Going Home to Glory
In the late afternoon of Inauguration Day, January 20, 1961, Dwight and Mamie Eisenhower drove north to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, in the 1955 Chrysler Imperial that Mamie had purchased for Ike on his sixty-fifth birthday. The outgoing President and First Lady, their personal servants, Sergeant John Moaney and Rosie Woods, and chauffeur, Leonard Dry, sat together in the roomy car. There was an eerie loneliness about the absence of motorcycle escorts and caravans of Secret Service and press cars. A single Secret Service vehicle with driver and agent led the Chrysler. When the Eisenhowers approached the entrance to their Gettysburg farm, the Secret Service honked the horn and made a U-turn, heading back to Washington.
The Eisenhowers’ itinerary had been published in newspapers. Despite a blizzard the night before and below-freezing temperatures, friendly groups in twos and threes lined the road between Washington and Frederick, Maryland. Near Emmitsburg, on Route 15, the crowds grew larger. The nuns, priests, and students of Mount St. Mary’s and St. Joseph’s colleges, bundled in overcoats and scarves, congregated along the road bearing “Welcome Home” signs.
In Gettysburg, a festive mood reigned. Over sixty civic organizations prepared for celebrations scheduled the following evening in the town square welcoming the Eisenhowers home as private citizens. Henry Scharf, owner of the Gettysburg Hotel and host of the “Welcome Home Day” celebration, was pleased that Eisenhower had selected Gettysburg to retire. The Eisenhowers would not only mean tourism, but also add to the historical
stature of the community. Scharf, like the majority of the townspeople, had a sense of history about Gettysburg. His study at home was packed with books on the Civil War, World War II, and the American Revolution. By the untidy appearance of his study, one judged he used those references constantly, and he did. He was convinced Eisenhower’s decision to retire to Gettysburg was an affirmation of the town’s historical uniqueness.
As Scharf said to his wife, Peggy, “
This is the greatest thing to happen to this town since the battle. This man is beloved by everyone, including his opponents. He is the best-loved president since Lincoln.”
But there was a difference. While in office, Lincoln had been one of the most maligned presidents in American history. His stature had grown with the passage of time and he was linked to Gettysburg by his unforgettable address at the dedication of the National Cemetery. Eisenhower, on the other hand, was perhaps the most popular president while in office, but his reputation might not grow like Lincoln’s, might in fact diminish.
Earlier that morning, Scharf’s daughter, Elise, scurried about her Alexandria, Virginia, apartment collecting a few necessities for the journey to Gettysburg along the precise route the Eisenhower party would take. Not only was Elise needed at home to assist with the multicourse dinner arrangements; she also eagerly anticipated a chance to see the Eisenhowers close-up and perhaps even to chat. Elise admired President Eisenhower and had seen him from a distance on the few occasions her father’s staff had been involved in catering functions on the grounds of the Gettysburg farm. She had gone along as a member of the kitchen or grounds crew, just for a glimpse. Now, as far as she and several thousand other Gettysburgians were concerned, the Eisenhowers were becoming neighbors. Nobody planned to bother them or to ask them to appear at social gatherings and club functions. Everyone expected that eventually the Eisenhowers would take some active part in the community, but no one would impose.
The weather was ominous. Elise worried that she would be blocked by the accumulating snowdrifts, which were paralyzing the capital city and the roads leading to southern Pennsylvania. Snow had fallen heavily the night before, and the entire Potomac Basin was frozen. Temperatures had plummeted. As the ceremonies inaugurating John Kennedy as the thirty-fifth president drew to a conclusion, Elise called the Maryland State Police to learn the status of the northbound roads. She found out that nothing could be guaranteed after three o’clock but that if she left immediately, she had a reasonable chance of getting home.
Additionally, she reasoned, if she could reach Route 15 at Frederick, the remainder of the road running through Thurmont and Emmitsburg would be kept open for the Eisenhower motorcade. Elise set off on her uncertain trek and eventually joined up five minutes behind the bittersweet Eisenhower procession.
Every mile, Elise saw evidence that the Eisenhower motorcade had passed through minutes before. She saw discarded signs reading “Welcome Home,” and the dispersing throngs who moments earlier had braved the cold to ease Eisenhower’s transition to private life. In Emmitsburg, Peggy passed the congregation of nuns packing up blankets and signs outside of St. Joseph’s College. Upon arriving in Gettysburg, she learned of improving forecasts for the 21st, calling for frigid weather but gradually diminishing snowfall. The ceremonies set for the next day were on.
