The Ike Blog

The Eisenhower National Historic Site has launched a brand new blog!
The Eisenhower Dispatch
There you will find new content researched, developed, and written by the Park staff.

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Please see below as well as the The Ike Blog Archives to read past posts and articles from 2011-2014 that were posted on the now disused "The Ike Blog."

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POSTED: November 2, 2014 POSTED BY: John Joyce

As we all have, Ike suffered some major disappointments and setbacks as he began to make his way in the world. At the time he experienced them, he thought each had the potential to waylay his chances for success in life. But fate has its own agenda and the detours and roadblocks it seemingly sets in our way all conform to some cosmic rational. Each of the five major setbacks and obstacles confronting Ike in his early years ultimately lead to his appointment as Supreme Commander and to his pivotal role as one of the architects of the Allied victory in World War II.

1. One of the first obstacles Ike faced in his initial effort to escape his boyhood home of Abilene and "pursue his destiny" was the unaffordability of college.He wanted to attend University of Michigan with his brother Edgar, but his family was unable to provide any financial support. So he and his brother worked out a plan - each would work to support the other's way through school.The drawback to the plan was that Ike would have to wait a long eight years before managing to graduate. Nevertheless, the brothers launched their plan with Ike initially working in a creamery and his brother attending classes. Eventually though, Ike's friend, Swede Hazlett approached Ike with an alternative scheme.Why didn't they both try to secure a tuition free education by applying to the military academies?

Ike solicited sponsorship from Kansas politicians and recommendations from local businessmen. He then received the top score on the appointment examination for the Naval Academy and the second highest score on the U. S. Military Academy exam, securing appointments to both schools.

But, were it not for the limited financial means of his family and his inability to afford college tuition, Ike would likely have never pursued a military career.

2. A second obstacle and the source of initial disappointment was Ike's age. Ike's preference was to attend the Naval Academy. That's where Swede was headed.But unfortunately, Naval Academy admission rules required that new students must be under 20 years of age upon entering the Academy. Ike was already 20, and was thus denied admission. However, he wasn't too old to be admitted to West Point.He resigned himself to his second choice and reported to the U.S. Military Academy in June, 1915.

Thus, if he hadn't been too old, he would have ended up a midshipman at the U.S. Naval Academy.

3. A third setback was a result of his poor health. While playing football during his sophomore year at West Point, Ike injured his knee and then aggravated the injury later during horse riding drills. The injury was not only severe enough to prevent him from ever again playing football, it almost cost him his commission as well. Upon graduation, the Army was on the verge of denying Ike his officer's commission because of the severity of the injury. The Academy surgeon, however, proposed that he would recommend a commission if Ike would agree to apply to the coastal artillery. Ike refused. He had no interest in artillery and would prefer instead to forego the army entirely and move to Argentina.

Several days later the surgeon made Ike another offer. If Ike promised not to request assignment to the cavalry, he would get his commission. This time, Ike agreed and chose infantry as his preference.

Thus, were it not for a knee injury, Lt. Eisenhower may have likely began his military career in the cavalry. One can only speculate how that may have changed the trajectory of his career.

4. The source of a fourth disappointment was his future father-in-law. In 1916, after proposing to Mamie Geneva Doud, Lt. Eisenhower made the decision, with Mamie's approval, to join the fledgling Army Air Service. Not only was he attracted to the excitement and novelty of flying, but to the good pay it offered as well. Flying, however, was dangerous business and military aviators risked their lives during every mission. Mr. John Doud, Ike's soon-to-be father-in-law, was well aware of this. He was concerned that his daughter might soon find herself widowed and threatened to withdraw his approval of the marriage. Ike would have to make a decision –either the Air Service or Mamie.

It took Ike several days, but he finally announced that he would give up his dream of being an aviator. He chose Mamie.

Thus were it not for love, Ike would have gone on to be a pilot and probably, due to death or injury, experienced a much foreshortened army career.

5. A fifth obstacle was sheer bad luck. When America entered the First World War, Ike desperately wanted to go overseas and fight. He was eager to garner glory in battle and quickly ascend the career ladder. But to his immense frustration, he was ordered to remain stateside, assigned to Camp Colt in Gettysburg, PA to serve as commander of the Army's Tank Training Center. He immediately began writing letters to his superiors pleading to be sent overseas until he was ordered to give the letter writing a rest. He bemoaned to a friend that he could imagine how in 20 years he'd be attending a West Point reunion and while his classmates reminisced about the glories of battle, he'd be standing in the corner silent, having absolutely nothing to say. He felt sure that his failure to see action would cost him promotional opportunities and he would end up retiring at no higher rank than major.

Thus were it not for his "terrible luck," Ike would have been shipped to Europe and possibly not have survived the war and probably not have had the formative experiences of training soldiers, working closely with allies, dealing with politicians, developing insights into revolutionary tank tactics that Camp Colt afforded him and that later served him so well.

So if Ike had his way, he could very well have been a Michigan Wolverine instead of a West Point Cadet. A pilot rather than a soldier. A chief petty officer rather than a general. A cavalry soldier instead of an infantry officer. A casualty on a World War I battlefield instead of a World War II supreme commander.

But Ike was fortunate to experience a series of setbacks and disappointments that would pave the way to his ultimate success.

Below are previous posts from the past couple months.
To view older posts, visit:

POSTED: October 21, 2014 POSTED BY: John Joyce

Years ago, I worked as a park ranger at San Antonio Missions National Historic Park in San Antonio, Texas. What made that park particularly interesting was that all four of the sites comprising it still functioned as active churches, some still served by Franciscan friars as they were when operating as Spanish missions in the 1700s.

Not quite as dramatically as the San Antonio Missions, Eisenhower National Historic Site also still functions as it did in the past –as a working farm. The land is leased out to a local farmer who grows crops and grazes Angus cattle as President Eisenhower did. The arrangement keeps the Park Service out of the farming business but preserves the site in it historical context.

Most of the park rangers here at Eisenhower NHS are city slickers and, for them, working on a farm has been a learning experience. For one park ranger from Chicago, here are some of the highlights of rangering in a national park that functions as an active farm:

Witnessing first-hand the despair and the joys of the American farmer.

Shooting the breeze with the farmer about how his crops and herd are doing and how badly the weather, the deer, and the groundhogs are affecting his yield.

Riding with the farmer in his combine - like accompanying a pilot in the cockpit of a jumbo jet airliner.

Feeding pears from the tree in front of the park's farmhouse headquarters to the young cows along the fence line.

Being able to drive around the farm in Eisenhower's old John Deere tractor until the brakes gave out.

Working in a headquarters building that's a pre-Civil War farm house with c. 1800s soda bottles lodged in its attic rafters and mice that invade your lunch bag as it sits on the break room table.

Watching a family of foxes romping about in the maternity barn, a hawk perched on the pasture fence with a snake in its beak, a muskrat lounging in the creek beside the farm lane.

Wistfully admiring the old farm gas pumps that still register 24 cents a gallon.

Dodging the boldly swooping barn swallows nesting in the barn eaves.

Listening to the gently waving acres of soybeans and corn rustling in the early evening breeze.

Lending an ear to visiting old farmers as they wax nostalgic about the 1950s farm equipment parked in the show barn.

Driving past the huge round hay bales deposited throughout the fields, silhouetted against a backdrop of mountains to the west.

Rationalizing that the odor of the skunk stinking up the HQ from beneath the front porch is conveniently masking the aroma of the freshly deposited manure on the fields.

Observing the calves gambol about, chasing each other and rough housing.

Enjoying the audacity of the pigeons as they sit on the head of the plastic bobble headed owl that we placed in the barn rafters to scare those winged vermin away and keep them from making a mess of the benches, the visitors, and the farm equipment.

Watching visiting inner city kids marvel at the sight of live cattle, of fruit growing on trees, of farm machinery spitting out hay bales.

Witnessing the excitement of kids and their families as they watch a cow give birth a mere several feet from the fence line.

Arriving at work to find the entire herd having escaped the pasture and casually lounging around the HQ lawn and porch or ambling down the highway in the direction of Washington… And then, in a sadly inept cowboy-like fashion, attempting to "yee-haw" them back into captivity.

POSTED: October 7, 2014 POSTED BY: John Joyce

For 20 years now we've invited WWII veterans to come and share their war experiences as guest speakers at our WWII Weekends…

Most are now in their 90s.

Some were infantrymen, tank drivers, Marines, paratroopers who fought at the Battle of the Bulge, Omaha Beach, Operation Market Garden, the Hurtgen Forest, North Africa, Guadalcanal, Tarawa, Peleliu…

Some were bomber pilots, tail gunners, fighter pilots, or flew transport planes over the Hump to China.

Some were supply sergeants, medics, nurses, intelligence officers, drivers for the Red Ball Express, or served with Ike at SHAEF.

Some survived the Malmedy Massacre, Pearl Harbor, the Bataan Death March, the Holocaust…

Some served on battleships, minesweepers, submarines, destroyers…

Many were wounded, some were POWs, some were awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor or Silver Star.

Some were veteran speakers, having shared their stories time and again, had written books about their experiences, were featured in TV documentaries, miniseries, and movies.

Many had never shared their story before, spoke haltingly, unassuredly, some reading from notes hastily written to assist them in remembering all that happened 70 years in the past.

All had humorous anecdotes to tell as well as tragic tales of best buddies being killed and of the horrible carnage they witnessed, the memories often bringing tears to their eyes, choking them up to the point they momentarily could no longer speak.

Some had family members in attendance who would go up to the nearest park ranger and with tears in their eyes impart that this was the very first time he had shared these memories with anyone. That even they hadn't heard these stories before. They'd express thanks that at least once before he died, he felt comfortable enough to unburden himself of the memories that had been locked inside for so long.

All delighted in the appreciation they were shown by the audience and the park staff, and each enjoyed their ride through the encampment given by one of the WWII living historians in a genuine WWII general's staff car, all the soldiers in the encampment saluting them as they drove past.

And sadly, too many passed away within months of having been a guest speaker.

These men, America's greatest generation, may be fast fading away, but not so the appreciation and awareness younger generations have of all they so heroically accomplished.

POSTED: September 4, 2014 POSTED BY: John Joyce

Not so very long ago, Doc Sterrett was our Friday afternoon volunteer here at Eisenhower NHS. He was in his 80's and had been giving talks in the Eisenhowers' living room as a docent for twenty years.What made him particularly special was that he had known Ike and Mamie during their retirement years and was Mamie's physician throughout the 1970s.

He also baked a mean rum cake.

Doc was a favorite among our visitors, sharing with them his personal recollections of the Eisenhowers, each story reflecting the fondness and respect he had for both of them. Once visitors spent time with Doc, they always asked for him when paying a return visit, hoping they could once again hear history intimately shared from such a wonderful primary source..

Visitors still ask about him today. Sadly, he passed away several years ago.

Among the stories Doc told, there was one that by far was his favorite. It was how Ike and his football injury paved the way for Doc's son attending West Point . This is that story, as best as I can remember:

Doc's son had but one goal upon graduating from high school - to be accepted to West Point.This was the 1960's and he was attending Biglerville H.S. just up the road from Ike's Gettysburg College office. Ike was in retirement then and worked out of what is now the College Admissions Building. He spent most of every weekday there answering correspondence, meeting with business and political leaders, and writing his presidential memoirs. It was at church service each Sunday morning that Doc would see him. Just as Doc and his family did, Ike and Mamie attended the 10 a.m. Sunday service at Gettysburg Presbyterian Church. Ike and Mamie always sat three pews behind the Lincoln pew with a Secret Service agent. At the conclusion of the service, Reverand MacAskill would walk down the aisle to the Eisenhowers' pew where he would take Mamie by the arm and escort her out the rear door with Ike and the agent following behind.

One day while talking with Rev. MacAskill, Doc just happened to mention that his son was seriously interested in attending West Point. The Reverend surmised that Ike would probably be interested in hearing that and suggested he just might mention it to him.

Several days later Doc's son receives a call from one of the secretaries at Ike's office. If he could spare the time, the General would like him to drop by the office and have a chat…

The appointed day and time arrived. Doc's son arrives at the office entrance, nervous and totally intimidated at the prospect of meeting the former president.He's escorted up the stairs by Ike's aid, General Shultz, to a glass door emblazoned with a general's five stars. Ike waves him in, greets him warmly, and invites him to sit down. He initiates the conversation by inquiring how Doc's son is getting along in school.

Not long into their exchange, Doc's son mentions how he had hurt his knee playing football that year. With that, Ike reaches into the bottom drawer of his desk and pulls out a weighted shoe. He puts the shoe on and demonstrates how he still has to exercise his knee after having injured it playing football at West Point. Embracing that shared experience, they quickly warmed up to each other and began to shoot the breeze like a couple of old friends.

Suddenly though, Ike interrupts the conversation to say he has to make a quick phone call. With Doc's son still sitting right there, Ike calls the commander of West Point and says to him, "I've got a young man in my office who I think would make a splendid candidate for the Academy. I want you to remember his name." he hangs up and immediately makes a second call. This time to the local congressman:
"Congressman, I've got a young man in my office here who I think would make a fine candidate for West Point. I want you to consider sponsoring him."

Ike then hangs up, turns to Doc's son and says, "Well, you better get in, or there's going to be hell to pay in the Republican Party!"

He got in.

For Doc though, the most telling part of the story was the epilogue:

Every couple months while at West Point, his son would receive a letter from Ike and Mamie, both checking up on him, making sure he was getting along okay. And every Sunday at church, when Ike caught sight of Doc, he would make a point of coming over and asking how his son was doing.

His son would go on to become a colonel, making the Army a career.

All thanks to an old soldier with a good heart and a nagging football injury.

