THE OFFICIAL BLOG OF EISENHOWER NATIONAL HISTORIC SITE
THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A PIGEON AND A FARMER…
A pigeon can still make a deposit on a John Deere.
A deposit on a John Deere… I remember very few jokes and to have remembered this one suggests I consider it fairly amusing. As punch lines go though, it's also sobering and expresses a sad truth - things are rough for the American family farmer.
Working as a park ranger at Eisenhower NHS, you witness first-hand the plight of the American farmer. The President's farm is leased out to a local farmer - Wilbur Martin. He grows the same crops Ike grew and grazes the same variety of cattle - Angus. The arrangement works out well for both farmer and the NPS. Wilbur reaps the fruit of his labor and the NPS keeps out of the farming business yet maintains the historical accuracy of the farm.
There are a few differences between Ike's operation and Wilbur's. Ike's was a show herd. His farm hands showed cattle as far west as Denver. The herd included a number of international champions. Ike was essentially selling their blood line for breeding. Those not fit for competition or breeding often ended up as steaks on the Eisenhower barbecue. Today it's strictly a cow - calf operation, the cattle eventually sold for beef.
A second difference is that Wilbur doesn't grow sorghum as Ike did. Ike liked to grow a few strips of sorghum for cattle feed because it was more drought resistant than corn. Wilbur does grow soybeans, something neither Ike nor any other local farmer did in the 50s. The NPS overlooks his soybean strips, though. As of the last ten years, all the farmers hereabouts grow soybeans. They're profitable as well as nitrogen restoring, benefits that outweigh the concern that they're also a historical anomaly.
Wilbur is a great guy, always pleasant to talk to, forever congenial. He always greets you with a smile and enjoys a prolonged conversation. But so often he doesn't have much to smile about. This year is typical. It rained so hard and so often this spring that he couldn't get his corn in on time - it was several weeks late. And by the time he got it in, it stopped raining and the summer's drought began. His corn crop looks awful - stunted and spindly. (The weather around here is remarkably localized. Corn 10 miles to the east and north looks fine - they've gotten much more rain than Gettysburg. One day last week was typical. A mere 10 mile north and east recorded two inches of precipitation for the afternoon while Gettysburg had a measly .02 inches.)
Meanwhile, deer are devouring his soybeans. Staff and volunteers report seeing several out in the bean fields every morning as they drive in to work.
Wilbur busts his butt, spreads himself too thin between his own farm and his leased out acres, yet he can hardly ever break even. In the end, the weather always seems to do him in. Then, when one year in the past ten the weather happens to be perfect, everyone has a bumper crop and that brings the prices down.
Ike sympathized with the American farmer, but farmers didn't see much sympathy reflected in his farm policy. Ike wanted to take agriculture off price supports and return it to the free market. At the very least he wanted to lower price supports. He was also concerned about the nation's huge crop surplus resulting from government purchase of farm products whenever market prices fell. One attempt to combat the surplus was Eisenhower's Soil Bank program - the government would pay farmers in exchange for keeping land out of cultivation. Ike was upset to eventually learn that it was the large corporate operations, not the small family farms, that were really benefitting financially from the program.
That farmers would be better off without government involvement was a belief shaped by Ike's boyhood in Abilene. He grew up in a time when Kansas famers didn't want federal programs and even voted against presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan who promised federal monetary relief.
Nevertheless, I think Ike would have enjoyed the pigeon - farmer comparison as well as recognized in it the unfortunate truth. I'm sure too that he would've delighted in talking with Wilbur - just two old farmers shooting the breeze, bemoaning the weather and the condition of the crops, yet never relinquishing their ever-optimistic smiles.
Ike was born David Dwight Eisenhower, not Dwight David. He didn't have a birth certificate. Nor did any of his brothers. Their birth names and dates were all printed in the family bible. And there you find Ike's listed as David Dwight, David after his father, Dwight supposedly after the evangelist, Dwight Moody.
Ike's Mom decided to reverse his name - never calling her son anything but Dwight. Speculation is she wanted to avoid the confusion of having two Davids in the house, or the prospect of her son being referred to as David Junior, or nicknamed Dave.
