THE OFFICIAL BLOG OF EISENHOWER NATIONAL HISTORIC SITE
REASONS WHY WORKING AS AN INTERPRETIVE PARK RANGER IS A PRETTY DECENT GIG
1. You typically spend the day talking about something you're interested in to a receptive audience that's often as equally interested in hearing it.
2. You can't beat the working environment - typically aesthetically pleasing, often inspiring, and at times, like during the off season or before opening and after closing or 100 yards off the beaten path, even peaceful.
3. The visitors you interact with are most likely in a good mood because they're on vacation. They're fun to talk with because they're from all over the country and the world with great personal stories to share.
4. The agency you work for has an excellent reputation among most of the public. Simply by wearing the green and gray uniform you've already garnered the approval of most visitors before even opening your mouth.
5. You're provided with a variety of avenues for satisfying your creative impulses: talks and tours, demonstrations, living history, websites, brochures, exhibits, social media…
6. You derive a modest degree of satisfaction knowing that you're contributing to the preservation of natural and cultural resources and the appreciation of and respect for history and/or nature and the environment.
7. It's a job. And just to have one these days is a blessing.
THE PAST 20 YEARS: WHAT WOULD HAVE ASTOUNDED IKE
Not just three, but now 800 TV channels.
Khrushchev's son is an American citizen teaching at an American university.
A black President.
A black Masters champion.
You can reenact D-Day on something called a video game.
The capitalism of China.
An Eastern Europe free of communism.
His granddaughter married to a Russian space scientist.
American astronauts hanging out with Russian cosmonauts in an international space station.
The disfunctionality of Congress and the polarization of America.
WATERGATE AND IKE
It was on June 17, 1972 that five members of President Nixon's reelection committee were caught trying to break into Democratic headquarters at the Watergate Hotel in Washington, DC. The subsequent cover-up and investigation led, of course, to President Nixon's resigning in disgrace two years later.
So, what has Eisenhower have to do with the Watergate affair?
Recall that it wasn't so much the break-in that was the cause of so much political turmoil and Nixon's ultimate demise, it was the desperate cover-up that followed. And it was in the cover-up that Ike played a tangential role.
First, there was Ike's tape recorder. Eisenhower had a tape recorder in his Oval Office to be used to tape conversations. It wasn't voice activated like Nixon's would be, Eisenhower had to reach down and turn it on which most times he never remembered to do. He once advised his cabinet members, "You know boys, it's a good thing when you're talking to someone you don't trust to get a record made of it. There are some guys I just don't trust in Washington and I want to have myself protected so they can't later report that I said something else."
Did Nixon adopt his precautionary habit of taping conversations from Eisenhower?
Secondly, there was Executive Privilege. Nixon's invoking of Executive Privilege to prevent his tapes from being used as evidence was perhaps inspired by the precedent established by Eisenhower.
During the Army - McCarthy hearings in 1954, Eisenhower for the first time cited "executive privilege" to prevent Senator McCarthy's subcommittee from subpoenaing government files and forcing government officials to testify. Eisenhower sent a letter to Secretary of Defense Charles Wilson, a copy of which was sent to the subcommittee. In it the President stated that the Executive departments were not to provide Congress with information related to how policies had been decided upon. He reasoned that employees of the Executive Branch must be "in a position to be completely candid with each other on official matters" if his administration were to operate efficiently and effectively. He wrote that his employees couldn't possibly be candid if they feared their deliberations would be made public. He would then be unable to receive their best advice.
In a meeting with Republican Congressional leaders, Eisenhower bluntly asserted that, "Anyone who testifies as to the advice he gave me won't be working for me that night." And for emphasis he added, "I will not allow people around me to be subpoenaed and you might as well know it now."
The formidable Eisenhower had little problem making his claim to executive privilege stick. Unlike Nixon.
Lastly, Nixon was, of course, Eisenhower's vice president. One could argue that Nixon most likely would never have become president without Ike having chosen him as his running mate in 1952. And without a paranoid and insecure Richard Nixon in the Oval Office, there would never have been a Watergate.
MILTON AND MANZANAR
The announcement got me thinking about a creative writing professor I had at University of California Santa Cruz. His wife had written a book about her experience residing at Manzanar as a young girl - Farewell to Manzanar. It was turned into a TV movie in the 70s starring the actor who portrayed Arnold in Happy Days and the sensei in The Karate Kid. I had vivid memories of the movie and had always wanted to visit the site.
I finally got there sometime in the 80s. I remember it as very still, very desolate, and very haunting. There was little left of the camp except for one of the gates. The terrain was high desert, a wide dry expanse of sagebrush with the steep eastern wall of the mountains serving as backdrop. It was lonely and cold, the only sound that of a softly howling wind. It was the quiet and the desolation that made the visit so powerful - you could sense the spirits and imagine hearing the voices of all those families who endured life there just 40 years before.
Not long after I started work at Eisenhower NHS, I came across a connection between Manzanar and Eisenhower: It turns out that Ike's brother Milton was the first to be put in charge of the entire Japanese relocation project during the war. Milton said that those three months were the most agonizing of his entire life.
On March 10, 1942, Milton Eisenhower was summoned to the White House and informed by President Roosevelt that starting immediately he was to set up a War Relocation Authority to move Japanese Americans from the Pacific Coast. He was told that the Attorney General would provide him legal assistance and the Secretary of War would assist with "physical arrangements."
Milton had been working in the Department of Agriculture since the Coolidge administration and knew little about the evacuations of Japanese that had already begun. All he had heard was that since Pearl Harbor the FBI was rounding up enemy aliens across the country in small numbers. But pressure was building for a mass relocation of the 120,000 Japanese on the West coast. General John De Witt in charge of the Army on the Pacific coast believed an invasion was possible. He contended Japanese in coastal areas posed a threat to security and would act as a fifth column, joining forces with invading troops. Another growing concern was the safety of Japanese-Americans. Rumors and sensational reports warned of mysterious activities in Japanese communities and how thousands were preparing for organized action.
A voluntary evacuation program was attempted and failed. Few Japanese volunteered and those who did were met with hostility in the other western states to which they tried to evacuate. They were unable to even get hotel accommodations or service in restaurants.