POSTED: August 21, 2014 POSTED BY: John Joyce

I've been watching some of the Little League World Series on TV this week. It's being played just a couple hours down the road from Gettysburg at Williamsport, PA. Unfortunately, the Pennsylvania team lost yesterday to Nevada, their phenom female pitcher getting knocked out after two innings.

President Eisenhower was a big fan of Little League baseball. In fact, he invited the 1957 Little League champions, a team from Monterrey, Mexico, to visit him at the White House. Over the years, I've come across photos of Ike's meeting with the team –The Little Giants as they were called –and have watched highlights of their championship game on a newsreel.

I'm actually old enough to remember The Little Giants. When I was a kid, the TV show, "The Wonderful World of Disney," devoted an episode to that champion team from Mexico. It made quite an impression on me and all my friends –how these poor, scrawny, underdog kids from Mexico who would play in their bare feet and had to build their own ball field by hand would go on to win the World Series with a perfect game in the finals, still the only perfect game in Little League World Series history.

That story inspired us neighborhood kids, back in the summer of '59, to build our own suburban Chicago ballpark out of a nearby cornfield –sort of a Cold War era field of dreams. Sadly (and justifiably), though, ours was to be a dream deferred…

It was a very early summer morning when about 20 of us neighborhood kids gathered in front of Jimmy Steinmetz's house and marched down to the cornfield at the end of the block to build our ball field. I was in 1st grade and Jimmy, a 3rd grader, was the oldest of us all. Jimmy along with Mike and Al Guilenatti were the self-appointed foremen of the operation and they had us well organized. Most were assigned to pull out the corn and pile it up along the side of the street. There were several with rakes who were supposed to level out the soil. The older boys were to hunt down spare pieces of lumber and hammer together a backstop.

We worked hard throughout the morning and it was exciting to measure our progress hour by hour, an actual ball field gradually taking shape, growing bigger and bigger… To see us all working together and actually accomplishing something was a rush and a rarity. Typically, whenever we all got together like this, things would soon degenerate into a fight or an argument.

We had big plans for this ball park. We talked about building dugouts and stands and somehow erecting outfield lights. Maybe even charging parents to come watch. The prospect of playing on and owning our own ball field was wildly exhilarating.

Around noon, Jimmy called for a lunch break and we agreed to be back in an hour to continue our work. The back stop was almost entirely assembled, although looking a bit wobbly and lopsided, and the infield and part of left field were already cleared.

I rushed home and gobbled down a quick lunch, the same lunch Mom served us every day of the summer: a clump of cottage cheese crowned with several spoonfuls of apple sauce, a doughy white bread Velveeta cheese half-sandwich, a couple apple slices, milk, and a fist-full of Vanilla wafers.

Mom sensed I was unusually excited about something and in a suspicious tone inquired,
"What are you and your friends up to today?"
"Building a baseball field," I matter-of-factly responded.
"Oh, that's nice," she answered, but sounding like she wasn't quite sure if it was really "nice" or not.

I bounded out the door and raced back to rejoin my fellow construction workers. But halfway there I stopped dead. Uh oh. Something was wrong. Most definitely wrong.

At the end of the block were several police cars, their roof top lights twirling red in the afternoon sun. I had never seen that many police cars together at one time. There must have been three. "Holy …." Up to this point in life, it had never occurred to me to swear, even to myself. The fact that I did for the first time right then was a measure of my concern.

Standing there and calculating precisely what it was I should do, I decided to veer off to the right, run through the Lomastro's back yard and into the woods, creep to the tree edge bordering the cornfield, and hit the dirt behind some bushes. The rest of the kids were already hiding there, silently and gloomily observing the destruction.

The cops were listening and taking notes as the farmer ranted and gesticulated wildly. It was evident he was perturbed. A couple of the cops were tearing down our backstop and systematically dismantling it. A group of grown-ups had gathered and were looking on.

"What are they doing to our field!" I wailed.
"Geez, shut up!" hissed the older kids.

And then it hit me. It probably took me a bit longer to get it than some of the others… That we had been kidding ourselves. This hadn't been our cornfield. It was this poor farmer's. We had destroyed something that didn't belong to us. But it wasn't exactly remorse we felt. It was a sad realization that the world wasn't really the way we pretended it to be. We thought we were masters of our domain –our neighborhood. At home our parents bossed us around, at school the teachers ordered us about, on the playground and in other parts of town the older kids beat us up. But the neighborhood –we considered it ours. Everybody's yard was our playground, the street had always been our ball field, every backyard spigot was there to quench our thirst, every fence was there for us to climb, every garden tomato plant and fruit tree was there to supply us with ammo for our epic battles. In reality, and we realized it now, nothing was ours and everything belonged to someone else. We were powerless, we were disenfranchised. Even in our own neighborhood.

The "incident" was soon forgotten. The "culprits" never apprehended. Two years later the cornfield was gone, plowed under by bulldozers to make way for a new high school. It took the dozers two minutes to do what took us half a day. We noticed that this time the farmer didn't show up to complain.

Every one of us finally succumbed to the lure of organized baseball and joined Little League. It had become difficult to even play ball on the street anymore with old man Hendrickson calling the cops every time a foul ball hit his Buick. At least now we had a ball field. But it wasn't quite the same. Here the adults wouldn't let you bat like Ernie Banks with your elbow way up in the air and fingers moving crazily on the handle like you were playing a saxophone or let you high-kick pitch off the mound like Juan Marichal or even fight and argue over every call. This ball park may have had real bases and a chalked batter's box and an outfield fence and a metal mesh backstop. But, it wasn't ours. And that somehow made all the difference.

To learn about 1957's Los Pequeños Gigantes, check out this great Smithsonian article: The Little League World Series' Only Perfect Game.

POSTED: May 27, 2014 POSTED BY: John Joyce

I bought a record player the other day. And it got me thinking about the Eisenhowers' record collection.

The wife and I had been discussing buying a record player for years. What finally prompted us to actually make the purchase was a trip to Nashville and Memphis during which we listened to a lot of great music and spent hours rooting through bins in old record shops. Despite finding quite a few great old blues and jazz albums, I reluctantly refrained from buying any since neither of us has owned anything to play an album on for at least the past 35 years.

As soon as the new phonograph was delivered, I dug out one of my old Beatles albums – Something New - that I hadn't listened to in half a century and ever so tentatively placed it on the turntable. I was sure it must be etched in a filigree of scratches from edge to label after having suffered at the indelicate hands of a fourth grader in the early 60s. And probably warped as well, having been relegated half-forgotten in closets and basements and attics for so many years. But to my surprise, it sounded great! Seemingly as perfect as it had the day I rushed home with it from the Ben Franklin after having dished out a hefty $3.99 to acquire it. More money than I had ever previously spent on anything.

Next, I pulled out from its jacket an old 50s era Frank Sinatra album my Mom used to listen to – This is Sinatra – with a head shot of Frank in a jauntily tilted fedora. I can remember how she would play it on the hi-fi in the living room as she busily prepared Christmas dinner while the rest of the family lounged about and awaited the arrival of all the relatives. Despite a fair amount of crackling and popping, it too sounded good, playing through both sides without skipping even once.

Have you noticed lately how records are experiencing a resurgence in popularity? Apparently, it's not only due to the public's love of nostalgia, but also to the insistence of many music lovers that records have a much purer sound than CDs. Indie bands are recording on vinyl again. At least one recording studio in Nashville records on nothing but vinyl.

Yet, most kids don't know what a record is. In the living room of the Eisenhower home there's a Norelco Hi-Fi. Kids will ask what it is and after having explained to them it's a combination record player – radio, their next question will often be, "Record? What do you mean – record?"

As most Americans did in the 40s through the 70s, the Eisenhowers enjoyed listening to records. In fact, they had a fairly substantial album collection all of which is cataloged and filed away in curatorial storage. My reaquaintance with my old albums got me to wondering… What albums did the Eisenhowers have in their collection?

It's probably no surprise - Ike and Mamie's taste in music was rather conservative. The only album among their 160 or so that was actually released by a modern contemporary artist was Petula Clark's My Love. Remember Petula Clark, the British pop singer whose hit Downtown was #1 in 1963?

Considering their conservative tastes in the late 50s – early 60s, whose music might you think comprised a large portion of the Eisenhower collection? His TV show was a popular fixture on Saturday evenings for years and regularly viewed by the Eisenhowers. That's right, Lawrence Welk, The King of Champagne music! The Eisenhowers had 10 Lawrence Welk albums.

No other artist comes close to matching that number. The Mormon Tabernacle Choir comes a distant second, with four albums in the collection. There are three Mantovani (a conductor of light orchestra – easy listening music extremely popular in the 50s), two Fred Waring and His Pennsylvanians who performed at the White house several times, and two of Freddie Martin and His Singing Saxophones.

The collection has quite a few Broadway musicals, among them a couple of Call Me Madam which include one of Ike's favorite Broadway tunes – Irving Berlin's catchy I Like Ike. There's also a fair number of Army and Marine and Air Force bands, choruses, and bugle corps. The Navy isn't represented though.

Interestingly, there are two by Lorne Green, the actor who portrayed Pa on Bonanza. As I recall, he didn't really sing, but sort of talked through his songs. Who knew he came out with more than one album?

What may have been the album most cherished by Ike was totally devoid of music: Personal Golf Instruction From Driver Through Putter by Arnold Palmer.

The funniest must have been Welcome to the LBJ Ranch!, a selection of comedic mock interviews with presidents and politicians, their ludicrous answers made up of voice clips taken from actual interviews and speeches. It even includes an Eisenhower "interview!" I wonder if Ike found it funny. He no doubt would have enjoyed listening to Goldwater, Rockefeller, and LBJ made to sound foolish. And maybe Nixon too.

A couple of the catchiest album titles are Sing Along With Millard Fillmore and Badmen – Songs, Stories, and Pictures of the Western Outlaws.

There's one album apiece of Tennessee Ernie Ford and Liberace, three of Beethoven, and a set of hits from the 40s, 50s and 60s by Roger Williams who was known as America's Best Selling Pianist back in the Eisenhower era, releasing 116 albums.

Ahhh, record albums… I never thought for a moment they could ever be replaced by those tacky plastic cassettes and 8 tracks, let alone something called a CD. That attractive, eye catching, often artistic album cover, all the reading material on the back side, the inner paper sleeve that often included all the lyrics…

Of course, one wouldn't expect kids to be much interested in any of the Eisenhowers' albums, but one would hope they would be attracted to the record listening experience. There's something inescapably appealing about the process - the almost soothing ritual of extracting the shiny black disc from the sleeve, delicately grasping it at the edges and surveying the surface for dust, smudges, and scratches. You then place it on the turntable and, as it hypnotically revolves around and around and around, carefully aim the needle onto the smooth outer edge. There's that couple seconds of suspense-building crackling and KABOOM, the music abruptly bursts forth!

It just might be that all the setup time required to listen to a record may have made one appreciate the music listening all that much more.

I was thinking… I might just see if I can find my own copy of a Freddie Martin and His Singing Saxophones album. And, of course, one of Welcome to the LBJ Ranch as well.

POSTED: May 11, 2014 POSTED BY: John Joyce

The U-2 hasn't been in the news much since 54 years ago when, on May 1st, the Soviets shot one down over their air space and captured its pilot, Francis Gary Powers.

But suddenly, after most of us thought it was just a vague memory of the Cold War past, or simply the name of an Irish rock band, one reemerged briefly as a hot news topic. While on a training operation, a U-2 created air traffic chaos over western U.S. skies last week. On April 30th, the high flying plane was misinterpreted by FAA traffic software to be on a collision course with other low altitude planes. The whole software system overloaded as it frantically attempted to assign new flight courses to other aircraft. Hundreds of planes were grounded in LA and other area airports.

The timing of the incident was curious. If it had happened one day later it would have occurred on the anniversary of the very day Power's U-2 was shot down.

Here's what happened that fateful May back in 1960 - two weeks that changed the course of history. How much, we can only imagine…

(Originally posted: May, 6, 2012)

On May 7, 1960, President Eisenhower received the devastating phone call that would nearly lead to his resignation.

It was the call informing him that the Soviets had not only shot down an American U-2 spy plane, but had also captured its pilot. And the pilot had confessed.

The U.S. had been flying U-2 reconnaissance planes over the Soviet Union photographing Russian missile development and troop movements since 1956. But after Soviet Premiere Khrushchev came to visit Ike in the fall of 1959 and the two began to seriously pursue détente, Ike became increasingly reluctant to approve the overflights.

In their discussions, the topic of the U-2s was never breached by Khrushchev. He knew of the U-2 over flights and was also very aware that the planes flew so high that the Soviets were incapable of shooting them down. To bring up the U-2s would simply acknowledge his nation's vulnerability.

Less than a month before the May 16th Paris peace summit that Ike and Khrushchev had agreed to, the CIA (the agency in charge of the U-2 flights) approached the President and requested authorization for one last fly over. They reassured the President that the Soviets were not capable of shooting down a U-2. And even if they were, the pilot would die in the crash. If the crash didn't kill him, he would commit suicide with a poisoned needle. There would be no proof it was a spy plane. Thus, there was little to worry about.

The President hesitatingly agreed to that one last, fateful overflight to be made no later than May 1.

And so it was on May 1, 1960, that Eisenhower received word that, indeed, the last U-2 had been shot down. What the President didn't know was that aside from the plane being downed, its pilot, Francis Gary Powers, had not died in the crash and had not even committed suicide. He had parachuted to safety and was in the hands of the Soviets.

It was decided and Ike agreed that the State Department would issue a statement insisting it was merely a weather plane, not a spy plane at all.

Sadly for Ike, several days later the Soviets gleefully produced the proof. Eisenhower was informed via that May 7th phone call in the office of his Gettysburg farm house that the Soviets had captured the U-2 pilot and he had confessed to it having been a spy plane.

Ike was devastated. Not only was this a catastrophe jeopardizing his summit with Khrushchev, but he had been caught in a lie. He always prided himself in his honesty and now, in agreeing to the cover up, he had lied to the American people. He wanted to resign.