At dinnertime, my grandparents drove directly to our home, a former schoolhouse that stood on the corner of their farm. My three younger sisters, Anne, eleven, Susan, nine, Mary Jean, five, and I, now a grown-up twelve years old, had watched the inauguration at home in Gettysburg. I remembered thinking that it should have been the Nixons moving into the White House—and then thinking that being twelve and fourteen years old, the ages of Julie and Tricia Nixon, would be a terrible time to have Secret Service agents. I would miss the men on my detail, but not their constant guarding of Gran One, Gran Two, Gran Three, and Gran Four, the official Secret Service names for my sisters and me.
Everyone now seemed animated and happy, in sharp contrast to the air of numbing tension in the White House several weeks earlier. Relaxed, Granddad listened intently to every word spoken and seemed to say less than usual. He basked in the attention, joking lightly. Characteristically, he wandered frequently into the kitchen to supervise dinner preparations by Sergeant Moaney and his wife, Delores, who had arrived at the farm earlier in the day. Moaney had joined Granddad’s staff as his orderly in the early months of the war in Europe and Delores had become my grandparents’ cook after the war.
My father, John, broke the spell of gaiety toward the end of the evening, standing up from the dinner table to speak. He reviewed briefly Granddad’s accomplishments and then spoke of the years before the fame. As a small, tight-knit family of three, the Eisenhowers had seen much of the world.
They had lived in Paris and in Washington both before and during the Depression. They then went on to the Philippines and four years of service under General Douglas MacArthur. The war had dispersed the family, John going to West Point, Mamie returning to Washington, and Dwight Eisenhower going on, in Douglas MacArthur’s words, to “write his name in history.” Dad recalled that the decision to run for president had been difficult, but in the end, Dwight Eisenhower had returned from his NATO command to lead the country through eight years of peace and prosperity. Dad spoke of the experience of a lifetime he had had serving his father in the West Wing.
“Leaving the White House will not be easy at first,” Dad said. “But we are reunited as a family, and this”—Dad gestured to all of us seated, and outside toward the farm—“is what we have wanted. I suppose that tonight, we welcome back a member of this clan who has done us proud.” Dad raised his glass in a toast.
Too moved to reply, Granddad simply held his glass high and joined in the “hear, hear.”
It had been a long day. Earlier, Eisenhower had transferred power to John F. Kennedy. That morning, after coffee at the White House and a brief pause at the North Portico for the benefit of newsmen, photographers, and television cameras, Eisenhower and Kennedy had driven off to the Capitol wearing top hats in place of the homburgs that Eisenhower had sought to install as a tradition at his inaugural in 1953. The tradition, Time noted, “
will end with his [Eisenhower’s] administration.”
Slowly the black limousine bearing the oldest and second-youngest presidents in U.S. history had rolled toward the gleaming Capitol building, past the crowd estimated at nearly a million people lining Washington’s broad boulevards and gradually filling the newly installed tiers of spectator’s stands. In December, Eisenhower had ruefully likened the stands appearing around the White House and along the inaugural parade route to
“scaffolds.” By that comment Eisenhower might have been mindful of his inauguration eight years earlier. After he and Harry Truman exchanged only a few words during the entire ceremony, Truman’s departure, in Eisenhower’s mind, had taken on the character of a hanging. But in January 1961, Harry Truman, busy making the rounds of inaugural parties, appeared to have forgotten the affair. On the 19th, Truman told reporters he had “no advice”
regarding Eisenhower’s retirement, adding that as far as he was concerned, Eisenhower was
“a very nice person.”
Eisenhower was being handled gently, even affectionately, as he went through the ritual of laying down power. Since November, Kennedy had been at his cordial best. Before the inaugural ceremony, Eisenhower and Kennedy had chatted amicably in the Red Room. For his part, Kennedy was almost alight with the intense media excitement over his ascension to power.
Eisenhower had been busy in January preparing his final messages to the American people. In his eighth State of the Union address, he declared the state of the union to be sound. He reminded the country that for eight years Americans had
“lived in peace.” Eisenhower listed his administration’s measures that had ensured the peace: the ballistic missile program, strong support for foreign aid, a series of alliances ringing the Sino-Soviet landmass, and efforts to open talks between East and West. Two weeks later, in his farewell address to the nation, Eisenhower had expressed forebodings about the domestic implications of a permanent state of mobilization without war, warning that a
“military industrial complex” could undermine democratic self-rule.