Milton quickly set up meetings with western governors to assure them that there was no evidence that any of the coastal Japanese were disloyal. He encouraged the governors to arrange private employment for relocating Japanese in the many areas where there were labor shortages. Response was hostile. It was made clear that, in no uncertain terms, the Japanese were unwanted.
Milton struggled against the full evacuation preferred by the Army. He promoted a plan in which only men would be evacuated - women and children would remain in their homes and maintain their businesses. But the Army found that unacceptable.
There was no recourse but to create relocation camps on government property where the Japanese could hopefully live some semblance of a normal life, where they could exist as a community and work and go to school. Milton set up a Japanese American advisory council to represent the evacuees and met with the Federal Reserve Bank in California to get them to protect the assets of those forced to abandon their properties.
In June, as the mass evacuation of Japanese to partially completed relocation centers began, Milton was suddenly reassigned by the President to the newly created Office of War Information as associate director.
Milton always believed that the evacuations could have been avoided if commentators and politicians hadn't incited fear among Californians with their inflammatory rhetoric. It need not have happened if public officials had "provided strong and positive leadership" that would have calmed the public.
Milton recalled that during his three months as head of the War Relocation Authority he "lost a year's sleep in 90 days." Those three months of having to arrange the relocation of thousands of Japanese-Americans were the toughest in his career. He "brooded about this whole episode" for the remainder of his life.
IKE FINALLY DECIDES TO RUN
On June 4th, 1953, General Dwight D. Eisenhower finally declared his Republican candidacy for the presidency of the United States. He'd been very reluctant to run for president for several reasons, but earlier that spring while still NATO commander, several factors finally convinced him to become a candidate. His resignation from NATO became effective on June 1 and on the 4th, in a pouring rain in his hometown of Abilene, he made his announcement and began his campaign.
What finally convinced him to run?
One major factor was the isolationist senator from Ohio, Mr. Republican, Robert Taft who was the leading Republican candidate. Back in 1951 when Ike first assumed the command of NATO, he had a secret meeting with the Senator and told him he would turn down any invitation to run for the presidency if Taft would guarantee his support of NATO and U.S. involvement in the defense of Europe. Taft refused.
Another was President Truman's 1952 budget. Eisenhower was appalled by Truman's deficit spending and thought he would bankrupt the country - an $85 billion budget ($65 billion of which was for defense) and a $14 billion deficit. He also thought Truman's White House was awash with crooks and cronies and that the President's associations were demeaning the presidency. However, Ike would never criticize his Commander in Chief nor play politics while still a soldier. Resigning from NATO and running as a candidate would free Eisenhower up to express his concerns.
Ike harbored the additional concern that one more Democratic victory would establish a Democratic dynasty in the White House and could possibly spell the end of the two party system in America. And now that it was clear in his mind and others' that he was a Republican, the prospect was worrisome. It had only been a few months previously that America still wasn't even sure of Ike's political affiliation. It was in January that he finally admitted to being a Republican. He later claimed that there was never a question that he was anything but Republican. He grew up a Republican. He joked that as a small boy in Kansas folks talked about Democrats as though they were the town drunk.
What ultimately clinched his decision was the mandate he received from the American people. That past winter in Paris he was shown a film of an "Ike for President" rally in Madison Square Garden where 20,000 people heartily cheered for his candidacy. He was taken aback by the sheer size and enthusiasm of the crowd. Mamie said it brought tears to his eyes. This, indeed, was America confirming their desire for his presidential leadership.
So with the Republican National Convention just two months away, Ike had finally announced his candidacy. He had a lot of work to do in a short amount of time if he expected to win the nomination over Mr. Republican. Few, though, underestimated his popularity.
JUNE 6th - EISENHOWER MOBBED BY PHOTOGRAPHERS AND SHIPPED OFF TO ENGLAND
June 6th. It is one of the best remembered dates in American military history and one that always remained personally significant to Dwight D. Eisenhower. It was of course on June 6, 1944 that the Allies launched the long awaited invasion of northern Europe, D-Day. Ike made the decision just the day before to launch the assault in poor weather and on the 6th could only nervously await the outcome at his headquarters in England. Failure, he knew, could delay victory in Europe for another year or two, costing countless more lives in the process.
But while his focus was on the fate of his troops on the beaches of Normandy, his thoughts may have turned every so often to his son.
John Eisenhower was graduating from West point on that same day. As John was marching to breakfast that very morning, the battalion commander turned to him and remarked, "You heard of course, that the Allies landed in Europe this morning." Actually, he hadn't. However, there was little time to consider the news as John and his fellow cadets continued to prepare for the graduation ceremony and their eventual departures.
Three years earlier, John would have been surprised to discover he was graduating in 1944. Upon entering West point in 1941, John anticipated graduating in four years. But in 1942, in order to produce officers more quickly for the war, the West Point curriculum was cut back from four to three years.
Mamie arrived that day to proudly witness the graduation of her surviving son. But also on hand were forty photographers who hounded the pair the entire day, transforming a proud and memorable moment into a chaotic, flashbulb-popping affair.
In the afternoon, John boarded the Queen Mary to be shipped to England so he could spend his three weeks of leave with his father, the Supreme Commander. He joined his dad as he flew to inspect the invasion beaches and each of the sectors the Allies had established across Normandy. He was with his father as he met with Montgomery in France and then Churchill back in England.
At the end of three weeks, John returned to the States to attend Infantry School. He would be back in Europe for the last couple months of the war, assigned to the 3323rd SIAM (signal information and monitoring) Company, 1st Division.
John was to learn that being the son of the Supreme Commander and following in his footsteps - West Point, the war in Europe, an army career - would not be easy. Mildly disconcerting was his initial confusion over what to do when he and his dad together met an officer who outranked him but was outranked by his father. Should he salute first and when they returned that salute, his father return theirs? More frustrating was the Army's perpetual concern over the possibility that he might be targeted and captured by the enemy.
From that June 6th through the Korean War, John would suffer the complications of being both a soldier and his father's son.
SURELY APPRECIATING YOUR VISIT ON MEMORIAL DAY
Memorial Day Weekend… It's a busy weekend at the President's farm - families, scouts, elderly couples, school and senior groups, even a busload of YWCA volksmarchers all paying visits. General Eisenhower would certainly welcome and appreciate folks coming to visit his home most especially on a Memorial Day weekend, a weekend when we remember all the men and women who lost their lives in service to their country.