Instead, he conducted a press conference and acknowledged that yes, it was a spy plane. He offered no apologies though. He justified the overflights, reasoning that a Soviet Union so secret and impenetrable, necessitated spy plane overflights if America was going to prevent another sneak attack like Pearl Harbor.

Despite all the agitated rhetoric by the Soviets, the peace conference went on as scheduled. But when a ranting Khrushchev demanded of the president an apology for the U-2 overflights and was refused, he and his entire delegation stomped out of the conference.

All of Ike's hopes for defusing the Cold War were shattered.

Eisenhower was furious that Khrushchev had made such an issue of the U-2 and thought he was just exploiting it as a poor excuse to scuttle the peace conference. Unbeknownst to Ike though, Khrushchev had little choice. He would have preferred to continue pursuing détente, but the U-2 overflight had given the Soviet hardliners just too much ammunition. He was having a difficult time with the hardliners even prior to the U-2 shoot down. He wasn't as singularly powerful as Americans assumed. To ignore the U-2 and continue his peace overtures with the West at this point would be politically suicidal.

And Khrushchev was upset with Eisenhower. He hoped Eisenhower would judiciously claim he knew nothing about the U-2, that the Pentagon or CIA ordered the overflight without his knowledge. Khrushchev even posed the possibility publicly. If Eisenhower would only admit to initially knowing nothing about the overflight, their mutual efforts at détente could continue.

Foolishly, in Khrushchev's opinion, Eisenhower chose not to pursue that strategy.

Not that Ike and his staff didn't consider it. In the end, Ike opted for the truth. Claiming spy planes were being launched without his knowledge would make him appear weak, superfluous, and downright inept.

And so Ike returned from Paris both frustrated and despondent. All he had strived to achieve during his second term came to nothing. Seven months later his presidency came to an end. It ended not only with his having failed to reduce Cold War tensions, but having escalated them as well.

Meanwhile, the crisis shattered Khrushchev's hope of ever achieving some form of détente with the U.S. Years later he would claim the U-2 crisis "was the beginning of the end" for him, eventually leading to his being ousted from power in 1964.

Tensions kindled over the U-2 would continue to escalate to a point two years later when the U.S. and U.S.S.R. would totter precariously on the brink of World War III. Ironically, it was reconnaissance photos from a U-2 that verified the Russians were building those missile bases in Cuba.

May 11, 2014
The Pentagon stated last week that there are plans to retire the U-2 within the next few years.

POSTED: April 2, 2014 POSTED BY: John Joyce

There are 24 rooms in the Eisenhowers' 4100 square foot Gettysburg home. What impresses visitors most though is that nine of them are bathrooms. There's a bathroom in every corner of the house. If you had to go, you didn't have to go too far.

Certainly the most unforgettable of all the Eisenhower bathrooms, and perhaps the most memorable room in the house, is the First Lady's upstairs bathroom. It's entirely pink. And this is no subdued and subtle pink. This is a shocking, all-encompassing pink. Pink commode, pink bathtub, pink sink, pink bathmat, pink rug, pink scale, pink towels, pink trash can, pink soap, pink hairbrush… It leads one to conjecture that pink was perhaps the First Lady's favorite color. And, indeed, it was. In fact, so much pink had found its way into the White House during the Eisenhower administration, that the White House staff began to refer to it as the pink palace.

Several feet away, right next to the "General's dressing room," is Ike's very green bathroom. Apparently, after 30 years in the Army, Ike hadn't yet tired of the color. On one edge of the sink is an original sliver of the President's soap, on the opposite edge a medicine spoon. On the wall shelf behind the sink is a tweezers and toenail clipper. Towels monogrammed DDE hang from a rack between the sink and shower stall. Another shelf high above the toilet sports a monogrammed toiletry kit and a Sony transistor radio. There's a little stool in the corner of the shower. The President made frequent use of that shower stall, typically taking three showers a day.

The President's mother-in-law, Mrs. Doud, had her own bedroom and accompanying bathroom just on the other side of the sitting room from Ike and Mamie's . Hers was entirely pink as well. One might be inclined to pity the President for having a mother- in- law who spent so much time with them that she warranted her own bedroom and bath. But Ike and Mrs. Doud got along fine. So it was probably just a coincidence that it was while visiting his in-laws in Denver that Ike suffered his first heart attack.

There's a very clandestine bathroom, tucked away beneath the stairs in the front hallway. The doorway to it is often concealed behind the open door to the sun porch. It includes a blue sink and a cozily closeted blue commode. That bathroom is the warmest room in the house – always ten degrees warmer than any other. If I were to choose an Eisenhower bathroom in which to be regularly indisposed, this would be the one. Nicely isolated, quiet, and toasty.

The bathroom that few know about is the one in the attic. The attic is a fairly pleasant room – spacious with a couple windows, hardwood floor, and a conveniently located half bath. The President originally thought he's do all his oil painting up there, wouldn't even have to venture downstairs for bathroom breaks, but it turned out to be just too quiet for him. He preferred to paint to a backdrop of noise and activity on the sun porch – the TV and radio blaring, the wife and grandkids yacking… Consequently, the attic bathroom seldom got used.

The maid's upstairs bedroom was equipped with yet another pink bathroom. Meanwhile, the Moaneys, the couple who served as the Eisenhowers' maid-housekeeper and valet, had a full bathroom in their downstairs bedroom next to the den. The den too has a greenish blue three quarter bath tucked in the corner next to the fireplace. It came in handy when the President took naps in the den while recuperating from his heart attack.

At the end of the long hallway upstairs, there are two guest rooms referred to as the red and yellow rooms in accordance with their respective colors. Between the two is a shared bathroom with a door on either side. Prime Minister Nehru used this bathroom when visiting in 1956.

There are windows in the bathroom doors these days. Visitors will sometimes inquire," Did the Eisenhowers actually have windows in their bathroom doors?" Fortunately for them – no. Certainly, one must adapt to living in a fish bowl when one assumes the presidency, but thankfully for the Eisenhowers that didn't extend so far as to have windows in their bathroom doors. The windows were added by the Park Service to allow the public to enjoy the views.

We salute the Eisenhowers for having the foresight to design a home with a plethora of comfortable bathrooms to choose from, each one strategically located and sporting a varying color scheme. Considering how much time we all spend in bathrooms, one would hope those in a home would be warm, inviting, aesthetically pleasing, and conducive to enjoying respites of quiet privacy. And especially so in the home of one who endured so many years of stress and public scrutiny as supreme commander and president.

POSTED: March 6, 2014 POSTED BY: John Joyce

The skies above the Eisenhower farm can be pretty noisy at times. Choppers from a helicopter rental company down the road are typically churning overhead throughout the day. In the summer, you can expect to hear ultra-lights passing over in the late afternoons, their distinctive lawn mower-sounding engines drawing your gaze skyward as you wonder who could possibly be trying to cut grass that high off the lawn. With Camp David and Fort Ritchie nearby, it's not uncommon to see military aircraft flying past. Sometimes there are big C-130 transports dispensing parachuting National Guardsmen into the sky one by one by one off in the distance.

Ike wouldn't have minded all the aerial activity over his property. Ike loved to fly. And I'm certain the sight and sounds of so many aircraft would have had him waxing nostalgic about his own flying days.

Ike wanted to be a pilot. And he very well may have been were it not for his father-in-law. In 1916, while stationed at Ft. Sam Houston and already engaged to Mamie Geneva Doud, Lt. Eisenhower applied for duty as a pilot in the Army Air Service. The prospect of becoming an aviator was difficult for the young Eisenhower to resist. He was attracted to the excitement and danger of flying as well as by the 50% increase in pay it offered.

He was thrilled to be promptly accepted to the Service and relieved to find Mamie supportive of his intentions. But then came a more formidable obstacle – Mamie's father. The Army's first aviation unit, a squadron of six Jennies, had recently seen action in support of the punitive expedition in Mexico. All six crashed within a month. Mr. Doud had no intention of seeing his daughter marry someone foolish enough to risk his life pursuing such a recklessly dangerous profession. The young lieutenant had a choice – spend his life blissfully with the Douds' daughter, or foolhardily in airplanes. Ike took a few days to think it over. And he chose Mamie.

Twenty years later though, Ike got his chance. While serving as General MacArthur's chief aid in the Philippines, Ike convinced one of the Army Air Corps officers, whose mission was to train pilots for the Filipino air force, to give him flying lessons. Mamie was still in Washington at the time and he wasn't about to let MacArthur know, so he was free and clear to fly!

He was almost killed twice. Once when he and his trainer came within inches of not clearing a mountain at take-off. Another when again he almost crashed into a mountain while flying solo and a sand bag became lodged under his control stick.

On July 31, 1939, Ike earned his qualification as a certified pilot.

After leaving the Philippines, Ike would never again fly solo. But he would always harbor a love of flying. In fact, one of his most exhilarating moments as Supreme Commander was the day he hopped aboard a new P-51 Mustang fighter for a ride over German held territory. It was July 4, 1944, a month after D-Day. Ike was in France feeling irritable, restless, and overly stressed. He just couldn't pass up an opportunity to solicit an invitation from the new plane's pilot. Together Ike and the Mustang's pilot flew for 45 minutes, 50 miles deep into enemy territory with an escort of three additional fighters.

After a bumpy landing on an unfinished runway, the plane was met by a horde of reporters and cameramen. Gen. Bradley said that Ike emerged grinning like a sheepish schoolboy. The pilot later remarked that his apprehension led him to turn the plane back sooner than later. "I had the Supreme Commander stuffed behind me in a single engine airplane with no parachute over enemy territory." But, he added, "(Ike) enjoyed the hell out of it."

During his eight years in the White House, Ike preferred flying to all other modes of travel. The First Lady though was deathly afraid of flying and took a while to adapt to a life in the air. Ike's first presidential plane was a propeller driven Lockheed Constellation. Ike named it Columbine II after the official state flower of Mamie's home state of Colorado. Even had a blue columbine painted on it.

In 1957, Ike became the first president to fly by helicopter. It was Ike himself who suggested the use of helicopters to the Secret Service for short flights. The Secret Service approved realizing that they were safer and more convenient than motorcades.

Two years later he became the first president to travel by jet. He quickly exploited the speed, comfort, and convenience of jet travel to conduct a series of good will tours around the world. Aboard a Boeing 707, he first traveled to Europe, then to Europe, Africa, and Asia. Then in 1960, to South America.

In his presidential memoirs Ike wrote fondly of his first jet flight: "Afterward, I settled back in my compartment with the Secretary of State and underwent an exhilarating experience, that of my first jet flight, with its silent, effortless acceleration and its rapid rate of climb."

Ike's last plane flight would be in May of 1968 when he was flown from California to Walter Reed Army Hospital in Washington after suffering a heart attack. He would die at Walter Reed ten months later.

Dwight D. Eisenhower's joy and advocacy of flying has rightfully earned him the title, America's Flying President. Yet, it was aboard a train that he took his very last ride - from Washington to his final resting place in Abilene.

POSTED: February 19, 2014 POSTED BY: John Joyce

It may simply have been because it was Presidents Day Weekend. But whatever the reason, I found myself possessed by an uncontrollable urge this past Sunday to pull out and review the C-SPAN 2009 Historian's Presidential Leadership Poll. Here are the C-SPAN historians' top ten ranked presidents:

1. Abraham Lincoln
2. George Washington
3. Franklin Roosevelt
4. Theodore Roosevelt
5. Harry Truman
6. John Kennedy
7. Thomas Jefferson
8. Dwight Eisenhower
9. Woodrow Wilson
10. Ronald Reagan

A distinguished list, but one ripe for over-analysis and hyper-criticism, as are the results of the entire poll. And in that spirit, here are my top 10 random observations about the C-SPAN poll:

1. Each of the three WWII leaders among the 42 ranked presidents is in the top ten: FDR, Harry, and Ike. If you're a president associated with a successful war (before or during your years in office), chances are good that you're ranked in the Top 10. Even if your legacy is an unsuccessful war, you may not fare too badly – LBJ is at 11. One major exception - Ulysses S. Grant at 23.

Come to think of it, I guess you'd have to include Zachary Taylor as an exception at #29 as well.

2. According to this poll, America scored a nice consecutive run of excellent and near excellent presidents through the 40s into the 60s – FDR to LBJ, all ranked between 3 and 11.

3. Lincoln, most typically, is rated No. 1 in presidential polls. But not always. FDR has occasionally claimed the top spot. Presidents who were fated to occupy the office immediately before or after Lincoln and struggled with Civil War related issues do not fare well. Abe's predecessor, James Buchanan, "the other Pennsylvania president," (his home is just 50 miles down the road from Ike's) is ranked dead last by no thin margin. Lincoln's successor, Andrew Johnson, is second to last. The two presidents preceding Buchanan – Pierce and Fillmore, are also in the bottom 5.

4. Truman has always done well in Presidential polls, nearly always ranked in the top 10. This despite his approval rating plummeting to 22% his last year in office. Incidentally, Ike (65%) and JFK (70%)have the highest average approval ratings of any presidents.

5. When I posted C-SPAN's top 10 on our Facebook page, the ranking that folks were inclined to disagree with was JFK's. They didn't consider him worthy of the top 10. The Camelot mystique, his popularity, his tragic fate, what he could have gone on to do, what he seemed poised to do in terms of civil rights and relieving Cold War tensions… Many would argue none of that should be counted as legitimate ranking criteria.

6. Ike rebounded quite impressively from the first poll conducted after he left office. The Schlesinger poll in 1962 ranked Ike 22nd, right behind Chester Arthur. In the C-SPAN poll, Arthur languishes in 32nd place. The Schlesinger poll has been criticized for having suffered from a heavily liberal bias. Today, such a bias probably wouldn't have as detrimental an effect on Ike's ranking. In the current political climate, Ike perhaps doesn't appear as conservative as he did 50 years ago.