But Eisenhower’s message fell on deaf ears. The inaugural coincided with a period of turmoil. Nikita Khrushchev in early January issued an ominous declaration. Aimed partly at China, partly at the United States, he endorsed
“wars of national liberation,” a program of Soviet support for insurgencies and sabotage worldwide against the remnants of Western colonialism. In Laos, North Vietnamese battalions operated with Pathet Lao units in a battle against pro-Western forces for control of the strategic Plain of Jars. In Cuba, Fidel Castro paraded Soviet-built tanks and Cuban militiamen through downtown Havana, proclaiming his preparedness against a rumored invasion from the north. In France, voters approved a referendum endorsing Charles de Gaulle’s program to end the war in Algeria, setting the stage for France’s capitulation to the rebel forces. Throughout Belgium, half a million workers, teachers, and businessmen protested the government’s austerity program, enacted because of the wrenching loss of the Congo and the end of colonialism in Africa.
Kennedy disagreed with Eisenhower’s optimism about the state of the union and now it was his turn to speak. In January, the president-elect had proclaimed before the Massachusetts legislature that his government would
“always consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill—the eyes of all the people
are upon us.” Now center stage, on the threshold of assuming the presidency, Kennedy wanted to convey a sense of urgency, to “rekindle the spirit of the American revolution,” and to ask for greater exertions by the American people. In New York on September 14, he had declared his presidency would be
“a hazardous experience,” predicting, “We will live on the edge of danger.”
Minor mishaps enriched the pageantry of the Kennedy inaugural. Cardinal Cushing’s invocation was interrupted by a short circuit in the electric motor powering the heating system that warmed the seated dignitaries. Mamie Eisenhower first noticed the smoke and for several awkward moments the assembled officials on the platform scurried about in confusion. The winter sun’s glare temporarily blinded poet Robert Frost at the lectern, and forced him to recite from memory a poem he had published in 1942 titled “The Gift Outright,” rather than the poem he had written for the inaugural.
Following the administration of the oath, Kennedy delivered the most memorable inaugural speech since Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s in 1933. The young president achieved eloquence, an inspirational quality, a tone of defiance and resolve. He repudiated the confident premise of the Eisenhower administration.
“Only a few generations,” he declared, “have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger. I welcome this responsibility.”
Kennedy drew attention to his youth and to his awareness that this was a moment of transition from wartime to postwar leadership.
We dare not forget today that we are the heirs of that first revolution. Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch is passed to a new generation of Americans—born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage—and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this nation has always been committed, and to which we are committed today, at home and around the world.
To Khrushchev’s promise to subsidize “wars of national liberation,” Kennedy replied:
Let every nation know whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend
or oppose any foe to assure the survival and success of liberty. This much we pledge and more.
Implying years of inaction under Eisenhower, he cried: “But let us begin . . . let us begin anew.”
The Los Angeles Times noted about Kennedy:
“He is wrong in implying the beginning came with him, but he is right in suggesting that the perfecting of mankind is tedious and unpredictable.” But Time magazine had applauded Kennedy’s
“lean, lucid phrases,” noting his message had “profound meaning for the US future.”
Fourteen years later, author Robert Nisbet, criticizing the liberals’ fondness for crisis, wrote that
“crisis is always an opportunity for a break with the despised present, liberation from the kinds of authority which are most repugnant to bold, creative and utopian minds.” Kennedy was now president. The “despised present” was the Eisenhower administration and the “liberation” from constraints had been accomplished by the inaugural ceremony.
Naturally, feelings about the speech ran high and negative among Eisenhower’s associates, friends, and family. From the Capitol, Eisenhower motored to a farewell reception at the F Street Club hosted by former chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission Admiral Lewis Strauss and attended by the Nixons, my parents, John and Barbara Eisenhower, and former members of the cabinet. During one of the toasts that dwelled sentimentally on Eisenhower and the departed administration, my mother whispered to Nixon seated to her right,
“Wasn’t it sad?” Nixon shrugged.
