The Ike Blog (Nov. - Dec. 2011)


POSTED: December 28, 2011 POSTED BY: John Joyce
The joy of the holiday season…

Unfortunately for the Eisenhowers, the festiveness of the holidays was tempered by an unspoken sadness. For it was during the holidays that they had experienced the greatest tragedy of their lives.

During the holiday season of 1920, the Eisenhowers were stationed at Camp Meade, Maryland where Ike, recently promoted to major, continued to serve in the Tanks Corps. He, wife Mamie, and their two year old son, Doud Dwight, lived together on post. Ike would look back on that time as one of the happiest periods of their life together.

Ike doted on his little boy whom everyone called Icky. He became the camp's mascot, the junior officers outfitting him in a replica Tank Corps uniform. Ike had been assigned to be the post football coach and he enjoyed taking Icky to watch the scrimmages. He recalled how Icky always delighted in seeing the soldiers march across the parade grounds and the tanks rumble up and down the post roads.

We have several photos of Icky in the site's historical photo collection. My favorite is one taken shortly before Ike was transferred to Camp Meade. It's of Ike in uniform with his back to the camera lifting Icky high over his head in front of the Gettysburg College fraternity house where they resided when Ike served as post commander at Camp Colt in Gettysburg in 1918.

It was at Camp Meade, during that December in 1920, that Icky suddenly became ill. So ill he was sent to the hospital. It turned out that he had contracted scarlet fever from a young woman that Mamie had hired as a maid.

Icky's condition worsened as the days progressed. At first he remained quarantined. Ike and Mamie could only sit and watch him from an adjoining porch. Later, the staff relented and allowed Ike to spend each day in the hospital at his son's bedside. Mamie, however, was suffering with a terrible cold and was forced to stay home.

Icky died in his father's arms on Jan. 2, 1921. He was only three years old.

More than anything Icky had wanted a tricycle for Christmas that year. Ike and Mamie would always remember how that tricycle sat under the tree, forlorn and forgotten.

Icky's death was the one disaster from which neither Ike nor Mamie ever recovered. And although never mentioned, the tragedy of that Christmas would softly temper the joy of all their Christmases to come.

POSTED: December 21, 2011 POSTED BY: John Joyce
I remember the day Lady Bird paid a visit to Eisenhower NHS. It was a visit that nearly proved my undoing.

It was years ago one summer that former First Lady, Lady Bird Johnson, visited the farm with her daughter. This was long after her husband, Lyndon, had died. By this time the LBJ Ranch had already been open to the public by the NPS for years, but Lady Bird still resided in her home in the middle of the ranch and so the home remained closed to the public. When I visited there with my wife and kids several summers later, we saw Lady Bird as we were riding around the ranch on the NPS tram. She was sitting on the porch of her home with her daughters and she waved to us. We all excitedly waved back. Then we could see her jot something down on a note pad and show it to her daughters. This was after she had suffered a stroke and lost her ability to speak.

The Eisenhowers' was one of several NPS presidential homes Lady Bird planned to visit on her trip out east. She intended to donate her home to the NPS once she passed and she wanted to get a sense of how the NPS managed such sites. The Park Service, in turn, was happy for the opportunity to stress how important it was for the original furnishings to remain in the home. Apparently, Lady Bird was in the process of giving away items in her home to family and friends.

I was conducting tours with other visitors so didn't get a chance to meet the First Lady. But I heard she seemed very impressed with how well preserved the Eisenhower home was. The visit suddenly took a potentially disastrous turn for me personally when I was informed that Lady Bird and her daughter were considering attending my ranger program. While in the Reception Center, they had noted with great delight that the next scheduled program was entitled, "Ike, JFK, LBJ, and the GOP." "Oh, Mom, we should stay for that!" Lucy Baines had evidently exclaimed.

Ike, JFK, LBJ, and the GOP was my program. And the prospect of their impending attendance was disconcerting. The theme of the program was Ike's frustration with Kennedy, Johnson, and his own party during his retirement years. Ike did not think highly of LBJ and this was made fairly evident in the program. Here was clearly a tale unfit for the ears of its antagonist's widow and daughter.

I had but five minutes in which to edit on the fly those portions of the narrative that might be construed as unflattering. I frantically went over the LBJ segments in my head and tried to recall each uncomplimentary reference, wondering how I could temper them or even cut them out entirely. At the same time, I thought I could overemphasize how thankful Ike should have been for LBJ as Democratic Majority Leader of the Senate, stressing how LBJ sincerely admired Eisenhower and often supported his legislation. I typically alluded to all that, but now perhaps it deserved to be proclaimed with greater fanfare.

Then there was the internal debate of whether I should feel compelled to massage the truth. But I imagined the Johnsons' reaction to Ike's assessment of LBJ as opportunistic and superficial, and to Ike's aversion to LBJ's penchant for undue familiarity - the back slapping and shoulder squeezing - an aversion so pronounced that whenever the Senator approached, Ike instructed an aid, "Keep that man away from me."

