The Ike Blog (July - Sept., 2012)


POSTED: September 27, 2012 POSTED BY: John Joyce

There are two famous photographs that document the human tragedy of that sad chapter in American history played out in Arkansas in September of 1957. One is of a teenage girl walking with school books in hand and sunglasses hiding the fear in her eyes as a crowd follows close behind her, faces etched in hate, contorted with rage. The other of a middle age man in a suit coat with hat in hand, doubled over as a surrounding mob kicks and beats him to the ground.

The teenage girl and middle aged man are black, the predatory mobs white.

Both photos were taken in Little Rock, Arkansas in September of 1957 when nine black students attempted to attend classes at Central High and thus integrate the previously segregated school.

The young lady was Elizabeth Eckford. She had arrived at Central High on the first day of the school year, September 4, alone. The other eight black students had arrived together and already been turned away by the National Guard whom Governor Faubus had sent to surround the school to bar the black students' entrance. She too was surprised to find herself barred from entering by men with rifles and riot batons. Scared and confused, she tried to return home and was followed by a vicious white mob who remained close on her heels, cursing her, spitting at her, threatening to lynch her even as she sat helpless on the bus stop bench.

The gentleman was Alex Wilson who was a reporter for a black newspaper there to do a story on Central High on September 23. A white mob surrounded him outside the school and demanded that he run. When he proudly refused, they beat him to the ground and kicked him over and over and over.

It was said that President Eisenhower was terribly upset when he saw the photo of Alex Wilson. The next evening he sent the 101st Airborne Division into Little Rock. The following morning they dispersed the crowds around Central High and safely escorted the nine black students into school.

The President, however, clarified in an address to the American public that the Army was sent to Little Rock not to integrate Central High School but to uphold the rulings of the Supreme Court and to quell the violence and disperse the unruly mobs. Historians have suggested ever since that if Eisenhower had been more actively supportive from the very beginning of the Supreme Court's decision to illegalize school segregation in Brown vs. The Board of Education (1954), Governor Faubus would have never had the confidence to defy the courts' ruling. As it was, Faubus felt that it was clear that Eisenhower didn't personally approve of court ordered integration and would most likely not launch a serious response to his defiance.

As of September 25, the nine students were finally enrolled and appeared to be safely attending classes. But the story doesn't end there. The nightmare resumed, particularly after the paratroopers withdrew in November and were replaced by Arkansas National Guardsmen. One of the Little Rock 9, Melba Pattillo, wrote a book about her experiences at Central High entitled Warriors Don't Cry. On one page she lists three consecutive diary entries dated Feb. 18 - 20, 1958. On the 18th she writes that a girl slapped her, spat on her, and pushed her down the stairs. On the 19th that a boy shoved her and threatened her with a wrench. On the 20th, that she was hit across the back with a tennis racquet and spit up blood in the restroom… Not an atypical week for any of them throughout that school year.

One of the nine was eventually expelled because she dared to fight back. The other eight made it to the end of the school year. Everett Green, the senior of the group, graduated that June.

The following school year none of them returned to Central High. They couldn't. Central High School was no longer integrated that following year. Nor was it segregated. It was closed. Gov. Faubus had closed down the entire public school system in Little Rock to assure it would not be desegregated.

Central High reopened two years later. Only two black students were willing to attend and endure the abuse.

It wasn't until 1972 that all the public schools in Little Rock were integrated.

Eisenhower did send troops to Little Rock on September 24, 1957. He also supported and signed the first civil right legislation in 80 years and appointed an array of pro-integrationist judges to southern federal courts. Yet many historians today still criticize him for not supporting civil rights as strongly as he should have. With stronger support, there perhaps would have been far less that was tragic to document in Little Rock. And those two famous photographs may never have been taken.

POSTED: September 24, 2012 POSTED BY: John Joyce

What we had hoped for came to pass - a dry two days for our World War II Weekend on the 15th and 16th. In fact, not only was it dry but one couldn't have asked for more beautiful weather.

All the vets who came to speak drew large crowds and seemed to really enjoy themselves. As happens every year now though, the wife of one called the day before to say he couldn't make it because he was in bad shape and in the hospital. We typically get one or even two of such calls from scheduled speakers the day before or the day of the event.

As WWII vets grow exceedingly older, it's especially heartwarming to see how appreciative audiences are of these guys and how much, in turn, they enjoy interacting with the public. It's gratifying to see them garner some recognition for all they went through - these once ordinary young guys who were suddenly thrust into a vast, all consuming war (so vast and all consuming it's hard for us today to even conceive of its scope), and for years dutifully slugged their way through the homesickness, the discomfort, the anguish, the death, and the horror. Each vet spoke with great humility, with a great sense of humor, and with the sad awareness of how many of their good buddies have passed away, both then and over the past few years.

There was one moment that brought home how relatively few WWII vets still remain. Sandra O'Connell, a speaker who authored a book about her husband's WWII experiences as a bomber pilot (he was only 19 when he assumed command of his B-17), showed the audience a photo of her husband's bomber crew taken at the end of the war. Of the nine crew members in the photo, only one was still alive.

At first glance, many of the speakers may not have looked overly spry, but they all launched into their speaking and book signing duties with a lively, good natured enthusiasm. Bill Guarnere of the 101st Airborne Division dutifully signed his book without complaint for six hours non-stop and only quit when the book sold out.

The living history groups all appeared to have a great time interacting with the crowds, showing off some intimidatingly good swing dancing at the Saturday evening USO dance, and then enjoying a comfortably dry night's sleep in the encampment. No mud for vehicles to get hopelessly mired in this year. One of the few glitches occurred when some convoy vehicles that participated in the liberation of New Oxford Saturday morning got held up or lost when encountering the bridge construction on 116.

The rains held off until the following Tuesday when the clouds opened up and deposited nearly four inches, flooding the entire site. Good timing.

Planning for next year's WWII Weekend begins this week.

POSTED: September 12, 2012 POSTED BY: John Joyce

Just as Ike prayed for clear skies to keep the Allied advance from bogging down in the mud, this week the Eisenhower NHS staff is praying for a week of dry weather to keep the WWII Weekend encampment from turning into an untraversable morass.

The 18th annual World War II Weekend is scheduled for this Saturday and Sunday, September 15 & 16 at Eisenhower NHS rain or shine. Four hundred living historians portraying American, British, German, Polish, Soviet, and French WWII troops are expected to set up camp in the back pasture of General Dwight D. Eisenhower's Gettysburg farm.

If you look closely you can still see the ruts throughout the pasture left over from last year's encampment during which the reenactment units needed their WWII-vintage deuce and a half trucks to tow out vehicles hopelessly stuck in the muck leftover from a heavy mid-week rain. This past Saturday we had a hard rain and stiff winds that blew the door off the barn and knocked over some trees. But if it just stays dry from now through the weekend, we'll be okay.