I can relate. My name is John. But so was my father's, and my two grandfathers', and my cousin's. There were a lot of Johns around back then. So everyone called me by my middle name Thomas, or more commonly, Tom. But that failed to lessen the confusion. I had two uncles named Tom, and a cousin. No one called me John until my classmates and teachers started to in second grade.
Whether Eisenhower was Dwight or David never really mattered much, for in the end everyone just called him Ike. The kids in Abilene called all the Eisenhower boys Ike - it was just an easy way to shorten that long last name of theirs. Dwight was Little Ike, his next older brother Big Ike, his red haired brother, Red Ike… In his West Point class there were two more guys nicknamed Ike - Melchior McEwen Eberts and Clyde Raymond Eisenshmidt. Growing up, Ike was surrounded by Ikes.
Ike is a pretty decent nickname - masculine and succinct. And it conveniently rhymes with like which would come in handy during a presidential campaign.
I wish I could have had a nickname like Ike. John in itself is a perfectly fine name, but Joyce… Joyce brought me a lot of grief in second and third grade. Kids would raz me about it simply because it was a girl's name. And Joyce in tandem with John - John Joyce - made for a pretty dumb sounding combination I thought. And what made it worse - my sister was named Jackie, the other sister - Judy, my Mom - Jeanette, my Dad - John. Even the dog was named Jessie. I'd ask my Mom, "Why did you have to name us all with J's?" "Well," she'd explain as though it were all perfectly logical, "all the suitcases are monogrammed J.J. and this way every family member can use each of the suitcases."
I longed to have a name like one of the sports figures I idolized - Luis Aparicio or Rocky Colavito. Their names were like poetry, they rolled off the tongue. Or Johnny Unitas. How could you not be an all American sports hero with a name like Johnny Unitas. Why couldn't I be named Johnny Unitas? I would have even happily settled for Ike, Ike Joyce.
Ike married Mamie Geneva Doud. Mamie - there's an interesting first name. Where did her parents come up with that? It's distinctive. So much so that biographies about the Eisenhowers often mistakenly assume that Mamie was just a nickname, claiming that her real name was Marie.
Distinctiveness is good for posterity and for a presidential campaign. Mamie was short enough to stick on a campaign button and unique enough that there was never any confusion over who was being talked about. There could be only one Mamie. Simply mention Mamie and everyone knew who was being referred to. Even today.
Ike and Mamie named their first child Doud Dwight, Doud being Mamie's maiden name. Today, one would be inclined to consider that an unusual and impractical first name, but foisting mothers' maiden names on firstborns was rather common back then. No one ever called him Doud, though. He was first referred to as Ikey which quickly evolved into Icky with a short "i."
I could have easily sympathized with the unfortunately named Icky - Doud as he grew older. But sadly, his names were never to have an impact on his life. He died of scarlet fever at the age of three. Ike and Mamie's second son, born 20 months later, was named simply, John.
Does a name shape a person's character? Ike grew up to be as masculine as his name implies. A man's man, as some have said. Strong, decisive, commanding, fond of shooting and fishing, cards and golf and scotch… Mamie was as delicate, feminine, and frilly as hers suggests.
John Joyce - my Dad insisted that anyone named Joyce was fated to be a hard drinking Irish writer. I don't know. I'm not such a hard drinker - I get a headache after a bottle and a half of O'Douls. And these blog entries aren't exactly Finnegan's Wake. No denying I'm still half Irish though.
Of course, one can overcome the potential debilitating effects of an unfortunate name. I had a buddy in eighth grade - a big, brawny kid. He went on to play linebacker in high school and college even though his name was Robin Cardinal Wren. And we all called him Tweet.
Fifty years ago this month, on August 13, the Russians began building the Berlin Wall. Kennedy was president and, much to Eisenhower's dismay, decided that America would stand idly by and allow the wall to be built. What else could he do? Challenge the Soviets militarily and risk a third world war? Ike seemed to think so.
