The Ike Blog (Jan. - Apr. 2011)

The Official Blog of Eisenhower National Historic Site

POSTED: April 26, 2011 POSTED BY: John Joyce
Spring is impressively colorful on President Eisenhower's Farm, and in Pennsylvania. Take a look at the photo of the farm's front lane at the top of the page. I think that many of us who have lived here for awhile don't appreciate how colorful.

Fall is as well. I didn't appreciate how colorful until I returned from having lived out West for years. So few trees turned color in Texas, that Texans would travel hundreds of miles to visit a small state park in the middle of the state whose claim to fame was the 70 or so maple trees that turned gold in October. The park was a madhouse for several weeks as southerners trampled along the creek to marvel at the fall colors. After residing in Texas for a couple years, my wife and I succumbed to the allure ourselves and made the long trip to see the maples. For one who grew up in the Midwest and went to school in the East, a mere 70 gold leafed maples somehow didn't quite justify the mobs that came to worship them.

But springs in Pennsylvania are even more impressive. Neither the Midwest nor the West can compare to this area for springtime color - the redbud and dogwood as you drive the battle field roads, the delicately flowered ornamental pear trees lining the street of downtown Gettysburg, the variety of pink and white blossomed fruit trees in neighborhood yards, and of course the apple blossoms throughout the hill country orchards.

The Eisenhower Farm has an interesting array of brightly flowered trees and shrubs that bathe the grounds in brilliant hues, erupting in successive waves as spring progresses. Many of the trees were given to the President as gifts specifically for his farm.

First it's the yellow of the forsythia, then the dark pink of the cherry trees and the big pinkish white blossoms of the magnolias in the backyard. Most impressive is the swath of purplish pink erupting from the flowering crabapple (above photo) that line the entire front lane from the Secret Service guard shack to the barn. The crabapples alternate down the lane with the Norway spruce that were gifts to the president from each state's Republican party.

Then there are the apple and peach blossoms in the President's small orchard. Although beautiful in the spring, the orchard was a disappointment to the President. Every harvest time, Mrs. Wetzel who was the president's farm manager in the mid 60s, would present the Eisenhowers with a fruit basket full of apples from her husband's orchards in apple country north of town. Every year the President would become upset noting the difference in size between the Wetzel apples and those scrawny specimens from his orchard. He'd round up his farm hands and demand to know why his trees couldn't produce apples as equally formidable. He suspected they obviously weren't being sufficiently watered and fertilized and sprayed. The real problem, however, was most likely the slight difference in soil and climate.

There are the dogwoods clustered in the front yard and lilacs next to the backyard terrace. And then the last to bloom are the catalpas along the fence line near the Quonset hut and back lanes. The catalpas are the most asked about plants on the farm. Most visitors have never encountered them before. Their huge leaves, generously sized white blossoms, and extra long bean pods provoke curiosity. Old timers refer to them as Indian cigar trees because as kids they used to smoke the cigar sized pods.

It's not only the catalpas that generate questions from visitors. When in bloom, many of the trees do. Thus, spring can be a season of occasional unease and discomfort among the rangers. It's fair to say, taxonomy is not the forte of most rangers on site and from one season to the next they'll forget the names of various trees and shrubs. The one I have a problem remembering is the "popcorn flower" bush, a shrub that produces small, puffy, popcorn kernel-like blossoms. I have to ask the groundskeeper every spring to remind me what its real name is. Inevitably, I'll be quizzed about it incessantly for the several weeks it remains in bloom. In fact while it's on my mind, I should give him a call right now………………………………………………………..

Spirea prunifolia! That's it... spirea prunifolia.

So with spirea prunifoila emblazoned in my memory I can go confidently forth and exude an air of taxonomic authority for the remainder of the spring.

Spring is a great time to visit the farm. If you see me while you're there do me the favor of asking me to identify those strange popcorn like flowers. I would guess I have approximately two weeks to proudly show off my botanical expertise before once again spirea prunifolia fades from memory.

POSTED: April 21, 2011 POSTED BY: John Joyce
Eisenhower NHS has a peculiar Junior Ranger program.

I only mention this because on Saturday, April 23, the National Park Service celebrates National Junior Ranger Day and encourages kids to visit and participate in Junior Ranger programs offered by parks throughout the country. Nearly all parks provide a Junior Ranger booklet with activities pertaining to their unique cultural and natural history. Completion earns a Junior Ranger badge and certificate and, on this Saturday, there's an extra added 2011 National Junior Ranger Day patch.

The Junior Ranger program at President Eisenhower's farm is not exactly a Junior RANGER program. It's actually a Junior SECRET SERVICE AGENT program. Kids 7-12 receive a Junior Secret Service Agent Training Manual when visiting the site. Upon completing Secret Service activities that include operating a Secret Service radio and using binoculars to locate suspicious objects, trainees earn a Junior Secret Service badge and certificate. And this Saturday they will also be awarded the special National Junior Ranger Day patch.

So why doesn't Eisenhower NHS toe the line and offer a standard Junior RANGER program? Since the US Secret Service played such an integral role in the life of the Eisenhowers here at their Gettysburg farm, it seemed both very appropriate and convenient to focus a junior program on Secret Service operations. In fact, as you walk the grounds of the President's farm today, you still encounter much of the Secret Service equipment that was tucked away years ago in the nooks and crannies of the site: closed circuit TV cameras, electric eye beams, spot lights, guard shacks… You can even check out the Secret Service office equipped just as it was when used by the agents. One of the training manual activities is to locate and identify the security equipment with the use of a site map.

Also on Saturday, park rangers will present talks on the Secret Service at 11:15 am and 2:15 pm. Over the years, the Eisenhower NHS staff has conducted interviews with agents who once worked on the Eisenhower detail. The interviews provide a wealth of information about operations on the farm and the agents' relationship with the Eisenhower family. With the benefit of such revealing sources, the rangers are able to share with you fascinating details about the agents, their protection duties, and the security problems they faced.

So we invite you to come visit the President's farm on April 23, National Junior Ranger Day. Even though we don't exactly have a Junior RANGER program. But we'll make it up to you by regaling you with fascinating insights into the workings of an agency that, for most of us, has always seemed rather… secret. And if you're 7 to 12 years of age you'll have the opportunity to interrogate suspicious looking staff members (and God knows there's no shortage of those on site), radio the Agent-in-Charge, and become a Junior SECRET SERVICE AGENT.

POSTED: April 19, 2011 POSTED BY: John Joyce
I conducted a couple civil rights programs for the local middle school today. Both focused on President Eisenhower's role in desegregation and opened with a discussion of the integration of professional sports. When I flashed a photo of Jackie Robinson on the screen, nearly every student in the classroom recognized him. They couldn't identify Willie Mays or my childhood hero, Ernie Banks, but they knew Jackie Robinson. And that's heartening.

Last week, April 15, was the date that Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947 and became the first African American to play major league baseball. In 10 seasons with the Brooklyn Dodgers, he played in 6 all star games, won the rookie of the year award, and was named National League MVP in 1949. He was elected to the Hall Of Fame in 1962.

For Robinson, playing in the majors was a delicate predicament. He had to quietly and diplomatically endure much of the prejudice he encountered everyday on and off the field. To battle back might have so alienated white fans and the baseball establishment, that it could cost future black players the opportunity to play in the majors.

But Jackie wasn't afraid to share his opinions on civil rights with President Eisenhower. He often bridled at Eisenhower's seeming reluctance to aggressively support desegregation. In 1957 when Eisenhower's civil rights bill was watered down by Congress before passing, he sent a telegram to the White House expressing his disappointment. And in 1958 when Eisenhower urged the black community to be patient, he again wrote to the President:

I was sitting in the audience at the Summit Meeting of Negro Leaders yesterday when you said we must have patience. On hearing you say this, I felt like standing up and saying, "Oh no! Not again."

I respectfully remind you sir, that we have been the most patient of all people. When you said we must have self respect, I wondered how we could have self respect and remain patient considering the treatment accorded us through the years…

As the chief executive of the nation, I respectfully suggest that you unwittingly crush the spirit of freedom in negroes by constantly urging forbearance and give hope to those pro-segregation leaders like Governor Faubus who would take from us even those freedoms we now enjoy

Upon retiring from baseball, Jackie Robinson became a corporate executive and a civil rights leader. Sadly, he was criticized by young black power advocates during the 1960s for being too accommodating to whites. They seem to have forgotten or failed to ever recognize the courage and fortitude Robinson displayed when facing the constant abuse as a lone black man playing white baseball. Fans regularly taunted him - screaming, cursing, pelting him with objects. Fellow ball players set out to deliberately hurt him - spiking him when sliding into second, hurling the ball at his head. He couldn't stay in many of the same hotels or eat in the same restaurants as his teammates. He received death threats. Yet with great dignity he persevered.