Eisenhower was, no doubt, very much affected by such lives. Shortly before his death in 1969, he made a simple request. He asked that he be buried in a plain, wooden coffin. A plain wooden coffin because that's how his men, his soldiers, those men he thought so highly of, so admired and had so much faith in during the war, that's how his men had been buried.
The request, of course, was his way of paying honor and allegiance to, and demonstrating his great respect for, all those who served. And particularly for those who gave the ultimate sacrifice for their country.
IT'S LIKE A HITCHCOCK MOVIE
Remember that Alfred Hitchcock movie, The Birds? Hordes of birds begin to ominously congregate in this small town, roosting everywhere, and then begin to attack the town's inhabitants. This spring the Eisenhower Farm has been a little like that movie.
The farm is always bird infested in the spring, particularly with barn swallows building nests in every available building cranny and nook. This year is no exception. The corridor between the reception center and barn is a virtual barn swallow metropolis. The sky is busy with a chaos of avian traffic, the sidewalks and gravel walkways awash in a generous splattering of deposits.
Swallows are cute, agile, colorful little birds, but are aggressive in defending their nests. They aren't adverse to dive bombing innocent passersby regardless of their comparatively imposing size and peaceful motives.
But this spring the birds are much more numerous and varied than usual. Open the barn in the morning and you need to duck your head as a variety of species flutter madly out the door. The barn floor and benches are layered with bird droppings, portions of the walls are streaked with their indiscriminate evacuations.
It's a chore cleaning off the benches on those rainy days when visitors are relegated to the barn to listen to your orientation. Due to the efforts of the rangers, the visitor derrieres are relatively safe, but the presenting park ranger, who typically stands beneath the birds' favorite roosting rafter, sometimes falls victim to unspeakable avian perpetrated indecencies.
There are certain favorite bird nesting areas that have turned into spring-long battlegrounds, prime pieces of farm real estate over which the park staff and the birds fight for control. The headquarters porch, for instance. Swallows insist on building nests on the overhead porch light motion sensor. They begin construction in the late afternoon, rangers tear down the nest foundations the next morning, they begin rebuilding in the same spot that afternoon. Once their nest is established, staff and visitors are attacked every time they attempt to enter or leave headquarters. And while warding off the attackers, you typically forget to circumnavigate the thick soup of deposits directly in front of the door.
The same battles are fought over other key strategic areas of the site, even over the ledge that supports the kids' Junior Secret Service radio in the Eisenhower grandkids' playhouse and on the post that serves as the station for the Junior Secret Service binoculars activity.
It's the starlings that typically find their way into buildings that would normally require a door opening hand to acquire access. Opening up in the morning, a ranger will discover a bird roosting defiantly on the reception center counter or making a deposit on a secret service office desk top. Despite well intentioned efforts to direct them out the open door, they are never cooperative, preferring to flap anxiously into the window or the exhibit plexiglass. One has the sense that they aren't so much stupid, as they are purposely and impudently annoying you.
The most determined and eccentric of the birds this season is a crow who frantically attacks the glass door of the reception center every morning. It repeatedly collides into the door, madly clawing and pecking at the glass. It pecks so determinedly at the lower left hand corner that we've covered it with paper, hoping that would quell his persistence. He's back every morning. There's a moment at which he suddenly decides he's made his point and flies away. Then the housekeepers come by and clean up his mess.
Now if the President were still here, he would have no patience for such antics. He'd have no qualms about pulling out his shotgun and thinning out some of the offending avian population. Of course, such a recourse isn't available to us today. All we can do is frustrate their nest building and clean up their droppings.
That was one horror never documented by Hitchcock in his movie - the terrible, all pervasive, blood chilling mess. I suppose he chose to leave that to the viewers' imagination. Apparently, the key to being a great director is not only in what you film, but in what you choose not to.
I DON'T BELIEVE YOU CAN CHANGE THE HEARTS OF MEN WITH LAWS AND DECISIONS
The above title of today's entry is President Eisenhower's reaction to one of the most important decisions ever to be handed down by the Supreme Court.
The landmark decision was reached during Eisenhower's first term in office on May 17, 1954. It was a decision he wasn't overly excited about despite having made a significant contribution to its outcome.
Historians today still debate Eisenhower's role in civil rights. Some criticize him for not offering enough support to the civil rights of black Americans. Others, taking into consideration the context of the time, applaud him for the support he did provide.
It is, in part, due to his tempered reaction to Brown vs. Board of Education that posterity has judged him to be largely unsupportive of civil rights.
On that May 17th, the Supreme Court ruled in the case of Oliver Brown vs. the Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas that segregation of blacks and whites in public schools was unconstitutional and that "separate educational facilities are inherently unequal." And then in 1955, the court further ruled that integration of schools must proceed with all deliberate speed. The ruling overturned the 1896 decision, Plessy vs. Ferguson, which legalized segregation of schools as long as those segregated schools were equal.
Traditionally all education in the south was segregated, blacks and whites attending their own respective schools. But black schools were certainly in no way equal to white, not equal in facilities, funding, extracurricular activities, in number of teachers… At one end of a block would be a white school equipped with a gymnasium, cafeteria, , playground, auditorium, and where each student was funded $140 a year by the county. At the other end would be a black school. No playground, gymnasium, cafeteria, only a couple teachers for the entire student body, and where the county dished out a mere $40 per student. There was no effort to achieve even a semblance of equality.
It was in 1954 that the Supreme Court would begin to change all that. And it was partly Eisenhower's doing. Shortly after Ike began his first term in office, Chief Supreme Court Justice Vinson died. Ike appointed California Governor Earl Warren, to whom he owed a political favor for his support during the election, as the new chief justice. Shortly afterwards another justice died and Ike appointed Chief Justice Harlan to fill the second vacancy.
Chief Justice Warren would be instrumental in seeing to it that the supreme Court not only voted in favor of ending school segregation but to do so unanimously, 9 - 0. And of course, Ike's most recent appointee contributed to that unanimous decision.
Ike's response to the decision was tempered, to say the least.
Ike said he believed in gradualization when it came to desegregating. Slowly, incrementally begin integrating, first at the graduate school level, then college, then high schools… That was the only rational manner in which the process could be successfully implemented.
