and valued it. But when Johnson announced he would not run again in 1968, Eisenhower was incensed. He saw it as a cowardly abandonment of the entire war effort and of the soldiers offering up their lives to fight it.
Ike would have applauded Claude's (Hair's main character) reluctance to burn his draft card and his decision to heed his country's summons to duty. He would have considered Claude's death in Vietnam an honorable one. But this is applause and consideration that diverges sharply with the sentiments expressed by Berger and Woof and Jeanie and Hud and Crissy and all the rest of Claude's friends.
Hair is the antithesis of all Eisenhower believed in. It celebrates what he had lost by the age of 30 - both his hair and, arguably, his sense of rebellion. But by 30, haven't we all?
DAYS OF REMEMBRANCE
It was on April 4, 1945 that American troops captured the Ohrdruf concentration camp outside of Gotha in south central Germany. It was the first of the camps to be captured on the western front. GIs discovered piles of bodies littering the camp by the hundreds - prisoners dead of torture, starvation, disease, and bullet wounds. The mounds of corpses were still smoldering from the attempts by departing guards to burn them.
As was later determined, Ohrdruf was a holding facility of the Buchenwald extermination camp where prisoners would eventually be sent to be gassed and cremated. General Eisenhower along with Bradley and Patton inspected the camps on April 12 and 13. While at Ohrdruf, one of Eisenhower's staff recalled seeing "Eisenhower go to the opposite end of the road and vomit. From a distance I saw Patton bend over, holding his head with one hand and his abdomen with the other. And I soon became ill." Eisenhower wrote to his wife Mamie shortly thereafter: "I never dreamed that such cruelty, bestiality, and savagery could really exist in the world."
Eisenhower ordered every American soldier in the area to visit the two camps to see for themselves what they were fighting against. He ordered that every citizen of Gotha personally tour the camp. After doing so the mayor of the town and his wife committed suicide. He encouraged Chief of Staff General George Marshall to see the camps for himself and bring along Congressmen and journalists. He ordered all civilian and military news media to visit and record their observations.
Eisenhower wrote the following about the visit to General Marshall:
Sadly, how prescient Eisenhower was in his suspicion that one day there would be those who would deny the Holocaust.
Thus, the need for a Days of Remembrance.
Return to: THE IKE BLOG ARCHIVES
Did You Know?
Dwight D. Eisenhower was one of only five 5 star generals in American history. Marshall, MacArthur, Arnold, and Bradley were the other four.