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Dwight Eisenhower's Death

Dwight Eisenhower

The life and death of Dwight Eisenhower:

Historians consider him one of the better American leaders, both as a General and President, although you really don't hear much about him. A Five Star General during World War II, he helped lead the Allies to victory in Europe and became the first Supreme Allied commander of NATO.

And while he brushed off a post war Presidential run in 1948, he went on to claim the White House for two terms in 1952 and 1956 in a tenure marked by the Cold War, the start of the U.S Space program, a huge road-building program, a historic Civil Rights stand, and a blunt warning about the growing military industrial complex.

Dwight David Eisenhower was born in Abilene, Kansas in a Pennsylvania Dutch family that had moved on to the Midwest. He was part of a family with deep religious attachments and was the third of seven boys.

Dwight Eisenhower child hood photo

Dwight picked up his nickname "Ike" as a child, as an abbreviation of the family name.

His father David owned a general store but it failed when the economy weakened, leaving the family poor. The Eisenhower boys rotated on doing chores and if someone failed at their duties they had to answer to their father.

Eisenhower went to Abilene High School and later wanted to attend college but money was tight. So he applied to the U.S. Naval Academy and the U.S. Military Academy. He was too old for the Naval Academy, although he won an entrance exam competition, and opted for West Point instead.

Dwight Eisenhower at West Point

He did well at West Point and also participated in sports, notably football but was disappointed when he failed to make the baseball team. He also racked up demerits because he didn't always follow the strict code. He graduated in 1915, called the "class the stars fell on", because 59 members eventually became Generals in the U.S. Army. Ike rose to the highest rank – Five stars.

But before that, he was a Lieutenant at Fort Sam Houston in World War I…

Dwight Eisenhower during World War I

…and began his rise through the ranks when the war ended. He eventually became chief military aide to the Army Chief of Staff, General Douglas MacArthur, another U. S. Titan.

During the Second World War, Ike was a main player in the Allies' advance into France and Germany and wound up heading up NATO forces.

Dwight Eisenhower during World War II

Unwilling to sustain major casualties, Ike decided against a full assault on the Nazi strong hold in Berlin, allowing the Russians to advance from the East. The Soviet Army suffered severe losses but eventually captured the German capital and that's when the Allies moved in from the West.

Dwight Eisenhower on cover of TIME Magazine

A conservative communist fighter, Ike won the presidency in 1952.

Dwight Eisenhower campaign button

And as President, Ike fought the communists in the Korean War. He also continued New Deal programs, forming the Department of Health Education and Welfare.

Ike oversaw the construction of the Interstate Highway System…

Dwight Eisenhower Interstate Highway System

…the establishment of NASA and the U.S. space program….

NASA and the U.S. space program

…and sent in Federal Troops to help desegregate schools in Little Rock Arkansas.

Dwight Eisenhower on tv regarding Little Rock Arkansas

However, late in his Administration, a U.S. spy plane was shot down over the Soviet Union and a scheduled peace summit including the Soviets collapsed when Ike refused demands for an apology.

Before leaving office, in his Presidential farewell, Ike also famously warned of the dangers of the military industrial complex, a perpetual war machine.

Ike was the first President to be constitutionally prevented from seeking a third term and was succeeded by John F. Kennedy.

Ike married Mamie Doud of Iowa and they had two sons…

Mamie Doud

…one of whom died at the age of three. The second son John went on the have four children of his own, including Ike's grandson David, for whom the Camp David Presidential retreat is named. This David Eisenhower later married the daughter of President Richard Nixon, Julie. (Nixon had been Ike's Vice president.)

Eisenhower and Nixon

Ike also had an intense personal relationship with a war aide name Kay Summersby.

Kay Summersby

The Eisenhower's retired to Pennsylvania, where the avid golfer – who suffered a heart attack while in office – died of heart failure. He was buried at the site of his presidential library in his hometown of Abilene.

Dwight Eisenhower grave

Eisenhower was criticized when his term ended for being inactive when compared to the young, vibrant JFK. He also was criticized for allowing the Soviets to leap ahead of the U.S. in the space race, for the embarrassment associated with the U2 crisis, and for not diving into the civil rights movement more forcefully, despite his intervention in Little Rock.

However, history has found that his military leadership during WW2 and eight years as President in the 1950's, a time of relative peace and prosperity, in which the Korean War ended and the Interstate Highway System was created, made him - on balance = one of America's most accomplished leaders.