Milton Eisenhower, Eisenhower’s youngest brother and closest confidant, lacking the heart to attend either the inauguration or the F Street farewell, watched the ceremonies on television in his home on the Johns Hopkins University campus, where he was president. Once a delegate to UNESCO, he had long believed the United States could “change history” by working toward mutual understanding among peoples. As Milton later recalled, the unilateral character of Kennedy’s speech
“hit me like bricks.”
At Washington’s Jefferson Hotel, Eisenhower staff members, including appointments secretary Tom Stephens, Mamie’s aide Mary Jane McCaffrey, the President’s secretary Ann Whitman, and White House speechwriter Kevin McCann, watched the speech and parade on television. They drowned their sorrow and remorse with martinis. As McCann recalled,
“The world was coming to an end.”
On January 21, the Eisenhower family packed suitcases and drove the several miles from our home into Gettysburg for the welcome ceremony. The severe weather might force us to stay at the Gettysburg Hotel.
In the frigid (14 degrees) night, more than two thousand people crammed into floodlit Lincoln Square to witness the remarks. Judge W. C. Sheely delivered the welcome on behalf of Gettysburg, Cumberland Township, and Adams County. The Gettysburg High School Band played “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” An honor guard comprised of one Army and one Air Force ROTC detachment from Gettysburg College rendered the ceremonial salute.
My sisters and I had taken places among a crowd of grade school classmates. I had seen my grandfather many times on television, as he returned from trips overseas, or addressed Congress or the United Nations. I had seen documentaries about his role during World War II, and I had ridden with him in the presidential limousine through parades and motorcades, but I had never watched him as part of a crowd. The connection between the man on a television screen and the man I knew had always been somewhat abstract. I had never comprehended the barriers between Granddad and others, or experienced them as others had. I realized that if I ran forward that night to the podium, a policeman would restrain me and that I would wreck the decorum of the ceremony. This tugged at me slightly. Yet looking around me, all the people I knew seemed to regard the sight of Granddad on the platform addressing the crowd, waving, being blinded by cameras, ringed by police, as perfectly natural. This, I thought, either set me apart from my friends or set me apart from my grandfather. It occurred to me I had not fully appreciated that familiar and now suddenly distant bald, silhouetted figure being serenaded and honored by my friends.
After the speeches, minutes before the banquet was scheduled to begin, Elise Scharf slipped into the second-floor suite where the Eisenhowers were due to arrive for a cocktail with her parents and a few of the local sponsors of the event.
Mamie Eisenhower was the first person to enter the room. Elise was startled. The former First Lady seemed surprised to see Elise and said nothing. Suddenly Dwight Eisenhower stood a foot away.
“Hi! I’m General Eisenhower,” he said, extending his hand. Eisenhower’s face was ruddy and smiling.
Elise froze. She was speechless. After shaking his hand in confusion, she wandered back into an old kitchen, then a bedroom, where she found a solitary and forlorn-looking Secret Service agent standing watch. He was Dick Flohr, dispatched by President Kennedy as a courtesy to stay for several days in Gettysburg to ward off the curious who might attempt to disturb the Eisenhowers in their isolation on the farm.
Flohr had been among the handful of agents with Granddad during his heart attack in 1955, and had protected him on the campaign trail in 1956. In time Flohr had accumulated a number of intimate experiences with the Eisenhower family. And after eight years of protecting President Eisenhower, agent Flohr’s loyalty had become personal. He had traveled everywhere with the President and he loved him. In time he would serve President Kennedy loyally and faithfully, as he had Eisenhower.
“Why are you talking to me?” he asked Elise. She confessed that she did not know what to say to anyone if she were to go back in. “Young lady,” he said reproachfully, “the greatest man you will ever meet is standing out there in the next room. You are wasting your time here. Go talk to him.”
Elise still hesitated. In the adjoining living room, the gales of laughter and rapid conversation were deafening. But several minutes later she was standing next to Eisenhower. He turned and stunned her with his question: “You’re in education aren’t you?”
“I almost called you to hitch a ride; the snow was awful,” she bubbled. There, she had broken the ice. It was a start.
“Well,” he said laughing, “they disconnected me at noon!” He became serious and the two began to discuss one of Eisenhower’s pet concerns, federal aid to education. As they talked on for what seemed to Elise to be ten minutes or more, she learned Eisenhower was skeptical of the clamor for federal aid to education. When the federal government begins to fund education, he argued, educational institutions will find they cannot live without the assistance they receive. Then, he added with dark emphasis, the government eventually tells educators what to do. Elise agreed. Whether for good purposes or for evil purposes, Eisenhower continued, the ability to control education has the potential to be used to promote mind control and that should be enough to recommend against letting any such thing take root. She agreed again. This man is wonderful, she thought.