Along with the tension and suspense induced by the weather, this week will also be fraught with the finely tuned chaos of event preparations: mowing the fields, setting up signage, laying out the parking areas and marking off the encampment site, running the electric cables, arranging the tables and chairs, erecting tents, coordinating the days' activities, scheduling the staff, training the videographers and parking attendants, designing and printing out program schedules, dealing with last minute changes to each day's program and presenters…

Once the event starts, everything tends to run smoothly. The living history units consistently do a fine job with their commendably accurate portrayals of WWII soldiers and typically receive rave reviews from visitors. As the units begin to tear down their camp sites late Sunday afternoon, the site staff will wander about the encampment and offer a few words of thanks. In turn, it's gratifying to hear from the reenactors how appreciative they are for the opportunity to participate - to set up camp on the grounds of the home of the Allied Supreme Commander, to listen as old veterans share their experiences, and to share their knowledge with an appreciative public.

The highlight of WWII Weekend is the veterans themselves who come to relate their personal stories and memories of war. Of course, each proceeding WWII Weekend, the vets grow one year older and their ranks much thinner - some who had spoken just the September before, now passed away. This year, however, we are again fortunate to have another outstanding array of speakers:

A radio operator and machine gunner on a 7th Air Force B-24 Liberator crew whose last combat mission was over Iwo Jima in 1945.

A member of the 101st Airborne Division who landed at D-Day, fought at the Battle of the Bulge, and was portrayed in the HBO miniseries, Band of Brothers.

A B-17 pilot, a recipient of the Distinguished Flying Cross, who served in the 11th Bomb Group and was stationed at Pearl Harbor the day of the Japanese attack.

A Marine Corps radio operator who fought on the Philippine island of Mindanao during MacArthur's campaign to liberate the islands from the Japanese.

A jeep driver with the 94th US Infantry Division who was awarded a Bronze Star for his actions during the Battle of the Bulge and served as General Patton's driver in 1945.

A truck driver, a recipient of the Bronze Star, who served with the 5th US Army in Italy.

A combat infantryman with the 32th US Infantry who fought in heavy engagements with Japanese forces in New Guinea and the Philippines.

A combat infantryman who served with the 32nd US Infantry in fighting at both Anzio and the invasion of Southern France and was wounded and held as a POW until the end of the war.

A C-47 pilot in the 10th US Army Air Force based in Burma who flew 88 crossings of the mountainous "Hump" supply route in the China/Burma/ India Theater.

We invite you to join us this weekend and relive the Second World War. Watch as an army doctor performs surgery on a wounded soldier in a combat field hospital, take part in an Army Air Force bomber briefing, enlist at a Navy recruiting station, observe infantry units on patrol, investigate Allied and enemy weaponry and vehicles, take a guided tour of WWII burials in the National Cemetery, talk with civilians on the home front, and listen to the stories of those who experienced first-hand the horrors and heroism of the war, rain or shine.

And actually, the latest weather report looks very promising.

POSTED: September 10, 2012 POSTED BY: John Joyce

For much the same reason Eisenhower selected Richard Nixon to be his vice presidential running mate in 1952, Mitt Romney chose Paul Ryan to be his. It's the same reason most presidential candidates select their running mate - to balance the ticket. Ryan balances the ticket generationally - Ryan is 23 years younger, geographically - Ryan from the Midwest , Romney from New England (although Mitt too was born and raised in the Midwest), experientially - Ryan has served in Congress for 13 years and is thus familiar with the inner workings of Washington unlike his running mate - a Washington outsider, and most importantly, politically - Ryan will appeal to the more conservative, Tea party wing of the party.

Nixon was also young, 38 compared to Ike's 62. He was a westerner - from California while Ike grew up in Kansas and at the time of the election was officially a New York resident. He had served as both a US congressman and senator and was considered a wily politician as compared to Ike who everyone assumed was a complete political innocent (which was very much a faulty assumption). And most importantly, he appealed to the conservative, staunchly anti-communist Taft - McCarthy wing of the Republican Party.

For Nixon, it was to be a rough campaign. On Sept. 18, seven weeks prior to the election, the New York Post printed a story accusing Nixon of a secret fund. Supposedly Nixon was accepting contributions from California millionaires. It wasn't much of a story since all politicians accepted contributions. However, the papers went with it because Nixon was always attacking the Democrats for accepting gifts.

Republicans began to panic and advised Eisenhower to drop Nixon from the ticket. Reporters on Eisenhower's campaign train were polled 40 - 2 in favor of Eisenhower dumping Nixon. Eisenhower, however, stood his ground, took his time, and simply urged Nixon to make a public disclosure.

Meanwhile, Governor Dewey suggested to Nixon that he go on TV to explain the fund and ask viewers to wire in their verdicts. When Ike called and encouraged him to do the broadcast, Nixon asked if doing so would convince the General to make a definite and final decision about keeping him on the ticket. But Eisenhower remained equivocal. And this so upset Nixon that he felt compelled to remind the General that, "There comes a time in matters like this when you've either got to **** or get off the pot."

In his television address, forever after referred to as the Checkers Speech, Nixon shared details of his modest finances, at one point noting that, "
Pat doesn't have a mink coat. But she does have a respectable Republican cloth coat. And I always tell her that she'd look good in anything, "which was a not so subtly veiled reference to mink coats received as gifts by wives of those in the Truman administration.

The most memorable part of the address was when Nixon dramatically announced that he did, indeed, receive and keep one gift:

…we did get something-a gift-after the election. A man down in Texas heard Pat on the radio mention the fact that our two youngsters would like to have a dog. And, believe it or not, the day before we left on this campaign trip we got a message from Union Station in Baltimore saying they had a package for us. We went down to get it. You know what it was?

It was a little cocker spaniel dog in a crate that he'd sent all the way from Texas. Black and white spotted. And our little girl-Tricia, the 6-year-old-named it Checkers. And you know, the kids, like all kids, love the dog and I just want to say this right now, that regardless of what they say about it, we're gonna keep it

What perturbed Eisenhower about the speech was Nixon's calling for financial disclosure of all the candidates. Upon hearing that as he sat watching the address in a Cleveland office, Eisenhower jabbed a pencil so hard into his paper pad, the pencil broke. Ike wasn't keen on revealing his personal finances.

The General, however, had to congratulate Nixon on the undeniable effectiveness of the speech. It was maudlin and corny, but Americans loved it. 200,000 letters and telegrams poured into the Republican National Committee, overwhelmingly in Nixon's favor. Telephone calls ran 75 -1 in support of Nixon. And Checkers received enough food, toys, leashes, and collars to last several canine lifetimes. Nixon had successfully vindicated himself and secured his place on the Republican ticket.