7. Some express surprise that Nixon is ranked so high - 27th. In past polls, he was often among the bottom 5. But I suppose as time passes, historians are not as apt to count Watergate so heavily against him and more inclined to give him credit for his foreign policy accomplishments as well as ground breaking efforts in environmental protection, health care reform, and equal rights.

8. C-SPAN conducted a presidential poll back in 2000 as well. Grant's ranking rose the highest of any president from the one poll to the next, 11 spots from 33 to 23. President Grant was a man of strong character and good intentions. But sadly, those in his administration he trusted and relied on proved to be his undoing.

9. Bill Clinton's ranking also saw a modest climb from the 21st spot to 15th. For some reason, Rutherford B. Hayes suffered the most precipitous descent from 26 to 35.

10. Poor William Henry Harrison. Not only did he die just one month into office but also suffers the indignity of being ranked 39th, fourth from the bottom. I ask you, is that fair? He wasn't in office long enough to screw up so badly as to warrant a bottom 5 ranking!

In the end though, these polls are essentially meaningless – all haphazardly constructed on a fragile foundation of opinion. But what frivolously good fun to bicker over and lambast! And at least C-SPAN's historians got one thing undeniably right. Our guy – Ike – is in the top 10!

(You can check out both C-SPAN presidential polls HERE.)

POSTED: January 27, 2014 POSTED BY: John Joyce

Don, since you've been volunteering with us, you've published several books on assorted historical subjects. What inspired you to launch a writing career?

I owe it to my volunteering at Ike's farm. Since I gave talks and tours at the Farm, I was asked if I would like to teach a class on Eisenhower for Elder Hostel. Then they asked me to do a module on the Civil War. Since my background is intelligence, I naturally included a segment on intelligence in the Civil War. One of the folks attending the session suggested that I should consider writing a book on the subject, and that's what I did: Spies and Spymasters of the Civil War.

Of the five books you've written, do you have a favorite?

Intelligence Was My Line, about Ike's intelligence chief during the war. First of all because it was about my generation, it was like reliving my own past. And secondly, because it led to a great friendship.

The idea for the book came out of a session on the history of U. S. intelligence I was doing for Elder Hostel. One of the students said they knew of someone in Grand Rapids, Michigan that I should talk to who had worked in intelligence during the war. The gentleman, Ralph Hauenstein, had never shared any of his stories though. I got in touch with him and proposed doing a book on his experiences. At first he was very reluctant, but his family finally convinced him. My time with Ralph gave birth to the book and our friendship. Ralph is 102 and still going strong.

Ralph was the first American to set foot in the Dachau concentration camp. He was issued a pass from Ike that allowed him to go anywhere, do anything, and appropriate any supplies. He liked to tell the story of how he took a jeep away from General Patton – his needs as Ike's intelligence officer had priority.

When the war ended Ralph was upset that De Gaulle didn't award him the Legion of Honour medal as he did to other American officers during a ceremony at the Arc de Triumph. And it was because – due to Ralph's line of work – De Gaulle was just not aware of his contributions to the war effort. What my wife and I did, we petitioned the French government and several years ago Ralph finally received the long overdue honor.

After the war, Ralph became wealthy working in the import-export business. He was the creator of those Goldfish crackers, was a delegate to the Second Vatican Council, and worked on special assignments for the Eisenhower administration.

My relationship with Ralph led to me donate my 500 book library on intelligence to Grand Valley State University in Michigan. And then together, Ralph and I convinced the school to start offering a class on intelligence. It's become a very popular and successful class.

What do you find most rewarding as well as most frustrating about writing history?

Most frustrating is trying to read the damn handwriting on primary source material. It's slave labor. Half the time you know the info you need is there, but you just can't find it. Most rewarding is when a reader is encouraged by your book to go and read more, to seek out more information on the subject.

Any more books in the pipeline?

Coming out next month as a matter of fact – The Fox and the Hound – intelligence activities during the Revolutionary War. George Washington was a master of intelligence. He appreciated the value of intelligence, as did Eisenhower. What I like to do when writing history is focus on the personal stories – the people. That's what I do in this book. Every chapter is devoted to a different military department and each focuses on a particular individual in that department and their story.

You know, there is a book in Eisenhower's personal library about General Patton, written by Patton's chief of staff, Brenton Wallace. The printer's proof was sent to Ike for his assessment. On the front, Ike writes that Patton wasn't a strategic planner, he was an executor. Ike edited the book severely throughout, making notations in the margins. The meeting between Ike and Patton at the Battle of the Bulge that became a famous scene in the Patton movie - Ike writes that it never happened! But nothing in the published edition was changed. Now that in itself could be the makings of a book!

To wrap up… When you finally retire from your post as Thursday afternoon volunteer at the Eisenhower farm, how would you like most to be remembered?

I'd like to be remembered as one who always enjoyed his time at the President's farm and did it out of great respect for the people who lived there. What I've always tried to do is convey the personalities of Ike and Mamie. I'd like to be remembered as one who did his best to humanize them.

POSTED: January, 13, 2014 POSTED BY; John Joyce

Don Markle has been a member of the Eisenhower NHS volunteer staff, conducting talks and tours every Thursday afternoon, for 22 years. He grew up in the DC area, graduated from John Hopkins University, and was employed by the National Security Agency for 34 years. We sat down with Don last week and interrogated him about his years working intelligence, writing history, and conducting tours of President Eisenhower's home and farm.

What was it that attracted you to the volunteer program at Eisenhower NHS?

I've always had a strong affinity for Dwight D. Eisenhower. He was the first president I voted for. I voted for him twice and I worked for him throughout his entire presidency. I actually met him the night of his second election. My wife and I crashed his victory party at the Wardman Park Hotel. We were there by the door when he walked in and had a several minute conversation with him. He was very friendly.

In a sense, I was also linked to Eisenhower through Maxwell Rabb. Rabb was the ambassador to Italy and was my boss when I worked for years at the American Embassy in Rome. Rabb had also served as Ike's cabinet secretary. He told me once how Ike ran his cabinet meetings. Ike would come with a problem that he advised everyone of beforehand. He went around the table and had everyone present their opinions. Everyone had to say something and he had no tolerance for yes men. He then left, weighed everyone 's opinions, and then returned with a decision.

Then there was also my good friend Ralph, still going strong at 102. He was Ike's intelligence chief during WWII.

What was it about Ike as president or general that appealed to you?

The man had control. You had great confidence in him. At that time, in the midst of the Cold War, I felt it was important to have a general in the White House. I might add too that he was the first president to really understand intelligence and take advantage of it. One disappointing aspect of his presidency though, was that he didn't do enough to stop McCarthy and his communist witch hunts.

During the war, I was around 12 -13 and lived in Washington, so as a kid I was very conscious of Eisenhower as Supreme Commander. You'd always see him in the March of Time newsreels when you went to the movies. Everyone thought very highly of him because he was so low key and liked to keep a low profile. He was no prima donna. Even as a kid, I could detect a difference between him and General MacArthur. Ike was much more appealing because he was a regular guy – modest and low key.

What aspect of volunteering do you enjoy the most?

I like when kids come visit. Most will rush through the house like a dose of salts. But some are gems and really seem to enjoy history and you can have some lovely discussions with them. I also enjoy interacting with Europeans. They have such great respect and reverence for Eisenhower and they often know our history better than we do.

What are visitors' typical impressions of Ike and his home?

The comment I've heard consistently throughout my twenty years of volunteering is, "Where's our Eisenhower today?" "We sure could use an Eisenhower now." Visiting WWII vets always speak very fondly of Ike. They'll say, "He was the right man for the job." What many visitors will ask is, "Tell me about Kay Summersby*." You get that all the time. *(Kay Summersby was General Eisenhower's driver during the war. According to rumor, she and Ike had an affair. Facts suggest otherwise.)

When I ask visitors, "What do you think of the house?" most will say something like, "It's great! It's lovely. It's such a reflection of the Eisenhowers' personality." But some will respond, "It's not a presidential house," in a tone of disappointment. They are somewhat upset that the house is so modest and doesn't meet their expectations.

Do you have a favorite piece in the house? One you might, if given the opportunity, select as a token of the park's appreciation for all your years of volunteer service?

The painting of Ike as chief of staff that hangs in the living room. It's an excellent painting of him.

Could you tell us a little about your years with the National Security Agency?

I worked 34 years for the Agency. I worked three years in England where I was integrated into British intelligence. In fact, the whole staff was British. Then I had two tours in Germany where I worked for NATO and with the Army. And then I worked for three years in Rome where I was assistant to the defense attache'.

What is/was the mission of the NSA, succinctly stated?

To collect intelligence data via communication systems as opposed to the CIA which collects it using a variety of methods and then analyzes it (and sometimes acts on it). Of course, there is a rivalry between the two agencies, the CIA often complaining the NSA is analyzing data which the CIA contends is beyond the scope of NSA duties.

Knowing what you knew at the time, do you feel you were much more aware than your average American of what dire straits the world was in?

Working in intelligence, I was, of course, much more aware of flash points and the escalating intensity of crises during those Cold War years than the public ever was. My experiences also provided me with a keen understanding of international politics and foreign policy. Today, when I read a newspaper story pertaining to international relations, I can come up with a pretty good assumption as to what is really going on.

What do you think of the Snowden leaks and the controversy over NSA spying?

All the furor over the leaked classified documents by Snowden of NSA spying on Allies… that's just our Allies expending a lot of hot air. Spying on Allies has always been going on. Everybody does it and everybody knows it. . Our Allies are only upset because we just happen to do it better than they do and they're embarrassed.

The NSA's so-called phone tapping is absolutely constitutional. They're collecting phone numbers, they aren't listening to or looking at the texts of phone conversations. And they aren't checking on who is talking to whom. If a known terrorist happens to call a number, then the NSA goes to the FBI and gets permission to look at the text of the conversation.

Can you share a memorable experience or two from your years with the Agency?

I can remember when Khrushchev was coming to the United States by ship from Minsk. This was when he pounded his shoe at the UN. I was working in England at the time … His ship was in the English Channel when suddenly all communications out of the Soviet Union went down. Absolutely nothing coming out of the Soviet Union. Considering the timing – Khrushchev's ship in the Channel – we were frantically trying to figure out why. For four hours… It turns out that the Soviets had changed their call signs which would happen fairly regularly. But those four hours were worrisome.

I worked as a code breaker. You know no better thrill than breaking a code! I knew people who tried for 30 years while with the Agency, and never did. I was lucky and did it a couple times. I remember working on a Russian code with 14 others for a year with no results. A week later we broke it... TO BE CONTINUED NEXT WEEK...

POSTED: December 18, 2013 POSTED BY: John Joyce

One visitor last week expressed a lot of interest in President Eisenhower's bridge playing prowess and was even acquainted with one of Ike's favorite bridge partners. Turns out the gentleman was a professional bridge player on his way to the North American Bridge Championships in Phoenix. He's played in tournaments all over the world. In fact, he met his French wife at a tournament in Corsica where he battled one of his tournament adversaries, actor Omar Sharif, for his future wife's attention.

It makes sense that an American professional bridge player would harbor interest in Eisenhower's game. Ike is easily the best presidential bridge player in American history. And best not only among presidents, but arguably also among his contemporary fellow world leaders, including Churchill, Gandhi, and Nehru.

Ike would hold Saturday night games at the White House, regularly playing with Chief Justice Fred Vinson and Secretary of the Air Force Harold Talbot among others. He also enjoyed gathering up his "gang," including Freeman Gosden, who starred in the Amos and Andy radio series, and Bill Robinson, publisher of the New York Herald Tribune, for marathon sessions at the White House, Camp David and his Gettysburg farm. A couple of America's greatest bridge players of the era, Oswald Jacoby and Ely Culbertson, played with him and were impressed. Culbertson pronounced his game as "classic, sound, with flashes of brilliance."

Ike began playing bridge while at West Point around 1913. But his preference throughout his very early military career was poker. And he was good at it, claiming he made more money playing poker than he did from his army salary.

Ike had taken up poker as a teenager in Abilene. He learned the game and its finer points from a local man, Bob Davis – a bachelor philosopher, hunter, fisherman, and guide. To Ike he was a great teacher and hero. He not only instructed Ike in the rudiments of the game but "dinned percentages into my head night after night around the campfire."

While at Ft. Meade after the First World War, he and fellow officer George Patton would find time for a poker game twice a week. Ike said the games were open only to "bachelors and others who could afford to lose."

He eventually gave up poker though, because he was too good. He began to feel guilty consistently winning all his buddies' pay checks.

By the time he was stationed in Washington during the 30s, bridge had become "his favorite sport," according to friend Harry Butcher who would later become his naval aide during WWII. Butcher commented that Ike "could determine after the first round of bidding with astounding accuracy the number of cards of each suit held by the other three players." Ike later became Philippine President Quezon's favorite bridge partner while assigned to General MacArthur as assistant military advisor to the Philippine government.

During WWII, he relied on bridge games with his staff as a means to escape the stress of command. Ike's favorite bridge partner was General Alfred Gruenther, his deputy chief of staff. When Ike was appointed Supreme Commander of NATO, he selected Gruenther as his deputy commander in part because he was such a great bridge player. He was an internationally known bridge tournament director and acknowledged to be to be the best bridge player in the U. S. Army.

Ike took his bridge games seriously and was a demanding partner. General Gruenther was one of his few friends who looked forward to partnering with him. Both his son, John and his wife, Mamie eventually gave up playing with him. Granddaughter Susan once described a typical bridge game between her grandparents: Mamie would play a card and you knew it is was poorly played because Ike's bald head would turn red. Trying hard to control his temper, he would inquire in a very measured tone, "Why did you play that card?" Mamie would defiantly and without apology reply, "Well, just because I felt like it." Ike would then fight the urge not to throw down his cards and stomp out of the room.