I even more vividly imagined the reaction of the accompanying NPS brass to Lucy and Lady Bird's reaction. And so I came to realize that no way was this the time to champion the unvarnished truth.

In the end, my anxiety was unwarranted. The Johnsons decided that they really didn't have the time to enjoy the program. Moments after their departure, I boldly conducted my program as I always had, the narrative totally unexpurgated.

And thus I still remain employed as a park ranger today.

(Continued from Dec. 16)
POSTED: December 19, 2011 POSTED BY: John Joyce
How could Nehru possibly justify remaining non-aligned? Very easily as it turns out. The Prime Minister quickly set the President straight, explaining that in sharing a border with China, India just could not risk antagonizing its more powerful neighbor. India was a poor country and couldn't afford a large army and huge military expenditures.

That made sense, but Ike still couldn't understand how the PM could heartily condemn France and Britain for invading Egypt after President Nasser took over the Suez Canal, but remain silent when the Soviet Union rolled into Hungary to brutally crush the revolution. What happened to Nehru's vaunted neutrality there?

Nehru acknowledged that the President had a point. To be neutral, he should be equally critical of both sides. He admitted that although he was privately outraged at the Soviet response, he publically never stated so. He confessed to being more inclined to condemn Western aggression since the West had a long history of colonialism. The Hungarian revolt was a shock to the Communists, Nehru told Ike. That after ten years the Hungarians were still ready to risk their lives than continue to submit to Communist subjugation, was a sure sign that communism would not last. Ike agreed, but expressed dismay that in the meantime, communism would continue to destroy lives across the world.

So Nehru departed still very much non-aligned. The two agreed to disagree, but had at least developed a better understanding of their respective views. Nehru left with the impression that US foreign policy wasn't as rigid and intractable as he had thought. In regards to Pakistan, Eisenhower told Nehru that America would pressure Pakistan to discourage state run newspapers from printing inflammatory anti-India articles that contributed to the lust for war in both countries.

In 1960, Ike would visit Nehru in India. His motorcade route from the airport to the capital was lined with over a million Indians - all throwing bouquets of flowers and chanting "Hail Eisenhower!"

Ironically, after all Nehru's self assured proclamations about neutrality and non-alignment, China invaded India in 1962 and briefly occupied Indian territory. Nehru was shocked and humiliated and felt betrayed. His entire policy of neutrality had been rendered a sham. From that point his health dramatically declined and he seemed to drift through his remaining years as prime minister, disillusioned and listless. He died of a heart attack in 1964.

POSTED: December 16, 2011 POSTED BY: John Joyce
55 years ago this Friday, on December 17, 1956, the very first of the world leaders to visit President Eisenhower at his farm arrived in Gettysburg. World leaders visiting Gettysburg soon became a common occurrence.

When the likes of Churchill or Khrushchev came to Washington in the 50s to meet with the President, Ike typically made a point of getting them out to the farm for at least part of a day. He felt the relaxing atmosphere there was even more conducive than Camp David for putting guests at ease and priming them to intimately discuss the issues at hand. Since the farm really didn't have the facilities to accommodate the entourage that accompanied these dignitaries, arrangements were made to have them spend the night at Camp David. One of the few exceptions was the very first to have visited on that Monday in December - Prime Minister Nehru of India. He was the lone world leader who slept overnight at the farm.

Jawaharlal Nehru had been one of Gandhi's chief lieutenants during the struggle for independence. He was India's first Prime Minister and the President was very intent on sitting down and having a chat with him. Ike found it difficult to comprehend how Nehru could possibly remain non-aligned in the midst of the bitter Cold War. He wanted an explanation and then to perhaps even convince him how aligning with the west was so obviously a moral and strategic imperative.

Nehru in turn was anxious to justify his policy of neutrality and to solicit US support in India's ongoing conflict with neighboring Pakistan.

As soon as Nehru arrived, Eisenhower gave him a tour of the farm and cattle operation. It was a tactic designed to get to know and to loosen up his guests prior to discussing the issues. One is inclined to assume, however, that it may not have been overly effective when applied to Nehru. Surely, the Prime Minister must have been a devout Hindu and probably not overly comfortable with the prospect of touring a cattle operation. Lending credence to that assumption is a photo of Nehru tentatively and unenthusiastically petting one of the cattle with Eisenhower beside him sporting a big grin.

It so happened though, that the state department did up a profile on the Prime Minister prior to his visit and discovered he wasn't adverse to dining on a steak now and again in private.

Ike and Nehru eventually retired to the sun porch of the Eisenhower home to discuss their Cold War differences. In the future, Ike would venture to Camp David with his guest before engaging in serious discussion. The sun porch would be reserved for breaking the ice - an hour or two of small talk as Ike sized up the man in the lounge chair beside him. This first time though, the subject of the Cold War was breached right there between the television and the card table.