It was reported that most of the money received from this fund was eventually spent by Nixon on bowling shirts for the Nixon bowling team. The Democratic presidential candidate Stevenson had a much more substantial fund, but refused to ever divulge its size.

During his campaign, Paul Ryan has already found himself to be in some mildly hot water - caught committing a series of embellishments, the latest during a recent radio interview in which he claimed to have had run a sub three hour marathon, an entire hour faster than his actual time.

But Ryan won't very likely be scalded as severely as Nixon, who again in '56 would face another concerted effort by fellow Republicans to dump him from the ticket.

POSTED: September 6, 2012 POSTED BY: John Joyce

Several weeks ago a group of seasonal park rangers and interns from Eisenhower NHS and Gettysburg NMP went to see the movie, Lincoln, Vampire Slayer. They seemed to enjoy the film, although they noted several historical inaccuracies.

Somehow, I don't think Dwight Eisenhower would have much patience for a film starring Abraham Lincoln as a vampire killer. Lincoln was Eisenhower's hero. Among the pantheon of history's greatest leaders, Lincoln was the one he most admired and most tried to emulate. I daresay a movie portraying his hero as a silver ax wielding slayer of blood suckers would have little appeal for Ike.

But… there were aspects of Lincoln's character brought out in the film that are among those that aroused in Eisenhower so much admiration for the man:

  • Lincoln's single minded determination to defeat the enemy and win the war.
  • Not only Lincoln's strength of mind, character, and will, but his sheer physical strength as well, honed by years of back-breaking labor in the backwoods and on the farm.
  • And Lincoln's ability to overcome disadvantages, setbacks, and tragedies to become one of the nation's greatest and most beloved leaders, one both war-hardened and compassionate.

As much as Eisenhower sought to emulate Lincoln, it's hard for me to imagine him as Supreme Commander decapitating vampire Nazis with a silver ax. Dispatching them with a clunk over the head with a silver nine iron… maybe. That perhaps could be an idea for a future George Romero film.

I wonder if there's a chance of getting Tom Selleck to reprise his role?

POSTED: September 3, 2012 POSTED BY: John Joyce

Following on the heels of the Republican National Convention in the summer of 1952, came the Democrats and theirs. Same month - July, same venue - the Chicago International Amphitheater, and just as wide open, chaotic, and unpredictable. If TV viewers thought the Republican Convention was an excitingly turbulent spectacle, they probably found the Democratic Convention to be almost as entertaining.

As the Convention opened, there were six viable candidates, only five of whom were actively seeking the nomination. Senator Estes Kefauver of Tennessee came into the Convention in the lead with 257 pledged delegates, Senator Richard Russell of Georgia had 161, Averell Harriman of New York - 112, Senator Robert Kerr of Oklahoma - 45, Governor Adlai Stevenson of Illinois - 41, and a variety of other candidates with 231 pledged between them. 380 delegates were undecided or disputed. Of 1230 delegate votes, 615.5 were needed to win the nomination.

President Truman expanded the field when he finally endorsed his vice president, Alben Barkley. He did so only after having become exasperated with Adlai Stevenson who wouldn't accept his offer of an endorsement earlier in the year.

Despite Stevenson's continued insistence that he would not accept the nomination, he remained the preferred candidate. All the other candidates suffered major political liabilities: VP Barkley was considered by many to be too old; Harriman was too liberal and a political neophyte; Richard Russell was a segregationist, Kerr was a spokesperson for big oil, and Kefauver was too moderate on civil rights and was hated by party leaders because his investigations into organized crime linked the Mafia to big city Democratic machines…

From the beginning, the Convention was sheer chaos. At both the Amphitheater and the Hilton Hotel, bands played, parades marched up and down the avenue and through the lobby with banners and badges. The press and TV cameras were everywhere. Elevators were jammed and the din was awful. Candidates held press conferences, agents passed out press releases, and volunteers handed out buttons and stickers.

While Stevenson was pleading with Illinois delegates not to nominate him, many at the Convention appeared to be jumping on the Stevenson bandwagon. A citizen's committee to draft Stevenson opened up a convention headquarters at the Conrad Hilton Hotel. Hand painted signs proclaiming "Madly for Adlai" and "Gladly for Adlai" were everywhere and many in attendance were sporting "America Needs Stevenson for President" buttons. Life magazine had just come out with a cover story on Stevenson and there was a copy of that issue on every delegate's chair as they walked into the Amphitheater.

But most significantly, Stevenson was scheduled to give the welcoming address. When he was introduced, he received a ten minute ovation. There on national TV he gave the best speech of his life, electrifying the delegates. He was interrupted 27 times with cheers and chants of "We want Adlai" and concluded to rapturous applause.

Meanwhile, the platform committee was spending two days fighting over the civil rights plank which was what had divided the party in 1948 with the result that Strom Thurmond bolted and ran as a third party candidate. Stevenson feared that the civil rights views of Harriman and the liberals would drive away the white south and again split the party. So, he finally suggested that his name be placed in nomination and that he would support conservative views on civil rights to keep the party united.

At noon on the 24th, the nominating process began with Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn calling the roll. Rayburn skipped right over Virginia, Louisiana, and South Carolina when calling for nominations because they technically had not been seated due to their failure to comply with the Convention agreement stipulating that each state sign a loyalty oath.* When Maryland then demanded that Virginia be seated, a new roll call was launched to determine whether Virginia should be seated or not . At this point there was total confusion on the convention floor - most delegates having no idea what they were voting for.

As voting proceeded, it appeared Virginia delegates would end up not being seated. But then Stevenson backers began to realize that Kefauver and the northern liberals were trying to keep Virginia from being seated in the hopes of alienating all the southern delegates to the extent that they would all walk out. That would secure the nomination for Kefauver but ultimately divide the party and lose the election. So Illinois and its Stevenson delegates reversed their vote and voted for Virginia to be seated. Stevenson backers began then to caucus with other delegates trying to convince them to do the same. In the end, the Virginia, South Carolina, and Louisiana delegates were all seated. The South viewed the affair as a defeat of northern liberals with help from Stevenson.

The voting for the Democratic presidential candidate took three ballots. The first ballot lasted four hours. When the dust cleared, it was Kefauver with 340 votes, Stevenson 273, Russell 268, Harriman 123, and both Kerr and Barkley also receiving a fair number. No one close to the 615.5 needed to win the nomination.