General Andrew Goodpaster, Eisenhower's White House staff secretary, assessed what made Ike such a good bridge player:

"He plays bridge very much in the poker style and he's a tremendous man for analyzing the other fellow's mind, what options are open to the other fellow, and what line he can best take to capitalize or exploit the possibilities, having figured the options open to other men."

Author Evan Thomas based his entire book, Ike's Bluff, around the contention that the same skills that made Ike such a great bridge player were the same that made him such a successful leader.

Our visiting professional bridge player enjoyed checking out Ike's card table on the sun porch and the inscribed framed photo of General Gruenther on the living room window sill. Asked if he played all his games as seriously as Ike did, he replied, "You take every game seriously." Then he added, "But in the end, it's only a game."

POSTED: November 22, 2013 POSTED BY: John Joyce

Ike looked shaken…

He hadn't initially cared much for the young senator from Massachusetts, cared for him even less once he declared himself a Democratic candidate for the presidency. Ike considered Kennedy unworthy of the presidency. He was too young, too inexperienced. His rich father was attempting to buy the presidency for him. And God forbid a Kennedy get into the White House. The family would establish a political machine to rival the likes of old Tammany Hall.

Eisenhower's dislike for Kennedy intensified when the candidate began to claim that Ike was responsible for a "missile gap" - that his administration had allowed America to fall dangerously behind the Soviets in missile production. But, Ike knew damn well there was no missile gap. If there was one, it was in favor of the U.S. ten times over. Ike was well aware that the Soviets had little in the way of missiles to match their bluster. The surveillance conducted by U-2 spy planes over Soviet air space provided the proof.

Of course, Kennedy ended up defeating Eisenhower's vice president, Nixon, in a very close race. Ike considered Kennedy's victory his biggest personal defeat. He couldn't fathom how America could possibly elect such a young, whippersnapping, big spending Democrat after his eight years of responsible fiscal leadership. As he saw it, the election results were a repudiation of his entire eight years in office.

When Kennedy paid a visit the White House prior to the inauguration, Eisenhower offered his advice. The incumbent president appeared to listen respectfully, but apparently heeded little of the insights the veteran president had to share. Ike would later be critical of what he perceived as the disorganized manner in which Kennedy ran his White House. It drove him crazy the way Kennedy and his staff seemed to so haphazardly deal with each crisis as it erupted instead of having regularly planned meetings and procedures and a chain of command to systematically iron out problems.

After the Bay of Pigs debacle, a despondent Kennedy invited Eisenhower to Camp David to discuss what went wrong and how the operation could have been salvaged. Ike expressed his opinion that the invasion should never have been launched in the first place. But since it was, Ike argued that the President should have gone ahead and ordered air support. Not doing so condemned the operation to failure. The famous Paul Vathis photo taken of the two presidents that day at Camp David captured their mood – the two walking slowly and pensively shoulder to shoulder down the walkway, heads bowed, Ike holding his hat behind his back in clasped hands, JFK with his hands in his suit coat pockets.

The following year Ike earnestly supported Kennedy during the Cuban Missile Crisis, offering his advice and publicly urging the entire country to join him in supporting the President during the Crisis.

And now, another year later, the young President was dead.

Eisenhower heard the news in New York City while attending a Columbia University dinner and a meeting with United Nations officials at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel. And now here he was, television cameras filming him as he emerged from the hotel to issue a statement. He offered his condolences to the Kennedy family and expressed how shocked and dismayed he and the entire nation were at "the despicable act that took the life of the nation's President." He assured reporters, though, that the "entire citizenry of the nation will join as one in expressing not only their grief but indignation at this act and will stand faithfully behind the government."

Ike, indeed, looked shaken, and at one point, almost on the verge of tears.

Ike and Mamie attended the Kennedy funeral at St. Mathew's Cathedral with, of all people, Harry and Margaret Truman. Ike and Harry had been bitterly estranged ever since the 1952 presidential campaign. But the death of the President brought them together again. Ike learned that Harry and his daughter were staying at Blair House and called to say they he and Mamie would like to pick them up for the funeral in their limousine. Then after the funeral, they all rode together to Arlington Cemetery.

Returning to Blair House, Harry invited Ike and Mamie in for a drink. And there the two former enemies sat together throughout the afternoon eating sandwiches, drinking coffee, and reminiscing about old times.

When it was time for them to head back to Gettysburg, the Trumans escorted Ike and Mamie to their car. Before parting, the presidents shared what one reporter referred to as a "long, lingering, silent handshake."

Kennedy's death also reunited Ike with LBJ.

During Ike's presidency, Johnson liked to brag that the three Texans could get things done, the three being LBJ - the Democratic Majority Leader of the Senate; Sam Rayburn – the Democratic Speaker of the House; and Eisenhower – the Republican president. All from Texas (Ike was born there). And now, unexpectedly, another of the three was president.

Eisenhower met with LBJ when he arrived at the White House on November 23 to view Kennedy's body. Over lunch they sat and talked, LBJ soliciting Ike's advice for the difficult weeks ahead. LBJ would continue to rely on Ike for advice throughout his presidency, even sending his helicopter to Gettysburg to pick him up and deliver him to the White House.

John F. Kennedy's death united three presidents and the entire country in shared grief and communal concern for the nation's future. Sadly, it seems to always take tragedy to get Americans to come together and to act as one.

POSTED: October 28, 2013 POSTED BY: John Joyce

Aside from cool and instantly recognizable nicknames, Dwight Eisenhower and Louis Armstrong shared several other things in common:

Both were born in the South. Ike in Texas in 1890. Satchmo in New Orleans, 1902.

Both their houses were designated National Historic Landmarks and each was opened to the public for tours, Ike's Gettysburg farm house in 1980, Satchmo's modest Queen's residence 10 years ago this month – in 2003.

Both were American icons. Both household names.

Both were beloved throughout the world, Ike as the Supreme Commander who led the Allies to victory in WWII, and Satchmo as the ever-smiling, good natured, master jazz trumpeter and entertainer.

Both traveled around the world, although only one ever made it to Moscow, the other declining the opportunity to do so.

Both battled the specter of racial inequality, yet each was criticized for not fighting hard enough.

And it was over the issue of racial inequality that their paths would cross.

On September 17, 1957, two weeks after nine black students were barred from entering Central High School in Little, Rock, Arkansas, Louis Armstrong was interviewed before a concert in Grand Forks, North Dakota by a 21 year old journalism major from the University of North Dakota.

According to the Chicago Defender, what Armstrong had to say "had the explosive effect of an H-bomb."

The interview began innocently enough with some questions about music, but then it quickly took a different turn, steering headlong into the crisis at Little Rock. Before long, Armstrong was referring to Eisenhower as "two faced" and accusing him of having "no guts" for allowing the National Guard to surround Central High and prevent the black students from entering. He reserved a much more colorful torrent of expletives to describe the Arkansas governor, Faubus, all of which the interviewer edited down to the far less profane epithet "uneducated plow boy." "It's getting almost so bad a colored man hasn't got any country," Armstrong bitterly complained.

Armstrong then suggested he would no longer be interested in the good will tour to the Soviet Union that the State Department wanted to arrange for him. He declared, "The way they are treating my people in the South, the government can go to hell."

The article ran all over the country and created quite a furor. Many Americans denounced Mr. Armstrong's comments. Fellow artists refused to perform with him and fans boycotted his concerts. But the black community, including many in the entertainment industry, supported him.

Perhaps few noted it at the time, but it was ironic that Louis Armstrong made his comments where he did. Grand Forks was the home town of the judge who had just ordered that the desegregation of Central High School must proceed despite the attempts to block it. Armstrong's venue for that evening's concert was Grand Fork's own Central High School. And the hotel he was staying in, the best the city had to offer, never had a black guest until that very evening. Satchmo had desegregated the hotel.

A week later, after President Eisenhower sent in the 101st Airborne Division to desegregate Central High, Armstrong had a change of heart. He sent the President a telegram that read:

"Mr. President, Daddy if and when you decide to take those little Negro children personally into Central High School along with your marvelous troops please take me along. O God it would be such a pleasure I assure you. My regards to Brother Brownell and may God bless you President. You have a good heart."

Interestingly, the one other issue that Mr. Armstrong felt impassioned enough about to contact the President was, apparently, the legalization of marijuana. Armstrong smoked pot much of his life, insisting that "It makes you feel good, man. It relaxes you, makes you feel wanted…" In his biography, An American Genius, James Collier writes that Armstrong sent the President a letter urging him that marijuana be legalized since it was "less harmful than alcohol."

Satchmo was eventually reinstated as America's #1 good will ambassador and performed all over the world. But he never did make it to the Soviet Union, even despite his confidence that the Russians, "ain't so cold but what we couldn't bruise them with happy music."

(Continued from Sept. 26, 2013)
POSTED: September 30, 2013 POSTED BY: John Joyce

If it wasn't for TV, Eisenhower would not have run again in 1956. He had suffered a heart attack the year before and believed his health couldn't withstand another exhausting and stressful campaign. He decided he could run only if it was feasible to wage the entire campaign via television. 70% of Americans in 1956 now owned a TV as opposed to only 30% in 52. Embracing those statistics, the Republican National Committee deemed victory through television was, indeed, entirely possible.

Campaign commercials created for Eisenhower in 1956 ranged from piggyback ads (five minute spots airing at the tail end of shortened 30 minute shows like Our Miss Brooks) to more innovative fare like: a coffee klatch featuring the President sitting around speaking informally with several women, a half hour travelogue, a people's news conference, a birthday party hosted by actor Jimmy Stewart – a sort of This Is Your Life production, and an hour long election eve extravaganza starring the Eisenhower and Nixon families.

Eisenhower's good will tour throughout Europe and the Near East was the biggest and most elaborate television production during his second term. Televising the tours was made possible by technological advances in overseas communication, video taping, and jet travel. Americans were treated each night with scenes of Eisenhower cheered by mobs from Italy to India, meeting with world leaders, and visiting the Pope, the Taj Mahal, and the US 6th Fleet. It was reassuring in the midst of a bitter Cold War for Americans to see their president treated with such adulation abroad.

As his Presidency drew to a close, Eisenhower willingly shared his acquired media expertise with Vice President, Richard Nixon. Eisenhower urged Nixon not to debate Kennedy on TV during the 1960 campaign. He suspected that any joint appearance could only benefit the lesser known

Massachusetts senator. When Nixon agreed to the debate anyway, Eisenhower offered him Robert Montgomery as a TV consultant. Nixon turned down the offer, a decision that cost him that first debate. Eisenhower later plied Nixon with his own TV advice, urging him to have more "zip," "not appear so glum," and "appear to think about something before answering."

TV remained a big part of Eisenhower's life in retirement. He appeared on CBS's Town Meeting of the World where he exchanged ideas via satellite with European leaders. He went to

Europe to film D-Day Plus Twenty Years with Walter Cronkite. There was a half hour special, Lincoln Commander in Chief, in which he shared his views on Lincoln and the Civil War with historian Bruce Catton. He even filmed a 30 minute political ad in 1964 with Republican presidential candidate, Barry Goldwater, the two of them strolling shoulder to shoulder down the front lane of his Gettysburg Farm. Each broadcast neatly portrayed a different side of Ike: the wise elder statesman, the old soldier, the student of history, and the reluctant politician.

Out on the sun porch of his Gettysburg farm house, Ike happily adapted to using the latest television technology – the remote control. He'd arouse Mrs. Eisenhower's ire by constantly changing the three channels over and over and over. Among the shows he watched with his wife during those last years was Green Acres. Mamie was so taken with the show that she named their valet's pet pig after the show's popular porcine character, Arnold. Arnold had the run of the house and was allowed unrestricted access to the slip-covered porch chairs from which even the grandchildren were banned.

Fittingly, Eisenhower was awarded an Emmy for his contributions to the television industry. He was the first president to both love and exploit TV. That love and exploitation reflected the two opposing sides of his character – the modest, folksy Kansan and the shrewd, consummate politician/leader. TV showed off both those sides, depicting him as a man who could, as in the line from his favorite poem, "walk with kings nor lose the common touch." And that was just as he intended.

Ike remains the only Emmy Award-winning president.

Today, when you visit Eisenhower National Historic Site, you'll find the sun porch preserved as it was. Ike's chair, his RCA Victor console TV, his remote control all still there as though awaiting his return after a short bathroom break. Not surprisingly, the TV shares the same space in which Ike sat with visiting foreign leaders discussing the pressing issues of the day.

POSTED: September 26, 2013 POSTED BY: John Joyce

The Emmy Awards Show was on this past Sunday. I didn't watch, but I'm willing to bet no presidents were nominated for an Emmy this year. Nor for the past half century. "When HAS a president won an Emmy?" you may ask. Well actually, back in 1956. And it was Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Ike was the first TV President. He early on recognized the possibilities of the new medium for communicating a message and propagating an image. But he not only sought to exploit television, he unabashedly enjoyed watching it. He and his wife Mamie liked nothing more than viewing their favorite shows on their sun porch RCA Victor while partaking of TV dinners on TV trays. They regularly watched Arthur Godfrey, The Lawrence Welk Show, and I Love Lucy. They both enjoyed Lucy so much that the President invited its entire cast, Fred, Ethel, Ricky, and Lucy to the White House, the first time sit-com personalities received such an invitation.

While the First Lady was a fan of the soap operas, the President preferred the Westerns. He once sheepishly confessed his love of Westerns to visiting Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev during the Premier's visit to America in 1959, "I know they have no substance and don't require any thought, but they always have a lot of fancy tricks."

