Though well-known as the 34th President of the United States of America, Dwight D. Eisenhower also had a prominent military life, in which he became one of the top US Generals in the U.S. Army. Eisenhower’s military career began in 1915 upon his graduation from West Point Academy. His graduating class had a total of 59 members move on to become general officers. Not too long after graduating Ike fell in love and married Mamie Geneva Doud. The couple moved 35 times in their first 35 years of marriage.
Eisenhower in World War I
Upon graduation from West Point, Eisenhower was a 2nd Lieutenant. He put in a request to be sent to the Philippines, but it was denied. Instead, he spent time in various camps in both Georgia and Texas with infantry – mainly supplies.
At the onset of World War I, Eisenhower was once again denied a requested assignment overseas. Instead, he was sent to Ft. Leavenworth, KS. In February of 1918 he was sent to Camp Meade, Maryland. When his unit was finally ordered overseas to France, he was once again disappointed as he was assigned, instead, to train the new tank corps. While in this position, Eisenhower was temporarily assigned as the (Bvt.) Lt. Colonel of the National Army.
Though they never saw combat, while training the tank corps, Ike showed great organizational skills and was quite capable of accurately assessing junior officers’ strengths. The tank corps was finally called overseas to France, but one week prior to their scheduled departure, the armistice was signed.
Between the Wars
Although Eisenhower was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal for his homefront service, he found himself depressed and somewhat bitter with missing yet another opportunity to serve overseas during wartime. Just after the war ended, Eisenhower was returned to his rank of captain, but within a few days, he was promoted to a major, a rank he would hold for the next 16 years.
In 1919, Major Eisenhower was assigned to the transcontinental Army convoy. He was to begin testing vehicles and instructed to dramatize the need for better roads throughout the United States. As the convoy travelled from Washington, DC to San Francisco, they were only able to average about 5 miles per hour. (In his later years as President, this became one of Eisenhower’s signature issues.)
After the convoy, he resumed duties at Camp Meade, where he commanded a battalion of tanks. He remained stationed at Camp Meade until 1922, during which time he focused on the role a tank would play in any subsequent war(s). Ike’s close work with George Patton and other senior tank leaders strengthened his proficiency in tank warfare. Many of the superiors discouraged the new ideas of speed-oriented and offensive tank warfare. They felt it was best to continue to utilize the tank only as a supportive role for the infantry. Eisenhower even received threats of court martial for continuing to publish his recommended methods for deploying tanks.
Beginning in 1920, Eisenhower served with an extraordinary number of generals, including General Pershing, General MacArthur and General Marshall. While in the Panama Canal Zone (as executive officer to General Fox Conner), he began studying military history and theory. He later sited General Conner’s influence on his own military way of thinking. Many feel Conner is the man who shaped Eisenhower. Upon Conner’s recommendation, Ike attended the Command and General Staff College from 1925-26. He graduated at the top of his class of 245 officers. Upon graduation, he was sent to Ft. Benning, GA where he served as battalion commander until 1927.
From that time up until the early 1930s, Ike’s career somewhat slowed down. During this time, military priorities diminished as many of his friends were resigning in lieu of higher paying business jobs. When he was assigned to the American Battle Monuments Commission, which was under the direction of General John J. Pershing, he published a guide to American battlefields in Europe. He enlisted the assistance of his brother Milton, a journalist for the Agriculture Department.
His next assignment was to the Army War College where he graduated in 1928. Upon graduation, he was stationed in France for a year and then returned to serve (1929 to early 1933) as the executive officer to General Mosely, who was Assistant Secretary of War. In this position, Ike was asked to plan for the next war, a task which proved to be extremely difficult given the great depression.
Eisenhower eventually became the chief military aide to General Douglas MacArthur, who at the time was the Army Chief of Staff. Though initially against General MacArthur’s decision to take a public role against the veterans in Washington D.C. during the Bonus Army March, Ike would later write the official incident report for the Army and endorse General MacArthur’s conduct.
In 1935, Eisenhower and MacArthur travelled to the Philippines. Ike assisted the Philippine government in developing their Army. He and MacArthur had differences of opinion regarding both the role of the Philippine Army and the leadership abilities an American army officer should demonstrate. Their differences and the feelings that developed remained prevalent throughout the rest of their lives – though Ike would later emphasize that too much was read into their disagreements and he insisted their relationship continued on a positive note. Many historians felt this experience with MacArthur assisted in preparing Eisenhower for dealing with other strong personalities such as Churchill, Patton, Marshall and Montgomery. While in Manila, in 1936, Eisenhower was permanently promoted to lieutenant colonel.
In 1939, Eisenhower came back to the United States. Over the next few years, he would hold various staff positions in Washington DC, California and Texas. In October of 1941, after he successfully participated in the Louisiana Maneuvers, Eisenhower received a promotion to brigadier general. Though he was noticeably competent administratively, Eisenhower had never actually held an active command above a battalion.
The United States Enters WWII
After the December 7th attack on Pearl Harbor, Ike was sent to Washington and assigned to General Staff where he was responsible for developing critical war plans to defeat Germany and Japan. He would serve in this position until June of 1942. He was appointed Deputy Chief and put in charge of the Pacific Defenses (under General Gerow, Chief of War Plans Division). Eventually, Ike would replace Gerow in that position. Next, Eisenhower appointed Asst. Chief of Staff and placed in charge of the new Operations Divisions, a replacement division for the War Plans Division. He served under Staff General George Marshall while in this position.