The second ballot began immediately and ended at 6 p.m. with Kefauver, Stevenson, Russell and Barkley all gaining votes. By the third ballot, Harriman had withdrawn and released his delegates to Stevenson. The ballot was drawing to a close with Stevenson still 2 1/3 votes short, but then Kefauver and Russell withdrew and conceded to Stevenson. It was then moved that voting be unanimous and at 12:18 a.m. Stevenson had won the nomination. At 2 a.m., accompanied by Truman, Stevenson gave his acceptance speech.

This was the last convention in which it took more than one ballot to decide the presidential nominee.

It's hard to imagine tomorrow's 2012 Democratic National Convention being anywhere near as tumultuous and suspenseful. And I'm sure Clint Eastwood won't be available to help ratchet up the excitement.

(*To avoid party division as in 1948, Northern party leaders had agreed to consider a weak civil rights plank in exchange for southern states signing a loyalty pledge guaranteeing that all convention nominees be included on southern states' ballots. But Virginia, South Carolina, and Louisiana refused to sign.)

POSTED: August 30, 2012 POSTED BY: John Joyce

In July we sponsored yet another successful Eisenhower Academy, our fifteenth, with teachers attending all the way from Wisconsin, California, and Georgia.

In July, we were blessed with a beautiful evening for hosting The Eisenhower Society picnic, attendees enjoying good food and an opportunity to stroll the grounds in the relative cool of the evening while sampling the site's cell phone grounds tour.

In July, the painting of the Eisenhower home exterior continued unimpeded, two members of our maintenance staff devoting each day exclusively to finishing the job, diligently repairing rotting wood, stripping, lead abating, priming, painting, and not once having been pulled off to pursue other duties.

In July, the newly revised house guides arrived, flawlessly produced.

In July, we scheduled the upgrade of the lightening-zapped AV equipment, proceeded rapidly apace with implementing plans for the long awaited refurnishing of Mrs. Doud's room in the Eisenhower home, and were granted funding for wayside stands.

In July, we talked to 96 year old Mrs. Moaney, the Eisenhowers' cook, on the phone and were pleased to hear she's still doing fine and going strong.

In July, the Eisenhower lawn was lushly green and the farmer's soy bean crop appeared to be coming along great. It was a mercilessly hot July, but we were blessed with a decent rain every week.

And in July, our crop of summer interns had evolved by the end of the month into a fine group of very adept interpreters.

Thus, to summarize these last two blog entries and to paraphrase the English writer whose assigned novel I never read beyond the fourth chapter in my junior year high school English class:

It was the best of Julys. It was the worst of Julys. It was a half full month. It was a month half empty. It was plagued with things that fell apart, it was blessed with plans and people that came together.

Sincere apologies to Dickens.

POSTED: August 29, 2012 POSTED BY: John Joyce

July… I remember it well. It was a long and aggravating July here at Eisenhower NHS.

High winds blew half of everybody's favorite tree down, the massive 200 year old sycamore that sits in the middle of the Eisenhowers' nine acre pasture, the same tree that Andrew Wyeth was so impressed with when he came to visit that he made it a subject of a painting. It's still alive though, defiantly holding its ground like some old scarred and amputated veteran.

In the backyard next to the green house is the Eisenhowers' vegetable garden. Volunteers faithfully tend it and deliver up most of it harvest to the local soup kitchen and food bank. This summer the garden has looked great, the best it has in years. Last year the ground hogs were getting into it and deer devoured all the corn before it was even a foot high. Everything this season though, was growing unmolested, even the corn was looking tall and stately. That is up until the second to last weekend in July. The deer finally found the corn, trampled through it, and stripped it clean.

It was a terribly hot July and the poor Eisenhower home air conditioning wasn't up to the challenge. There has been many a day where the temperature hovered over 80 degrees in the house despite fans churning full blast in every hallway. The maintenance guys were coming in on weekends, and the park electrician even in the middle of his leave, to continually deal with the problem and at least temporarily resolving it until the AC would peter out again several days later. It's been working now several weeks straight but word on the street is that if it's not subjected to a major overhaul it will break down for good. In fact I can hear it now as I stand here in the living room. It sounds like it's in its death throes, its desperate heavings issuing forth from the vents as though coming from the bowels of the earth like the eerie churnings of the Morlocks' underground machinery in the movie, The Time Machine.

The Eisenhower video in the Reception Center remains out of commission after having been zapped by lightening in July. All the equipment was fried and we're still awaiting replacement parts.

And to top it off, visitation for the month was down, not only at the Ike farm but at the Gettysburg Battlefield as well. Theories abound as to why: Folks are holding off visiting until the big one next year - the 150th anniversary of the battle. Or maybe it's the heat, although we certainly haven't been as hot and dry as the Midwest. Two ladies from Kansas who were visiting several weeks ago told me that just prior to leaving on their trip, their little town suffered a high of 115 degrees. Perhaps though, it's still the economy. Up until now, our visitation hadn't been too severely affected. Families in the nearby urban areas seemingly were taking advantage of our proximity to enjoy a more modest and less expensive vacation. Now, after several years of economic doldrums, they may have exhausted us as a local vacation destination and are now looking elsewhere. Or have given up entirely on the idea of a traveling vacation.

The most memorable moment in July came when a middle-aged, leather -clad biker couple began seriously making out during our poor young intern's orientation tour, right smack in the middle of his captivating segment on the cattle operation. With what smooth, Barry White-like sensuality he must have conveyed his subject manner to provoke that kind of response! Our intern recalls the moment as being, "very awkward." Nevertheless, we now all refer to him, with more than just a hint of awe and reverence, as the Love Doctor.

But even the Love Doctor failed to conjure up a remedy for a long and aggravating July.

POSTED: August 26, 2012 POSTED BY: John Joyce

Tomorrow begins the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida. One suspects that it will be a bit of a snorefest, much the same as national conventions have been through the course of the past couple decades. When the choice of presidential and vice presidential candidates is predetermined, one can't expect anything overly exciting to happen.

But that certainly wasn't the expectations aroused by the Republican and Democratic National Conventions when they both met at the Chicago International Amphitheater in the summer of 1952. Here were conventions in which nothing was preordained and anything could happen. And what added to the excitement was that this was the first year in which the conventions were nationally televised

The reason conventions were so intriguingly unpredictable in the 1950s was due to how the state primaries were run. In 1952, only 16 states actually had direct primaries like they do today where candidates or their state delegates are chosen by voter ballot.

What most states referred to as primaries in the 50s are what we would now refer to as state conventions or caucuses where party members convened and discussed respective candidates. The party bosses then appointed the delegates and dictated who they would vote for at the national convention.

In 1952 this posed a problem for Eisenhower because most state Republican parties were controlled by supporters of Mr. Republican, Senator Robert Taft of Ohio.