Ike's first personal experience with television production came after the war when in 1949 he narrated segments of a TV series based on his WWII memoir, Crusade in Europe. Then during his initial run for the Presidency in 1952, Eisenhower became the first presidential candidate to take advantage of TV as a campaign tool. However, his very first TV spot was a disaster. The networks arranged for the formal announcement of his candidacy to be televised live outside his home in Abilene. A rainstorm hit at airtime. The drenched, unsheltered spectators could barely hear the poor candidate as he stumbled through an ill prepared speech with rain dripping from his glasses.

Thereafter, the Republican National Committee put Eisenhower in the hands of a Madison Ave. advertising agency that created for him a series of short, snappy commercials entitled Eisenhower Answers America. Each ad began with an ordinary citizen asking "Ike" a question. Eisenhower filmed 50 of the 20 second spots in one day, reading from large cue cards so he wouldn't have to wear his glasses. Despite their effectiveness, Ike hated the ads. "To think an old soldier has come to this," he'd say.

Meanwhile, his Democratic opponent, Gov. Adlai Stevenson, never came close to mastering the medium. His campaign stuck with the standard format for a campaign telecast – a 30 minute spot in which the candidate simply delivered a long speech. Long speeches were Stevenson's forte, but he couldn't seem to complete one within an allotted half hour time frame. His pacing was always erratic. He started slowly, raced frantically to finish, and then eventually was cut off the air in mid-sentence. Ed Murrow tried to coach him to no avail.

Eisenhower's successful manipulation of TV throughout his Presidency owed much to the guidance of actor Robert Montgomery. Montgomery was the first presidential media consultant. He instructed Eisenhower in facial make-up, shirt color, lighting angles, and camera positions. He instilled in him a sense of timing and poise. He encouraged him to be natural, which the President complained was difficult when having to read from "that damn teleprompter." The goal as Montgomery saw it was to establish Eisenhower as a down-to-earth everyman and at the same time preserve his aura of leadership. The key was in exploiting Ike's warm, good natured smile while still projecting the dignified air of the presidency.

Montgomery's first presidential TV production was Eisenhower's Christmas Eve telecast from the south lawn of the White House in 1954. In a setting warmed by candles and Christmas decorations, the President urged Americans to count their blessings and then proceeded to extol his year's worth of successes. The telecast concluded with the lighting of the National Christmas tree. Political it was, but subtle enough that viewers simply saw it as a feel-good holiday message.

Eisenhower's most important contribution to presidential TV was the establishment of the televised press conference. He saw such regularly scheduled telecasts as a means to go over the heads of Congress and speak directly to the American people. Eisenhower went on to conduct more televised press conferences than any other president, averaging over 22 a year. This despite facing criticism for both his fractured elocution and his penchant for frankly admitting, "I don't know."


POSTED: September, 18, 2013 POSTED BY: John Joyce

As we prepare for our annual World War II Weekend this Saturday and Sunday, I was reminded of some of the stories visiting World War II vets have shared with us over the years. Here are two of my favorites:

A veteran touring the Eisenhower home one day stopped to reminisce about having seen Ike during the liberation of Paris. During a grand parade down the Champs Elysees, General Eisenhower and General De Gaulle were standing side by side reviewing the troops as they marched by. De Gaulle was so heavily bedecked with medals across his chest that he looked like he might just fall over from all that dead weight hanging from his uniform. But what the vet remembered most vividly was Ike. There he was, the Supreme Commander, and all he had on his entire uniform was two small ribbons.

That, to the old vet, reflected General Eisenhower's modest, down-to-earth nature and it left a lasting impression. Ike didn't expect to be, or acted like he should be, treated like a god as did De Gaulle or Douglas MacArthur. He seemed to be a regular guy, "just like the rest of us."

During the course of another house tour, a vet remembered the day General Eisenhower came out to the front lines to talk with the troops. He seemed genuinely concerned that they were all being fed well. "How's the food?" he kept asking everyone. No one considered it great, but not awful enough to gripe to the General about.

The vet said he recalled Ike's concern weeks later when his unit was standing in the chow line not far from the front lines. As the cooks were ladling out the grub, one suddenly pulled his revolver and yelled for the MPs. The MPs rushed in and hauled off one of the soldiers in line. It turned out that the guy was actually a German dressed in an American soldier's uniform.

After the incident, everyone gathered around the cook asking him how he figured it out. The vet and his buddies were right next to the guy and they had no idea that he might be a German. The cook replied simply, "I knew he wasn't one of you guys. He came back for seconds."

To hear personal first-hand accounts like these about Eisenhower and his life and times is one of the highlights of working at Eisenhower NHS. Among national historic sites, Eisenhower's is one whose history is so contemporary that many who visit have personally experienced it and are inspired by their visit to share their memories. Hardly a day goes by without at least one visitor having a story to share.

POSTED: August 28, 2013 POSTED BY: John Joyce

You got to swim in the White House pool and putt on the White House putting green.

Roy Rogers showed up as a surprise guest at your birthday party.

Grandpa invited the President of France to come visit your house.

You got to shoot baskets on the President's farm with British Prime Minister MacMillan.

You could impress your dates by introducing them to the President of the United States.

You had a chance to meet movie stars wandering around the White House like Jerry Lewis and Charlton Heston.

You had the opportunity to work as a farmhand on the President's farm for 75 cents an hour and the distinction of being personally fired by the President for returning late from lunch after having played cards with your buddies for several hours.

You got to ride horses with Secret Service agents.

You got to hang out at Camp David and shoot skeet.

You had presidential retreats named after you.

The President came out to watch your Little League baseball games.

Soviet Premier Khrushchev sat you on his knee and instructed you on how to say your name in Russian and then even gave you a big Communist pin to wear at school the next day.

You got lots of press coverage when telling reporters that you wouldn't mind being a Communist because Nikita Khrushchev was a nice guy.

You could eventually accumulate enough memories and material about the President to write a book about him.

You could end up marrying your Grandpa's Vice President's daughter.

POSTED: August 14, 2013 POSTED BY: John Joyce

The last surviving Union soldier, Albert Woolson, died at the age of 109 on August 2, 1956. At 17, he had served as a drummer boy for the 1st Minnesota Heavy Artillery. He was born during the administration of James Polk. He died during the second term of Dwight D. Eisenhower.

On his 109th birthday, President Eisenhower sent him a letter of congratulations:

This anniversary, I am certain, will be rich like its predecessors in memories and warm wishes from friends in many parts of the nation. With them I am delighted to join once again in saluting you.

Woolson, in turn, shared his assessment of Ike in several birthday interviews: "Eisenhower strikes me as a man with much common sense," he opined. "Common sense is fine for men who run the government." He went on to compliment Ike for doing a "creditable job" but expressed the hope he would be "more decisive." He also gave the President advice on how to handle the Formosan Crisis. "If the President asked me, I'd say stay at home and mind our own business. I'd caution Ike to keep out of those islands."

Although he admired Ike, Mr. Woolson made it clear that Ulysses S. Grant was his favorite president. "Now there was a great man. No palaver about that fellow, no nonsense either." Woolson said he was born a Republican. The first president he voted for was Lincoln. He was just 17 at the time, but a special dispensation had given the ballot to all soldiers.

He admitted to voting Democrat just once – for FDR in 1932.

Albert Woolson was born in the small town of Antwerp, NY on February 11, 1847. His father was a carpenter and a musician in a circus band who enlisted in the Union Army in 1861. After not having been heard from for over a year, the family learned that he had been wounded at Shiloh and was convalescing at a Minnesota hospital. The family made the long trek to Minnesota to be at his bedside only to see him die shortly after their arrival. The family remained in Minnesota and Albert went to work as a carpenter.

In 1864, Albert got his mother's consent to join the 1st Minnesota. He recalled that at the time there was an uprising of Sioux tribes throughout the state and that 38 Sioux were hanged in Mankato the day he left for the Army.

His unit never saw action. Thus, he never played his drums while leading the 1st Minnesota into battle, but he did keep a slow, steady beat for many a burying detail. He remembered one in particular:

Going out we played proper sad music, but coming back we kinda hit it up. Once a woman came onto the road and asked what kind of music that was to bury somebody. I told her that we had taken care of the dead and that now we were cheering up the living.

One memory he particularly relished was of the time he shot one of the regiment's cannons:

The colonel handed me the end of a rope and said, 'When I yell, you stand on your toes, open your mouth wide, give a yell yourself and pull the rope.' I yanked the lanyard and the cannon went off and scared me half to death.

Woolson returned to carpentry after the war, formed a drum and bugle corps with an old friend in 1867, and was married the following year. He eventually became a member of the GAR, the Grand Army of the Republic. He was one of six Union vets who attended the last National Encampment in 1949. It was there that he and the few other surviving GAR members voted to disband.

Woolson was laid to rest in the family plot in Duluth, MN on August 6, 1956. Thousands attended the funeral. The 5th Army Band playing Chopin's Funeral Dirge and an army marching unit of 109 accompanied the casket to the cemetery.

Albert Woolson outlasted 2,200,000 of his fellow Union soldiers. Following his death, a fellow old soldier turned politician who knew the Civil War well and whose home was on the fields of its greatest battle, shared these sentiments:

The American people have lost the last personal link with the Union Army. His passing brings sorrow to the hearts of all of us who cherished the memory of the brave men on both sides of the War between the States.

POSTED: August 1, 2013 POSTED BY: John Joyce

Back in 1963, Civil War historian Bruce Catton conducted an interview with Dwight Eisenhower asking the former president about his views on President Lincoln and the Civil War. The interview was aired as a half hour TV special, entitled Lincoln, Commander in Chief. It was a fascinating exchange, Ike and Catton sharing assessments of President Lincoln and Ike holding his own fairly well with the eminent historian. It was obvious they both held Lincoln in high esteem.

One of the most interesting moments of the interview was when Ike expressed his approval of Lincoln's penchant for issuing pardons during the war, particularly for soldiers sentenced to death for desertion. Lincoln continued to issue pardons despite often receiving harsh criticism for his leniency. Ike appeared to enjoy quoting Lincoln's reasoning: "A man just has cowardly legs. You can't blame him for that."

What made Ike's approval noteworthy was its irony. Eisenhower had approved the execution of an army private for desertion in 1944. It was the only such execution for a military offense since Lincoln's time.

What had compelled Eisenhower, who so admired Lincoln for his compassion, to approve a death sentence for a military offense?

Private Eddie Slovik of Co. G, 109th Infantry Regiment, 28th Division, was 23 years old when drafted in January of 1944. Because of his prison record he was originally classified 4-F, but draft standards were soon lowered and he was eventually reclassified as 1-A.

He arrived in France in August of '44, was assigned to the 28th Division five days later, and deserted on October 8. A day later, he surrendered voluntarily, handing over a note in which he confessed to desertion and blatantly stated, "And I'll run again if I have to go out there." He was advised to tear up his confession and return to his unit, but he refused to do so and was confined to the division stockade.

The judge advocate offered Slovik an opportunity to return to his unit and have the charges suspended. But again Slovik refused. He was court martialed, found guilty, and sentenced to death. The sentence was reviewed and approved by the division commander and approved again by the theater judge advocate.

On December 9, 1944 Private Slovik penned a letter to Supreme Commander Eisenhower pleading for clemency. In part, he wrote:

How can I tell you how humbly sorry I am for the sins I've committed. I didn't realize at the time what I was doing, or what the word desertion meant. What it is like to be condemned to die. I beg of you deeply and sincerely for the sake of my dear wife and mother back home to have mercy on me. To my knowledge I have a good record since my marriage and as a soldier. I'd like to continue to be a good soldier.

To Slovik's misfortune, the letter reached Eisenhower at an inopportune time. Its arrival coincided with the German's surprise offensive in the Ardennes, the Battle of the Bulge. U.S. troops were suffering high casualties, Bastogne was surrounded, troop morale was low and desertions problematic. Ike, who at any other time would have likely recommended clemency, concurred with the execution order on December 23, noting that it would serve as an example to discourage other desertions.

The sentence reportedly came as a shock to Slovik who anticipated he would simply serve jail time as other deserters had in the past.

Private Eddie Slovik was executed on January 31, 1945. Moments before being led to the firing squad, he insisted, "They're not shooting me for deserting the United States Army, thousands of guys have done that. They just need to make an example out of somebody and I'm it because I'm an ex-con. I used to steal things when I was a kid, and that's what they are shooting me for…"

Of the 49 American soldiers that were convicted and sentenced to death for desertion from 1942 to 1948, only Slovik was executed.

Slovik remained buried in an American cemetery in France alongside 95 American soldiers executed for violent crimes, their graves marked only with numbers. In 1987, President Reagan ordered that his remains be allowed to be returned home. He was reburied in a Detroit cemetery beside his wife.

So, Ike may have agreed with Lincoln that you can't blame a man for cowardly legs. But apparently, he did feel blame was justified when a man steadfastly refused the opportunity to redeem himself, and particularly so during pressing circumstances when such an affliction might very well infect others.

POSTED: July 11, 2013 POSTED BY: John Joyce

Of all the family members and associates who were with Ike on a regular basis throughout his presidency, this gentleman serves as the most frequent target of Ike's irritability and impatience. Certainly, he more than anyone experienced the brunt of the President's exasperation with the restrictions imposed on his activities and diet after his 1955 heart attack.

He was the 70+ year old doctor whom Ike's secretary called Old Duck - the President's personal physician, Howard Snyder.

There were those who questioned whether the elderly Snyder was qualified to serve as physician to the President of the United States. When he appeared to have misdiagnosed Ike's heart attack in 1955 as indigestion, confidence in Dr. Snyder among the President's friends plummeted. But Ike felt comfortable with Old Duck. And Dr. Snyder knew his patient well, patiently tolerating his moodiness and foibles and tantrums.