Jackie Robinson died in 1972 at a mere 53 years of age.

April 15 is now known as Jackie Robinson Day. Every major league player, coach, and umpire wears Jackie's number 42 on that day in honor of the man.

It's good to know that both Major League Baseball and middle school kids have not forgotten him.

POSTED: April 14, 2011 POSTED BY: John Joyce

OCTOBER 11, 1942
Company A, 116th Infantry Regiment along with the rest of the 29th Division is among the first American units to arrive in England to begin training for the long awaited invasion of northern Europe.

JUNE 6, 1944
Company A, 116th Infantry Regiment lands at Omaha beach in the first assault wave of the D-Day invasion. The company loses 96% of its men in the first 15 minutes of the landing. By nightfall, only 8 of the company's 155 men to take part in the assault are able to report present and ready for duty.

APRIL 16-17, 2011
This weekend Eisenhower NHS hosts a Pre D-Day WWII Event presented by the 29th Infantry Division Living History Group. Members portray soldiers of Co. A, 116th Infantry Regiment as they train in England for the upcoming D-Day invasion…

For Company A, as well as the other American troops, training for the invasion was intensive. They were drilled in:
How to use a variety of weapons and explosives, American and German, including machine guns, mortars, various grenades, satchel charges, Bangalore torpedoes…

How to crawl through, cut, and demolish barbed wire while under live fire.

How to board and unload from various landing crafts as well as both American and British ships.

How to identify planes and tanks, to respond to a gas attack, to attack with artillery, to use bayonets to probe for mines, how to conduct an assault of a town, of woods, of hilly terrain…

Training proceeded in phases. First individually on obstacle courses, and then in teams. Eventually exercises were conducted on the company level and soon coordinated with the entire battalion.

A month prior to the launch of the invasion, troops were moved to assembly areas and confined there. These areas were referred to as sausage camps because they appeared to be the shape of sausages when viewed on a map. Here the men were briefed and made the final preparations for the assault.

The troops did have free time, and efforts were made to keep them entertained. Theaters were set up in tents and first run movies were played with free popcorn. Gambling was a popular activity for killing time and so were sports. Footballs were initially distributed among the troops but were disposed of when overly rough play resulted in a rash of broken bones. They were replaced by bats and gloves. Men who returned badly wounded, missing arms and legs, recalled it was the last time they would ever enjoy playing the national pastime.

The food in the sausage camps was a vast improvement over what the men had been previously fed while in England. The food had been awful even by army standards - little in the way of fresh eggs or meat, and sack lunches comprised of "spam and jam" sandwiches. However, there was plenty of flatulence- inducing cabbage and brussel sprouts which led Eisenhower to refer to WWII as "the fartingest war in history."

But once confined to the sausage camps, they were served steaks and pork chops and fresh eggs and lemon meringue pie and ice cream. The sudden improvement of their daily fare led the men to joke that they were being fattened up for the kill.

Gen. Eisenhower spent much of his time in the months prior to the invasion inspecting the camps and talking with the men. When the men finally boarded the ships and landing craft for the actual assault, they were each handed a copy of Eisenhower's Order of the Day:

Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force:
You are about to embark on the Great Crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty loving people everywhere march with you...,
it began.

Many a soldier saved a copy of the order and kept it with them until the end of the fighting. For many, it remained their most cherished memento of the war.

In their briefings, units were led to believe that the assault on the beaches would be a cakewalk, that the German defenders and pillboxes and artillery would be obliterated by a massive bombardment , first by over a 1000 bombers and then by battleships.

For the troops landing at Omaha Beach, particularly CO. A, 116th Regiment, it was far from a cakewalk.

Sgt. Thomas Valance of Company A remembered how the ramps of their Higgins boats dropped and the Germans opened up with a murderous barrage of machine gun and mortar fire. He struggled, overloaded and exhausted, through the rising tide while men fell all around him. At one point he raised his arm to maintain his balance and was shot through the hand and then the knuckle. Then he was hit in the thigh by a bullet that shattered his hip bone, and hit again, and again. He crawled up the beach and collapsed behind the sea wall and spent the remainder of the day trapped in that spot while the bodies of his buddies washed ashore. "I was the only live body amongst so many of my friends, all of whom were dead, in many cases very severely blown to pieces." (Sgt. Valance's account taken from D-Day, The Climactic Battle of World War II by Stephen Ambrose)

This weekend we invite you to visit with the men of Company A at their sausage camp and watch as they train and prepare for the D-Day assault. Included will be demonstrations of beach assault tactics, boat team drills, and Omaha Beach briefings. On display will be weapons, equipment and replicas of the sand tables and maps used to brief the soldiers.

For an event schedule and further information see the Pre D-Day Event press release.

POSTED: April 12, 2011 POSTED BY: John Joyce
Many have probably forgotten how, 60 years ago, it ignited such fear and panic throughout the country.

It was on this date, April 12, that in 1955 the news of the successful polio vaccine trials was announced and the nationwide vaccination program began. President Eisenhower met with Dr. Jonas Salk on April 22 to congratulate him for the development of the vaccine. Few had ever seen the President so emotional as when he thanked Dr. Salk for his discovery, one that would be of benefit to families all over the world, including the President's own.

Eisenhower would eventually be criticized for not developing a government plan for distributing the vaccine. Doing so would have left the federal government vulnerable to accusations of socializing medicine. The administration preferred that the drug companies handle it on their own. But when the lack of adequate government planning/involvement led to high prices and short supplies, the President had to quickly change course. In August of 1955, he signed legislation for Congress to appropriate funds to help states and local communities acquire and administer the vaccine.

I just finished reading Philip Roth's novel, Nemesis, a story of how panic gripped a Jewish neighborhood in Newark during the summer of 1944 when its children started to contract this mysterious new disease called polio and then began, one by one, to die. The novel serves as a reminder of how devastating the disease was, not only to the health of the nation, but to its morale:

Americans were stricken with fear and helplessness not knowing what caused it, or when and where it would strike, or who it would next paralyze or confine to an iron lung, or kill.

Americans were plagued with suspicion that it was the ethnic kids from the next neighborhood over that were spreading the disease, or that the summer playground supervisor was responsible because he allowed the kids to get overheated while playing baseball, or it was the child down the street with the limp who was contagious and infecting all his classmates at school.

Americans were roiling in anger and frustration because the government and the medical community could and would do nothing to stop it.

No surprise then that Jonas Salk was hailed as a hero.

When I was growing up, every school had at least one kid, and often several, who had been stricken by polio. In my class it was Debbie Quinn. I can still see her poised at the edge of the parking lot with her enigmatic half smile watching us as we raced back and forth playing tag between the parked cars after school.

I always sensed she was notably different than other 4th graders - she possessed a sort of quiet dignity and an incomprehensible delight in all that was extremely ordinary. But it was her leg braces and crutches that defined her. Tall and thin, she stood leaning forward with shoulders hunched, hips jutting to the left, her body buttressed upright with its heavy metal scaffolding.

I didn't talk much to Debbie Quinn. Never took the time to ask her, "Are you doing okay?" or "How long do you think you'll have to keep wearing your braces?" or "I can't eat both these Hostess Snowballs. Do you want one?" or "Do you think Sister Marie sorta looks like Hoss Cartwright?" Neither did I make an effort to carry her books or to spend a moment with her on the playground as she watched while others jumped rope, ran around screaming, or did whatever other senseless things the 4th grade girls would do at lunchtime.

But then she was so self sufficient and assured. She packed her books and lunch in a plaid book bag that she wore on her back, strapped with a cord diagonally across the chest. Never in need of assistance or company. Seemingly so content and composed in her isolation, and radiating a gracefulness that belied the symptoms of her disease.