To ram desegregation down the throats of white southerners before they were ready was the height of folly, as Ike saw it. He urged Americans to remember that segregation had been the law of the land for 60 years. You can't expect southerners to suddenly have a change of heart simply by arbitrarily changing the law.
What Ike feared was that the decision and its forced implementation would so alienate the south, that southern states would just dissolve the entire public school system. Whites would then all go to private schools while blacks, the majority of which could not afford a private education, would be school-less. And that is precisely what happened in some counties in Virginia.
Eisenhower never publically stated that he supported the Brown vs. Board of Education decision. What he did say though was that it was his duty as president to uphold and enforce the Constitution, the laws of the United States, and the rulings of the Supreme Court.
Nevertheless, it was clear the President wasn't crazy about the prospect of immediate school desegregation. And his tepid feelings about it were evident to many white southerners, including Governor Faubus of Arkansas. This would come back to haunt the President several years later when racial tension at a Little Rock high school erupted into one of the major crises of Eisenhower's presidency.
It's the second week of May 2012, six months before the presidential election, and we already know who are Republican and Democratic presidential candidates are. In May of 1952, six months before the presidential election, America had no idea. In May of 52, the eventual Democratic candidate was still claiming he had no interest in running and the eventual Republican candidate had not yet officially made up his mind.
That Republican candidate, Dwight D. Eisenhower, had his reasons for not wanting to run:
1. In the spring of 1952, he was still Supreme Commander of NATO. As its first commander, he didn't want to abandon it before he felt confident that it would be a success. His goal as NATO commander was to establish a viable European defense force. As he saw it, failing to do so would leave his 1945 victory in Europe incomplete and bankrupt his presidential candidacy
2. He couldn't run while he was still NATO's supreme commander. Seeking political office while in the military was a violation of regulations. He would have to resign before declaring his candidacy.
3. He was not comfortable with the idea of becoming a politician. To a modest man such as Eisenhower, the pandering and self-promotion necessary to win an election were totally out of character. Once elected, to remain successful at playing politics required, as Ike saw it, a willingness to be unforthcoming, underhanded, and Machiavellian. Seemingly, in contrast to being a soldier, honesty and directness didn't cut it. There was just something undeniably sordid about politics.
4. He wasn't convinced that the country actually desired his services or required his leadership. He was looking for a public mandate, an outcry from the American people that he was wanted.
5. He was afraid a presidential campaign would be tough on Mamie, resurrecting, as it would, old rumors about his supposed affair with his wartime Army driver, Kay Summersby as well as accusations, brought on by her Meniere's disease, that Mamie had a drinking problem.
6. He had a farmhouse in Gettysburg waiting for him. It was here to which he hoped to escape from the pressures he had faced over the past ten years. He longed to finally relax with his wife and grandkids, maybe raise some cattle, certainly play a lot of golf and bridge with his cronies, do some hunting and fishing…
However, there were equally compelling reasons he did want to run as well. And by May, they had outweighed the reasons not to.
In fact, it was back in April that Ike had turned in his resignation from NATO to President Truman. But the resignation would not become effective until June 1. It was then, just a month before the Republican National Convention, that he planned to finally officially declare himself a candidate for the presidency of the United States.
Last week the park maintenance staff began the long awaited prepping of the Eisenhower home exterior for its much needed paint job. The stripping and priming is going to be a major undertaking, more major than one would normally anticipate. That's because it entails lead abatement.
The paint analysis of the home revealed what you would expect of a 1950s home, particularly around the doors and windows - high lead content. In removing it, the park is abiding by EPA and OSHA standards.
The stripping crew has been certified in lead abatement. They are decked out in white Ty-vek suits and respirators. A 20 foot barrier is established around the work area and hepa-vacs are used to contain the dust. The prep work and painting is expected to go on for months.
All this legitimate concern about lead abatement got me thinking… For those of us who were young when Ike and JFK and LBJ were presidents, how is it we ever survived childhood? By all rights, we should have all been dead by high school. If not dead, at least psychologically maimed.
Then there was the focal point of the home, what all family members gravitated toward like George Romero zombies to a mall full of meaty suburbanites - the TV. You watched it at least 5 hours a day. Ten hours on Saturday. Sitting just a foot and a half from the screen, mesmerized in its silver glow, a glazed expression, minds turning to mush. And we loved it.
Breakfast was a bowl of Trix, a glass of Tang (a mysterious powdered orange drink supposed to be healthy because astronauts drank it in space), a slice of toasted doughy white Wonder Bread with jelly, or a pop tart with fruit filling. It had fruit so it was healthy.
Plenty of hot dogs, bologna sandwiches, Twinkies, Fizzies, and ketchup.
Fiber? There was no fiber in our diets. The only fiber was from the left over beer nuts we'd swipe from the coffee table snack bowls at our parents cocktail parties.
You didn't get shots for measles, mumps, and chicken pox. Every kid suffered through all three. It was a rite of passage.
No one flossed.
You walked a mile to school even in a blizzard with five foot snow drifts because school never closed.
You pedaled your bicycle without a helmet with a friend on the handle bars and you got driven around in a car without seatbelts.
You'd go to the dentist to get cavities filled and he never gave you novocaine or nitrous oxide for pain. After you suffered through five cavities filled in one sitting, the dentist gave you a gift card for a double dip ice cream cone at the soda fountain to assure you'd be back in six months with five more cavities.
What about the psychological devastation you were subjected to? You were bullied and brutalized by everybody:
Everybody beat you up while in turn you spent your days playing war and cowboys and Indians, blasting each other with toy guns. When you reached 9 or 10 though, you were old enough to have your own gun that shot B-Bs or pellets and you could pass the time shooting small birds and squirrels.
And if you didn't have a gun, you could at least fry insects with a magnifying glass. And if you didn't have a magnifying glass, by late summer there were always crabapples. You threw crabapples at everything. Even each other. Crabapple wars were the height of fun.
In those days, there were no hugs. Nothing like positive reinforcement. If you didn't know, you didn't have the answer, you couldn't perform up to expectations - you were humiliated. That's how you learned.
There was no sex education. You didn't learn about sex at school or from your parents. You learned it from authorities like your friend Micky Lomastro who would hold forth in whispers in the 4th grade classroom before the bell rang on how girls became pregnant. And consequently, you remained wildly misinformed for years.