POSTED: December 13, 2011 POSTED BY: John Joyce
Typically the Eisenhower's didn't spend Christmas Day in Gettysburg during the presidency. They would enjoy the relative quiet of their Gettysburg farm house before and after Christmas, but on the Day itself they would be back in the White House. This was to assure that the Secret Service agents could spend part of the day with their families in the Washington area instead of being sequestered way out in the Pennsylvania countryside.

There was one year the Eisenhowers spent more time than usual at their Gettysburg farm in the days leading up to the holidays. That was 1955. In December of 1955, Ike was still recuperating from the heart attack he had suffered in Denver back in September.

So it was on Dec. 18th that Ike delivered his annual televised Christmas address from Gettysburg College. At the conclusion of the address, he was to flip the switch to remotely light the National Christmas Tree located in the Ellipse in front of the White House:

May each of us strive to do our best to bring about better understanding in the world. And may the infinite peace from above live with us and be ours forever, and may we live in the confident hope that it will come.

And so it is tonight in that hope, which must never die from the earth, which we must cling to and cherish and nurture and work for, that I light the National Community Christmas Tree…

But Ike apparently didn't have much confidence in the remote tree lighting technology. When he noticed on the television screen in front of him that the tree actually burst into light as planned, he exclaimed on air, "Oh, it worked!" You then heard moderator David Brinkley assuring the President off camera, "Yes, Mr. President, it did work."

To hear more tales of the Eisenhowers at Christmas and to see their home decorated for the holidays visit the Eisenhower Farm, December 1 - 31.

POSTED: December 7, 2011 POSTED BY: John Joyce
Seventy years ago….

On that quiet Sunday afternoon seventy years ago, Brigadier General Dwight D. Eisenhower was in Texas, stationed once again at Fort Sam Houston where he had first been posted upon graduating from West Point. He was awakened by his aide from an afternoon nap to be informed that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor. The following day the US was officially at war. Five days later Ike was summoned to Washington by Chief of Staff, General George Marshall

It was a summons he wasn't overjoyed to receive.

Up until that phone message, he was feeling pretty good about himself and his career prospects. In fact, he was still basking in the afterglow of his first flirtation with celebrity. That summer, as chief of staff of the 3rd Army, he had led his 240,000 troops to victory over the 2nd Army (numbering 180,000) in the Louisiana Maneuvers, the biggest war game ever conducted by the US military. His performance garnered the attention of both General Marshall and the press, and earned him his promotion to general.

But now he was heading to Washington where he hoped Marshall simply wanted to discuss the defense of the Philippines, a topic on which he was an expert having assisted General MacArthur in his efforts to organize and train the island's military. But what he feared was that he would remain stranded in Washington behind a desk shuffling paperwork throughout the duration of the war.

Marshall, indeed, had sought him out for his assessment of the Philippines. But that wasn't all. Marshall placed Ike in charge of the Philippines and Far Eastern section of the War Plans Division. Precisely the desk job Ike had dreaded.

It was a stressful six months for him in Washington. He worked each day from dawn to 10:30 p.m. on developing long term war plans while enduring the complaints of MacArthur (Commander of US Army Forces in the Far East), and the US Navy, neither of whom were willing to cooperate with Eisenhower's War Plans Division or with each other. When Ike's father died in March, the intensity of his work allowed him no time to go to Kansas and attend the funeral.

His tour in Washington finally ended when Marshall appointed him commander of the European Theater of Operation. He arrived in England on June 24, 1942 to take charge of the Allied war effort on the western front.

Today, National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day, we honor the more than 3500 Americans killed and wounded on that day of infamy 70 years ago as well as pay tribute to those whose courage ensured the nation would emerge proud and victorious from such a terrible and unprovoked attack.

POSTED: December 7, 2011 POSTED BY: John Joyce
My favorite Eisenhower Christmas artifact is one we don't have in the site collection.

Mamie Eisenhower enjoyed lavishly decorating their Gettysburg home for Christmas with poinsettias, wreaths, greens, and a tree next to the fireplace. Today, the Eisenhower NHS staff continues that holiday tradition and decorates the home just as Mamie did including some of the Eisenhowers' original decorations. What we don't have in the site collection though, are the Russian Christmas ornaments that were gifts from Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev.

Among these ornaments was one that is my particular favorite, one that most classically reflects a 1950s Cold War era Christmas. According to Ike and Mamie's daughter-in-law Barbara, Khrushchev presented Eisenhower with an ornament of a moon with a Russian rocket landing on it. Although Ike apparently accepted the gift with good grace, it was certainly meant to be a jolly jab in the ribs - a not so subtle reminder as to who was first in space.