I remember an afternoon towards the end of the school year when Sister Marie marched our class out to the playing field to engage us in a softball game. I and three buddies decided not to participate and instead commenced to chicken fight in the outfield. Tommy Kawalis rode on my shoulders as we charged our opponents and repeatedly knocked them to the ground. Sister Marie evidently disapproved of our roughhousing and chose to express her displeasure with the softball. She heaved it from home plate at about 70 mph and hit me smack in the head out in centerfield, sending me flying 10 feet. As I lay stunned, I could hear Sister's great pounding footsteps drawing near as she approached to finish me off. My compatriots had scattered, leaving me to my fate. But when I opened my eyes, it was Debbie Quinn leaning over me with her reassuring half smile asking, "Are you okay?" In the face of a rampaging Sister Marie, only Debbie Quinn had the courage to offer her sympathy.

Oddly, of all my classmates in grade school, it's Debbie Quinn I most vividly recall, trudging about with her heavily armored legs, forever in my mind the personification of childhood innocence and grace.

POSTED: April 7 POSTED BY: John Joyce
What makes Eisenhower NHS relatively unique among National Park sites is the time period it reflects. The 1950s - 60s Cold War period is a niche that the site shares with very few others in the National Park Service.

That its history is so contemporary is what makes it, in part, such an interesting historical home to interpret. So many of the site's visitors have, in a sense, shared its history: They served under Eisenhower in WWII, Eisenhower got them out of Korea in 1953, Ike was the first president they ever voted for…

And they have stories to share:

They shook Ike's hand at a campaign parade in Indiana. They stood for hours along the railroad tracks so they could see the President's funeral train pass by. Their family would drive by the White House at night and see the lone light on upstairs and Dad would explain that it was the President doing some painting before he went to bed.

They can remember standing in the backyard in the summer and their father pointing at a small moving light in the night sky and marveling at how it was actually a Russian made satellite - Sputnik. Or how they'd dive under their desks and cover their heads at school when the siren went off - just another regularly scheduled duck and cover drill that prepped them for a Russian nuclear attack.

One of the site's volunteers used to reminisce how as a young man he once gathered with other locals on the sidewalk to watch the 1952 Republican National Convention on a TV in the storefront window of the downtown hardware store. This was a small town in New York where very few had TVs. To watch the convention, the very first to be televised, one's only recourse was to conduct your TV viewing at Hirschfield's Hardware.

We had one visitor several years back who mentioned that he had come to the President's farm back in the 50s while working for the communication division of the White House. The Secret Service wanted him to install a radio antenna on the barn. He asked the President for permission and Ike responded, "Sure, go ahead. It's just an old barn." But he remembered how the President then paused and said, "Well…… I guess I better ask Mamie first." He was left with the impression that at the Eisenhower farm, Mamie was the General's general.

I have my own hazy Eisenhower memory. I can remember the I LIKE IKE yard signs up and down the block in our Chicago suburban neighborhood. This must have been during the 1956 campaign and I was very young. There was only one VOTE FOR STEVENSON sign on the entire block and that was on the Beckler's lawn right across the street from our house. Twenty years later I discovered that Adlai Stevenson had owned a farm in the next town over. Even though he was a neighbor and our state's governor, it was apparent that everyone but the Becklers was voting for Ike.

I had at the time only a vague sense that everyone was going to vote for a new president. I 'm sure I didn't know precisely what a president was. Obviously though, it was something analogous to a king. But instead of a crown, the prerequisite for being one was having a bald head. My logic was as follows:

Eisenhower was bald.
Stevenson was bald.
Therefore, presidents were bald.

After reaching that conclusion, I became confused when noting how many bald heads there were at
9 o' clock Mass on Sunday morning. Were they too all presidents? Or soon to become presidents?

Kennedy and Nixon set me straight four years later.

We invite you to visit the Eisenhower farm and take a step back into that simpler time when Elvis was king, hula hoops were the rage, everyone loved Lucy, and presidents were bald. And all we had to worry about was nuclear annihilation.

POSTED: April 4, 2011 POSTED BY: John Joyce
Saturday was the opening of trout season in Pennsylvania. Fishermen were lined up shoulder to shoulder along the Yellow Breeches and many other steams throughout the state.

I've always been attracted to fly fishing, at least ever since I saw the movie, A River Runs Through It. The way the fishing line danced so smoothly and effortlessly through the air as the father and two sons cast their flies in the rushing mountain streams of Montana - it was like ballet. Or tai-chi - a fisherman's version.

Not long after seeing the movie, I took a class in fly fishing. I promptly spent the next two trout seasons cursing in the great outdoors while vainly trying to extract my tangled line from countless trees. My flies spent more time aloft in branches than they ever did actually luring fish. Alas, I could never quite replicate the beautiful form I had so admired in the movie. And I never even caught a fish.

I'm sure Eisenhower would have responded to my angling ineptitude with a sad shake of the head, a subtle indication of his complete and utter dismay. To him, I would be another Nixon. Eisenhower tried to instruct his vice president in the finer points of fly fishing, but poor Dick, all thumbs, just could not get the hang of it. Ike's attempt to bond with Nixon by sharing with him his love of fishing failed, and failed miserably. "Fishing just isn't my bag," Nixon later admitted.

Ike was a consummate outdoorsman and fishing was one of his favorite pastimes. It was a means of relaxation and escape and of pitting his skills against nature. He fished up in Maine, he fly-fished in Colorado when visiting the in-laws, he fly-fished in Spruce Creek with his brother Milton when visiting him at Penn State. He fished the streams at Camp David. He even had a stocked pond on his farm where he enjoyed fishing with his grandson.

However, fishing didn't always guarantee the relaxation nor the challenge he sought. One embarrassing fishing incident occurred right after he had won the Republican nomination in 1952. While fishing in Colorado, headlines appeared in the Denver papers accusing the candidate of keeping more trout than the legal limit. Upon reading the headlines he became incensed. "Who's been counting my fish!" he bellowed.

He also became upset during a very successful bout of fishing at Lake Parmachenee in Maine. He discovered that the lake had been heavily stocked for his benefit prior to his arrival. And the outlet was wired over to prevent the fish from escaping. The whole affair was an insult to his fishing prowess and to his pride as a respectable angler! "I don't want to fish in a prison!" he exclaimed. He refused to fish the lake again until the wire was removed.

He not only enjoyed catching fish, but also prided himself on how well he cooked it. After a productive outing, he would sometimes grill fish for the press, rubbing each fillet in olive oil and then wrapping them all in foil. When frying, he would shake each in a bag of corn meal and make sure there was a healthy dose of butter and bacon fat in the pan.

President Hoover, who fished with Eisenhower in the Rockies back in the summer of '54, once summed up why Eisenhower and any other president would be attracted to fishing:

I have discovered the reason why presidents take to fishing, the silent sport. It is generally realized and accepted that prayer is the most personal of all human relationships. On such occasions as that, men and women are entitled to be alone and undisturbed. Next to prayer, fishing is the most personal relationship and … everybody concedes that the fish will not bite in the presence of the public and press. Fishing seems to be the sole avenue left to presidents through which they may escape to their own thoughts and may live in their own imaginings and find relief from the pneumatic hammer of constant personal contacts.

POSTED: March 31, 2011 POSTED BY: John Joyce
I can give you 10 reasons. No wait... 12. I can give you 12 reasons you might want to visit an old President's house. Even if you are a kid.

1. This isn't just an old President's house, it's also an old President's farm - President Eisenhower's farm. And it's a working farm.

2. It's spring! You can enjoy the good weather and unleash some of that energy that's been pent up all winter by hiking down to the barns and pastures.

3. You can check out the cattle operation. This time of year the cattle are giving birth to their calves out in the pasture. Not only will you see the new born calves, but you could be there in time to see the next one pop out! (See the March 14 entry below to read about calving season on the President's farm.)

4. The local wildlife is active again now that the warmer weather has arrived. You may see the Great Blue Heron quietly standing in the creek on his long stilt-like legs. Red tail hawks sit on the fence posts looking for prey. The bluebirds are back. And then there are the red fox that patrol the fields. They could have another litter of kits this spring. Several years ago a whole family of foxes resided in the ruins of the old 19th century barn. Sometimes you'd see a couple nestled together, snoozing away on the barn windowsill.

5. President Eisenhower enjoyed several outdoor hobbies. You can walk on over to see his putting green and skeet shooting range.

6. If you bring along your cell phone, you can take the cell phone tour of the grounds and listen to stories about the President and his family. Hear about the President's dogs - George, Art, and three-legged Duke, and about how terrible a driver the President was.

7. The Secret Service played an important role in protecting the President while he was at his farm. You can stop in the Secret Service office and check out their equipment. If you're observant enough, you may be able to locate the Secret Service TV cameras and electric eye beams hidden around the grounds.