An example of how problematic this was for Eisenhower was the big "primary" fight in Texas. Typically, the precinct and state conventions in Texas were friendly affairs with a foregone conclusion. But in 52, a lot of new Republicans registered so they could vote for Ike. The Texas Republican Committee claimed these were actually Democrats trying to take over the Party. Even though Eisenhower received most of the delegate votes, the Committee ignored the vote and selected 30 delegates for Taft and left only two for Ike. Ike supporters then set up a rival state convention and voted for their delegates. Both sets of delegates would end up going to the National Convention, each claiming legitimacy and setting off the convention's first round of fireworks.

At the start of the Convention, the Associated Press calculated that Taft had 530 delegates wrapped up, Ike only 427. 604 were needed to secure the nomination. Ike supporters though, immediately took the offensive. As soon as Eisenhower delegates arrived at the convention, they began demonstrating for the TV cameras with placards reading FAIR PLAY and chanting "Rob with Bob," alluding to Bob Taft's efforts to rob Ike of legitimate delegates in Texas as well as Georgia and Louisiana.

Ike's election committee proposed a FAIR PLAY amendment for the Convention. This would change the rules of the Convention denying the National Committee the right to seat all the contested Taft delegates. Ike supporters demonstrated for the FAIR PLAY amendment right in front of the locked doors behind which the Convention Credential Committee was awarding seats to the disputed Taft delegates. To add to the drama, network reporter John Chancellor was there in front of the cameras pounding on the doors demanding the Committee let him in. Thousands of telegrams flooded the Convention officials supporting the amendment. It was finally adopted by vote. Many of the Eisenhower delegates previously refused credentials were then seated, adding 68 votes for Ike on the convention floor.

Unfortunately for Ike, Taft controlled the convention machinery. All those giving the major addresses were Taft supporters: General McArthur - the keynote speaker, former President Herbert Hoover, and Senator Joseph McCarthy - all Taft supporters. MacArthur was thought to be the lead candidate for the vice presidential spot. But he gave the worst speech of his career - bombastic and banal, accentuated by a peculiar habit of jumping up and down and pointing a forefinger toward the ceiling for emphasis. One reporter commented, "He said nothing but sheer baloney."

Tension in the Amphitheater was thick from the beginning, but when Senator Dirksen of Illinois delivered his speech, the shinola really hit the fan. He was interrupted time and again by a cacophony of jeers and applause as he urged the Convention to vote not to seat the Eisenhower supporters who were among the contested southern delegates. And then in a melodramatic gesture, he shook his finger at New York Governor Thomas Dewey and cried, "We followed you before and you took us down the path of defeat! Don't do it to us again!" The reference was to the past two presidential elections in which Dewey had lost to the Democrats and that now he was trying to manipulate the convention in favor of Eisenhower and his moderate views. Out on the floor, Dewey turned his back to Dirksen and made a show of counting his NY delegates which he knew he would deliver all to Ike.

Then it was complete pandemonium. A howl of protest arose from both the delegates on the floor and the spectators in the galleries. Half the convention raucously booed Dewey, the other half Dirksen. Fistfights broke out. One delegate fainted and a reporter rushed over to take a photo and he was knocked to the floor and slugged in the back of the head and then hauled off by the cops.

Now that was a Convention!

The next day when Taft's name was brought up for nomination, his supporters started chanting, "We want Bob!" They poured into the aisles singing Battle Hymn of the Republic, Onward Christian Soldiers, and God Bless America. This went on for over 30 minutes. But it was Ike who won on the first ballot. Initially he had 595 votes, 9 short to secure his candidacy. But then cries of "Minnesota, Minnesota" erupted throughout the hall. The head of the Minnesota delegation demanded the floor and announced "Minnesota wishes to change their Vote and cast all 19 votes for Dwight D. Eisenhower." The 19 votes originally cast for Governor Stassen went to Eisenhower. Eisenhower thus became the Republican candidate for the Presidency.

One hopes the Republican National Convention tomorrow could be at least half as entertaining. But it may very well be only the weather that generates any drama.

(Next week: The equally exciting 1952 Democratic Convention)

POSTED: August 14, 2012 POSTED BY: John Joyce

As we're all still basking in the afterglow of the Olympics, it might be timely to recall what was once referred to as "the track meet of the century," a meet prompted by the rivalry that arose in the 1952 and 56 Summer Olympics. It would become the most important Cold War sports competition ever established.

And it came to pass largely because of Ike.

We're talking about the 1958 US - USSR dual track meet, the first in the series that would continue through 1985.

It was in 1952 that the Soviet Union first participated in the Olympics. This was the summer Olympics in the city of Helsinki which had been scheduled to host the 1940 Games until war forced their cancellation. By the 1956 Summer Olympics in Melbourne, the rivalry between the US and USSR teams had become so heated that it generated world-wide excitement and gave birth to an effort to organize dual track meets between the two Cold War antagonists.

For years though, the attempts were stifled by Cold War politics. One barrier was the McCarran Act requiring any citizens of communist countries entering the US to be fingerprinted, a humiliation the Soviets refused to subject its athletes to.

But the Cold War climate began to thaw somewhat with the death of Stalin, the demise of McCarthy, and the presidency of Eisenhower. Eisenhower strongly advocated cultural exchanges with the Soviets. He viewed such exchanges not only as a way of demonstrating to Soviet citizens the benefits of democracy and capitalism, but as a vehicle for citizens of both countries to get together without government interference and learn about each other and recognize all they had in common - particularly their desire for peace.

And so it was with presidential approval, that Congress dropped the fingerprinting requirement. And by 1958, the two countries had worked out a variety of cultural exchange agreements. The AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) and the Soviet's sports federation were quick to reach their own agreement - the US would finally compete against the USSR in two dual track meets, the first in Moscow in 1958, the second in Philadelphia in 1959. The meets would include every men's and women's Olympic track and field event. Four athletes would compete in each event, two from each country.

One of the most contentious issues to arise during the planning stages was how the team scores would be tallied. The Americans were adamant that the men's and women's total scores remain separated, the Soviets preferred they be combined. The women's teams were at the heart of the dispute. The Americans had never devoted much time and attention to women's track and field and were well aware that their women would thus be ill prepared to compete with the far more experienced Soviet team. But with the US men's team most likely outscoring the Soviet men, US officials were naturally in favor of separate scores. While it would be clear the Soviet women had defeated their American counterparts, it would be also evident that the US was victorious in what really mattered back then - the men's competition.

If the scores were combined as the Soviets preferred, the Soviets would appear the clear winner. While the men's competition would always be close, the Soviet women would have no trouble trouncing the American women by a wide margin. Thus, when the scores were combined, the Soviets were going to have the edge.

Initially, separate scores were agreed to, but the Soviets combined the scores anyway. So as the series continued through the years, the Soviets typically claimed victory based on the combined score totals, the Americans claimed it on the basis of the men's separate score.