Berlin. The city had long been a sore spot for Eisenhower. No other city in the world had caused him as much personal aggravation.
During WWII, Ike was pressured by fellow commanders and even Churchill himself to take Berlin. Instead of continuing the broad front strategy against the Germans, Montgomery (along with Patton and others) advocated a single thrust into Berlin and to capture it before the Russians. Ike remained steadfastly opposed.
First of all, he considered Berlin strictly a political target - its capture served no military purpose. His objective was to end the war as soon as possible and to do so required the destruction of the German military. Berlin's capture had political and psychological advantages, but those couldn't match in importance the strictly military objective of seeking and destroying the German war machine.
Secondly, the cost of capturing Berlin would be exceptionally high - perhaps 100,000 casualties. If the Russians were so anxious to take Berlin, let them have it and suffer the costs. Eisenhower thought the potential casualty rate far exceeded the strategic value of the city.
Lastly, there was Yalta. At the Yalta Conference, it was agreed that the Russians would occupy Berlin. The city was well within the assigned Soviet zone of occupation. Eisenhower felt we should live up to the agreement and that doing so would go far in preserving a civil post war relationship with the Soviet Union. Conversely, Churchill foresaw the Soviets as a threat and considered it naïve to even entertain the possibility of benevolent coexistence.
Eisenhower was right to worry about the casualty rate, but seemingly blind to the future politically strategic importance of Berlin. He'd be forever irked by the criticism and debate his decision aroused and perhaps, in his heart, came to question its wisdom. He certainly grew to be very defensive about the subject once the Soviets initiated their blockade of Berlin in June of 1948. It was just as he started to settle in as the new president of Columbia University that the Americans and British began the Berlin airlift.
Berlin reemerged as an issue during Eisenhower's presidency when Soviet Premier Khrushchev began pressuring the West to move troops out of West Berlin, threatening to go to war if the West didn't comply. While never seriously considering Khrushchev's demands and very willing to call his bluff, Ike did invite the Premier to America to discuss the crisis. The discussions were quickly overshadowed by a new crisis - the shooting down of the American U-2 spy plane over Soviet airspace.
How would Eisenhower have reacted as president to the Russians building a wall through Berlin? Most likely he would never have had to face the threat. The Russians would never have dared attempt such a blatant provocation with the former WWII Supreme Commander running the show. They'd have feared the American response. But Kennedy was young and untried and Khrushchev felt he had intimidated him easily enough in Vienna earlier that summer. Kennedy's response was to visit West Berlin and bolster its morale with his emotional proclamation, "Ich bin ein Berliner." Inspiring and memorable perhaps, but the wall remained standing for the next 28 years.
I imagine it must not have been easy growing up as the son of a supreme commander and president. Nor in the shadow of an older brother who dies tragically at the age of three 20 months before you were born.
John compounded the difficulty by deciding to follow in his father's footsteps, attending West Point and intending to make the army his career. He graduated from West Point on D-Day, June 6, 1944. His class was rushed through so they could join the war effort.
John made it to England as a second lieutenant right before the end of the war. He expressed how uncomfortable it could be spending time at HQ with his Dad - the lowest ranking officer in the Army alongside the highest ranking. Saluting was particularly confusing - John having to initiate a salute to every officer he met while each of those officers having to initiate a salute to his father.
You get the impression from what John has written that there was a military-like distance between himself and his father. Sometimes it was purely physical - his Dad stationed overseas while he remained stateside with his Mom. Just as often though, it was emotional. "I am certain I was born standing at attention," is how he begins his autobiography.
John fought in Korea and taught English at West Point. He left the Service after 19 years to serve as an assistant staff secretary to his father during his presidency. During the retirement years, he assisted his Dad in the writing of his presidential memoirs, editing and researching. He would offer his dad editorial advice which sometimes went under-appreciated:
According to Stephen Ambrose, John strongly suggested that his father blame Allen Dulles and the CIA in the book for the U-2 incident. Ike was reluctant, feeling that doing so would make it appear as though he was unaware of what was going on in his own administration. When John became insistent, Ike pounded the table and reminded his son, "Damn it, I'm writing this book!"