8. You can also become a Junior Secret Service agent and earn a badge and certificate by doing the activities in the Junior Secret Service manual. Try your hand at operating the Secret Service radio and questioning suspicious looking employees.

9. And actually, it's kind of cool to walk through a famous person's house, like a President's, and see how they lived. You can learn a lot about a president by snooping around at his stuff.

10. Notice what kinds of books President Eisenhower read. Look at his paintings and judge how good a painter he was. Marvel at all the ancient technology he used: rotary phones, a hi-fi, a dictaphone. Gag at the green kitchen and pink bathroom and ask your parents why people back then thought that was attractive.

11. You can imagine as you walk around the house and farm how you're following in the footsteps of famous world leaders who came to visit. You can also imagine how cool it was to be one of the President's four grandkids and to hang out on this farm riding horses, fishing at the pond, and driving a go-cart around while the Secret Service agents had to run to keep up.

12. You can even learn some interesting facts about the President that you can later amaze friends and teachers with.

So give some thought to visiting an old President's house in Gettysburg this spring. And you can bring your parents along. In fact, I can give you 10 reasons why your parents might like to visit. No wait… 12. I'm pretty sure I can give you 12 reasons. But I'll save those for another day.

POSTED: March 28, 2011 POSTED BY: John Joyce
I came across a NY Times article last week about how American communities are rushing to the aid of their Japanese sister cities devastated by the earthquake and tsunami. Tuscaloosa is raising money for its sister Narashino. Galveston is stitching blankets for its sister Niigata. School children in Hot Springs are collecting coins for its sister Hanamaki.

1749 cities throughout the world, including 694 in America, have sister cities in over 134 countries. And Gettysburg has four: Sainte Mere Eglise, France; Leon, Nicaragua; Gettysburg, South Dakota; and Morelia, Mexico.

Eisenhower is the common link between Sainte Mere Eglise and Gettysburg. The Normandy village was liberated by the Americans during the Eisenhower-led D-Day invasion. It's probably best known for the American paratrooper, Private John Steele, who for hours hung from the top of the village church after his parachute got tangled up in its steeple. Along the entrance to the village is a sign displaying the name of its sister city, Gettysburg. Its main street is named after General Eisenhower. A replica of Private Steele and his parachute still hang from the church steeple today.

Gettysburg and Leon have been sisters since 1990. Project Gettysburg-Leon regularly sponsors fundraisers for Leon each year including an auction and a salsa night in the square.

Gettysburg, South Dakota is a small town of 1160 residents right in the middle of the state. It was settled by Civil War veterans in 1883 and has a civil war cannon on loan from its Pennsylvania sister displayed in the local museum.

Morelia is Gettysburg's newest sister, adopted in 2004. It's a UNESCO World Heritage site southwest of Mexico City in the state of Michoacan - homeland to many Latinos who live in the Gettysburg community.

So why mention this in the Ike Blog? While reading the NY Time article, I learned that it was President Dwight D. Eisenhower who established the Sister City program. Eisenhower initiated the program in 1956 at a White House Conference on Citizen Diplomacy. With the Cold War growing ever more threatening, Eisenhower felt that one promising avenue to peace was one that circumnavigated governments and would be driven by the efforts and imagination of ordinary citizens:

If we are going to take advantage of the assumption that all people want peace, then the problem is for people to get together and to leap governments… to work out not one method but thousands of methods by which people can gradually learn a little bit more about each other.

Today, the goal of Sister Cities International is to "promote peace through mutual respect, understanding, and cooperation - one individual, one community at a time."

If you're planning a visit to the Eisenhower Farm this October, consider arriving by Friday evening on October 7. You can then join the community as it salsas in the street and celebrates a sister city.

(Continued from March 17, THE LAST WWI VET)
POSTED: March 24, 2011 POSTED BY: John Joyce
It was on today's date, March 24, that back in 1918 Captain Dwight D. Eisenhower arrived in Gettysburg from Camp Meade, MD to take over the command of Camp Colt, the US Army Tank Training Center. America had entered the Great War on the side of the Allies and it was Eisenhower's job to train American soldiers how to operate this new weapon recently developed by the English - the tank.

Eisenhower had his work cut out for him. His job was made difficult by the Army's failure to send him any tanks. To improvise, he'd set up machine guns on trucks and at least give his men a sense of what it was like firing from a moving vehicle. By summer, the camp finally received a couple French Renault tanks. But they weren't equipped with any guns. That's the best he got.

The irony of training soldiers for a war on another war's battlefield wasn't lost on Eisenhower. His men ate, slept and drilled on the fields where Pickett's men had died. Big Round Top was used as a backstop for machine gun firing. Little Round Top was the designated romantic rendezvous point for the soldiers and the local girls, much to the chagrin of the town officials. The dance club at the base of Little Round Top was considered by camp officers to be the source of all the social disease on post.

And just like the military commanders at Gettysburg in 1863, Eisenhower's troops suffered casualties as well. Theirs wasn't the result of canister or musket fire, though. They fell victim to Spanish influenza. 1918 was the height of the worldwide influenza epidemic. Large numbers of Eisenhower's men contracted the influenza. 175 died.

Colonel Sheads (1910-2002), a legendary battlefield guide who for decades taught history at Gettysburg High School, grew up in Gettysburg and was eight years old in the spring of 1918. He could recall watching as for weeks wagons carrying flag draped coffins lined up at the train station each day. They patiently awaited the trains that would ship the bodies of the stricken Camp Colt soldiers back home for proper burial.

In November of 1918 word came down that the camp was moving south for the winter. This encouraged Eisenhower to renew his efforts to be sent to the front lines. But then something happened on Nov. 11 that shattered any hope he had of joining the fighting. The war ended.

Camp Colt was shut down and Eisenhower reassigned. Nothing exists of the camp today but for a brass plaque along Emmitsburg Road. Camp Colt is an aspect of Gettysburg history that even few local folks know anything about.

Eisenhower was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal and was promoted to lieutenant colonel for his training efforts at Camp Colt. In his mind it hardly compensated for having lost his only opportunity to ever experience battle.

Little did he know that in another 25 years, his chance would finally come.

A frequently asked question by visitors is why the army was allowed to erect a training camp on the hallowed ground of the Gettysburg battlefield… Back then the battlefield was actually administered by the War Department. The initial legislation establishing the military park in 1896 allowed for the army to use the grounds for training. The National Park Service took over management of the battlefield in 1933.

The tank was originally called a land ship. The name tank is said to have derived from when they were first shipped across the English Channel to be tested under battle conditions. To keep the new weapon secreted from the Germans, they were kept under heavy canvas and referred to as water tanks on the ship's manifest.

POSTED: March 22 POSTED BY: John Joyce
Congress has passed yet one more continuing resolution to keep the government running while they try to reach an agreement about the budget. Some congressmen are still threatening a government shutdown if the present continuing resolution runs out.

I can vividly remember the government shut down in 1990 more so than the last one in 1995. I was working at San Antonio Missions National Historic Site. When we went to post the PARK CLOSED DUE TO GOVT. SHUT DOWN sign in front of the San Jose Missions gate in the middle of the day, a whole army of press photographers and news cameramen were there to capture the moment. That time the government remained closed for a three day Columbus Day weekend. In 1995, the closure lasted for a couple weeks in Nov -Dec.

Eisenhower never had to worry about the government shutting down when he was trying to get his budget passed. That didn't necessarily make passing the budget any less painful an affair. We have several photos in our files of Eisenhower working on the budget with his staff on the sun porch of his Gettysburg farm house. In every photo, the President's face has a pronounced scowl, his infamous temper appearing on the verge of erupting at any moment.

Eisenhower was very much a fiscal conservative. He believed in balancing the budget. It was perhaps easier to do during his administration when America was experiencing its post war economic boom and was at the height of it economic power. But each year's budget was a battle, one waged between Ike and the military industrial complex.

Ike's strategy for balancing the budget was to reduce military spending. He would argue that:

Armed forces are to defend a way of life. If we devote so much of our budget to defense that it hurts the economy and our way of life suffers, it defeats the whole purpose of armed service.

But we were in the middle of the Cold War. The financial demands of each military service were strident and, if not met, the consequences were predicted to be catastrophic.

Ike's answer was the New Look (and ultimately cheaper) Military - a greater emphasis on nuclear weapons as a deterrent and less dependence and money allotted to the accouterments of conventional warfare. Some military experts considered this New Look foolish and potentially disastrous.