We invite you to come out and visit the Eisenhower home while it's decorated for the holidays, December 1 - 31. Buses depart from the Gettysburg NMP Visitor Center at 10, 11:30, 2:00, and 3:30. December 10 is open house - free cookies and cider will be served throughout the day and buses will run every hour from 9 am - 4 pm.

POSTED: December 2, 2011 POSTED BY: John Joyce
I watched a PBS American Masters special about Woody Allen last week. Much of it focused on Allen's love affair with New York City. He was born and raised in Brooklyn and currently lives in Manhattan. The film crew followed him as he showed off the house he was born in and the remnants of the movie houses he used to patronize as a boy and as he played clarinet in a Manhattan jazz club. New York City played a major role in his first Oscar winning movie, Annie Hall, and was the undisputed star of his second Oscar winning movie, Manhattan.

So what, if anything, does Woody Allen have to do with Eisenhower?

Ike and Woody do share two experiences in common. One was the Hollywood blacklist.

Woody Allen starred in the movie, The Front, based on the Hollywood blacklist - the "list" of actors and entertainers denied employment because of their alleged sympathies for the Communist Party. Blacklisting reached its height during Eisenhower's administration, but also began to slowly dissipate around 1960, the last year of Ike's presidency. Ike was no fan of McCarthyism and communist witch hunts, but neither was he an overly outspoken critic.

The other was New York City. Ike had lived there too. In Manhattan, just like Woody. Unlike Woody though, Ike wasn't thrilled with life there. But then he was originally a small town boy from Kansas, while Woody simply migrated to Manhattan from just the other side of the river.

For Ike, life in NYC began in 1948. In late '47 he was Army Chief of Staff and his career was drawing to a close. He wondered what he might do for the rest of his life. He was barraged with offers from big corporations who wanted him as president, but the thought of being confined to a desk and shilling for a company had no appeal to him. The one offer he seriously considered was that of executive director of the Boy Scouts, but he ultimately turned that down as well.

What he wanted was a job as president of a small college. The only offer to come close was one for the presidency of Columbia University in NYC, an institution far bigger and more prestigious than he would have preferred. He was reluctant to accept, in part because he was dismayed by the prospect of living in New York. But in the end he accepted under the conditions that he wouldn't be obligated to continuously fund raise, entertain, and deal with administrative matters.

In June 1948, Ike moved with Mamie into the president's home on Morningside Drive and Ike embarked on his new life as an academic administrator. It wasn't long before he realized Columbia was a mistake. Neither he nor Mamie liked living in NYC. And the job itself was more demanding than he anticipated.

First of all, he was obligated to endure a weekly onslaught of social obligations and dreadfully dull faculty meetings full of endless talk and little constructive accomplishment. Secondly, he was overwhelmed with a bureaucracy and paperwork far more imposing than any he experienced in the army. And lastly, but not least, he was confronted by a faculty not overly excited to have a professional soldier with no academic pretensions running the university.

Columbia, however, benefitted greatly from his tenure. He convinced world famous and Nobel Prize winning scientists and economists to join the faculty. He established and raised funds for new and successful programs such as the Institute for War and Peace Studies. Most importantly, he attracted huge contributions to the school while at the same time balancing the budget and erasing a large deficit.

Eisenhower left Columbia in January 1951 to return to Europe after having been appointed the first Supreme Commander of NATO by President Truman.

He took away from his Columbia experience a realization that, aside from the social functions and faculty meetings and bureaucratic headaches, he actually enjoyed being immersed in an academic environment among students who were inquisitive and eager to learn. That he chose Gettysburg as his retirement home was in part because it was a college town.

But unlike Woody, the small town remained much more to his taste than the big bustling city.

POSTED: November 29, 2011 POSTED BY: John Joyce
It's that time of year again when visitation to the site slows to the point you have time to really shoot the breeze with visitors. Here's just a sampling of some of the folks who came by to visit last week:

A family from Connecticut who shared what it was like to be without power for 11 days after the October snow storm. "Like living in the 18th century."

A couple from Russia. They were in their 60s, the wife translating for her husband throughout the tour. The wife spoke English in a thick Russian accent while the husband chimed in with the few words of English he knew accompanied by hand gestures. They were excited to hear about Khrushchev's visit to the President's farm. The husband laughingly kept repeating "corn… corn," while making a throwing motion with his right arm - his impression of K. throwing corn cobs at reporters during a tour of an Iowa farm. Then it was "shoe… shoe," acting out K. banging his shoe at the United Nations.

The husband claimed to know Raold Sagdeev, the Russian space scientist that married Eisenhower granddaughter, Susan. He and his wife enjoyed the irony of an Eisenhower marrying a Russian, and of both Khrushchev's son and Stalin's daughter becoming American citizens.

We discussed Mikhail Gorbachev. I mentioned how most Americans have a high regard for Gorby. "Russians no. No like Gorbachev," they informed me - I suspect because they hold him responsible for the dissolution of the Soviet Union. "But for me," the husband added, "Gorbachev is good. If no Gorbachev, I not be here."