Towards the end of May in 1942, Eisenhower joined Lt. Gen. Arnold – commanding General of the Army Air Force – on a trip to London to evaluate Major General Chaney and his effectiveness as the theater commander in England. When he returned to the states in early June, his report was not favorable for Chaney or his staff. On June 23, 1942, Eisenhower was sent back to London, but this time as a replacement for Chaney as the Commanding General of the European Theater of Operations.
Operation Torch and Operation Avalanche
In November of 1942, Eisenhower was appointed as Supreme Commander Allied Force of N. African Theater of Operations. The North African Campaign was designated Operation Torch. The cooperation of the French was considered to be a necessity to the success of this campaign but Eisenhower found himself encountering some impossible situations with a number of rivals in France. His main objective focused on moving forces successfully onto Tunisia. In an effort to fulfill his objective, Eisenhower chose to support Francois Darlan (as High Commissioner in N. Africa), despite his fascist leaning. Allied leaders were astounded by this decision, but not one of them had offered Ike any previous guidance. Darlan was assassinated later in the year and Ike’s command position remained unaffected despite severe criticism. He realized, as a result, that he should maintain better communication with Allied leaders.
Eisenhower gained invaluable training in his combat command skills during Operation Torch. And in February of 1943, he was chosen to be the commander of Allied Force Headquarters. When he gained his fourth star, he relinquished command of the European Theater of Operation for the US Army and took over command of the North African Theater of Operations.
After the Axis forces surrendered in North Africa, Eisenhower successfully directed the invasion of Sicily. Once Mussolini fell from power in Italy, the Allies turned their focus to the mainland in Operation Avalanche. Some controversy arose between Eisenhower and Roosevelt and Churchill about the surrender terms (in exchange for assisting the Italians). Despite the controversy and the massive buildup of German forces, the invasion of Italy was still felt to be successful.
In December of 1943, President Roosevelt appointed Eisenhower as Supreme Allied Commander in Europe. Many felt the position should have gone to Marshall. Eisenhower would resume his command of the European Theater of Operation and a month later was officially assigned the Supreme Allied Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force. He would serve both these roles through May of 1945 – when hostilities ended in Europe. While serving in these two positions, Eisenhower was in charge of the planning and execution of the Allie’s assault on the Normandy coast in June of 1944. Code name for this mission was Operation Overlord. The mission was to liberate Western Europe and invade Germany.
Eisenhower’s past experience, as well as those of the officers and troops under him, served to strengthen and prepare them all for the Normandy landing assault. Eisenhower found himself once again in controversy with Roosevelt and other Allied leaders and officers on matters that were pertinent to the success of the landing. Other issues surrounded his bombing plan arose, but Eisenhower prevailed. Eisenhower was also able to secure the services of George Patton. D-Day turned out to be a costly, but successful endeavor.
Shortly after, many were predicting a summer victory in Europe. Eisenhower’s German roots made him more inclined to believe the fight would continue. From this point on, until the end of the war in Europe in May of 1945, Eisenhower – through his various roles – remained mindful of the unavoidable loss of life and suffering that was being experienced by the troops and their families. His awareness prompted him to personally visit each division involved in the invasion.
France Is Liberated and Europe Is Victorious
After the initial coastal assault was successful, Eisenhower remained firm on his desire to retain personal control over the land battle strategy. He found himself immersed in a number of command and supply assaults on Germany throughout France. Eisenhower worked diligently to sooth the rival of the commanders of the Allied forces and their insistence to be given priority. Some of his actions, historians feel, may have delayed the Allied victory in Europe.
Eisenhower received a promotion to General in December of 1944. Throughout this position, as well as those he held in the past, General Eisenhower continued to show his talent for both leadership and diplomacy. Despite never seeing action, he still won the respect of front-line commanders.
Also in December of that year, the German’s began a counter offensive in the Battle of the Bulge. By early 1945, Eisenhower’s repositioning his armies and the improvement in weather conditions which allowed the Air Force to engage, the German defenses began to deteriorate – both on the eastern and western fronts. On May 7, 1945, the Germans, after a devastating battle with the Soviets and the Polish, finally surrendered.
After the War
Once the Germans surrendered, Eisenhower was appointed Military Governor of the US Occupation Zone, which was based in Frankfurt am Main. He used camera crews to document the atrocities he discovered at the Nazi concentration camps and he reclassified the German POWs still in US custody as DEFs (or) disarmed enemy forces. To assist with the devastation, the food shortages and the increase of refugees in Germany, General Eisenhower made arrangements for American food to be distributed along with medical equipment.
Eisenhower returned to Washington DC in November of 1945 and replaced Marshall as the Chief of Staff of the US Army. He was mainly involved in rapidly demobilizing millions of soldiers. In 1946, Eisenhower remained confident that the Soviet Union wanted to avoid war and that the United States could maintain friendly relations with them. However, despite this and his continued support of the new United Nations involvement in controlling atomic bombs, he eventually relinquished all hopes for cooperation with the Soviets and agreed to the containment policy which would prevent Soviet expansion.
In 1948, General Eisenhower was approached by both parties to run for president but declined all offers. In 1951, Eisenhower was once again approached to run for president. He declared himself to be Republican, won the party’s nomination and eventually, the Presidency. Eisenhower would be the last president elected born in the 19th century; and at age 62, he would also be the oldest president elected since James Buchanan in 1856. He was also the only US General to serve as President in the 20th century.
Throughout his extensive military career, General Dwight D. Eisenhower would receive a number of awards and medals, including the Army Distinguished Service Medal, the Navy Distinguished Service Medal and the Legion of Merit.