Ike's advantage in the battle was his credibility. He was in the army for 30+ years - a victorious supreme commander, a chief of staff, and a NATO Supreme Commander. This was a man who certainly knew what he was talking about when it came to national security and military defense.

Although fiscally conservative, he was fairly liberal when it came to federal spending on social programs. He favored increasing social security and expanding unemployment insurance. He supported federal aid for education and housing. He promoted the largest public works project in American history - the Interstate Highway System. His support of programs that smacked of "creeping socialism" led to budget fights on a second front. Not only did he have to battle the Pentagon and the Democrats on military spending, but also the conservative Republicans on social spending.

In the end, Eisenhower was able to balance the budget. Not just once, but three different times. He was the last Republican to do so.

Many will argue that Ike was simply lucky. He happened to be president during the most economically prosperous era in American history. But shouldn't his economic policy and successful efforts to balance the budget receive some credit for contributing to that prosperity?

POSTED: March 17, 2011 POSTED BY: John Joyce
Frank Buckles, the last American World War I veteran, died two weeks ago. He hailed from West Virginia and was 110 years old.

Several years back, Eisenhower NHS sponsored a World War I Weekend every spring. It was discontinued because we had difficulty rounding up enough World War I living historians to participate.

Our last WWI Weekend in 1999 was quite memorable, though. We had three WWI veterans who attended - 99, 102, and 104 years old. They sat around and reminisced about their war experiences to the delight of visitors, reenactors, and rangers. All three veterans appeared to be in good shape considering their ages. The 104 year old claimed to be still working at two jobs. At one point a visitor walked up to the 102 year old and commented, "I heard someone say you're 104 years old!" Greatly offended, the vet responded, "God d*** it lady, I'm only 102!"

By the following year, all three had passed away.

One of Dwight D. Eisenhower's greatest regrets for nearly 25 years was his missed opportunity to fight in World War I. In March of 1918 he was assigned to be post commander of Camp Colt, the US Army Tank Training Center located on the Gettysburg Battlefield along Emmitsburg Road. The camp would train and process over 10,000 soldiers in the eight months that Eisenhower served as commander.

Upon receiving his orders, Captain Eisenhower was bitterly disappointed. There was a war going on! America had just entered the Great War the previous year and he didn't want to be stuck stateside. He was intent on going to Europe and garnering glory in battle and quickly working his way up the Army career ladder. He initially wrote letters to his superiors imploring to be transferred to the front, finally desisting only after being ordered to stop.

Eisenhower would later bemoan to a fellow West Pointer that he could imagine himself in twenty years attending a West Point reunion and while all his classmates would be recalling the glories of battle he'd be there in the corner silent, having absolutely nothing to say.
(To be continued next week, March 24)

POSTED: March 14, 2011 POSTED BY: John Joyce
The first calf of the spring was born yesterday. From this point on, the farm will average one birth a day until the entire herd of 50 have all calved.

Here at President Eisenhower's farm we still graze black Angus cattle just as the President did. The National Park Service leases the farmland out to a local farmer. He grows his own crops and grazes his own cattle. But… he has to grow the same crops the President did and graze the same variety of cattle - Angus. The arrangement works out well for everyone. The farmer reaps the fruit of his and his cows' labor, the park rangers keep out of the farming business, and the Park Service maintains the farm's historical scene.

There's one big difference between today's herd and the President's. The President's was a show herd. His farmhands showed the cattle at cattle shows as far west as Denver. There were several international champions in his herd. Today's cattle are not descended from the President's and they are raised strictly for beef. There's a good market out there for Angus beef these days.

In the President's time, the cattle that weren't good enough to win ribbons ended up as steaks grilled up on the barbecue in the backyard. If you came to visit the President, he'd enjoy grilling you a nice blood-rare Angus steak. He served up steaks for the family as well, but that sometimes turned into a delicate situation. One evening as the family was happily digging into freshly barbecued steaks, the President made the mistake of commenting how good Cow Number 9 tasted. Number 9 turned out to be the grandkids favorite cow. They were terribly upset to find out they'd been all chowing down on one of their "pets" for the past 15 minutes.

The park rangers aren't so fortunate as to be served today's herd fresh off the grill. And It seems hardly fair. When the cattle escape from pasture, it's the rangers who are the first to chase them down the highway, attempting to head them off at the pass and round them up. It happens a couple times each year. And it's always the little calves that find the break in the fence and lead the rest of the herd to freedom.

Little did I know when I signed up to be a park ranger, I'd be rounding up cattle.

If you come out to the farm over the next couple months, make a point of walking over to the cattle barns. The cows will still be dropping their calves right there in the pasture. You can be walking along the fence line and if your timing is right - PLOOP - you'll see one pop out.

Later in the summer, you'll see the calves start to wander from their mothers and begin to hang out with their peers, forming juvenile gangs in which they'll romp around and indulge in mischief. Eventually, they'll get older and become fatter, slower, and much less active. In a lot of ways, they're just like humans.

And who knows? If you're here on the right day, maybe you'll be able to join the park rangers in a cattle round up. Or at least watch as they ineptly do their best to corral the wayward beasts as they meander down the highway toward Washington.

POSTED: March 10, 2011 POSTED BY: John Joyce
One of the joys of working at a national park site is meeting and shooting the breeze with people from all over the country and the world. It's easiest to do that here at Eisenhower NHS during the winter months when the site isn't as crowded and you have more one on one time with visitors.

I had three particularly interesting visitor encounters this past week:

One was with a couple in their seventies, a boyfriend-girlfriend. He is from Virginia, she lives in California. I was going to mention to them that Virginia was home to Ike's mother - Staunton to be precise. And California was the site of Ike's first and only hole in one, shot at the age of 78 in Palm Desert. But I got too involved listening to their story…

They were high school sweetheart back in 1949 - 51. Upon leaving high school, he went to Notre Dame and then joined the Air Force. She, a couple years younger and still in high school, started dating another boy whom she eventually married.

After having not seen or heard from each other in over 50 years, he somehow got hold of her e-mail address and contacted her to see if she would like some old photos he still had of her. He recently lost his wife and she had been a widow for the past 20 years.. After the e-mail, they decided to start seeing each other again.

Even though they live on opposite coasts, they manage to get together twice a month. Between them they have 12 kids and 26 grandkids. She's not willing to leave her grandkids in California and he can't give up his law practice in Virginia. So it appears the long distance romancing will continue into the foreseeable future.

Another was with an Israeli microbiologist from Tel Aviv who was touring the east coast by rent- a-car before flying down to Puerto Rico for a conference. We talked about the revolution in Egypt and Israel's apprehension of how it will evolve. Many Israelis fear Egypt will turn into another Lebanon (She was in Haifa when it was being struck by missiles launched from Lebanon by Hizbullah.) and become a threat not only to Israel but the entire Middle East. Every Israeli has family members in the military she says, (Each male must serve at least three years, each female two.) and therefore everyone has a very personal investment in the fate of Egypt. She herself has one son in the Army and another one about to be.

On a couple more positive notes, she says 1) it's been relatively peaceful in Israel lately - heavy security and the Wall has quelled the threat of suicide bombing and 2) the country hasn't been too adversely affected by the global economic crisis - certainly not as much as most of the rest of the world .

A couple times during our exchange I thought about interjecting a word about Eisenhower's great concerns about Egypt and President Nasser, and how he then ironically sided with the Egyptians over the Israelis (and the British and French) during the Suez crisis, but I never found a convenient moment to smoothly segue there.

And then there was the French travel writer from Paris. Fortunately, she spoke very good English and between my sharing stories about Eisenhower & De Gaulle and reminiscing about my visit to Jim Morrison's gravesite in Paris, we discussed world politics and American TV. I meant to ask if she watched Jersey Shore, but forgot. I did tell her that despite Ike and De Gaulle having their differences, it was De Gaulle, of all the world leaders who attended Eisenhower's funeral in 1969, who was most visibly crying. Among the insights she shared with me was how the French like President Obama more than Americans do just as Americans seem to like French President Sarkozy more than the French do.

Once the crowds return in a week or so and the pace here at the site becomes more harried, I'll be doing more pontificating and far less prying. And consequently, less listening. Then, until next winter, most visitors will slip by without revealing how truly interesting they are.

POSTED: March 7, 2011 POSTED BY: John Joyce
Question: What do the following have in common?

