Eisenhower, Dwight David (1890–1969)

By: John S. D. Eisenhower

Type: Biography

Published: 1976

Updated: May 29, 2020

Dwight David Eisenhower, general of the army and thirty-fourth president of the United States, was born in Denison, Texas, on October 14, 1890, to David J. and Ida (Stover) Eisenhower. His father, who had moved from Pennsylvania during the late nineteenth century, was employed on the Missouri, Kansas and Texas Railroad at the time. Shortly after his birth the family moved to Abilene, Kansas, from where Eisenhower was appointed to the United States Military Academy, West Point, in July 1911.

At West Point he was popular and gregarious, but no dedicated student. A promising football career ended with a broken knee in a game against Jim Thorpe's Carlisle Indians, after which the cadet coached the freshman team. His future leadership abilities were predicted by one superior who described him as "born to command." Another, however, advised that his first assignment, on graduation in 1915, should be under "a strict disciplinarian." Eisenhower graduated on June 12, 1915, at the top of the middle third of his class, which numbered 163. He was commissioned a second lieutenant and assigned to the Nineteenth Infantry at Fort Sam Houston, San Antonio, on September 13, 1915. He received promotion to first lieutenant on July 1, 1916, the day he married Mamie Geneva Doud. They had two sons.

Eisenhower's military career had an auspicious beginning when, during World War I, he commanded a heavy tank brigade at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, and was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal. In 1926 he graduated number one in his class at the highly competitive Command and General Staff School, Fort Leavenworth. During the 1930s Eisenhower, as a major and lieutenant colonel, was assigned largely to staff positions. His years in the War Department (1929–35) and as chief of staff to Gen. Douglas MacArthur in the Philippines (1935–39) gave him an insight into governmental affairs, both military and civilian, that was denied most of his contemporaries.

On December 14, 1941, Eisenhower, then at Fort Sam Houston, was transferred to the War Plans Division, United States Army Staff, under Gen. George C. Marshall. From that time to 1961 he held one responsible position after another. As supreme commander, Allied Expeditionary Force, he gave the order that sent British and American troops into Normandy on June 6, 1944 (D-Day). Eleven months later (V-E Day) he accepted the surrender of Nazi representatives Wilhelm Keitel and Alfred Jodl.

In 1948 Eisenhower retired as army chief of staff to become president of Columbia University in New York. Though his tenure was short-and interrupted continuously by service in Washington-he was able, while there, to organize the American Assembly for the Study of War and Peace through a gift from W. Averell Harriman. In 1951 he was recalled to military duty to serve as supreme commander, Allied Powers in Europe, under NATO.

Though his name had often been mentioned in connection with the presidency, Eisenhower always demurred, insisting on an honest "draft" for that office. When he relented in 1952, however, he found himself bitterly opposed for the Republican nomination by Senator Robert A. Taft of Ohio. His nomination was achieved only by the seating of a pro-Eisenhower Republican delegation from Texas. By contrast, his election over Democrat Adlai E. Stevenson was remarkably free of acrimony.

As president, Eisenhower followed a moderate course, continuing most of the social reforms of Roosevelt's New Deal but insisting on fiscal responsibility in the federal government. His concern over the growing size of the Pentagon budget was reflected in his much-remembered farewell address, in which he warned of the "unwarranted influence of the military-industrial complex." His domestic achievements as president included, besides balancing the federal budget three times, the construction of the Interstate Highway System, passage of the first civil-rights law since the Civil War, and the dispatch of the 101st Airborne Division to enforce school integration in Little Rock, Arkansas (1957). Eisenhower cheerfully shared credit for these measures with fellow Texans Lyndon B. Johnson and Samuel T. (Sam) Rayburn. Nevertheless, his major importance fell in the area for which he had been elected-national security. During the perilous early years of the nuclear age his will and patience did much to prevent the nuclear holocaust that did not happen.

Eisenhower left office in 1961 with his reputation still high among his countrymen. He died on March 28, 1969, at age seventy-eight, at Walter Reed Army Hospital outside Washington, D.C., survived by his widow, his son John, and four grandchildren. He is buried at the Place of Meditation, in Abilene, Kansas. Mamie Eisenhower died ten years later and was buried beside him. See also EISENHOWER BIRTHPLACE STATE HISTORICAL SITE.

Stephen E. Ambrose, Eisenhower (2 vols., New York: Simon and Schuster, 1983). David Eisenhower, Eisenhower at War, 1943–1945 (New York: Random House, 1986). Dwight D. Eisenhower, At Ease: Stories I Tell to Friends (New York: Doubleday, 1967). Dwight D. Eisenhower, Crusade in Europe (Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1948). Dwight D. Eisenhower, The White House Years (2 vols., New York: Doubleday, 1963, 1965). John Eisenhower, Strictly Personal (Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1974).

Time Periods:
  • World War II
  • Texas Post World War II

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

John S. D. Eisenhower, “Eisenhower, Dwight David,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 26, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/eisenhower-dwight-david.

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May 29, 2020