And who can forget those duck and cover drills, and your neighbor's nifty fallout shelter, and the constant reminders that your world was at the brink of nuclear armageddon.
You inaugurated the summer by going to the 5 & 10 and buying the season's first pea shooter, slingshot, or bow and arrow set that you'd spend the rest of the summer shooting each other with.
You played baseball in the middle of the street and defiantly flipped the bird at any car that dared disrupt your game by driving through it. And you didn't wear a helmet. If you got beaned in the head, you were all the better for it.
Every summer when you built your go-cart, you never made a brake for it. If you were going to stop, it'd be when you crashed into something.
Sunburn? Everybody got sunburn. It was a rite of summer. You got so much sunburn on your nose and back that after a week you were peeling all that dead skin off like dried Elmer's glue. And then you sunburned again and went through the peeling process all over a second time.
You didn't sleep at night with air conditioning or even a fan. There was one fan in the house and at night that was sequestered in your parent's bedroom. You suffered your way through those steamy 90 degree August nights, so much so that your sheets were soggy with your sweat. But you never thought twice about it because that's the way it was.
The highlight of summer was the mosquito truck. You could hear it approaching from miles away coughing up its thick, lovely clouds of DDT. That distant rumble was a clarion call for every kid from blocks around to hop on their bicycles and follow the truck through the entire neighborhood weaving in and out of that cool thick fog of pesticide mile after mile.
And hopefully that will compensate for their never experiencing the pure joy of pedaling a bicycle for miles and miles in and out of a thick cool cloud of pesticide on a beautiful summer evening.
THE PHONE CALL THAT NEARLY LED TO THE RESIGNATION OF OUR 34th PRESIDENT
On May 7, 1960, President Eisenhower received the devastating phone call that would nearly lead to his resignation.
It was the call informing him that the Soviets had not only shot down an American U-2 spy plane, but had also captured its pilot. And the pilot had confessed.
The U.S. had been flying U-2 reconnaissance planes over the Soviet Union photographing Russian missile development and troop movements since 1956. But after Soviet Premiere Khrushchev came to visit Ike in the fall of 1959 and the two began to seriously pursue détente, Ike became increasingly reluctant to approve the overflights.
In their discussions, the topic of the U-2s was never breached by Khrushchev. He knew of the U-2 over flights and was also very aware that the planes flew so high that the Soviets were incapable of shooting them down. To bring up the U-2s would simply acknowledge his nation's vulnerability.
Less than a month before the May 16th Paris peace summit that Ike and Khrushchev had agreed to, the CIA (the agency in charge of the U-2 flights) approached the President and requested authorization for one last fly over. They reassured the President that the Soviets were not capable of shooting down a U-2. And even if they were, the pilot would die in the crash. If the crash didn't kill him, he would commit suicide with a poisoned needle. There would be no proof it was a spy plane. Thus, there was little to worry about.
The President hesitatingly agreed to that one last, fateful overflight to be made no later than May 1.
And so it was on May 1, 1960, that Eisenhower received word that, indeed, the last U-2 had been shot down. What the President didn't know was that aside from the plane being downed, its pilot, Francis Gary Powers, had not died in the crash and had not even committed suicide. He was in the hands of the Soviets.
It was decided and Ike agreed that the State Department would issue a statement insisting it was merely a weather plane, not a spy plane at all.
Sadly for Ike, several days later the Soviets gleefully produced the proof. Eisenhower was informed via that May 7th phone call in the office of his Gettysburg farm house that the Soviets had captured the U-2 pilot and he had confessed to it having been a spy plane.
Ike was devastated. Not only was this a catastrophe jeopardizing his summit with Khrushchev, but he had been caught in a lie. He always prided himself in his honesty and now, in agreeing to the cover up, he had lied to the American people. He wanted to resign.
Instead, he conducted a press conference and acknowledged that yes, it was a spy plane. He offered no apologies though. He justified the overflights, reasoning that a Soviet Union so secret and impenetrable, necessitated spy plane overflights if America was going to prevent another sneak attack like Pearl Harbor.
Despite all the agitated rhetoric by the Soviets, the peace conference went on as scheduled. But when a ranting Khrushchev demanded of the president an apology for the U-2 overflights and was refused, he and his entire delegation stomped out of the conference.
All of Ike's hopes for defusing the Cold War were shattered.
Eisenhower was furious that Khrushchev had made such an issue of the U-2 and thought he was just exploiting it as a poor excuse to scuttle the peace conference. Unbeknownst to Ike though, Khrushchev had little choice. He would have preferred to continue pursuing détente, but the U-2 overflight had given the Soviet hardliners just too much ammunition. He was having a difficult time with the hardliners even prior to the U-2 shoot down. He wasn't as singularly powerful as Americans assumed. To ignore the U-2 and continue his peace overtures with the West at this point would be politically suicidal.
And Khrushchev was upset with Eisenhower. He hoped Eisenhower would judicially claim he knew nothing about the U-2, that the Pentagon or CIA ordered the overflight without his knowledge. Khrushchev even posed the possibility publicly. If Eisenhower would only admit to initially knowing nothing about the overflight, their mutual efforts at détente could continue.
Foolishly, in Khrushchev's opinion, Eisenhower chose not to pursue that strategy.
Not that Ike and his staff didn't consider it. In the end, Ike opted for the truth. Claiming spy planes were being launched without his knowledge would make him appear weak, superfluous, and downright inept.
And so Ike returned from Paris both frustrated and despondent. All he had strived to achieve during his second term came to nothing. Seven months later his presidency came to an end. It ended not only with his having failed to reduce Cold War tensions, but having escalated them as well.
Tensions would continue to escalate to a point two years later when the US and USSR would totter precariously on the brink of World War III. Ironically, and one could say redemptively, it was reconnaissance photos from a U-2 that verified the Russians were building those missile bases in Cuba.
IKE AND HIS TV REMOTE
According to their grandchildren, there was one bad habit of Ike's that would drive Mamie crazy…
He would monopolize the television remote control and constantly change the channels. Over and over and over and over. And in those days there were only three channels.
The same three channels over and over. And over.