Building a Bridge to the 20th Century
Clinton 1996

It's Morning in America Again
Reagan 1984

A Leader for a Change
Carter 1976

Real Plans For Real People
Bush 2000

Yes We Can
Obama 2008

Answer: They're all presidential campaign slogans from the past 35 years. And they're all forgettable.

It won't be long and the presidential hopefuls will start announcing their candidacies. Shortly thereafter, each will be conjuring up a campaign slogan they hope will arouse the enthusiasm and capture the imagination of the voting public.

None, I'm sure, will be as effective as Eisenhower's.

I LIKE IKE… It was snappy. It was catchy. It was buoyant. It could fit on a campaign button. It was poetic. It was impossible to forget or ignore. In 1952 and 1956, it was ubiquitous.

Even after 50 years, it's the one everyone still remembers.

I LIKE IKE was an incessant reminder that, yeah, it was difficult not to like this war-winning Supreme Commander with the infectious smile (one that drew men to him like steel to a magnet according to Britain's Field Marshal Montgomery) and the common touch. And a candidate "difficult not to like" was a candidate "difficult not to vote for."

Our impending 2012 candidates would be well served to come up with a slogan as memorable.

POSTED: March 3, 2011 POSTED BY: John Joyce
I came across this quote the other day:

The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure, the intelligent are full of doubt.
Bertand Russell

Well said and so often true, I thought. I immediately added it to my very short list of personal favorite quotes.

Good quotes are like good jokes - I can hardly ever remember one. There are a few I've committed to memory, but only after first being sensible enough to write them down on something other than the back of a receipt or a shred of paper towel that will be trashed when the wife empties my pants pockets prior to doing the wash.

Here's one I've appreciated for the past several years:

Youth is wasted on the young.
George Bernard Shaw

That's one you can't really appreciate until you get older and realize what all you could have done, what all you should have done if you knew and valued then what you do now.

This one I added to the list after discovering it on my son's Facebook profile page: *

I've missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. Twenty six times I've been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed. Michael Jordan

I love that quote and I like that my son is inspired by it. It's inclusion on my list though is heavily influenced by my having been a Bulls fan since even before the Jordan era.

I have three favorite history quotes that I like to share with our new interns each summer during their first week of training at Eisenhower NHS:

There are no facts, only interpretations. Frederick Nietzsche
The past is not dead. It's not even past. William Faulkner
History? It's just one (friggin') thing after another. Rudge, The History Boys

I try to seamlessly weave each quote into the flow of my training narrative, but sometimes I can't find an appropriate context in which to employ them. If that's the case, I'll just confess, "Hey I love these three quotes…" And then threaten, "You should love them too, or you're fired."

Of course, I have my favorite Eisenhower quote.

In the councils of government we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex is perhaps his best remembered and most often quoted.

But here's my favorite:

Never use force in international affairs, never. But if you do, use it overwhelmingly.

I'm more enamored of its first half than the second, but it all seems to make good sense.

Some may argue that it's advice our country far too often fails to heed .

* Lest anyone is misled into thinking, "Whoa, how nice of a son to actually allow his parents access to his Facebook pages," I should note that he hasn't granted us "friend" status. We can't read his daily commentary and feedback, only his sparse and elusive and half fictional personal profile.

Interpretation VS. Preservation
POSTED: March 1, 2011 POSTED BY: John Joyce
Interpretation and preservation go hand in hand. But sometimes the curator and the interpreters find themselves at cross purposes.

A highlight of the Eisenhower home for the interpreter is how little it's changed. It's so easy to conjure up a vivid impression of the Eisenhowers because so much of their stuff is still here as they left it. Take the kitchen... When visitors peer into that so-fifties kitchen and gag at the avocado-green linoleum floor, I like to point out that my favorite example of how little the house has changed is how all the kitchen cabinets are still filled with the First Lady's stuff - not only dishes and pots and pans, but her cereal boxes, her canister of Hawaiian Punch, the jar of cocktail onions with the onions still inside… Visitors are fascinated to know it's still all there.

When conducting special VIP tours or when one of the Eisenhower granddaughters is showing guests around, we make a point of slipping into the kitchen and sneaking a peak into the cabinets.

This past summer though, the curator emptied all the cabinets and moved everything into curatorial storage for better accountability and preservation. And there all the items sit, as though they never existed, never again to be viewed or interpreted. One day perhaps the site will have a visitor center museum and some of those items might find their way into display cases. Not likely in my lifetime though.

It's certainly understandable, but disappointing to an interpreter. The house is just a little less special, a bit less exciting to interpret.

I still mention the items in the cabinets to visitors, but now in the past tense and with a hint of wistfulness. "A great example of how little the house has changed, at least up until last summer, was how…"

An elderly gentleman and his 13 year old grandson visited the site yesterday. The grandfather said they had visited quite a few national parks together including Badlands, Mt. Rushmore, Grand Tetons, and Yellowstone over the past summer. More impressively though, they've been going to see ballgames at every major league ballpark across the country. They have only six left to complete the circuit. Kansas City and St. Louis are on their agenda for early this summer. They're both Yankee fans, but confessed to liking the Mets' new ball park, Citi Field, more than the new Yankee Stadium. Their favorite ballpark - AT&T Park in San Francisco.

It was fun to talk baseball with such well traveled baseball aficionados, even though they are Yankee fans. I'm a Cubs fan. Spring training has just started and I'm already bracing myself for another disappointing season.

Eisenhower could relate to how discouraging it is to witness the persistent futility and ineptitude of your favorite team season after season after season… Eisenhower was a Washington Senators fan.

Every opening day during his presidency, Eisenhower would throw out the ball at old Griffith Stadium. He would have preferred to be out playing golf, but he considered his attendance at opening day an obligation.

Eisenhower knew a thing or two about baseball. It's well known that he was a football star at West Point before a knee injury ended his playing days. But he was also an excellent baseball player. Rumor had it that in the summer of 1909, prior to West Point, he played professional baseball in the KOM (Kansas-Oklahoma-Missouri) League. He did so under the pseudonym "Wilson" to assure that his amateur status and eligibility for college sports wouldn't be compromised.

Since he was once a talented ballplayer and always a winner (whether it was sports, war, politics, or cards), it was likely more difficult for Eisenhower than other fans to endure the dismal play of the perennial cellar dwelling Washington Senators.

I'm sure he was pained by the old adage: Washington - first in war, first in peace, and last in the American League. But unlike the Cubs, it was far less than 100 years since the Senators had last won a World Series. It was only 30 - recent enough that there were still Senator fans alive who remembered the day.

Few if any are left who remember the miracle in Chicago back in the autumn of 1908.

POSTED: Feb. 21, 2011 POSTED BY: John Joyce
I had only two visitors on an afternoon tour yesterday. That's not unusual this time of year - it's pretty slow in January and February.

Visitors that arrive in such a small group are often initially embarrassed. They feel the need to excuse themselves for inconveniencing the staff, as though their small number is hardly worth the park staff's time.

On the contrary, the rangers appreciate the opportunity to spend an extended amount of time casually showing folks around, imparting info they normally have little time to share during peak visitation, and launching into all sorts of barely relevant but fascinating tangents.

Actually, Jan. - Feb. is one of the best times to visit Eisenhower NHS. Visitors have the entire farm to themselves, they don't have to compete with the crowds, and they get a personal tour.

Several other best times of year to visit:

Late October when the leaves are changing color. The view from the front yard out to the mountains in the west is incredible. The sugar maple in front of the Eisenhower home is always a brilliant bright orange.

It's always colorful on the farm with the purplish-pink flowering crabapple along the front lane and the cherry trees in the yard all in bloom. All the new born calves are romping about the pasture, the farmer is out in his tractor tending the fields, and the smell of fresh manure wafts through the air… (OK, so the lingering odor of cow pie is no enticement to visit, but it is a farm after all.)

The third weekend in September is when our WWII Weekend is scheduled. Three hundred WWII living historians portraying American, British, Canadian, German, Polish, and Soviet troops are encamped in the back pasture. They're equipped with authentic WWII weapons and vehicles. Throughout both days, veterans are scheduled to speak and recount their war experiences.

Even summer isn't so bad. It can be hot and fairly crowded, but it's when the site offers its full complement of talks and tours. You can attend an Ike and the Men of D-Day program and handle weapons and equipment issued to the GIs for the D-Day invasion. You can learn about the Secret Service operations on the Farm during the 50s and 60s by checking out one of the Exploring Eisenhower talks. Or you can even take a ranger led walk through downtown Gettysburg and explore Eisenhower's life in the community from 1915 to 1969.