Dr. Snyder went everywhere with the President, would even accompany him out on the golf course to periodically take his vital signs. Ever concerned that Ike's blood pressure would skyrocket during a poorly played round, the good doctor would consistently compliment the President on his play. Ike though had little patience for such patronizing. Once, when Snyder had yelled "Fine shot!" after Ike had taken a particularly horrible one, the President exploded and threw his wedge at the doctor, hitting him in the knee. Ike immediately apologized and begged his pardon.

We're aware of this incident because Snyder included it in his medical diary. The doctor maintained a medical diary of the President from his heart attack to his last days in the White House and beyond. It was an almost hour by hour account of the President's activities. It not only recorded the medications taken, the blood pressure readings, the President's general mood and physical condition throughout the day, but also detailed what was eaten at each meal, how many highballs or scotch and waters the President drank, who he met with, what movie he watched that evening, what his golf score was and how much money was wagered on each hole, even what cards were played at his bridge games.

In one entry for 1930 hours on Nov. 12, 1959, Dr. Snyder writes:

Bridge was immediately in order. In an early hand George Allen had bid four hearts which was doubled. George, after leading several clubs, led the Queen of Diamonds from his dummy. The President's partner, Bill Robinson, played a small diamond; George played a small diamond; and the president took the trick with a Jack of Diamonds and handed it to his partner, who was keeping the tricks. The President then led a club….

And this goes on for another two paragraphs!

He records snippets of conversation between the President and his friends. Here's one that occurred late in the evening in the fall of 59 while the President was vacationing at his cottage at Augusta National Golf Club:

After bridge, they sat around until 2340 hours discussing Rockefeller, Nixon, and other possible candidates for the Republican Party President. Eisenhower propounded his theories about maintaining of the national economy said that expenditures for missile and space programs should be reduced by several hundred million, and that the defense budget should be reduced by several billion. He said that he couldn't put this over with Congress because the popular political approach for the people was that of "to hell with the budget; everything for defense.

Then they discussed the possible Democratic candidates. As they went over the list of governors, all agreed that Governor Brown of California was stupid. Similar comments were made about all the other prominent Democratic potential candidates.

Another discussion after breakfast one day:

We also got on the subject of how ineffective and how disliked Montgomery had been, and how near he had been to being set down by the British on occasion during the war. The President told about how McNaughton, the Commanding General of the Canadian Forces, had said that Monty had been about to be kicked out, but had gone to the British crying for another chance. McNaughton said that Monty's staff had carried him. McNaughton hated Montgomery….

Throughout the diary are intimate vignettes starring the President's friends, particularly the ever jolly and loquacious George Allen. In one entry, the doctor documents how he gave poor George flak for trying to catch some sleep during the First Lady's birthday party:

Fat George Allen had sacked up at the time the President began his second nine, and was still in the hay when I arrived… The President asked where George was, so I went in to him and announced that the President had asked for him. He aroused and said he would be out. Five minutes later, I went back and found him still in bed. I said to him, "Get the hell out here for the birthday party!

There are candid moments when a weary and frustrated President suggests, "Let's just get drunk," a lovely description of the President's response to the jubilant reception his motorcade receives when he arrives in Chicago for the 1960 Republican National Convention. And there's Snyder repeatedly offering up his theory as to why Ike's blood pressure has risen yet again:

The blood pressure, I think, was due to the fact that the President was angry at himself because of his rotten play. He did not have a single par.

Dr. Snyder's medical diary is a wealth of information. In small doses, it can be a pretty entertaining read.

POSTED: June 26, 2013 POSTED BY: John Joyce

Eisenhower enjoyed oil painting and often chose his heroes as subjects for his canvases. He painted Lincoln. He painted Washington. But despite also being among his pantheon of heroes, he never painted Robert E. Lee. He tried. Over and over. But each attempt ended in failure. He said he could never get the whiskers quite right.

Ike admired Lee for his brilliant generalship. Nevertheless, he blamed Lee for the Confederate defeat at Gettysburg. In Ike's view, Lee's inefficient staff resulted in mass confusion on the battlefield and his misjudgment of Union morale led to the foolish decision of assaulting the center of the Union line.

But he also admired Lee for his character. For Ike, one of Lee's finest hours was in defeat on the third of battle at Gettysburg. As Pickett's men retreated, fraught with despair and abject disappointment, Lee rode his horse back and forth assuring them, "It is my fault. It is all my fault…"

Similarly, after the D-Day invasion was launched, Supreme Commander Dwight Eisenhower wrote himself a speech he intended to deliver if the operation failed. In it he praises the valor of his troops and makes it clear that, "If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt, it is mine alone."

One wonders how much Robert E. Lee may have inspired those words.

Ironically, Ike was once accused of publicly denigrating General Lee. It was on a tour of the Gettysburg Battlefield with his WWII compatriot Field Marshal Montgomery in 1957. Monty, for the benefit of the trailing press, loudly commented that both Lee and Meade should have been sacked. Then he called out, "Don't you agree, Ike?" Eisenhower, who had already been heading back to the car, turned, and in an attempt to defuse the aspersion, directed his response to the press: "Look, I live here. I represent the North and South. He can talk."

Despite Ike's measured reply, headlines in southern newspapers the next day stridently proclaimed EISENHOWER JOINS MONTGOMERY IN CRITICIZING LEE AND MEADE and SOUTHERN BLOOD BOILS! One editorial cartoon depicted the ghosts of Lee and Meade taking a tour in a jeep of the Ardennes, the site of the Battle of the Bulge, with Lee commenting that the generals responsible for the debacle should be sacked.

Monty's next stop after Gettysburg was the Deep South and Montgomery, Alabama. He couldn't understand why his reception there was less than warm. Meanwhile, in a press conference two days later, Ike defended himself against the accusations of Lee bashing. He insisted he had great admiration for General Lee and the proof of it was the portrait of Lee that hung prominently in his Oval Office.

Many southerners were indignant that one who suffered failures like Kasserine Pass and the Ardennes should dare to criticize Robert E. Lee. Years later, Russel Weigley, the eminent military historian from Temple University, put Ike and Lee in perspective. Weigley boldly ranked the three greatest generals in American history:

The greatest, Weigley contended, was Ulysses S. Grant because he demonstrated such great flexibility in adapting different strategies and managed to successfully coordinate operations in such a huge area comprised of several theaters. He ranked Washington second for his ability to fight and win with such an obvious lack of resources. And third was Eisenhower. Not only for his military diplomacy, but for his underrated generalship. Eisenhower advanced relentlessly from victory to victory through Africa and Europe. Even the Battle of the Bulge was quickly exploited as an opportunity to surround the German army and deliver a crushing blow. Many have a tendency to diminish Ike's generalship and to chalk up his success to an advantage in resources. But Weigley insisted that Ike never possessed the overwhelming material advantage needed for an offensive war. He consistently suffered from high casualty rates, inferior tanks, and a lack of reserves.

And Robert E. Lee? He didn't make Weigley's list.

POSTED: June 17, 2013 POSTED BY: John Joyce

Back in June of 1915, Cadet Dwight D. Eisenhower graduated from the United States Military Academy and was commissioned a 2nd lieutenant in the U.S. Army infantry. That he graduated from West Point and was commissioned at all was pure luck. Or destiny.

Dwight Eisenhower had actually intended to go to University of Michigan like his older brother. The plan was that he would work to support his brother going to university and then after graduating his brother would support him.

Thus, a major incentive for Ike giving consideration to the military academies was the free tuition. A second motivating factor was his friend Swede Hazlett. Swede was aiming to become a midshipman and encouraged Ike to join him in taking the Naval Academy exam. Fortunately, Ike also found sponsorship from a local congressman who thought highly of his father.

Both Ike and Swede took the exam and it was Ike who ended up ranked number 1 for the Annapolis appointment. Unfortunately, the Navy rejected him. It turned out he didn't meet the age specifications for the Academy. On the verge of turning 21 by the time the next class was to enlist, he was a year too old to be accepted.

Fortunately, the same exam qualified him for eligibility at West Point. Unfortunately, he finished second for that appointment. Fortunately, the candidate who ranked above him failed the physical exam. And Ike was in.

Ike was an average student. What was more important to him than academics was football. He was a promising halfback who garnered some great press his sophomore year. But alas, he injured his knee in the Tufts game that year, aggravated the injury again during horse riding drills, and was never able to play again. The injury devastated him, sending him into an emotional tail spin of despair and apathy during which he stopped attending classes and lost his incentive to even bother graduating. He only very slowly emerged from his funk and managed to finish ranked 61st out of 162 students in the class.

Although he finally graduated, it was very likely he was going to be denied a commission into the Army because of his knee injury. The academy surgeon finally agreed that he would approve the commission only if Ike applied to the coastal artillery. Ike refused. And with that stubborn refusal Ike believed he had forfeited any chance of making the Army a career.

Fortunately, the academy surgeon called him back the following day and offered a compromise. If Ike agreed not to select the cavalry as a preference, he would sign off on the commission. And so Ike joined the infantry.

If he could have afforded it, Ike would have gone to U. of M. If he had a choice between West Point and Annapolis, he would have chosen the Naval Academy. If he had been healthier, he may have well been commissioned as a cavalry officer.

But in the end, fate set his course and steered him in the direction of his ultimate destiny – the Supreme Allied Command and the Presidency.

POSTED: June 11, 2013 POSTED BY: John Joyce

On June 15, 1955, atomic bombs rained down on America. The Soviets had targeted 61 of America's largest cities and wrought incredible carnage – nearly 4 million dead in New England alone. A photo taken during the attack shows President Eisenhower and his cabinet continuing to run the country from long tables in a large tent at their secret evacuation center. Secretary of the Treasury George Humphrey is there sporting a conspicuously wide grin despite the nuclear devastation.

Fortunately, this was all theater, a production called Operation Alert staged by the Federal Civil Defense Administration. Operation Alert was the first nation-wide civil defense test in which the federal government actually evacuated Washington and of which an accounting was made of casualties inflicted by an imagined nuclear attack. In 1955, American scientists felt reasonably capable for the first time of calculating the spread of radioactive fallout. The previous year fallout was detected over 7,000 square miles of the Pacific after the H-bomb test at Bikini Atoll.

The attacks began on June 15, 1955 in New Bedford, Massachusetts at 1:22 pm. Of the cities targeted by the alert, some, like San Francisco, had no advance notice of the attack. The President, however, had advanced warning and left Washington at noon for his secret emergency hideout in Virginia. Fifteen thousand federal employees were also evacuated, but Congress remained in the Capital, having as of yet no secret evacuation center to escape to. The Deputy Director for Civil Defense in the District of Columbia, who declared the exercise ridiculous and refused to participate, was promptly fired.

The President broadcast a message to the American people from his secret evacuation hideaway. "We are here to determine whether or not the Government is prepared in time of emergency to continue the function of government so that there will be no interruption in the business that must be carried on," he explained. It was aired on the NBC and DuMont TV networks.

How did Americans respond to the staged attacks? In New York City, most citizens played along and retreated inside for 10 minutes when the sirens sounded. Wall Street suspended trading, but 17,000 fans at the Yankees game remained in their seats throughout the drill. Twenty eight peace protesters conducting a sit-in demonstration at City Hall Park were arrested for not participating.

Philadelphians were not warned about the alert beforehand and consequently ignored it as did most residents in Atlanta, Honolulu, and L.A. except for government workers. Civil defense officials in Peoria refused to participate even though a radioactive dust cloud from Chicago was covering the city.

The New York Times hailed Operation Alert as a success, adding that it was satisfying to note that Soviet Foreign Minister Molotov was in New York City at the time of the test and thus too would have been among the casualties incinerated by the five megaton thermonuclear bomb dropped on the city.

Among those not pleased with the test results were the wives of the White House cabinet members. According to syndicated columnist Doris Fleeson, "Apparently it had not dawned on those ladies until they actually saw their husbands pack a suitcase for a three day stay that no such plans had been made for them or their children. Their wives' farewell embraces were described by some of the men as rather lacking in warmth."

What upset the wives most, however, was that their husbands' secretaries were taken along.

POSTED: June 4, 2013 POSTED BY: John Joyce

Last week we welcomed aboard the park's new crop of summer interns and seasonal rangers.

During the course of introductions in the opening minutes of their first day of training, I looked out at all those expectant, enthusiastic, and slightly apprehensive faces and couldn't help but recall my first summer as a seasonal park ranger…

It was at Devil's Tower National Monument in Wyoming and I was initially pretty apprehensive. My duties included conducting an evening program several times a week. I wasn't so much nervous about presenting the program as I was about trying to get the campfire started every night. There's nothing more embarrassing than a park ranger who can't get his fire started as 150 expectant and ultimately disillusioned campers look on. Not only do visitors to a natural park typically expect a ranger to be able to start a campfire effortlessly, but to practically do so by rubbing two sticks together. Alas, I was pyrotechnically challenged. I began to arrive at the amphitheater an hour and a half early so I could furtively douse my logs with a half a can of lighter fluid without any visitors witnessing the sacrilege.

I was also responsible for conducting rock climbing demonstrations. Devil's Tower is a Mecca for rock climbers from all over the world. Sadly, I had never rock climbed before and was also afraid of heights. But here I was putting on the "John, The Master Rock Climber Show. " I had little idea what I was doing and feared that at any moment I would be detected as a rock climbing fraud.

Throughout my first couple weeks, I persistently questioned whether park rangering was my true calling. But by the middle of the season I had come to the realization that I actually sounded like I knew what I was talking about and that I only needed a quarter of a can of lighter fluid to start my fire and that this summer as a park ranger was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.

The following summer I worked at Olympic National Park. I was much more confident now, but still found the first couple weeks to be challenging. I was assigned to conduct three different campfire programs each week. I only had a week and a half to get my slide show presentations together. In desperation, I chose the banana slug, Olympic's most noteworthy and ubiquitous resident, as one of my program topics. To my dismay, the park slide collection had only a couple banana slug slides. So I was forced to head out and take photos of slugs myself. Of course, when you need one, you can't find a slug anywhere. As a last resort, I selected two ripe bananas and photographed them posing on the forest floor and strung from trees. My program slides ended up being mostly of bananas, but you could hardly tell the difference. Halfway through my program though, I would typically begin to hear visitors muttering, "Hey wait, those aren't slugs, those are bananas."