After the failure of the Bay of Pigs invasion, Kennedy blamed the Eisenhower administration for the fiasco. John recommended to his dad that he call a press conference and defend himself with the line, "I don't run no bad invasions." Although a clever allusion to the success of Overlord, Ike decided against using it.
John went on to be Ambassador to Belgium under Nixon and a very respected military historian, writing books on Anzio, the Battle of the Bulge, the Mexican War, and about his Dad's relationship with a host of military and civilian leaders during the war.
While his four children have visited fairly often, John hasn't been to the site in 20 years. Every so often though, you'll see him interviewed on the History Channel or PBS. He was in the news back in 2004 when he announced that for the very first time he was going to vote Democratic in the presidential election. His daughter Susan not only voted Democrat in 2008, but spoke at the Democratic National Convention.
Somehow I think that Ike, although always a proud Republican, would have understood.
Happy birthday, John.
IKE crew members have been coming out to do volunteer work at the site for 16 years now. When they're in port, they come out as many as four times a year. They typically stay for three days and work on projects from barn painting to fence building to removing exotic vegetation. And they have a chance to learn about their ship's namesake.
The USS Eisenhower, the US Navy's third nuclear powered aircraft carrier and second of the Nimitz-class super carriers, was commissioned in 1977. It returned to its home port in Norfolk from its last deployment to the Middle East last July. It can carry 90 aircraft and is home to over 5500 sailors.
Crew members love coming out to the President's farm and relish the opportunity to be off the ship for several days. And the park appreciates hosting them. Not only to have them work on projects that the park's under-manned staff can't get to, but just for the chance to interact with them. They're always a fine group of men and women who make you proud of our country's armed services.
The crew not only works while they're here. They tour the site as well as the battlefield. They visit the USS Eisenhower Room at the Adams County Library and check out the ten foot model of their ship on display. They go to be interviewed on the local radio station and talk with students in area classrooms. The American Legion hosts them for dinner or provides a bag lunch. Other businesses and organizations including the Dobbin House, Artillery Ridge Campground, Gettysburg Tours, and the Gettysburg Foundation provide the crew with meals, accommodations, and tours.
The ship likes to promote its association with Eisenhower. There's an Eisenhower museum on board. And one of the past Command Master Chiefs, well versed in Eisenhower history, would always rouse the sailors with an hour long lecture on Ike before they left on their Gettysburg trip.
When the ship has hosted Family Day in the past, park staff and local supporters have been invited. We have the opportunity to spend the day on the ship touring, eating, and watching as planes take off and land and drop bombs in the ocean. While watching the action on deck several years back, I commented to a sailor beside me how cool it was for us to watch all this, but that he must consider it fairly boring since he experiences it on a regular basis. He told me he had been stationed on the ship for well over a year and this was the first time he had witnessed planes taking off and landing. Normally whenever they do, he's manning his station below deck. So he was as excited as we were to be able to take it all in.
Eisenhower NHS is very proud of it relationship with IKE. We'll see the crew again in November. Their next deployment, most likely back to the Middle East, is scheduled for the summer of 2012.
The presidential approval rating has become a staple of American political life. The American public may know few facts and figures about a president, but they are acquainted with his popularity rating, the latest one guaranteed to have been broadcast across the media.
The presidential approval ratings were introduced in the late 1930s by George Gallup as a way of gauging support for a president. FDR was the first to be rated. The rating measures the percentage of those who approve of a president and his performance.
G. W. Bush at 90% is the highest of all presidents', but then his 25% is the second lowest. Only Truman's at 22% is lower. However, Truman also has the third highest at 87%. Bush Senior has the second at 89%. Each of the three highest ratings came at times of war and national crisis.