POSTED: Feb. 17, 2011 POSTED BY: John Joyce
Ike was a terrible driver and a passionate golfer.

How much so is detailed in David and Julie Nixon Eisenhower's new book, Going Home to Glory: A Memoir of Life with Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1961- 1969. David and Julie will be discussing and signing their book this Saturday, February 19, at the Gettysburg National Military Park Visitor Center.

I finished the book off a couple weeks ago and found it informative and entertaining. Most interesting were the insights it shared on Eisenhower's relationships with Kennedy and LBJ, his reluctant involvement in the 1964 presidential campaign, and his views and proffered advice on Vietnam.

By far though, my favorite passages are those describing Ike's impatience behind the wheel and his exuberance on the golf course:

David writes about how he would brace himself for a wild ride whenever his grandfather drove him to the golf course. The car would lurch, the tires screech, the horn blare, and the President would cry "Damnation" as he loudly berated the incompetence of all his fellow drivers, all the while never in the least aware he was the worst driver on the road.

The President had difficulty controlling himself on the golf course, ferociously bellowing oaths up and down the fairways. David recalls the day his Mom played a round with his grandfather for the first time. His mother was shocked as for 18 holes the President let loose with "unpredictable and terrifying outbursts of wrath, agony, and self reproach."

On the drive back home, his grandfather studied his scorecard, added up the numbers, and suddenly beamed, "This is the best round I've shot in six months!"

David and Julie will discuss their book at the Gettysburg National Military Park Visitor Center at 10 am, February 19. Afterwards at 11 pm to 1 pm and 2 pm to 4 pm they will sign their book in the Visitor Center lobby. For more details view the press release.

POSTED: Feb. 15, 2011 POSTED BY: John Joyce
For the past couple weeks I've watched events unfold in Egypt and was relieved this weekend to see them reach a seemingly peaceful, hopeful, and emotionally satisfying conclusion.

Throughout the crisis, President Obama had to figure out exactly how America should respond. Now that President Mubarak has stepped down, many analysts agree that the President handled the American response tentatively yet near perfectly. He treaded lightly enough so as not to appear to interfere in Egyptian affairs and not to summarily back stab a long term ally. Yet he lent emotional support to the Egyptian people and applauded their non-violent efforts in seeking democracy. And he apparently applied just enough pressure to help convince Mubarak to step down.

Ultimately, he steered America towards the winning side of the conflict and perhaps the "right" side of history.

Back in 1956, President Eisenhower had to figure out how to respond to a crisis in Egypt. Egypt had forcibly taken over control of the Suez Canal from the French and British. Britain and France condemned the takeover and proposed military action. Eisenhower decided not to immediately side with his European allies. He suggested that all parties sit down and discuss the matter. After all, the canal was Egyptian territory. If the Egyptians proved to be capable of operating it competently and fairly, continuing to provide access to all, perhaps they should be allowed to maintain control.

Without advising the US, France, Britain, and Israel resorted to invading Egypt and taking back the canal. They assumed, in the end, that America would support their efforts - how could she not back her old and trusted Allies?

Shocking France, Britain, and the rest of the world, Eisenhower instead demanded an immediate cease fire and a withdrawal of foreign troops from Egyptian soil. At the same time, the US introduced a similar resolution in the UN. That the US would side with a third world country against its western European Allies surprised even the Egyptians. Eisenhower's policy delighted small, undeveloped countries throughout the world. America's standing in world opinion skyrocketed.

Eisenhower wasn't simply acting on principle. Siding with the Egyptians was politically shrewd. If America was seen as colluding with the colonialist European powers, she would alienate the entire Arab world and provide the Soviet Union an excuse to possibly send in troops to "defend" the Egyptians.

Eisenhower threatened Britain with an oil embargo and withholding of financial assistance unless troops were withdrawn. The troops did withdraw, UN peacekeeping forces moved in, and the Egyptians resumed control of the Canal.

To some, this may have been President Eisenhower's finest hour.

POSTED: Feb. 11, 2011 POSTED BY: John Joyce
The following are the top four questions that kids (including teenagers) ask when visiting the Eisenhower home that make me feel real old.

4. Wow, they actually had TVs back then?
Kid: Wow, they actually had TVs back then?
Me: Sure they did. It was the 1950s and 60s - it wasn't that long ago. TV watching was a big part of life in America back then. And that's even though there were only three stations, the shows were all in black and white, and you had to actually get up and walk over to the TV to change the channel.
Kid: Geez, why would anyone even want to watch TV then? It was like the stone age.

3. What's a record?
Kid: What's that against the wall?
Me: That's a hi-fi, a combination radio and record player. They were popular in the 50s and 60s.
Kid: What's a record?

2. What are all those holes on top of the telephone?
Kid (15 years old): What are all those holes on top of the telephone?
Me: You don't see many phones like that around anymore. That's an old dial or rotary phone. Some grandmas and grandpas still have those sitting around the house.
Kid (after deliberating with a group of friends on how to possibly work the apparently complex piece of machinery): How do you work it?
Me: You stick your finger in the numbered holes and turn the dial.
Kid: Cool.

And the No. 1 question asked by kids visiting the Eisenhower home that makes me feel real old:
1. Were you in World War II with Eisenhower?
Kid: Were you in World War II with Eisenhower?
Me: Now come on! When was WWII fought? Yeah, around 70 years ago. How old do I look to you? 50!! Wrong, I look forty. But I'm actually in my fifties. So could I have been in WWII with Eisenhower? Even if I was 70 years old could I have fought in WWII? Right, probably not. I'd be around 2 years old and would have had a problem finding a helmet small enough to fit my teeny head.

Nothing like interpreting late 20th century history to kids to make you feel old.

Visiting the CIA continued…
POSTED: Feb. 9, 2011 POSTED BY: John Joyce
The Main Lobby
On the floor is the CIA seal with the shield, eagle, and 16 point compass star that symbolizes the intelligent data that converges to this point from around the world.

On the right is the Memorial Wall with 102 stars, each honoring a member of the CIA who fell in the line of duty. Thirty nine of the fallen officer's names still remain a secret.

On the left is the OSS Memorial dedicated to 116 men and women who lost their lives while serving with the Office of Strategic Services, the precursor to the CIA, during WWII.

The Museum
OSS Director Wild Bill Donovan's Desk and a display of all his military decorations. He was America's most highly decorated officer in World War I. Incidentally, a former OSS officer still works at the Agency - he's 90 years old.

An assortment of one-bullet pistols, silencer equipped revolvers, and tommy-guns designed for and used by the OSS.

An exhibit comparing CIA agents' mission in Afghanistan with what the OSS agents were doing in the jungles of Southeast Asia during WWII. Despite the interval of 65 years, the work, the weapons, and even some of the technology remain remarkably similar.

A piece of wall from the infamous American Embassy in Moscow revealing the grid of eavesdropping equipment lining the inside. The embassy, built by Soviet labor in the 1980s, was never occupied because the entire structure was riddled with listening devices. It was torn down and rebuilt with American labor and materials at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars.

A trunk of lapis lazuli captured from a Taliban stronghold. Mined in Afghanistan, the purple gemstone is used by Al Qaeda for financing.

Artifacts from my favorite 1960s TV show, Man From Uncle, including Agent Napoleon Solo's business card.

The entrance sign from the original OSS - CIA Headquarters building that was located on E Street across from the State Dept. For years there was no sign in front of the building. But after becoming upset one day when his driver couldn't find the entrance, President Eisenhower called Allen Dulles and ordered that a sign be erected.

As you can imagine, there were a lot of James Bond-like gadgets, cameras, and weapons:
A pigeon camera actually strapped to pigeons for taking detailed photos of targets from just hundreds of feet away.

A micro UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) made to look like a dragonfly and used to collect intelligence. A miniature gas engine moved the wings. It was too difficult to control in a crosswind and never used.

A UUV (unmanned underwater vehicle) called Charlie made to look like a fish. Used to study aquatic robot technology.

A hollowed out walnut and bolt both used to conceal secret messages.

And my favorite - a seismic detection device disguised as a "tiger turd." Used to detect movement up to 300 meters away along the Ho Chi Minh Trail.