I suspect it's needless to say – my supervisor wasn't overly appreciative of my impressionistic interpretation of banana slug life.

But I survived that less than sterling first few weeks as well. And I experienced again what I considered another rewarding and productive season.

I've since been a park ranger for thirty years.

If there's a lesson I could impart to our new interns and seasonals from my experience, I suppose it would be not to let yourself get too frustrated, discouraged or overwhelmed during the first couple weeks. You'll get through it. And by halfway through the season, I can almost guarantee you'll find this summer to be one of the most rewarding experiences of your life.

As for myself, I've since learned to repress the impulse to do anything as interpretively foolish as substitute bananas for slugs in a campfire presentation. But I have to say, I miss that reckless and exuberant ingenuity of youth.

POSTED: May, 28, 2013 POSTED BY: John Joyce

When sharing his assessments of the Battle of Gettysburg with friends or reporters, there were three Gettysburg battlefield commanders of whom Eisenhower was sharply critical.

One was Lee. Although he considered Lee a brilliant general and a man of character, he held Lee responsible for the Confederate defeat at Gettysburg. In Ike's view, Lee's inefficient staff resulted in mass confusion on the battlefield and his misjudgment of Union morale led to the foolish decision of assaulting the center of the Union line.

Another was J.E.B. Stuart. Ike complained that Stuart was more interested in winning personal glory than he was providing his commander the critical assistance required to win a battle.

But Ike's most disparaging criticism was reserved for the ever colorful and often despicable General Dan Sickles.

The reasons for Ike's seething disdain were threefold:

First, Sickles was a political general. As Ike saw it, political generals couldn't be counted on to be competent battlefield commanders. In Sickle's case, Ike judged him to be "guilty of the type of parochial thinking that loses a battle - a man that can only visualize his own problems and can't see beyond it to the whole."

However, Ike didn't blame Lincoln for appointing political generals like Sickles. Lincoln was forced to do so to keep Democrats in support of the war. Although refraining from criticizing Lincoln for the appointments, Ike felt it fair to fault him for actually using those generals in battle.

Secondly, Sickles was just an all-round "terrible person." His conduct, even off the battlefield, was reprehensible:

  • He murdered his wife's lover, the son of Francis Scott Key, and managed to be acquitted by reason of insanity.
  • As secretary of the U.S. legation in London, he scandalized the English by escorting a prostitute to a formal reception and introducing her to Queen Victoria.
  • He labored, with unseemly intensity, to bring about the impeachment of President Johnson.
  • While Minister to Spain, he had an affair with Queen Isabella II and enthusiastically promoted an American war with Spain.
  • He was relieved as Chairman of the New York State Monuments Commission for "mishandling of funds."
  • And most reprehensibly, at least to Eisenhower, he waged a malicious campaign to destroy General Meade's reputation after the war.

Thirdly, and most unforgivingly, Sickles disobeyed orders. During the second day of fighting at Gettysburg, Sickles defied Meade's orders and moved his entire 2nd Corps a half mile closer to the Confederate line, leaving big gaps in the Union line. The result was near disaster for the Union army. Nevertheless, Sickles claimed that his quick thinking and aggressiveness saved the day for the Union and insisted that he should rightly be acknowledged as the Battle's savior.

As Ike saw it, it was bad enough Sickles almost cost the Union Army the battle, but far worse was the simple fact he disobeyed orders. For that, there was no excuse.

POSTED: May 23, 2013 POSTED BY: John Joyce

I was asked once by a visitor what personal relevance Eisenhower National Historic Site had for me. It was a good question.

One summer, many years ago, I listened to a park ranger as he waxed passionately about how personally relevant his park was to him. His park was Yellowstone.

He spoke about growing up in the city, but how his Dad made a point of packing up the station wagon every summer and driving the family out west for several weeks to visit national parks. He wanted his children to experience the rugged beauty and grand majesty of nature that the west offered. And each summer, Yellowstone was part of the itinerary. He recalled the sheer joy and enthusiasm emanating from his father as he shared with his kids his love of the park and its mountains and wildlife and waterfalls and geysers... His father had since passed away, but he could easily imagine how excited the old man must be that his son is now a park ranger at that very park, sharing everyday with visitors his father's love of Yellowstone.

Although certainly nowhere near as inspiring as what the Yellowstone ranger had to say, this is how I responded to the question:

Dwight D. Eisenhower was inaugurated three days before I was born. His presidency and post-presidency coincided with the golden years of my childhood and thus harbor for me some very positive associations: security, family, innocence, a simpler time, a time when every dream possessed the potential to be realized. I can remember all the VOTE FOR IKE signs on the front lawns up and down our block during the 1956 election. This despite the fact his opponent, Governor Adlai Stevenson, owned a farm just the next town over.

Ike's face - the bald head and endearing smile - is one of the indelible images of my youth. He was my first president while, for my Dad, he was the general he served under during the war. Although my Dad never talked about the war, he had a scrapbook tucked away on the closet shelf that I would pull down and page through. There were photos of him and his Army buddies, photos of some of the towns in France and Luxembourg they liberated, European coins he had saved in an envelope taped to the scrapbook's inside back cover… The connection wasn't explicit, but I was always aware there was this war time connection between Eisenhower and my Dad.

The simplicity of the Eisenhower home and how it epitomizes the style of the 1950s and early 60s takes me back to that time. As it does for many visitors, the home and farm reflect a time I remember as well as aspects of the man who perhaps best emblemizes it: his modesty and down to earth nature, his respect for and love of the land, his acknowledgement of his flaws (his fiery temper) and efforts (often in vain) to overcome them, his ability to relate to and respect others - from the lowliest private to the loftiest head of state, his ability to keep a level head and make sound, rational decisions in the face of crisis… His appeal for me derives from these aspects of his character and I find myself searching for similar traits (often in vain) in our current leaders.

So there you have it. I didn't verbalize it as clearly as I've written it here, but this is what I meant to say when answering the question. Of course, the challenge of being an historical interpreter is to try and churn up some semblance of personal relevance to the site and its history among each and every visitor. And here at Eisenhower NHS, the greatest challenge is arousing that sense of relevance among school children for whom the years of separation from Eisenhower is as broad as mine was from Woodrow Wilson and WWI when I was a kid.

POSTED: May 12, 2013 POSTED BY: John Joyce

The highlight for students is always the marching and singing cadence.

There's wearing the hats (the WWII steel helmet, army officer cap, West Point cap, Army overseas caps, the fedora, Abilene H.S. baseball cap…); there's touring the Eisenhower home; there are the stories of Ike's fight with Wesley Merryfield and saving the life of his horse, Blackie; and then there are the mini reenactments of the landing on the Normandy beaches, Ike and the First Lady arriving via helicopter, West Point plebe Eisenhower being harangued by upperclassmen…

But throughout the entire two hour program, it's the marching and "sounding off" that generates the most enthusiasm.

Last week we conducted yet another round of our Eisenhower: Man of Many Hats education programs for 5th grade classes. As we tour the site, we have the students wear an assortment of hats representing different periods in Eisenhower's life. The students "portray" Ike as we look back on his life and reflect on the character traits he developed that contributed to his success.

At one point, everyone is inducted into the Army and issued actual Army overseas caps to wear. Then after a few moments of close order drill to learn the commands, we march off to meet General Eisenhower. We sing the traditional Sound Off cadence, with lyrics slightly altered:

I don't know but I've been told,
Army life is good as gold.
Three square meals, a nice warm tent,
Uncle Sam pays all the rent.

Up at 5 and march all day,
Like it so much don't need the pay.
Army life is what I like,
I want stars like General Ike.

Sound off,
One, two.
Sound off,
Three, four.
Break it on down,
One, two, three, four. One-two, three-four.

It's really the cadence more than the marching that arouse the students' enthusiasm. And it's Private Willie Lee Duckworth we have to thank for that.

As a black soldier in America's segregated Army in 1944, Private Duckworth was assigned to drill the troops by his commanding officer. To enliven their step and help them keep time, Duckworth created the now familiar rhythmic chant, Sound Off:

Ain't no use in going home,
Jody's got your gal and gone.
Ain't no use in feeling blue,
Jody's got your sister too.
Sound Off,
One, two.
Sound off,
Three, four.

Anyone who served time in boot camp remembers it. It's one of everyone's indelible memories of basic training. It's even been heard in movies beginning with Battleground in 1949 and Sound Off with Mickey Rooney in 1951.

It was Duckworth's superior officer who saw to it that Duckworth's Sound Off was copyrighted. Duckworth, who returned to the small town of Sandersville, Georgia after the war, received royalty checks for Sound Off until his death in 2004.

It's only recently that Duckworth has been recognized. There's now a section of Georgia Highway 242 named for him and a granite marker dedicated to him on the grounds of the Washington County courthouse.

It wasn't until last year, almost 40 years since I first Sounded Off in boot camp, that I discovered I owed it to a young black private from a small town in Georgia for making all that marching so tolerable.

And now some PA and MD fifth graders have discovered it too.

POSTED: May 4, 2012 POSTED BY: John Joyce

Not many visitors realize it, but there are four farms on Eisenhower NHS. All four are leased out to a local farmer as cropland and pasture while two of the farmhouses are rented out to park staff. So, you might ask (as many do), what's it like living on an Eisenhower farm? Well, I can tell you…

Back around the turn of the millennium, when our kids were little, we rented out the house on Farm 3, right across the road from the President's. It was once part of Eisenhower's cattle operation and one of his farmhands had lived there.

The old farm house is pre-Civil War. It has a porch that stretches along the entire front where we would sit on summer evenings while the boys chased lightning bugs in the yard. The farm is located on the outskirts of the Gettysburg Battlefield, off the beaten trail. So living there wasn't like residing in one of the historic homes smack in the middle of the Battlefield where if you walked out of the shower you had to be wary of troops of boy scouts peering through your windows. Although, for some reason, van loads of Japanese tourists would periodically drive up our gravel lane and inquire, "Eisenhower?"

The house was then surrounded by big Norway maples which kept it cool in the summer. But it had no insulation, so it was always cold in the winter. The oil furnace churned full blast non-stop during a cold snap, yet the house never warmed up to more than 55 degrees.

The house wasn't haunted as some insist other old homes on the Battlefield are. Legend has it there was gold buried somewhere on the property to keep it out of Confederate hands during the battle. We never understood why no one would have dug it back up after the battle.

It was a great place for our two boys to grow up. Here they were living on a working farm without having to do any of the farm chores themselves. In the spring, the farmer would give them rides on the tractor as he spread manure across the fields and they'd watch as the cows gave birth to their calves in the pasture.

The boys were fond of the cows. They enjoyed deliberately kicking the soccer ball into the pasture so they'd have an excuse to climb the fence and retrieve it from the midst of the herd. Anytime the herd broke out of the pasture, which they frequently did, the boys liked to rush out and try to shoo them back in, the cows typically ignoring them while continuing to munch on the grass in the back yard.

The cows could be counted on to be discrete accomplices. Whenever the boys were ordered to sit at the dinner table until they finished their vegetables, one would inevitably slip out and feed the ill-tasting morsels to the herd, thereby quietly disposing of the evidence.

In the summer, the boys and I would play baseball in the front yard, hitting the ball into the high corn, again and again having to venture into the rows to search for it. We would lose at least 10 balls through the course of the summer, eventually recovering a few after harvest. We'd walk the dogs in the late summer afternoon along the edge of the fields to the Battlefield's outdoor amphitheater, tearing apart milkweed pods along the way to watch the seeds waft through the air like snow. The cows were fascinated with our two dogs and the entire herd would tag along beside the dogs the whole way.

Upon reaching the deserted amphitheater, we'd camp it up on stage as though we were great orators or rock and roll stars.

Since we lived across the road from my place of employment, the Eisenhower home, I could have easily bicycled or even walked to work each morning. Shamefully though, I chose to drive in order to allow myself an extra ten minutes in bed. But the wife and I did always enjoy bicycling down Pumping Station Road after work with the kids strapped in kiddie seats. Our route took us down through the covered bridge where folks were always fishing and seemingly never catching anything, past the old house that served as a battlefield hospital, across the old iron bridge from which you could see egrets in the creek, then past the farm with the cows that always smelled so much worse than ours, to yet another creek where you would occasionally spot a blue heron.

One summer the creek across the road flooded and the water filled our garage and nearly floated our truck away. The flood knocked the covered bridge off its foundation. It sat along the side of the creek for months afterwards along with a mud filled trailer that had washed up from God knows where.

Sometimes we'd pedal off in the other direction, down Black Horse Tavern Road, to the small roadside cemetery overgrown with weeds where broken, eroded tombstones marked the graves of Revolutionary War veterans.

One evening, when pedaling to the covered bridge, we watched as a scene from a Civil War movie was being filmed. They were hanging a Confederate soldier from the rafters of the bridge.

In the fall, as the boys played football with the dogs in the leaf carpeted yard, they could look over and count 60 deer congregating in the farmer's fields devouring what was left of the crops. It was in the fall that I loved the cows, at least once I realized that when I raked all the leaves into piles along the fence line, the cows would stretch their necks over the fence and eat them. Most convenient method for disposing of leaves I've ever encountered.

When the kids got a bit older, we finally bought our own home and moved out to a neighborhood full of kids our boys' age, which was great. But it was also claustrophobically filled with next door neighbors, which took some getting used to. We still have lots of trees, but now I have to bag the leaves in the fall.

I miss the cows.

I also miss what I like to remember as a near idyllic existence - living on a Civil War battlefield farm, just across the street from Ike's.

Last updated: December 2, 2020

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