Eisenhower ranks as one of the country's most popular presidents. His average approval rating is 65%, second only to Kennedy's at 70%. Ike's highest throughout his two terms stood at 79%, his lowest, during the 1958 recession, at 48%. One might argue though that Eisenhower had it easy and may not have really earned his high rating. After all, he served during one of the most prosperous decades in American history. But don't forget - it was also one of the most tension-filled. He managed to steer America clear of armed conflict during the height of the Cold War. No mean feat. And you can argue that it was his policies that contributed to the nation's economic prosperity.
And like today, there was no national or even inter-party consensus. The Republican Party was divided then as well. It was the conservative wing of his own party that drove the moderate Eisenhower crazy - much more so than the liberal Democrats.
The foundation of Ike's popularity rested on his status as well liked and respected war hero in whom Americans had great confidence. The country felt they well knew the man they elected into office in 1952 and their faith in him never wavered all that much. At least compared to most other presidents.
These days our confidence in our elected officials dissipates very quickly. The proof is in the ratings - both presidential and congressional.
It's not a historical reference you come across very often anymore, even if you are an Eisenhower - Cold War history junkie/scholar. But I encountered a mention of it in an article last week and the details of the Project, long buried deep in my memory bank, suddenly began to resurface.
Shortly after assuming office, Eisenhower met in the Solarium Room in the White House with his Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles to discuss the development of a national strategy that would boldly face up to the security threat posed by the Soviet Union. Yet at the same time it would keep military spending in check and fall short of drawing us into war .
Eisenhower proposed establishing a trio of task forces made up of an array of military and civilian national security experts. Each team was to examine in detail a different approach to an American national security policy: 1) Containment - maintain the status quo by discouraging the spread of communism through a variety of flexible strategies, 2) A Line in the Sand - a more aggressive containment policy in which the US would go to war and threaten the use of nuclear weapons if the Soviets attempted to advance beyond the Eastern bloc., and 3) Roll Back - To not only halt Soviet advances but to put the Soviets on the defensive and take back Soviet-held territory. After weeks of deliberation, all the task forces would meet with the President and present their conclusions.
The effort was to be named Project Solarium after the room in which Eisenhower hatched the idea.
On July 16, 1953, all the task forces met with Eisenhower and presented their summations. Eisenhower listened intently, then rose and spoke extemporaneously for 45 minutes. Without having taken a single note, he proceeded to, in plain direct language, summarize and assess the different viewpoints, commenting on the strengths and weaknesses of each. He stated that it was vital that the policy chosen should win the support of America's allies, not increase the risk of war, and not be too costly.
He chose containment.
For me, what is most memorable about that last meeting is George Kennan's remarks. Kennan was the best known and most influential of the Cold War policy experts taking part in Solarium. He said of Eisenhower's summation and assessment that it "demonstrated his intellectual ascendancy over every man in the room."
Project Solarium was an approach to national security policy based on bipartisanship and expert analysis. It was well thought out, thoroughly debated, and coolly reasoned. And it was a product of one president's leadership and vision.
It was an approach recent presidents might have done well to consider.
They rank as one of the site's biggest pests. And the staff blames them for everything.
In a way, the staff's dislike of groundhogs emulates that of Eisenhower's. President Eisenhower loathed them as any good farmer would. Farmers have good reason to detest them. They devour crops and dig burrows that can break the legs of cattle in the pasture or undermine the foundations of a barn.
However, I've been informed by some visitors that ground hogs really aren't deserving of their negative reputation. They're simply just horribly misunderstood. But I have to say, there are a host of good reasons why many of us here aren't overly fond of the creatures:
1. They dig their burrows one after another after another along the side of the show barn, huge gaping, cavernous affairs with secondary exits and entrances that come up into the barn stalls. You can see their footprints meandering everywhere across the sand covered stall floors, evidence of their evening and early morning carousing.
2. They devour the new shoots of corn trying to grow in the site's vegetable garden maintained by volunteers. We've gone through two plantings now, each completely wiped out in succession by the rapacious rodents. Actually, there is no evidence that the perpetrator is a groundhog. But he's certainly the most likely suspect and blame has thus been duly assigned.
3. Then there's the culprit who snacks on whatever flowers that have freshly bloomed along the front porch of Eisenhower NHS headquarters. One day a colorful array of blossoms, the next just a collection of bare stems each with its former flower head snipped off.