The President's mindless channel surfing and the First Lady's heroic tolerance - that's something that every American couple that visits the Eisenhower farm can seemingly relate to. Mention it on your house tour, you immediately notice the wife wearily nodding in acknowledgement and the guilty husband smiling sheepishly.
Visitors, however, are surprised to see a television remote in the Eisenhower home. "I didn't know they actually had TV remotes back then," they often exclaim. Well, they did. TV remotes have been around since 1950, although very few homes had them at first.
The Eisenhower TV, strategically located on their sun porch, is a late 1960s RCA Victor color television. Its RCA remote is among the third generation of remote controls that came out in the late 1950s. Press the buttons and it ultrasonically turned the TV on and changed the channels. The remote's high pitched sound waves caused dogs to bark, but otherwise it worked remarkably well.
The very first television remote was invented by Zenith in 1950 and was called the Lazy Bone. It was actually connected to the TV by a wire. So not only was it not exceptionally remote, but it was a lethal trip hazard as well.
The second generation remote was the first to be wireless. It came out in 1955 and was christened the Flash-matic. It was a space age looking flashlight that controlled the TV via a ray of light aimed at each corner of the set. You had to remember which corner of the set was on and which off, which changed the channels clockwise, and which counterclockwise. Its biggest drawback was that sunlight could end up indiscriminatingly changing the channels and turning the TV on and off for you.
By the time Ike was channel surfing in retirement, he no longer had to worry about circumnavigating a dangerous trip hazard or even aiming. He could just randomly, unthinkingly press away, over and over and over again.
So it turns out, much to the delight of visitors, that the Eisenhowers were your quintessential American couple - both entrenched in front of the television set on a weekday or weekend evening, the husband, king of his castle, manfully in command of the remote, changing channels at the slightest whim… The wife sitting beside him exasperated yet nevertheless secure in the knowledge that while allowing her husband to be in command of the remote gave him the impression that he was the king, she all along was the one truly in charge.
JOIN US IN CELEBRATING NATIONAL JUNIOR RANGER DAY
Eisenhower National Historic Site is somewhat unique among National Park sites and that becomes particularly evident on National Junior Ranger Day.
Every April, the National Park Service celebrates National Junior Ranger Day, encouraging children to visit their National Parks and participate in junior ranger programs. Upon completion of a park's Junior Ranger manual, children earn a Junior Ranger certificate and badge or patch. Activities in the manual typically focus on learning and appreciating the park's history, wildlife, geology, and/or plant life as well as becoming familiar with a park ranger's duties and how one can help preserve a park's cultural and natural resources.
Junior Ranger programs are available to enjoy any day, but on National Junior Ranger Day, participants also earn the specially designed National Junior Ranger Day patch.
Eisenhower NHS happens to be one of the very few National Park sites not to have a Junior Ranger program. So you'd think the ENHS staff should feel somewhat self conscious and maybe even mortified during all the National Junior Ranger Day hoopla.
But no, not at all. Eisenhower NHS may not offer a Junior RANGER program, but it does offer a Junior SECRET SEVICE program. Close enough, we say, for us to join in on the celebration!
We invite children to visit President Eisenhower's farm with their families and participate in the Junior SECRET SERVICE program. Complete the activities in the Junior Secret Service training manual and you earn not only the Junior Secret Service badge and certificate, but also the coveted National Junior Ranger patch. In your effort to complete the Secret Service training assignments, you'll learn about code names, how to use the Secret Service radio, how to locate suspicious persons and objects with binoculars, and properly interrogate individuals.
Also scheduled for National Junior Ranger Day at 11:15 a.m. and 2:15 p.m. are Park Ranger talks about the Secret Service and the agents who were assigned to protect President Eisenhower and his family. You'll hear about the equipment agents used (some which can still be found throughout the grounds of the President's home and farm), the duties they performed, and the problems they faced. The rangers will share stories about the agents and their years with the Eisenhowers taken from interviews conducted with agents by the National Park Service.
Needless to say, agents experienced some precarious moments while guarding the President. When visiting India, the President was driven by car with Indian Prime Minister Nehru from the airport to the capital, New Delhi. The route was lined with hundreds of thousands exuberant Indians all chanting, Hail Eisenhower" and showering the President with bouquets of flowers. Unfortunately, many of the bouquets were weighed down with rocks to allow for greater distance when thrown. The leaden weighted bouquets were whistling past the President's head and striking him in the back. Then the mobs began to uncontrollably surge around and climb aboard the vehicle attempting to touch the President. The Secret Service agents, clinging to the rear bumper and trunk of the car, had become desperately concerned for the President's safety. As policemen on either side wildly swung their batons at the crowd, the agents were getting hit on the backswings and were soon covered in blood.
Finally to the rescue came Prime Minister Nehru. He jumped out in front of the car and began to clobber his fellow countrymen over their heads with his walking stick. He then stood atop the car and admonished the crowd for their poor behavior. The President's vehicle was stalled in the melee for thirty minutes before managing to break free and deliver the President to the capital not too much worse for wear.
Come join us on National Junior Ranger Day, Saturday, April 28, and hear about more Secret Service moments. And, most importantly, become a Junior SECRET SERVICE agent! (See the news release for more details.)
GET TO KNOW THE PRESIDENT AND HIS FARM BY PHONE
Do you know what artist visited the President and became so enamored of the old sycamore that he made it the subject of a painting? Do you know what was in the Eisenhowers' teahouse kitchen that guests feared might expose them to high doses of deadly radiation?
Hear about it on the phone.
One of the best ways to enjoy an intimate glimpse into the life of President Dwight D. Eisenhower and his family in Gettysburg is via the Eisenhower NHS Cell Phone Tour.
Located throughout the historic site, from one end to the other, are 17 stops marked by Five Star cell phone tour signs. You can take your time, walk the entire farm, and armed with naught but your cell phone, listen to an array of stories about the Eisenhower farm and family. Topics include golf and skeet, the cattle operation, barbecuing, the rose and vegetable gardens, the dogs and horses, even the President's terrible driving…
You can visit the apple orchard and hear of the President's frustration with the paltry size of his apples and peaches, admire the significance of the 200 year old sycamore in the nine acre pasture, check out the putting green and listen as a family member recalls the day it was trampled by stampeding farm animals, learn why such a large segment of the vegetable garden was devoted to okra, inspect the railroad bells along the terrace and find out why the First Lady removed the clappers, examine the backyard barbecue and sympathize with the trauma of the grandchildren when they discovered they were eating their favorite cow….