The 1958 meet drew world-wide attention and subjected the athletes who competed to a whole new level of stress. Now more than ever before, they were performing not so much for personal glory but for the greater glory of their country and all the values it stood for.

The American men won that first meet, but the Soviets had the higher combined score as they would throughout the first five meets. It wouldn't be until 1964 in Los Angeles that the US totally outscored the Soviets. It was again in L. A., this time in 1969, that the US women would outscore the Soviets for the first and only time.

The most notable performance in the 1958 meet was that of American Rafer Johnson in the decathlon. He racked up an astounding 8, 302 points, far outdistancing his Soviet opponents. At the conclusion of the last event, the metric mile, the Russians gave him a rousing standing ovation. The second place Russian embraced him and kissed him on the cheek. When he thanked his hosts in Russian while on the medal podium, he won over the hearts of every communist in the stadium.

Afterwards, while on his way to the Americans' bus, hundreds of Russians gathered around him, hoisted him onto their shoulders, and happily paraded him down the street. The next day even Pravda was effusive in its praise for Rafer Johnson.

It was all nearly impossible to imagine - the Soviet people joyously idolizing an American. Here was exactly why Eisenhower liked to encourage such "cultural" exchanges.

However, the most important outcome of the US -USSR dual meets was that it compelled the US to finally devote adequate attention and funding to women's track and field. The ultimate success of that devotion was certainly well illustrated in London this past week.

POSTED: August 8, 2012 POSTED BY: John Joyce

Campaign buttons. Not only don't they make them like they used to, but they don't wear them like they used to either. I've seen them for sale on numerous web sites but have yet to see anyone actually wear one during this presidential campaign.

Back during the 1952 and 56 presidential elections, campaign button design was an art with buttons cranked out in all sizes, designs, and pithy slogans. Our site curatorial collection has a fascinating variety.

Most Eisenhower campaign buttons take advantage of Ike's appealing smile - nearly all adorned with a head shot of Ike, his bald dome, and confident, every-man grin.

Of course, most utilize Ike's catchy campaign slogan: I Like Ike. But quite a few play with the slogan, turning it into IKE LIKES ME. Or FOR THE LOVE OF IKE, VOTE REPUBLICAN. That one happens to be a massive six inches in diameter.

My favorites are those proclaiming I Like Ike in foreign languages. French - J'AIME IKE, Spanish - ME GUSTA IKE, even Czech - MY RADY IKE, Armenian - YES GUE SIREMIKE, and Polish - JA CHCE IKEA, with still others in Ukrainian and Lithuanian…

There's even an I Like Ike focusing on the candidate's wife: I LIKE IKE, BUT I LOVE MAMIE.

There are an array of buttons with both Ike and his running mate, Dick Nixon: LET'S CLEAN HOUSE WITH IKE AND DICK, alluding to corruption in the Truman administration or perhaps just targeting housewives, and IKE, DICK, THEY'RE FOR YOU.

Another personal favorite pictures the bottom of a shoe with a hole in the sole. It's a close-up of the famous photo of an exhausted Stevenson sitting with his legs crossed and a hole prominently noticeable in his oxford. The button reads: DON'T LET THIS HAPPEN TO YOU, VOTE FOR IKE.

Adlai Stevenson's buttons don't communicate the exuberance of Eisenhower's nor exhibit the variety. FORWARD WITH STEVENSON and ALL THE WAY WITH ADLAI are the most popular refrains. Adlai's buttons typically portray a sober looking candidate or, at the very most, one with the vaguest trace of a smile. Some, like IT JUST MAKES SENSE - STEVENSON, don't even bother to include Stevenson's photo, preferring the Democratic donkey instead.

Several include Stevenson's visage sharing button space with that of his 1952 vice presidential candidate, Alabama Senator John Sparkman. Sparkman typically isn't cracking a smile either.

It seems, even when on a button, their expressions can't help but reflect the likelihood that they won't be faring well in the upcoming election.

POSTED: August 2, 2012 POSTED BY: John Joyce

Over the past few days I've watched footage of First Lady Michele Obama hobnobbing with some of the American athletes at the London Olympics. Her husband, obviously, didn't make it over. But he did make a point of calling and congratulating some of the American team winners.

Eisenhower was president during four different Olympics, Melbourne and Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy in 1956 and Rome and Squaw Valley, California in 1960. These were the days when summer and winter Olympics were still held in the same year. Ike never made it to any despite one taking place in his vice president's home state.

Although he didn't make it to Melbourne for the summer games in 1956, he did name Olympic track star Jesse Owens his Ambassador of Sports and had Owens represent him at the Games. Owens also spent time holding athletic clinics for kids in countries the US considered to be in danger of falling to communism - India, Malaysia, and the Philippines.

The 1956 Summer Olympics actually started in late November during the Australian summer, just two months prior to the beginning of that year's Winter Olympics in Italy. It was the first Olympics to be held outside of Europe and North America. It was an Olympics impacted by Cold War politics. Egypt, Iraq, and Lebanon refused to participate in response to the Suez Crisis - Israel, Great Britain, and France invading Egypt to take back the Suez Canal after it was nationalized by the Egyptians. Netherlands, Spain, and Switzerland withdrew in protest over the Soviet Union brutally crushing the Hungarian Revolution. And then Communist China boycotted when Formosa (Republic of China) was allowed to compete.

The winter games in Italy that year were the first in which the Soviet Union competed. They won more medals than any other nation. It was also the first games to be televised multi-nationally.

Rome hosted the 1960 Summer Olympics. It was the last Games in which South Africa was allowed to participate until 1992, barred by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) for its racist policies. It was in Rome that Cassius Clay (Muhammad Ali) won his boxing gold medal and that the barefoot Ethiopian runner, Abebe Bikila, won the marathon.

President Eisenhower signed the resolution calling on the International Olympic Committee to consider Squaw Valley's bid for the Winter Games in 1960. Squaw Valley was selected over Innsbruck and St. Moritz, Switzerland and Chamonix, France. Like the 1956 Summer Games, the Squaw Valley games were a hot bed of political turmoil. The concern among IOC members that the US would not allow communist countries to participate prompted the Committee to threaten revoking its invitation to Squaw Valley to host the Games. The US did welcome communist countries, but then China once again withdrew when their demands that Formosa (Nationalist China) be expelled were not met.

Issues also arose over North Korea and East Germany. The IOC would not recognize North Korea as a separate country. Only South Korean athletes participated after efforts to establish a unified team were rejected. East Germany ended up participating with West Germany as a unified team only after both agreed to be represented by a neutral flag.

Although Ike didn't make it to Squaw Valley either, his vice president did. At the opening ceremonies, Richard Nixon declared the Games open.