A couple dressed in bright red Cornhusker colors. And, indeed, they were from Nebraska and happened to have attended the Penn State - Nebraska game the day before. It was the first game for PSU since the scandal broke. They suspected the atmosphere would be somewhat strained, but said the PSU students acquitted themselves admirably. Student ambassadors warmly greeted Nebraska fans as they entered the stadium and the entire student body remained wholesomely school spirited throughout the game. The couple was impressed with the joint team prayer in the middle of the field prior to kick-off. It was led by the Nebraska assistant coach whom they knew and thought very highly of.

Then there was a gentleman from Ireland who had a chance to tour Russian dachas along the coast in Riga, Latvia. These were the huge and lavish summer homes of the communist leaders. Many, he said, were up to 25,000 square feet on 15 acres. He noted the irony of "Communist" leaders living in the lap of capitalist-like luxury. And contrasted the dachas to Eisenhower's very modest home.

And lastly there was the Democratic pianist from Manhattan. He made it very clear while disembarking from the bus that he typically was not inclined to patronize the homes of Republicans.

He was in Gettysburg to perform a piano piece at several local venues on Saturday, Dedication Day - the 148th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address. It was a piece he discovered that had been composed about a hundred years ago as a musical interpretation of the Battle of Gettysburg. He speculated it was used to teach children about the battle. His copy of the original score had notations indicating what parts of the battle each several bars of music were supposed to represent. He was inspired to perform it on this particular Dedication Day because his father was celebrating his 87th birthday on that very day. His father had been born on November 19 exactly four score and seven years ago.

Before leaving, he conceded that by today's standards Eisenhower was probably more a Democrat than a Republican. He meant it as a compliment.

POSTED: November 23, 2011 POSTED BY: John Joyce
This month is Native American Heritage Month. November was designated as such by President Bush in a joint resolution in 1990 to recognize "the significant contributions the first Americans made to the establishment and growth of the U.S."

Back in the 1950s, however, Native American heritage wasn't so much celebrated as it was assailed. The government policy of Termination (of special federal services) "benignly" threatened the very existence of tribes across the country. It would prove to be one of the most ill conceived policies of Eisenhower's presidency.

The goal of termination was to fully integrate Native Americans into mainstream American society. The government's Termination policy intended to fulfill that goal by reducing services provided by the Bureau of Indian Affairs to Native Americans, encouraging tribes to sell off their lands, and persuade families to leave the reservation. The dissolution of the reservation system would not only force Native Americans to assimilate, but would also provide states and corporations access to the resources and timbers on Indian lands. Thus, the policy was both foolishly well meaning and ruthlessly opportunistic.

Termination policy was formalized in 1953 with the passage of House Concurrent Resolution 108 which called for the federal government to terminate services to Native Americans "at the earliest possible time." The resolution also dictated that the Secretary of the Interior submit legislation to "liberate" certain named tribes.

The Klamath of Oregon and the Menominee of Wisconsin were considered capable of "independent management of (their) affairs" and were thus among the first chosen for termination. In signing the Menominee Termination Bill, Eisenhower optimistically stated that it would lead to "other Tribes realizing their full potentialities as productive citizens of the United States…" Klamath tribal members were all given cash payments for their share of the land. Menominee land was transferred to a tribal corporation and designated a county. In all, 110 Indian reservations were eventually terminated.

Termination everywhere quickly proved to be an abysmal failure. Formal tribal lands became the poorest counties in their respective states. The tax base in those counties couldn't support basic health and education services. Alcoholism increased and unemployment skyrocketed. Of those who left their former tribal lands and migrated to cities, only 10% of Native Americans ever found jobs. Equally devastating was the erosion of tribal customs and solidarity.

By 1960, through the efforts of tribal leaders and the National Congress of American Indians, along with Congressional and state support, the policy of termination was abandoned. By the 1970s, the Menominee, the Klamath, and other Oregon tribes all had their reservation status restored.

The Termination period of the 1950s was a low point for Native Americans across the country. But from the ashes of Termination arose revitalized tribal governments and communities harboring a greater sense of pride in their native language and culture. In the late 1960s it would be President Richard Nixon who introduced a new official Indian policy - that of self determination. And although it may have sounded suspiciously like a euphemism for Termination, Self Determination was a genuine effort to, as Nixon put it, "strengthen the Indian's sense of autonomy without threatening his sense of community."

POSTED: November 16, 2011 POSTED BY: John Joyce
This Saturday, November 19, is Dedication Day, the 149th anniversary of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address and the dedication of the Soldiers' National Cemetery. This year's Dedication Day speaker is actor Stephen Lang, one of the stars of the movie, Gettysburg.