It's as simple as calling 717-253-9256 and inputting the number of the stop. Aside from the admission cost to the site, there is no charge. You simply use your cell phone minutes.
One of my personal favorites of all the cell phone stops is #16, the Dog Pens:
The concrete pads between the fence and the coop are the only evidence remaining of the pens that were constructed to accommodate the Eisenhowers' dogs. The President owned several different dogs while here at the farm. The first were two English Setters, George and Art. There was a red spaniel, two different border collies, and three- legged Duke and Robbie. The best remembered though were Heidi and Hogan,two Weimaraners given to the Eisenhowers as gifts. Heidi originally spent several days with the Eisenhowers in Washington until she made a mess on the White House carpet and forever after was relegated to the Farm. Hogan upon first arriving at the Farm was called Rommel, a name that Eisenhower wasn't overly fond of. The President summarily proclaimed that he would be renamed Hogan after one of his favorite professional golfers.
Hogan was trained to hunt. Before the opening of pheasant hunting season, the President liked to take Hogan out for a dry run to get him in shape. Unbeknownst to Hogan, the President would just be shooting blanks. Thus, Hogan would point, rush in to flush the bird, the President would shoot, and of course the bird wouldn't fall. According to groundskeeper Chief West, old Hogan would look over his shoulder at the President with his big old gray eyes as if to say, "You dummy, how could you possibly miss that?" After watching the President "miss" twice in a row, Hogan would lose his patience and the next time simply forego pointing. He would rushinto the brush, grabthe pheasant,and personally deliverit to the President. The President never ceased to be amazed. "That's the most brilliant dog I've ever seen!" he'd exclaim.
On a beautiful spring day, the cell phone tour is an enjoyable option for touring the Eisenhower farm and grounds. While you're at it keep your eyes peeled for the litter of fox kits romping about and around the cattle barns and take in the pastures crowded with Angus and new born calves.
But if you can't visit the site, you can listen to the tour at home as well. Just call 717-253-9256 and input the numbers 1- 17 to hear the stories. Visit the Cell Phone Tour page of our web site at https://www.nps.gov/eise/planyourvisit/cell-phone-tour.htm for the list of the different numbered stops along the tour.
Do you know who called the Eisenhower farm's head herdsman to discuss the cattle operation just a mere ten minutes after the President delivered the State of the Union address?
Hear about it on the phone.
APRIL 12, 1945:
April 12, 1945 may very well have been the most eye-opening day of Eisenhower's entire three years as commander during the long war in Europe.
On that day he became fully aware of the extent of Nazi plundering when he toured the salt mines in Merkers, Germany. It was here and in other mines like it that the Nazis horded the gold and art works they had looted throughout the continent of Europe.
It was on this same day he came face to face with the almost unbelievable extent of Nazi barbarity. For after visiting the Kaiseroda salt mines, he inspected Ohrdruf.
Ohrdruf was the first Nazi concentration camp to be liberated by the U. S. military. Located near the town of Gothe, it provided slave labor for construction of railroads. In March of 1945, the prisoner population was over 11,000. But with the approach of Allied forces, the SS evacuated most of the prisoners to nearby Buchenwald, murdering many who were too ill to walk.
When soldiers of the 89th U. S. Infantry and 4th Armored Division liberated the camp on April 4, they discovered piles of dead bodies, over a thousand, many of them smoldering from attempts by the SS guards to incinerate them in huge pyres..
Eisenhower inspected "every nook and cranny" of the camp along with Generals Patton and Bradley. He later cabled Chief of Staff, General George Marshall:
The things I saw beggar description. While I was touring the camp I encountered three men who had been inmates and by one ruse or another had made their escape. I interviewed them through an interpreter. The visual evidence and the verbal testimony of starvation, cruelty and bestiality were so overpowering as to leave me a bit sick. In one room, where there were piled up twenty or thirty naked men, killed by starvation, George Patton would not even enter. He said that he would get sick if he did so.
I made the visit deliberately, in order to be in a position to give first-hand evidence of these things if ever, in the future, there develops a tendency to charge these allegations merely to propaganda.
For that very reason, and so that they could see first hand what it was they were fighting against, Eisenhower ordered every soldier in the area to visit Ohrdruf and Buchenwald. He ordered the news media to visit and record their observations. He ordered every citizen of Gotha to tour the camp and after doing so the mayor and his wife hanged themselves. He again cabled Marshall and requested that members of Congress visit the camps.
Eisenhower wanted to accumulate as much documentation and as many witnesses as possible to guarantee that in the future such acts of Nazi brutality could never, ever be denied.
As we now know, his concern was justified.
He wrote to his wife, Mamie:
He would never forget all that he saw on that day in the spring of 1945.
THE DAY IKE INSPECTED NAZI PLUNDER IN THE KAISERODA SALT MINE
One of the most interesting gifts in the Eisenhower home is a small triptych on the top shelf of the curio cabinet in the living room. It's a replica of a painting by Flemish artist Jan Van Eyck, the Ghent Altarpiece. King Leopold of Belgium presented it to Eisenhower in appreciation for the General having expedited the return of the original painting after the war. It was among the great works of art stolen by the Nazis and the very first to be returned to its parent country.
General Eisenhower knew how important it was to the morale of countries recently liberated from the Nazis, like Belgium, to have their cherished art works of national prominence promptly returned.
The extent to which the Nazis had stolen art treasures from across Europe became very evident to Eisenhower on April 12, 1945. A week earlier American troops had discovered an underground salt mine at Merkers, Germany in which the Germans had stored a huge cache of art and gold. Generals Eisenhower, Patton, and Bradley together inspected the mine and its treasures on April 12. One tunnel contained a horde of gold bars and minted gold from countries all over Europe. Gold and silver looted from homes was crammed into suitcases and trunks. In another was an "enormous number of paintings and other pieces of art. Some of these were wrapped in paper and burlap, others were merely stacked together like cordwood."
Not only were these works of art looted from countries overrun by the German army, but many were from the Berlin museum, hidden in the mine to safekeep them from the bombing and the impending advance of the Russian army.