POSTED: July 31, 2012 POSTED BY: John Joyce

"What agency did President Eisenhower establish that's responsible for very, very, very long distance transportation?"

And then I'll point towards the sky for emphasis.

"I'm talking about very, very, very, very long distance…"

That's one of the questions I'll ask a school or scout group when discussing Eisenhower's presidential accomplishments.

The answer is, of course, NASA, whose 54th anniversary was just this last Sunday, July 29.

President Eisenhower, however, was a bit reluctant at first to establish a civilian space agency. He wanted American space efforts to focus on military priorities, and to have even civilian-related projects managed by the Department of Defense. But pressure for a non-military space program was building and was soon impossible to ignore.

Eisenhower's science advisor, James Killian, argued that a civilian agency would be able to pursue scientific research activities and a satellite program without arousing international suspicion that American motives were purely militaristic. To have a civilian agency conducting open research that promoted international cooperation would contrast advantageously with the Soviet's strictly secret efforts.

And Ike agreed.

Besides, it wasn't as though the military services were having much success with their attempts to launch a satellite. Their efforts had been plagued by failure, relentless bickering, a duplication of effort, and wasted millions of dollars. The Navy finally successfully launched the tiny 30 pound Explorer I satellite on January 31, 1958 several months after the Soviets had already launched the 184 lb. Sputnik I and the 1120 lb. Sputnik II which carried the first living creature into orbit - Laika, a Samoyed terrier.

Eisenhower signed The National Aeronautics and Space act of 1958 on July 29, commending Congress as he did "for the promptness with which it has created the organization and provided the authority needed for an effective national effort in the fields of aeronautics and space exploration."

An added benefit of a civilian space agency was that it would help take some of the pressure off and deflect attention away from national security space efforts. However, when Eisenhower appointed NASA's first astronauts, he insisted that they all be from the ranks of military service pilots.

Before Eisenhower's presidency came to an end, he became disenchanted with NASA's plan to send a man to the moon. He considered it a non-national security related goal hardly worth the expense. When President Kennedy announced that the country should commit itself to racing the Russians to the moon, Ike was incensed. He saw the space race as nothing but a useless publicity stunt. And a very expensive one the nation could ill afford.

Ike passed away just several months prior to Neil Armstrong stepping onto the moon. One wonders what his reaction would have been if he had lived through the summer of 1969 and witnessed the consummation of Kennedy's "publicity stunt."

And for that matter, what would he have to say about NASA preparing menus in 2012 for the planned journey to Mars in the 2030s?

POSTED: July 19,2012 POSTED BY: John Joyce

Wrigley Field NHS
Or Fenway Park NHS. I'm a Cubs fan so I'd prefer a Wrigley Field NHS. As the only two historic major league ball parks remaining, certainly both are deserving of being designated National Historic Sites. Fenway Park, as a matter of fact, was just added to the National Register of Historic Places - a good thing since it was being threatened with demolition not too long ago. An opportunity for a major league ball park national historic site was lost when the oldest of the existing ballparks at the time, Comiskey Park, was torn down in 1991 to build the new White Sox Park next door.

What a joy it would be to lead a tour where old Gabby Hartnett once crouched behind the plate and Three Finger Brown hurled his "devastating" curve, where Babe Ruth called his shot, where hard drinking Hack Wilson established the unassailable single season RBI record, and where every spring beloved Ernie Banks would cheerfully predict a pennant for his perennially awful Cubs. It goes without saying, that the Friendly Confines would remain operational once designated Wrigley Field NHS.

Site relationship to Eisenhower: Ernie Banks began playing for the Chicago Cubs the year Eisenhower began his presidency - 1953. The Cubs were almost as awful throughout Eisenhower's presidency as Ike's favorite team - the perennially last place Washington Senators.

Steel Mill NHS
It could be any of the old shut down steel mills, most of which, however, have been demolished since being closed down. How fascinating to take or conduct a tour of one of those old facilities, discussing not only the process and history of steel production, but the lives of the steel workers and the evolution of labor unrest in America. I know there are tours of sites on which mills once stood and of furnaces that were once part of a vast mill facility (Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area), but to offer tours of an entire preserved steel mill national historic site would be the ultimate. But I suspect environmental and safety concerns would be an almost insurmountable complication.

Site relationship to Eisenhower: President Eisenhower invoked the Taft-Hartley Act to force steel workers back to work during the 1959 steel strike. 85% of American steel production was shut down for four months. The strike led to American industries importing steel and thus precipitating the gradual decline of the American steel industry.

Jack Kerouac NHS
One or several of his houses in Lowell could be designated a national historic site. Of course, all would require restoration and it would be next to impossible to acquire much if any of the original furnishings. But even if it would be incredibly difficult to reproduce how each house had once been furnished, it still would be a treat to walk folks through and have a chance to discuss the enigmatic and ultimately tragic Kerouac, his growing up in Lowell, his masterpiece On the Road, and, in the process, wax nostalgic about the beat era.

Site relationship to Eisenhower: Jack Kerouac's On the Road and Dharma Bums were published during Eisenhower's presidency - 1957 and 1958.

City Lights Bookstore NHS
This is poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti's iconic book store in North Beach, San Francisco - the West Coast headquarters for Beats and Beat literature during the 50s and early 60s. It's currently still going strong and was recently designated a San Francisco city historic landmark, so I suspect there's little danger of it closing down after the 93 year old Ferlinghetti passes away. If designated a NHS, I would imagine it still operating as a bookstore while tours would be conducted several times throughout the day. A ranger would have the opportunity to share stories about the writers who hung out there, the poetry and prose that was published and sold, the literary events that took place through the years… Rangers could even offer beat history tours of the North Beach neighborhood

Site relationship to Eisenhower: Ferlinghetti established City Lights the same year Eisenhower began his presidency - 1953.

The Sands (or the Dunes or the Stardust) Casino NHS
Or the Sahara or the Frontier… Instead of tearing down all those classic 1950s Las Vegas casinos, at least one should have been preserved and designated a NHS. It could be restored to its 1950s appearance, Rat Pack and Liberace impersonators could provide nightly entertainment and tours would focus on 1950s casino architecture, the evolution of Vegas and the gambling industry, and stories about Frank, Dino, and Sammy.

Site relationship to Eisenhower: Each of these casinos was established during Eisenhower's presidency or election year.

The anti-establishment, counter-culture crowd who once patronized City Lights might all turn over in their graves to see it run by a federal government agency. In a similar vein, many of the punk rock and new wave bands who played at CBGBs would undoubtedly be perturbed at the thought of it being taken over by the Federal government, but at least that would have preserved the legendary music club. Tours could be conducted throughout the day with talks offered about the New York punk rock scene in the 70s and the Ramones and Talking Heads and other seminal punk and new wave bands who played there. On weekend evenings, entertainment could be offered that would reflect the zeitgeist of the CBGB era.