4. Lastly, there's the fresh pile indelicately deposited on the HQ porch every week throughout the spring. We all know it's the ground hog. If you arrive at the site early enough in the morning, you can see him speed-waddle under the porch as you approach. We're convinced he leaves his deposits right there in the middle of the porch deliberately, an act of spite in retaliation for us daring to disturb his morning constitutional.
We have a resource management crew who set up traps to catch and relocate the critters. There's a trap near the garden, one near the barn, and one behind HQ. Occasionally one is caught, but in a matter of days a new individual takes over the territory and begins digging, devouring, and depositing anew.
With so few, if any, local predators remaining, what's to prevent them from taking over the entire east coast I sometimes wonder.
I grew up rooting for the groundhog in Caddyshack and enjoyed the way he popped out of his burrow and tauntingly danced to Kenny Loggins' I'm Alright. But now, I'm much more inclined to sympathize with Carl Spackler.
Groundhogs - they are pretty annoying. Ike would certainly agree.
Oh... and the first thing that Ike and Carl have in common? Of course, it's ...
It's not hard to imagine how entertaining it was for the rangers to stand around and listen as these agents shared their "war" stories throughout the evening.
By far, the president they talked most about was LBJ. Suffice to say, he was a very colorful character. So colorful I can't repeat any of the stories… The president they seemed most reluctant to talk about was JFK, for obvious reasons. He was their one failure. And his extracurricular activities probably had them involved in some very compromising / uncomfortable situations.
The three presidents the agents were most fond of were Ford, Reagan, and Eisenhower. Ford and Reagan for the same reason - they were both so very down-to-earth. Reagan enjoyed spending more time shooting the breeze with the seamstresses and janitors in the White House than he did with his cabinet members. And they liked Ike. It was because he was so accommodating. He went out of his way to make sure the agents' job wasn't any more difficult than it really had to be because he saw these men as soldiers just desperately trying to do their duty.
Also there that evening were two of the Eisenhower granddaughters. I believe it was Susan and Anne. Some of the agents at the reunion had been assigned to protect the four Eisenhower grandkids during their grandfather's presidency. One agent claimed that little Susan had a big crush on him when she was 10 or so and he was keen on seeing how she turned out 40 years later.
Agents typically weren't too thrilled about working the grandkids detail - they called it the diaper detail. Nevertheless, the agents were excited to see the granddaughters that evening. Susan and Ann, in turn, were very gracious in extending their appreciation to the agents for having endured the diaper detail so many years ago.
This summer Eisenhower NHS is once again offering the Hike with Ike, a walk through historic downtown Gettysburg to explore Eisenhower's life and times in the community from his days as a cadet in 1915 to his death in 1969. The walk begins at 7:15 pm at the gates of Gettysburg College on the corner of North Washington and Water Streets. And it's still free of charge.
The walks are typically eye opening for those who attend. Today the Battle far overshadows any memory of Eisenhower in Gettysburg. But there was a time, when Eisenhower called Gettysburg home, that the President was a bigger tourist attraction than the Battlefield. He brought record tourist traffic into town in the 50s. One merchant said he was better for business than another battle would have been.
On the Hike with Ike you'll discover there is yet much of Eisenhower still reflected in Gettysburg. That is, if you know where to look and who to talk to. His life and times are reflected in many of the buildings throughout town, as well as in the memory of many people who still live here. Each Thursday night, a park ranger strives to bring that Eisenhower past to life.
