Dwight David Eisenhower, (1890–1969)

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American general, president of the United States Eisenhower is one of two men (Ulysses S. Grant is the other) to command American armies and then be elected to two terms as president of the United States. Like Grant, Eisenhower came from common stock. Born in Denison, Texas, on 14 October 1890, he was an infant when his parents moved to Abilene, Kansas; he was later hailed as “the man from Abilene.” He graduated from high school and then sought to enter the U.S. Military Academy at West Point as well as the naval academy at Annapolis, Maryland. He was initially accepted to Annapolis, but his age prevented him from attending, so in 1911 he went to West Point, from which he graduated four years later in the same class as fellow Second World War commander Omar Bradley. Assigned the rank of lieutenant, Eisenhower was sent to Camp Sam Houston, Texas, and served during the First World War with the 19th Infantry. He later moved to Fort Oglethorpe in Georgia. When the war ended, Eisenhower was transferred to Camp Meade, Maryland, eventually moving on to several other military encampments such as Fort Dix in New Jersey. In 1920, he was promoted twice, to captain and then to major.

During the 1920s, Eisenhower served in the Panama Canal Zone and graduated first in his class from the Command and General Staff School at Fort Leavenworth (1926). As a member of the American Battle Monuments Commission, he wrote the definitive guidebook on battlefields from the First World War. He graduated from the Army War College, Washington, D.C., in 1928, then served on the staff of Assistant Secretary of War General George V. Moseley. From 1932 until 1935, he was the chief military aide to Army Chief of Staff General Douglas MacArthur, and he was promoted to lieutenant colonel in 1936.

When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on 7 December 1941, bringing America into the Second World War, Eisenhower was serving as the chief of staff to General Walter Kreuger, commander of the Third Army at Fort Sam Houston. He was called to Washington by General George C. Marshall to help to design the American war blueprint, and in May 1942 he was sent on a special mission to London, England, to coordinate cooperation among the Allied forces fighting the Germans and the Japanese. The following month he was designated the commanding officer of American forces in the European Theatre of Operations. In November 1942, he was also named commander in chief of Allied forces in North Africa. Historian Brian Bader writes: “In July 1942 Eisenhower became a lieutenant general and was chosen to head the first major Allied military effort, Operation ‘Torch’—the invasion of North Africa. The Allies landed in North Africa in November 1942 and in May 1943 completed the conquest of Tunisia. Throughout the campaign, Eisenhower demonstrated his mastery of coalition warfare, directing and coordinating the efforts of U.S., British, and Free French land, sea, and air forces to drive the Axis powers from North Africa. Promoted to full general in February 1943, he commanded Allied forces in the invasion of Sicily in July-August and the invasion of mainland Italy in September.”

As the commander in chief of Allied coalition forces, Eisenhower served as the commanding officer of British generals Bernard Law Montgomery and Harold Rupert Alexander, later the first earl Alexander of Tunisia. Although he is widely credited with helping to defeat German forces in North Africa, he did suffer a defeat at the Kasserine Pass (February 1943) at the hands of the German general Erwin Rommel.

In December 1943, Eisenhower was transferred from the command of the Mediterranean Theatre and given command of the Supreme Headquarters of the Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF), which was being readied to invade Europe. This invasion, called Operation Overlord, took place on 6 June 1944, when, in a massive, multipart effort, American, British, and Canadian soldiers assaulted several beaches in the Normandy section of northern France and gained a foothold on the European continent by battling back entrenched German forces. As commander in chief, Eisenhower was the chief planner for the entire operation, and its success has helped to make him one of the most important military commanders in world history. Once the Allies had the Germans on the run, Eisenhower implemented a strategy of a comprehensive and broad-based advance, overwhelming the Germans and slowly pushing them back into Germany.

While Eisenhower was directing military strategy, he was also faced with some internal dissent as his numerous subordinates and other commanders all clashed over tactics. General George S. Patton, for instance, believed that a single thrust against the Germans would work better. Eisenhower did approve a plan proposed by Montgomery, which became Operation Market Garden, a scheme to drop thousands of Allied troops behind German lines to capture numerous bridges. However, this was a defeat for the Allies that left some 1,500 dead and nearly 7,000 taken prisoner.