A big thank you to Toni and our volunteer guide for a fantastic tour! To take a virtual tour of the CIA Headquarters and Museum go to:

POSTED: Feb. 7, 2011 POSTED BY: John Joyce
The Eisenhower NHS staff visited CIA Headquarters last week for a tour of the CIA Museum. The visit was a unique opportunity since the Museum is not open to the general public. We were there via a special invitation from the museum director who was reciprocating a VIP behind- the-scenes tour of the Eisenhower home, farm, and curatorial collection given to their museum staff.

Both staffs were excited by the respective opportunities, particularly so because Eisenhower played an integral role in CIA history. He appointed its longest serving director, Allen Dulles, and was the first president to rely heavily on the CIA as a covert weapon to fight communism during the Cold War, even so far as to orchestrate the overthrow of foreign governments. Such attempts were successful in Iran and Guatemala during Eisenhower's first term (successes from which both countries as well as ours still suffer the consequences), and less successful in the likes of Indonesia during his second.

It was also during the Eisenhower administration that the CIA began its U-2 overflights and America's first successful photographic reconnaissance satellite, Corona, was launched. Corona's first mission in August 1960 provided more photos of the Soviet Union than all previous U-2 missions combined.

CIA Headquarters is comprised of two buildings. Eisenhower laid the cornerstone of the original building in 1959. The new was completed in 1991. The new building is surrounded by a cage (you need to look carefully to notice it). The "bars" contain copper which serves to disrupt any attempts at eavesdropping from the outside. The buildings are connected by a glassed-in corridor with a pleasant courtyard on either side. The HQ includes a Starbucks, a gift shop with the CIA logo emblazoned on everything from wine bottle stoppers to golf towels. Agents can even buy a valentine box of chocolates there. The wide hallways of the original building are bright with natural light and lined with paintings, some abstract, others depicting various CIA missions.

We had to arrange security clearances for our visit weeks beforehand. Upon arrival, the process of making our way through security was initially intimidating although security personnel were pleasant and polite. Our group made it into the HQ building without incident. However, one carload of staff who visited the previous week turned into the wrong parking lot and were immediately surrounded by guards with automatic weapons. That remains the most memorable moment of their entire visit.

The museum director, Toni, and a museum volunteer who was a former agent and weapons expert escorted us through the galleries and exhibits in the hallways of the buildings.
Tomorrow: CIA HQ and Museum Tour Highlights

POSTED: Feb. 4, 2011 POSTED BY: John Joyce
So what is the Eisenhower home's best kept secret?

Is it the wine cellar in the basement that only the curator has a key to (that he won't share with the interpreters)?


It's the time capsule.

Somewhere within the walls of the house there is a time capsule hidden away by the President. Only a select few have any idea where it may be. Word has it that it's scheduled to be extracted and opened in 2052 which would be the 100 anniversary of Eisenhower's presidential election. Supposedly, included inside are Ike's assessments of many of the military and world leaders he dealt with throughout his years as Allied Supreme Commander, NATO's first Supreme Commander, and President. For the first time he dishes on all these guys, revealing all the personal opinions and feelings he was too diplomatic to share while he (and they) were alive.

In 2052 I'll be 99 and living the good life in retirement at some exotic beach resort. I hope Katie will remember to forward me the press release.

POSTED: Feb. 2, 2011 POSTED BY: John Joyce
It was good to see Ike get all that attention two weeks ago. January 17 was the 50th anniversary of his farewell address in which he warned Americans of the military industrial complex. I'm still coming across articles from that anniversary weekend paying homage to the address, analyzing its content, and assessing its impact. Commentators were not only impressed with Ike's sagacity in recognizing the "complex" as a potential problem, but impressed as well with his willingness, as a career soldier, to address it.

As one visitor (who confessed to being a Democrat) said to me, "For a Cold War Republican, he was a pretty foresighted guy."

POSTED: Jan. 31, 2011 POSTED BY: John Joyce
This is the month we hire our summer interns. We've just about completed the process - only one last position yet to be filled.

I enjoy interviewing these remarkably qualified college students - so enthusiastic about history, articulate but nervous, hopeful but at the same time braced for rejection… We have some difficult choices to make - so many interview well and sport impressive resumes. They have much more to offer than I had at their age.

And that's why I don't look forward to this time of year. We have only four positions available and we have to turn down most of these bright young students.

My heart goes out to college students today who hope to find a job in the history field. Even non-paying internships are so competitive. My son is a history major and in every one of our intern candidates I can see his hope and enthusiasm and anxiety and impending frustration. It's hard to send any of them the "sorry, you were not among those selected" notice.

We still have several more to send out yet today.

POSTED: Jan. 29, 2011 POSTED BY: John Joyce
It's the end of January, there's 9 inches of snow on the ground, and there are still stinkbugs buzzing around my office. Stinkbugs are the latest addition to my list of most annoying wildlife at the Eisenhower Farm. I don't know if I'm correct in categorizing them as "wildlife", but I've taken the liberty so I can justifiably include the little buggers on my list.

Here's the list in random order: Note that at least one on the list was among Eisenhower's most annoying as well.

Groundhogs. They help themselves to whatever is growing in the vegetable garden and dig burrows under the foundation of the barn. Like any good farmer, Eisenhower despised them. The Secret Service agents would shoot them for the President and keep a running tally on the door of their office. In one year alone they shot 117.

Skunks. One manages to establish a burrow underneath the porch of our HQ every spring and summer and permeate the entire building with its rich bouquet.

Barn swallows. They're pretty and fun to watch, but they dive bomb the visitors, splatter the benches, and make deposits on the rangers as they conduct their programs. It was the pigeons though that annoyed Ike. He dispatched them with a shotgun as he drove around the farm in a golf cart.

Mice. They overrun the headquarters break room as soon as the weather turns colder, getting in the cupboards and drawers and nestling in the burner wells of the stove. They nibble on your ranger hat if you leave it sitting in the conference room.

Wasps. They're more ominous than annoying. Each year they build a big nest in one of the trees in the front yard of the Eisenhower home. It's always precariously close to the route we follow escorting visitors to the front door. The nest is just like the one you see in the cartoons that ends up falling on Elmer Fudd's head when he's in hot pursuit of Bugs Bunny.


those annoying Stinkbugs. They're everywhere. And when you encounter them inside, you just can't smash them, of course. That's when they demonstrate precisely why they're named as they are. And they're impressively strong swimmers. I dispose of them in the toilet. But if it happens to be a particularly weak flush, they swim back up the plumbing and I'll find them an hour later casually dog paddling around the bowl.

POSTED: Jan. 26. 2011 POSTED BY: John Joyce
Going Home to Glory is a revelation, even for those on the staff here who consider themselves pretty well versed on the life of Ike.

Subtitled A Memoir of Life with Dwight D. Eisenhower 1961-1969, the recently published book is written by the President's grandson, David Eisenhower, and his wife Julie Nixon Eisenhower. It offers an intimate glimpse into the President's life in retirement here on his Gettysburg farm. On Feb. 19, David and Julie will be in town to sign the book at the Gettysburg Battlefield Visitor Center and Museum.

The book is a revelation particularly for its insights into Ike's personality. The staff was struck with how compulsively restless Eisenhower was, always thirsting for company and activity. According to David, he could never just sit and relax. You get the impression that his hyperactive nature must have driven his wife crazy, especially when he no longer had the Presidency to keep himself occupied.

David asked his Grandmother once if that restlessness "revealed a weakness, perhaps a fear of being alone, or a nonexistent inner life." That question remained unanswered. But when he asked if she had really known Dwight Eisenhower, she replied, "I'm not sure anyone did."

POSTED: Jan. 24, 2011 POSTED BY: John Joyce
I just saw The King's Speech, the movie about King George VI and his speech impediment. It's one of my favorite movies of the past year. Excellent performances by Colin Firth and Helena Bonham Carter as the king and queen. I've heard some complain it's not precisely historically accurate. But hey, if it's historical accuracy you're after, you shouldn't be going to the movies.

The movie reminds me of a story:
When Generals Eisenhower and Mark Clark were in England during the war, arrangements were made for them to tour Windsor Castle. King George promised that he and the queen would remain sequestered inside during the visit so the generals could relax and not have to deal with protocol. Days later the king and queen were walking through the castle gardens when suddenly they saw the two generals approaching. Suddenly recalling the promise, the king and queen got down on their hands and knees and crawled behind the hedges in an effort not to be seen. The King later shared this story with Eisenhower and they both got a big laugh out of it.

Any king who'll crawl on his hands and knees to avoid inconveniencing a commoner is alright in my book!

Eisenhower recalled this incident in his memoir, At Ease.


Last updated: February 26, 2015

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