Even before America entered the war, art professionals in the US were concerned about art throughout Europe that might be subjected to Nazi plundering. They pressured President Roosevelt to establish the Roberts Commission whose mission was to preserve great works of cultural significance in war areas. In 1943, a branch of the Commission called the MFAA -Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives Program -was formed. The 345 members of the MFAA became known as the Monuments Men and would for years find, restore, and return over 5 million treasured works of art to their rightful owners.
Eisenhower sympathized with the mission of the MFAA and ordered his troops to assist the Monuments Men as much as possible. In Italy and France he ordered soldiers to protect and preserve the pieces of art they encountered. In Germany after the surrender, he directed repositories be established to process works of art that were recovered.
This concern for art expressed by a military commander and conveyed through orders to his troops in the midst of the ravages of a war was a bit unusual. For the first time in history an army, while fighting a war, was simultaneously attempting to protect and preserve objects of art.
According to one officer of the MFAA:
For his effort to preserve European art and cultural monuments during WWII, Eisenhower was awarded with an Honorary Life Fellowship from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. A recording of the speech Ike gave upon receiving the Fellowship on April 2, 1946 was discovered just last year in the Museum's archive vault. In his message to his Met audience, Ike stressed how American soldiers went out of their way to protect works of art and how these works for them had such special meaning:
These same soldiers have seen the destruction of priceless artistic treasures, but-and perhaps understandably-this fact has served only to increase their respect and veneration for civilizations of the past. They tried within-sometimes beyond-the limits of military prudence to protect and preserve these products of man's creative instinct… In no walk of life can man fail to find richer experience as he falls under the influence of beauty immortalized by inspired genius. Even for the roughest of soldiers there is more of ancient history to be felt and understood in a lonely, graceful column rising against the sky in a naked field than there is in all the descriptive matter that has ever been written on the subject. ..
He concluded with an assurance that,
They who have dwelt with death will be among the most ardent worshipers of life and beauty and of the peace in which these can thrive.
After the ceremony the director of the Met stated to the New York Times that the award of the Fellow ship to Eisenhower was, "more than a gesture by the entire academic world to the man, who, more responsible than any other, has made it possible for the world of great civilization in the past to continue for future generations."
Not long after the end of the war, Ike took up painting himself. He was urged to do so by Churchill. But perhaps too, he was inspired by the great works of art that he and his soldiers strived to protect.
Nothing he painted came close to rivaling the Ghent Altarpiece. But his portrait of Field Marshal Montgomery wasn't bad at all.
In 1954 when an advisor suggested to President Eisenhower that he might consider supporting a women's equal rights amendment, the President responded, "Where are they unequal?!"
Such a response suggests that Ike wasn't exactly an avowed feminist. In fact, his biographer, Stephen Ambrose, wrote that, "His idea of an appropriate activity for women was volunteer work, preferably for a Republican women's organization."
I bring this up in the context of March having been Women's History Month. This celebration of women's history began in California in 1978 as a women's history week. It went national in 1981 with a joint congressional resolution and was expanded to an entire month by Congress in 1987.
In 1954 when Ike made his remarkably unprogressive comment about women and equality, women were a relative anomaly in politics and the work force. Less than 30% of women worked and there was only one woman in the entire Senate - Margaret Chase Smith of Maine.
Despite a remark that suggested otherwise, Ike was very aware of the potential, the power, and the productivity of women and he ultimately contributed positively to their history. His presidential campaign in 1952 was the first to make a concerted effort to secure the female vote. The campaign staged TV sessions, political get-togethers, and phone calling parties that strictly targeted women voters. It was also the first campaign in which the wives of the presidential and vice presidential candidates played major roles. Scotty Reston of the New York Times wrote that Mamie Eisenhower would secure for Ike at least an additional 50 electoral votes.
The effort proved successful. Nearly as many women voted in the election as men and a far greater percentage voted for Eisenhower. 58% of women voted for Ike as opposed to 52% of men.
Ike was asked during the campaign whether he would appoint a woman to his cabinet. He replied that he intended to "utilize the contributions of outstanding women to the greatest extent possible." And indeed he became just the second president to appoint a woman as a cabinet secretary. (FDR who appointed Frances Perkins as Secretary of Labor was the first.) He established the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, appointing as its cabinet secretary a Texan who was the first commanding officer of the Women's Army Corps and chairman of the board of the Houston Post, Oveta Culp Hobby. He also appointed Bertha Adkins as its Under-Secretary.
The Public Health Service became part of the new Department of HEW. Thus, when the newly developed polio vaccine was approved in 1955, the licensing of the vaccine fell under Oveta Hobby's jurisdiction. Unfortunately, there wasn't enough vaccine to go around and the Eisenhower administration had made no plans for its distribution. Panic and anger raged throughout the country. Children were dying of polio and there was now a vaccine available to save them, but the government appeared to be too incompetent to assure that every child would receive the vaccine. When a Senate Committee questioned Hobby about the shortage, she made a reply interpreted by many as cold and cavalier, "I would assume that this is an incident unique in medical history. I think no one could have foreseen the public demand."
Her response incensed Americans. Letters poured in demanding her resignation and referring to her as hopelessly incompetent, heartless, and callous. Later when a bad batch of vaccine produced by a company in California caused paralysis in some children, it was Hobby and her department that were blamed for inadequate inspection of vaccine production.
Hobby, who wasn't keen on the whole idea of "socialized medicine" anyway, gave in to the public pressure and resigned from her cabinet post in July of 1955. She returned to Texas and attended to her ailing husband.
Ike's HEW cabinet secretary appointment was short lived. And there wouldn't be another female cabinet secretary appointed until 1975.
Today, however, there are four female cabinet secretaries along with three female supreme court justices, 16 female senators, and 78 female U. S. representatives. Women now make up over half of the American work force and more women than men vote in presidential elections, over 8 million more in 2008.
Thus, women and their history have certainly come a long way since the Eisenhower era when but one lone female joined fellow senators on the Senate chamber floor, when only one female ever attended a presidential cabinet meeting, and when presidential campaigning for the female vote was considered a novelty.
Perhaps Eisenhower's rhetorical inquiry, "Where are they unequal?" would sound somewhat more sensible today. But sadly, one could still respond with a fairly substantial list.
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Last updated: February 26, 2015