“Driving up here I knew you were just ahead of me. I could see the nuns at St. Joseph’s, the signs,” she said.
“Wasn’t that wonderful,” Eisenhower said smiling.
As new friends, Granddad and Elise strolled together downstairs for the presentations, the dinner music, and songs by members of the Gettysburg College Choir. Henry Scharf served as toastmaster. At the end of the dinner he presented the Eisenhowers with a sterling silver wall plaque. Engraved on it was Eisenhower’s response to the question of what he wanted Soviet premier Khrushchev to see in America during his historic 1959 visit:
“I want him to see a happy people . . . doing exactly as they choose, within the limits that they must not transgress the rights of others.”
AN ECCENTRIC REQUEST
On January 24, with an improvement in the weather, Eisenhower was able to fly to Albany, Georgia, for a stag vacation starting at the plantation belonging to W. Alton “Pete” Jones, his future partner in the Eisenhower Farms. Granddad loved to hunt and he was a good shot. In Gettysburg during the pheasant and hunting season, he used to complain to his farm manager and lifelong Army colleague Brigadier General Arthur Nevins that as soon as the season opened, “the pheasants got news of it” and all the cocks took refuge in the adjoining national battlefield, where hunting was prohibited. But at the Jones plantation, for ten days he could shoot quail to his heart’s content.
While Eisenhower vacationed in Georgia, the skeletal staff that had accompanied him to Gettysburg began collecting materials for the memoir Eisenhower planned to write on the presidency. Dad began gathering back issues of the Sunday editions of the New York Times and organizing presidential secretary Ann Whitman’s files, which included Eisenhower’s sporadic dictations in office diary form, important correspondence, and classified memoranda. For a month Dad would be working on his own, collecting news summaries and outlining chapters.
When Eisenhower returned from Georgia, he left promptly with Mamie for Palm Desert, California, and the extended vacation he had planned the month before. A number of Eisenhower’s friends arranged to be in California. Longtime friend and partner in the Eisenhower farm operation George Allen flew in to be nearby at his home at La Quinta. Ellis “Slats” Slater, retired President of Frankfort Distillers, flew to California from New York to join the crowd berthing five miles north at the exclusive Thunderbird Country Club. Radio personality Freeman Gosden played host at
the Eldorado Country Club, where Texas oilman Robert McCulloch was constructing a home on the eleventh fairway for the Eisenhowers’ lifetime winter use.
Every day, Eisenhower and his friends rose early to play golf at Eldorado, Thunderbird, or a neighboring club in matching foursomes. At noon the group broke up for lunch and naps and later assembled for shopping at neighboring stores during the late afternoon. In the evenings the friends assembled for dinner and bridge marathons. For days Eisenhower and his friends donned the uniforms of leisure and relaxed furiously with infrequent intrusions from the outside world.
After a complete rest lasting several weeks, Eisenhower gradually began to open the door to visitors and old government colleagues. In March, former secretary of state Christian Herter visited for dinner and a long conversation. Subsequently former labor secretary James Mitchell paid a call on Eisenhower, as did former vice president Richard Nixon, who drove from Los Angeles to Palm Desert for an afternoon and evening of talks. Five months after the fact, Eisenhower and Nixon were still smarting from the razor-thin loss of the White House to Kennedy. The almost too-close-to-call election had been a referendum on the Eisenhower administration as much as it had been about Nixon and his campaign. Eisenhower had been disheartened by the loss and was still questioning why Nixon had not used him more in the final days of the campaign. At the same time, he knew his vice president had had much more at stake and had taken the defeat hard, especially in view of the disputed returns in Chicago and Texas. The morning after the election, Eisenhower had written from the White House:
Dear Dick and Pat:
. . . I want to express to you both the fervent hope that the two of you will not be too greatly disappointed by yesterday’s election returns. I know that whatever disappointment you do feel will not be for yourselves but for our country and for the jeopardy in which our great hopes and aims for the future have been placed.