Over the years, there has been an interesting array of prominent politicians, soldiers, news correspondents, historians, and supreme court justices invited to give the dedication address: Tom Brokaw, General Colin Powell, Ken Burns, Jesse Jackson Jr., Sandra Day O'Connor, William Rehnquist, Shelby Foote, to name a few. Last year it was ABC news correspondent, Sam Donaldson.

In 1963, for the centennial of the Gettysburg Address, it was Dwight D. Eisenhower.

For Eisenhower, to be chosen to deliver the commemorative address on the 100th anniversary was a great honor. Lincoln had always been his hero, the historical figure he most admired and tried to emulate.

Eisenhower wasn't known as a great speaker, though. He was often criticized for his press conferences in which he fielded questions with a painfully jumbled syntax. A journalist, Oliver Jensen, once composed a parody of the Gettysburg Address as it would have been delivered by Eisenhower in his typical press conference Eisenhowerese:

I haven't checked these figures but 87 years ago, I think it was, a number of individuals organized a governmental set-up here in this country, I believe it covered certain Eastern areas, with this idea they were following up based on a sort of national independence arrangement and the program that every individual is just as good as every other individual. Well, now, of course, we are dealing with this big difference of opinion, civil disturbance you might say, although I don't like to appear to take sides or name any individuals, and the point is naturally to check up, by actual experience in the field, to see whether any governmental set-up with a basis like the one I was mentioning has any validity and find out whether that dedication by those early individuals will pay off in lasting values and things of that kind…

is how he began.

On November 19, 1963, when Eisenhower actually delivered his dedication address, he acquitted himself rather well I think:

We mark today the centennial of an immortal address. We stand where Abraham Lincoln stood as, a century ago, he gave to the world words as moving in their solemn cadence as they are timeless in their meaning. Little wonder it is that, as here we sense his deep dedication to freedom, our own dedication takes added strength...

is how he began.

But this to me was the most notable of the sentiments Ike expressed on that day:

We read Lincoln's sentiments, we ponder his words - the beauty of the sentiments he expressed enthralls us; the majesty of his words holds us spellbound - but we have not paid to his message its just tribute until we - ourselves - live it. For well he knew that to live for country is a duty, as demanding as is the readiness to die for it. So long as this truth remains our guiding light, self-government in this nation will never die.

To live for country is a duty These days, it seems a notion all but forgotten.

Except, of course, to those men and women who serve.

Full text of Eisenhower's centennial address

POSTED: November 11, 2011 POSTED BY: John Joyce
We had a group of 5th graders visit the site the other day to participate in the Molding of A Leader character education program. The kids wear hats that represent Eisenhower at different periods of his life: student, cadet, major, general… As we tour the site, we periodically stop and have one of the students role play Eisenhower and introduce himself. Then we'll discuss a character trait he developed or demonstrated during that particular period of his life.

For the kids, World War II is the most engaging part of the program. At one point, we reenact the landing at Omaha Beach - the kids as soldiers pouring out of the landing craft, slogging through the choppy waters, and racing across the beach under fire. It's all fun and exhilarating.

But then we discuss how it really was for those soldiers - crammed in the landing craft, seasick and apprehensive, listening to the great artillery barrage surrounding them. Jumping into the cold, forbidding water with 80 pound packs and seeing their buddies around them shot to pieces in a hail of machine gun fire. Being pinned down on the beach under continuous heavy fire, scared and hopeless… But then how they didn't give up. Relying on sheer courage, self reliance, and ingenuity, how they managed to dislodge the Germans and win the day.

I show them the famous photo of Ike with the soldiers of the 101st Airborne Division prior to the invasion and mention how the high command assumed that these men would be slaughtered in their attempt to accomplish their mission. Probably up to 70% killed or wounded. I'll ask our student General Ike if he remembers what he was talking about with his men when the photo was taken. Sometimes he remembers, sometimes not. But it was fishing. It was baseball. It was working on the farm or in the factory. It was home.

Then we'll discuss how Ike stood there and watched as the men boarded their planes. And how while he continued to watch as the planes flew off, an aid glanced over and saw tears in the General's eyes:

So why was this tough old general crying?

I think you're right - he knew that so many of these young men would never return.

And what character trait did he demonstrate at that moment?

Caring. He cared for his men…

Of all the activities we engage in during the two hour program, of all the stories we share and points we discuss, it's the image of General Eisenhower tearing up over the departure of his soldiers that the kids will most remember.

Let us never forget and never stop caring for all the men and women who served.

POSTED: November 10, 2011 POSTED BY: John Joyce
This week the Obama White House responded to two petitions, one demanding that the US government formally acknowledge that space aliens have visited earth, the other to disclose any attempts to withhold from the public information about government contacts with extraterrestrials.

The White House posted the following on their web site:
The US government has no evidence that any life exists outside our planet, or that any extraterrestrial presence has contacted or engaged any member of the human race.

Rumors of UFOs and ETs… Now there's something the Obama and the Eisenhower administrations have in common. They both had to deal with them.

