Dwight Eisenhower – a summary

Born in Texas into a family of German immigrant pacifists, Dwight Eisenhower, the third of seven boys, was brought up in Kansas. He attended the West Point Military Academy, graduating in 1915. Although he rose to the temporary rank of lieutenant colonel during the First World War, during which he spent most of his time training tank crews, he never saw any action; a drawback, as he saw it, that caused him embarrassment and was later used against him.

Dwight D EisenhowerAfter the war Eisenhower continued to work in the tank arm, befriending George Patton and sharing his views on the importance of mobility. While stationed in France, he wrote a guide to the battlefields of the Great War, as it was still known.

Inter-war

From 1933 he worked with General Douglas MacArthur, moving with him to the Philippines in 1935, where he stayed until 1939. More senior staff work ensued and in 1941 he was made Brigadier General. When the USA entered the Second World War Eisenhower worked in the War Plans Office, which he eventually headed.

Despite his lack of frontline experience he was made US Theater Commander in Europe in June 1942. As such, he had overall command of the Torch landings in North Africa in November, and thereafter the Anglo-American armies which invaded Italy. In December 1943 he became Supreme Allied Commander for Europe – a role in which his deft political skills were more important than his military ones. Somehow he managed to operate successfully between such egos as Winston Churchill, Charles de Gaulle, Patton and Bernard Montgomery. He emerged from the war a full five star General, highly regarded by all sides.

Following the liberation of Nazi-occupied France, Eisenhower favoured a ‘broad thrust’ into Germany rather than the quicker but riskier narrow front favoured by Montgomery.

Post-war

He served briefly as Governor of the US Zone in post-war Germany, before returning to the USA and becoming Army Chief of Staff. He was courted by both the Republican and Democrat parties ahead of the 1948 presidential election, but refused to be drawn in. Instead, Eisenhower became President of Columbia University and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, during which time he wrote his bestselling Crusade in Europe. In 1951, he was appointed the Supreme Commander of the newly-created North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), serving for just fifteen months.

President

In 1953, standing as a Republican, Eisenhower became the thirty-fourth US President, serving two terms. The first Republican president for twenty years, he continued with many of Harry S Truman’s welfare programmes, introduced the US interstate highway system, and, in foreign affairs, ushered in a new robust era. It was under his tenure that the ‘domino theory’ gained currency and the USA built up both a large nuclear arsenal and the CIA. He oversaw the ending of the Korean War, sent the first US troops to South Vietnam and, in 1956, stopped the Anglo-French invasion of Suez.

Dwight EisenhowerAlthough he had a serious heart attack in 1955, and a series of minor ones throughout his time as president, he fought and won a second term the following year. As president, Eisenhower was much criticized for allowing Senator Joseph McCarthy, with vice-president Richard Nixon’s backing, too much of a free hand in exposing supposed communists within American society. It was only as McCarthy started to attack the military, most famously, George C Marshall, Eisenhower’s old mentor, that Eisenhower finally and rather belatedly intervened.

Eisenhower refused to stand behind Nixon during the 1960 presidential election in which Nixon narrowly lost to Democrat, John F Kennedy. Thereafter Eisenhower lived quietly on a farm on the Gettysburg battlefield, since bequeathed to the nation. He took up oil painting and, for the most part, avoided public discourse.

Dwight Eisenhower died, aged 78, on 28 March 1969.

Eisenhower married his wife, Mamie Geneva Doud, in 1916. They had two sons, one of whom died in infancy. But during the Second World War he became very close to his driver, Irishwoman, Kay Summersby. When Eisenhower visited US troops on the eve of D-Day, Summersby accompanied him. Whether they had an affair is open to speculation, although Summersby clearly said so. In 1975, after the death of Eisenhower, Summersby wrote her autobiography entitled Past Forgetting: My Love Affair with Dwight D. Eisenhower.

D-Day: History In An Hour, published by William Collins, part of HarperCollins, is due for publication 24 April 2014. Also available, The Korean War: History In An Hour.