On 1 September 1944, after an American army landing in the south of France, Eisenhower was given the command of all Allied operations in that country. On 20 December 1944, he was promoted to General of the Army with five stars, one of only a handful of men to ever hold this honor. He led Allied forces in the Ardennes offensive, a victory that ended any chance that the Germans would reverse Allied gains. His plan to march across the Rhine River and capture western Germany was successful, and Germany surrendered on 8 May 1945.

From July to November 1945, Eisenhower served as the military governor of the American Occupation Zone, headquartered in Frankfurt, Germany. On 19 November 1945, he was named chief of staff of the U.S. Army, and on 11 April 1946 his wartime rank of General of the Army was made permanent as he oversaw the demobilization of American forces in Europe.

Eisenhower retired from the army in 1948 to become the president of Columbia University in New York. However, he was recalled to service only two years later when, on 16 December 1950, President Harry S. Truman named him as supreme allied commander of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). He served in this command for two years until he retired on 31 May 1952; he resigned his army commission in July of that same year.

From the end of the war until 1952, Eisenhower was seen as a potential presidential candidate; however, because he was not overtly political, he would not specify whether he was a Republican or a Democrat, and both major American political parties courted him to run in 1948 and 1952. Following his resignation from the army, Eisenhower declared himself on 4 June 1952 to be a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination that year. He won the nomination, was elected overwhelmingly in 1952, and was reelected in 1956. During his two terms as president, Eisenhower oversaw the end of the Korean War and dealt with a wide variety of issues, including the Suez Canal crisis, the invasion of Hungary by the Soviet Union in 1956, the sending of American troops into Lebanon in 1958, increasing tension in Vietnam, and the launching of the Sputnik satellite into Earth orbit by the USSR, the growing debate over civil rights in the United States, and the creation of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW) in 1953. He left office widely popular, although his vice president, Richard M. Nixon, failed to succeed him as president.

Eisenhower left Washington on 20 January 1961 and returned to his farm in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, with his wife Mamie. On 28 March 1969, he died of heart failure at the Walter Reed Army Hospital in Washington, D.C., at the age of 78. Although he was eligible to be buried in Arlington National Cemetery, he was laid to rest instead in the Place of Meditation at the Eisenhower Center in Abilene, Kansas, where his national library is located. In an obituary, The New York Times said of him: “Military leadership of the victorious Allied forces in Western Europe during World War II invested Dwight David Eisenhower with an immense popularity, almost amounting to devotion, that twice elected him President of the United States. His enormous political success was largely personal, for he was not basically a politician dealing in partisan issues and party maneuvers. What he possessed was a superb talent for gaining the respect and affection of the voters as the man suited to guide the nation through cold war confrontations with Soviet power around the world and to lead the country to domestic prosperity.” Although perhaps better known for his two terms as president of the United States, Eisenhower’s service as head of Allied armies in the Second World War serve to make him one of the great commanders in the history of warfare.

References: Kinnard, Douglas, Eisenhower: Soldier-Statesman of the American Century (Washington, D.C.: Brassey’s, 2002); Hatch, Alden, General Ike: A Biography of Dwight D. Eisenhower (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1944); Parmet, Herbert S., Eisenhower and the American Crusades (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1972); Holland, Matthew F., Eisenhower Between the Wars: The Making of a General and a Statesman (Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 2001); Bader, Brian R., “Dwight David Eisenhower,” in Brassey’s Encyclopedia of Military History and Biography, edited by Franklin D. Margiotta (Washington, D.C.: Brassey’s, 1994), 297; Murray, G. E. Patrick, Eisenhower versus Montgomery: The Continuing Debate (Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 1996); “Dwight D. Eisenhower,” in Command: From Alexander the Great to Zhukov—The Greatest Commanders of World History, edited by James Lucas (London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 1988), 201; “Dwight D. Eisenhower: A Leader in War and Peace,” The New York Times, 29 March 1969, 1.

Forschungsmitarbeiter Mitch Williamson is a technical writer with an interest in military and naval affairs. He has published articles in Cross & Cockade International and Wartime magazines. He was research associate for the Bio-history Cross in the Sky, a book about Charles ‘Moth’ Eaton’s career, in collaboration with the flier’s son, Dr Charles S. Eaton. He also assisted in picture research for John Burton’s Fortnight of Infamy. Mitch is now publishing on the WWW various specialist websites combined with custom website design work. He enjoys working and supporting his local C3 Church. “Curate and Compile“
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