Ike, of course, was president during the height of the UFO sighting and the beginnings of the alien abduction crazes. In fact, one of the most persistent UFO - space alien encounter rumors involved Eisenhower himself. Eisenhower is alleged to have paid a secret, late night visit to Edwards Air Force Base in February of 1954 to meet with aliens.

President Eisenhower was vacationing in Palm Desert, California at the Smoking Tree Ranch, Feb. 17 - 24, 1954. On the evening of the 20th, he disappeared. The press discovered he was no longer where they assumed he should be and word spread that he was dead or dying. The Associated Press supposedly even sent out a bulletin stating that, "Eisenhower died tonight of a heart attack in Palm Springs." A couple minutes later though, they retracted it.

James Hagerty, Ike's press secretary, called a press conference to quell the rumors. Hagerty claimed that the President had been taken to a local dentist to replace a porcelain cap he had chipped while eating a chicken wing.

Ike showed up on schedule for church service the following morning and the matter was forgotten.

But… in the spring of 54, a gentleman, who was a self proclaimed mystic, claimed to have been at Edwards Air Force Base the night of Ike's disappearance and saw the President there with flying saucers and aliens. The National Enquirer later confirmed the story and published the gentleman's claims.

Ike's visit with the aliens has since been described in detail in a couple different books published over the past ten years.

To add even further credence to the story - no records of Eisenhower's supposed visit to the dentist on that evening can be found at the Eisenhower Library!!

This apparently wasn't Ike's first dealing with UFOs. Declassified British Minister of Defense UFO files reveal a letter from a scientist who wanted to know more about an encounter between a RAF aircraft and a UFO during WWII. The letter writer claims his grandfather, who served with the Royal Air Force, was present when Winston Churchill discussed what to do about the UFO sighting with General Eisenhower. According to the letter, the Prime Minister ultimately decided to cover up the encounter for fear of causing mass panic throughout the country.

Could it possibly be true that Eisenhower had personal knowledge of the existence of UFOs and space aliens? There are naysayers:

In 1995, a dental historian published the definitive work on Eisenhower's dental work in the Bulletin of the History of Dentistry. In it he cites the US Surgeon General's records on Ike's dental history indicating that Ike, indeed, chipped a porcelain cap on the night of Feb. 20, 1954, and that it was repaired by Dr. Francis Powell.

And then there's Ike's son, John. When once asked by a reporter if his father ever mentioned meeting with space aliens, his reply was a simple and unequivocal, "NO."

POSTED: November 5, 2011 POSTED BY: John Joyce
November 4th. It was on this day in 1979 that Iranian students broke into the US Embassy in Tehran and began to hold 52 Americans hostage for 444 days. The catalyst for the hostage-taking was President Carter's granting permission for the deposed Shah to enter the US for medical treatment. But one could argue that even though he had died ten years before, it was Eisenhower who was ultimately responsible.

In 1953, Eisenhower's first year as president, Iran was struggling to establish a democracy. The country had democratically elected its prime minister, Mohammad Mossadegh. Mossaadegh implemented revolutionary changes and gradually edged the Shah out of power. One of those changes in particular riled up the British - the nationalizing of the British oil fields.

Previously, the Shah had a cozy relationship with the oil companies and provided them with a good deal - allowing them to siphon away the nation's resources with relatively little in the way of fair compensation. Mossedegh intended to change all that. He put the entire oil industry under national ownership. The west, in retaliation, began to boycott Iranian oil.

The Brits approached Eisenhower and Secretary of State Dulles with their concern over the impasse with Iran. Britain no longer carried a big enough stick to forcibly dissuade the Iranians from their effort to nationalize - it would have to be the Americans. The Brits knew, however, that their oil may not be a strategically vital enough issue to arouse American involvement. But communism certainly was.

Eisenhower was already worried that Mossadegh was far too tolerant of communist groups within the country and that there was a danger that the Soviets would begin to influence the increasingly unstable (in Eisenhower's view) prime minister, secure a foothold in Iran, and begin to slowly incorporate the oil rich Middle East into their sphere of influence.

With British urging, Eisenhower became alarmed enough to turn to the CIA and suggest the possibility of an arranged coup. The CIA obliged, and in one of their greatest early successes orchestrated the overthrow of Mossadegh and the restoration of the Shah to power. Mossadegh along with democracy were dispatched, the Brits recovered their oil fields, and the US acquired oil leases in the country as well.

The success of the operation would have far reaching consequences. First of all, that early success arguably bred a hubris within the CIA that led to a string of fiascos and failures including the Bay of Pigs. But more to the point of this entry, the overthrow would long fester in the memory of Iranians.

Twenty six years later, the Iranians overthrew the Shah again in the Revolution of 1979 and installed a theocracy with the Ayatollah Khomeini at the helm. And this is when the US made what would turn out to be a foolish tactical misstep - President Carter granted the deposed Shah permission to enter the country for medical treatment.