The Hike covers about a mile or so of downtown and the Gettysburg College campus. There are stops at the frat house that Ike and his family called home in the summer of 1918 when he was commander of Camp Colt, the hotel where he and his fellow West Point cadets spent the night when visiting the battlefield, the building that became the presidential press room after his heart attack, his presidential office in downtown and retirement office at the college, his place of worship, the school that served as the army hospital during the Spanish Influenza epidemic…
The walks are a pleasant change of pace for the interpretive staff. You're conducting them in the cool of the evening, in the bustle of downtown, and there's opportunity to extemporize between stops. You can riff about the Varsity Barbershop where you get your hair cut - a real, manly barbershop with hunting magazines strewn across the coffee table and football pennants on the walls, the kind of barbershop Ike would have appreciated if he actually still needed to get his hair cut. Or about the renovated Majestic Theater where Ike and Mamie used to see movies and now is a performing arts center where Marilyn Monroe and Johnny Depp impersonators pulled up in a limousine for the grand opening several years ago and Marilyn posed for Polaroid photos with all the men in attendance, giving them a big kiss on the cheek and how you can't find your photo any longer and you think your wife threw it away. Or about Ernie's Texas lunch, one of the town's veteran eating establishments, and how when you first rolled into town having come all the way from Texas (and Denison, TX is Ike's birth place by the way), it was just about the first thing you laid eyes on in town and it made you think, damn, you just can't escape Texas. Or about the Tiber, a shallow creek that runs through Gettysburg College campus across from Ike's old residence, named the Tiber because of all the toga parties hosted over the years by the frat houses along its banks and how it flooded the entire campus one summer back in 1996, the year of the Big Flood.
But then, it's sometimes a challenge conducting the Hike with Ike, particularly during Motorcycle Week when hundreds of Harleys are rumbling by at high decibels. And occasionally you have to race approaching ghost tour groups for sitting space on the Presbyterian Church or County Library steps. And there may be times that your Hikers start out claiming to be bitterly disappointed because it's the Hike With Ike and you obviously are not Ike. You don't even look like Ike.
Nevertheless, we heartily urge you to come join us on the Hike with Ike every Thursday night at 7:15 pm, June 16 - August 11. The walk takes approximately an hour and 45 minutes. It's informative, it's fun, and it's free.
President Eisenhower would have enjoyed the proximity of the Battlefield reenactment to his farm. Might have even sat on a lawn chair in the front yard with a pair of binoculars and taken in what he could of the fighting.
Ike loved Civil War history and particularly prided himself on his knowledge of the Battle of Gettysburg. He spent many an hour walking the Battlefield and showing it off to guests, especially his old compatriots from World War II. One of his most well documented tours was with Charles De Gaulle of France in April of 1960.
Of course, General De Gaulle had been in command of the Free French forces during the war and, it's fair to say, often a pain in General Eisenhower's backside. And now he had come to visit as President of France to discuss the upcoming Paris summit.
The two presidents and former generals had a grand time touring the battlefield. The pair of seventy year olds strode about in their suit coats, bounding over the stone walls, and maintaining such a healthy clip that their aids had to scramble to keep up. The two delightedly shared their assessments of the battle as their aids whispered urgently that they were falling behind schedule.
De Gaulle was impressed with the Whitworth cannons that were along Confederate Ave. back then, closely inspecting them and running his hands along the barrels. At the Virginia Memorial, De Gaulle remarked, "Those crazy, gallant southerners! How could they have charged into that wall of fire!" He later agreed with Ike that Lee should have never ordered the assault on the center of the Union line on the 3rd day, "The south had to be a wily fox to win, not a charging bull."
De Gaulle's final pronouncement on the battle before departing for Camp David with the President was: "Victory often goes to the army that makes the least mistakes, not the most brilliant plans."
Both old generals were very pleased with their tour. Eisenhower commented on how impressed he was with De Gaulle's knowledge of the battle. He said that De Gaulle knew the battle like a West Point cadet.
Ultimately, the Paris Summit they discussed while in Gettysburg accomplished none of the hoped for objectives. In fact, it was a miserable failure. But the two had certainly reached total agreement in their assessments of the battle here at Gettysburg.
Whenever I see crowds of visitors surveying the battleground from the vantage point of Little Round Top, or tracing the path of Garnett's Confederates through the high grass with a ranger, I like to recall those two old generals from a later war traversing those same fields, critiquing the commanders and marveling at the courage of the common soldier. And undoubtedly doing so from the perspective of soldiers who had seen and experienced much the same themselves.
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Last updated: February 26, 2015