Site relationship to Eisenhower: Each of the Ramones was born and grew up during Eisenhower's presidency. Well actually, Joey and Dee Dee were born in 51. But close enough.

So, there are the Top 6 vaguely Eisenhower related National Historic Sites that don't yet exist as national historic sites but that I would one day like to work at if they ever do. If they do and an interpretive position opens up at any one of the six, I just may apply. In the meantime, I'll be brushing up on my Chicago Cub, punk, beat, steel industry, and Las Vegas gambling history.

POSTED: July 12, 2012 POSTED BY: John Joyce

Son John's baby tooth. It was in a wooden cigarette box on the sun porch together with John's letter addressed to the Tooth Fairy demanding money for the tooth. John will turn 90 next month.

A pack of Mamie's Philip Morris cigarettes. Also in a wooden cigarette box on an end table out on the sun porch.

A jar of cocktail onions, another full of pickled watermelon rinds, and a cardboard canister of powdered Hawaiian Punch all in one of the kitchen cupboards.

Mamie's handwritten recipes piled atop a small shelf on the kitchen spice rack.

The Eisenhowers' record albums stored in the lower cabinet of the Norelco hi-fi in the living room. Among the albums were a Liberace and an Ethel Merman.

Wine bottles, over 200 of them dating from the 1920s through the 1960s, in the basement wine cellar. Nearly half had to be emptied because the corks dried out and the bottles were leaking.

POSTED: July 8, 2012 POSTED BY: John Joyce

Eisenhower considered it his proudest domestic accomplishment. But were it not for the signs that began to crop up across the country over the past several years, few Americans would even know that it's his.

He became aware of the country's desperate need for one back in 1919. As a lieutenant colonel stationed at Camp Meade, Maryland, Eisenhower volunteered to take part in a U.S. Army truck convoy that would attempt to drive cross country from east to west coast. The objective was to test both America's road system and the Army's vehicles, and determine how long it would actually take to transport an army across the country.

It would take 62 days for the 81 army vehicles to travel the 3251 miles from Washington DC to San Francisco. The convoy averaged 58 miles a day and recorded 230 road accidents along the way - vehicles getting mired in mud and quicksand, driving off cliffs along narrow, unpaved roadways, their axles breaking in potholes, scores of trucks stuck in the bottom muck of rivers they were forced to ford due to so many poorly constructed bridges….

It was the convoy experience that first instilled in Eisenhower the realization that America required one. And it was his encounter with the German Autobahn during the war that reinforced it. America needed a first class national road system.

One of Eisenhower's top priorities upon becoming president was to secure legislation for an interstate highway system. He justified its expense beyond simply military benefits. It would provide a safer, faster, more convenient means of transportation for all Americans. It would stimulate travel, promote economic opportunities, relieve congestion, and would even serve as a way for the government to regulate employment. When the employment rate was low, the amount of construction on the interstates could simply be increased.

Eisenhower signed the Federal Highway Act into law on June 29, 1956. He was pleased but eventually somewhat disappointed that it didn't precisely conform to his original concept. He imagined the interstate system to be similar to the Autobahn - a rural highway network stretching across the country and passing around the cities. He thought it would be too expensive to build them through cities and later realized too that the construction would disrupt and destroy neighborhoods and compete with public transportation. The bill, however, could only get full support in Congress if it included urban highways that would provide jobs for Congressmen's constituents.

The Interstate Highway System turned out to be the largest public works project in American history. Since construction first began in Missouri in August of 1956 on what is now I-70, there has been 46, 876 miles of Interstate completed at an estimated cost of 128.9 billion dollars.

In 1990, President George H. W. Bush signed legislation that officially changed the name of the Interstate Highway System to the Dwight D. Eisenhower National System of Interstate and Defense Highways. So today, you may see signs along the highway that finally give Eisenhower a bit of credit for their establishment. But then, it's up to each individual state to decide whether they want to install the signs or not.

POSTED: July 4, 2012 POSTED BY: John Joyce

July 1st would have been General and Mamie Eisenhower's 96th wedding anniversary. They were married for 53 years, their years together ending with Ike's death in the spring of 1969. 53 years, yet having close to nothing in common.

They were married in the summer of 1916 after having just met at Ft. Sam Houston the previous winter. Mamie's parents wanted them to at least hold off on the marriage until November when Mamie reached 20. That was the original plan. But then with the sudden likelihood arising that Ike might be deployed to Mexico to join the Army's pursuit of Pancho Villa, the parents succumbed to the couple's request to push the date forward.

Ike was introduced to Mamie Geneva Doud and her family by Lulu Harris, the wife of a major stationed at Ft. Sam. The Douds, friends of Mrs. Harris, were in San Antonio to escape the Denver winter. Strolling through the post one evening with the Douds, the major's wife spied the young Lieutenant Eisenhower and called him over to meet the 18 year old Mamie and her family. On duty at the time as Officer of the Day, Ike politely declined the opportunity until he overheard Mrs. Harris refer to him as the "women hater of the post." With that, he gave in and proceeded to invite Mamie to join him as he made his inspection of guard posts.

And so began their courtship.

Ike was immediately smitten, captivated by Mamie's vivacity, attractiveness, and even her impertinence. He faced stiff competition, though. Mamie had quite a few suitors. But Ike put his keen strategic sense, honed by four years of training at West Point, into play. When Mamie would be out on a date with one of his competitors, Ike would make a point of visiting with her parents. Mamie would return with her date and there Ike would be sitting on the porch chatting with his future in-laws.

Her parents loved the guy.

It wasn't long before Ike and Mamie were dating each other exclusively. They began to just assume they would get married. Ike soon sealed the deal by presenting Mamie with his West Point ring. Her parents approved of the marriage, although her father was not overly excited about Ike's financial prospects and warned him that they shouldn't expect any monetary assistance.

Ike almost blew it, though. Shortly before their wedding date, he excitedly announced to the family that he had applied to the Army's Aviation Section. He not only would have an opportunity to go to flight school, but would see his salary increase by 50%. Mamie's father promptly informed him if that were to be the case, the marriage was off. His daughter would not be marrying any foolish young man who intended to get himself killed flying airplanes.

Ike took a night to think it over and returned the following day to say he had chosen Mamie over flying.

He chose Mamie and they stuck it out together for 53 years. 53 years despite being so unlike, in fact nearly total opposites, in temperament, personality, upbringing, and interests. Nothing in common, except their love for each other.

And perhaps therein lies a key to a successful marriage.


Last updated: February 26, 2015

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