History now appeared on the verge of repeating itself, at least in the eyes of many Iranians. On Nov. 4th, Iranian students broke into the embassy to gather hostages. Hostages, they reasoned, could be used as leverage to safeguard the revolution and assure that America would not once again impose itself on the internal affairs of the nation and forcibly reinstate the Shah.

So in a way, Ike was responsible. And if you care to project even further into the future, Ike was debatably, somewhat responsible for the Gulf War. It was because of our deteriorating relationship with Iran during the hostage crisis that we began to supply Iraq with economic aid, intelligence, and weapons during the Iran - Iraq War. And, in part, it was this military aid and what he perceived as his relatively chummy relationship with the US that instilled Saddam Hussein with the confidence that he could invade Kuwait with impunity… And thus Desert Storm.

Such are the convoluted paths of history.

(Continued from Oct. 30)
POSTED: November 2, 2011 POSTED BY: John Joyce

6. What are those metal things attached all over the roof?
ANSWER: Snowbirds or snowguards. They allow the snow and ice to melt off in smaller pieces so it doesn't fall in one big chunk and clobber someone in the head or rip off the gutters.

5. Why did they donate the farm to the Park Service, didn't the Eisenhower's son want the place?
ANSWER: Ike and Mamie discussed the fate of the farm with John and he recommended they not will it to him. He couldn't afford the upkeep of the place and preferred not to be saddled with the responsibility of trying to maintain it. He thought it best to donate it to the American people and have it serve as a lasting testament to his parents.

4. How much did they pay for the farm?
$40,000. And that included 189 acres, 25 head of cattle, 500 chickens, and assorted pieces of farm equipment. For Adams County in 1951, that was the most money anyone had paid for a farm in the area. Local farmers thought the Eisenhowers got taken on the deal. They ended up spending another $200,000 in reconstructing the house. Ike and Mamie had fallen in love with the place and didn't seem to mind the expense. Ike had recently earned over a half a million dollars from writing his WWII memoir - Crusade in Europe, so they could afford it.

3. How many five star generals were there?
ANSWER: Five: George Marshall, Douglas MacArthur, Ike, Hap Arnold (General of the Air Force and the one everyone forgets), and Omar Bradley (the last of the five).

2. What is that white contraption with the buttons that's next to the bed in the master bedroom?
ANSWER: That's an address or phone number book. You press the button and it pops open to the right page.

And the No. 1 most asked question:

1. How come the house is so badly in need of a paint job?
ANSWER: Just about every building on the site needs a paint job. Nearly every national park site has a maintenance backlog. The budget doesn't allow for parks to hire enough maintenance staff to keep up with all the work anymore. Our site's backlog is painting. Maintenance began doing preservation repairs to the windows this summer while the park prepared paperwork to contract out the actual painting. When high levels of lead paint were uncovered on the house, the contract had to be redone to include lead paint abatement. So far, no one has put in a bid for the work. The park now has to secure funds to try and contract the work out again in the spring.

POSTED: October 30, 2011 POSTED BY: John Joyce

12. (TIE) Did the President smoke?
ANSWER: He was smoking 4 packs a day during the war years but pretty much quit cold turkey around 1949 at a doctor's suggestion. Mamie smoked, but only in private.
How many Secret Service agents were there?
ANSWER: On the farm during the presidential years, there were typically around eight on a shift including a couple manning the guard shacks. During retirement there would be two on a shift.

11. How many bathrooms in the house?
ANSWER: Nine. When you had to go you didn't have to go far.

10. When did the President die?
ANSWER: March 28, 1969. He suffered his third heart attack in 1968 and that put him in Walter Reed Hospital for his last 10 months of life.

9. Has anyone told you that you look like John Denver?
ANSWER: Very occasionally, and only when I need a haircut. But much more so than John Denver, many note my resemblance to Brad Pitt.
9a. Nobody really thinks you look like Brad Pitt, do they?
ANSWER: You don't see it?!?? How about in profile?

8. Is the farm part of the battlefield?
ANSWER: The President's farm is adjacent to the Gettysburg National Military Park. During the battle, no actual fighting occurred on the property, but Confederate troops parked cannons and supply trains on it and used the old barn as a dressing station to care for wounded soldiers. When the Eisenhowers were having the grounds landscaped, a Confederate burial was uncovered in the backyard. The First Lady had it reburied at the same spot.

7. Is the house haunted?
ANSWER: The farm was included in volume II of the Ghosts of Gettysburg series, but I've worked here quite awhile and never had a paranormal experience. There was an article in the National Enquirer (or maybe it was the National Examiner) back in the 80s in which a psychic claimed that while on a tour of the Eisenhower home she sensed the spirit of a young boy who apparently died in the house in the 1800s. Personally, I've never encountered him.



Last updated: February 26, 2015

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