On the personal side, you will unquestionably have a happier life during these next four years, especially because of your closer contact with your two beautiful daughters. Of course I have no indication of what your future plans may be—possibly you do not know yourselves. But wherever you go or whatever activities in which you may be engaged, you will have my best wishes.
I assure you that my official confidence in you, Dick, has not been shaken for
a moment, and of course all four of you may be certain that the affection that Mamie and I feel for you will never grow less.
With warm regard,
Dwight D. Eisenhower
Eisenhower surfaced for newsmen at the Palm Springs training camp of the newly formed Los Angeles Angels baseball team. He remained topical. On March 3, to his amusement, the ZengaKuren radical organizations, which had succeeded in forcing cancellation of his planned 1960 trip to Japan, announced a pledge not to demonstrate in the event Eisenhower returned, provided that he visit in the capacity of former president of Columbia University. On March 31, Che Guevara,
Cuba’s leading “banker,” swaggeringly boasted at a press conference that he could beat Eisenhower at golf. In late March, Eisenhower and several friends flew to Baja for a few days of hunting and fishing in La Paz.
While in California, Eisenhower was not altogether free of the White House. Since the law regarding presidential papers vested him with full ownership, Eisenhower had ordered packed and removed every memorandum, letter, and minute of meetings even remotely connected with his conduct of office, and had had the materials sent to the site of his future presidential library in Abilene, Kansas. The classified materials he shipped to nearby Fort Ritchie, Maryland, for safe storage. Consequently, the Kennedy administration found itself lacking memoranda and wires on holdover matters, particularly in the field of atomic energy, where limited copies of the draft policies and memoranda existed. Back in Gettysburg, Dad took on the job of clearing Kennedy administration requests for documents through Granddad, and then locating them in the files stored at Fort Ritchie.
Pursuant to an understanding reached between Eisenhower and Kennedy after their December 6 meeting, General Andrew Goodpaster, who had served Eisenhower as staff secretary, remained temporarily in his job, providing a daily presidential intelligence briefing. In time he would transfer his duties to General Ted Clifton and depart for Germany and the field command Eisenhower had promised him.
Meanwhile, Goodpaster remained in steady contact with Dad and other former White House staffers. He reported that he got along quite well with McGeorge Bundy, Walt Rostow, and other Kennedy appointees. As for the President,
Goodpaster told my father that he would find John Kennedy a
“fine fellow” to work with, cordial, intelligent, and humorous.
But Goodpaster had adjustments to make during his short tenure in the Kennedy White House. Working for Eisenhower, Goodpaster had arrived each morning prepared to deliver concise, military-style oral briefings to the President. In contrast, Kennedy, a voracious reader, asked Goodpaster to devise a digest format that enabled the President to read daily intelligence developments as if he were scanning a newspaper.
Upon assuming office, Kennedy made clear to Ted Clifton that there was
“nothing Eisenhower wants that we will not provide.” Kennedy offered helicopter transportation, limousine service when Eisenhower visited Washington, the use of Walter Reed Army Medical Center, and of Air Force One to transport him to California when Eisenhower left for his February vacation. Eisenhower accepted Walter Reed but declined the helicopter and limousine with thanks, as well as the Air Force transportation to California, which he felt would be “misunderstood.”
Eisenhower had promised Kennedy at both the December 6, 1960, and January 19, 1961, meetings that he would support Kennedy on foreign policy with two caveats. He would oppose any move to recognize Red China and he would stop any efforts to rename Dulles International Airport, then under construction in the northern Virginia suburbs. Eisenhower also had a personal favor to ask of Kennedy. Through intermediaries, he requested that the Kennedy administration expedite a bill through Congress, drafted during the final days of the Eisenhower administration by congressional liaison Bryce Harlow, that would restore his five-star rank. Since five-star status brought with it certain perquisites in addition to those of former presidents, Eisenhower agreed to live within the budgetary limits of a former president. The arrangement permitted Eisenhower to retain the services of his chauffeur Leonard Dry, his valet Sergeant Moaney, and his principal office assistant, Colonel Robert Schulz.
In March, Kennedy summoned Ted Clifton to the Oval Office to review Eisenhower’s
“eccentric request.” Kennedy observed at the outset that the restoration of rank involved forfeiting Eisenhower’s title as “Mr. President.” Kennedy could not conceive any hidden benefit Eisenhower might gain by becoming a five-star general and declining the presidential title. There would be neither monetary nor power gains.
Clifton suggested that perhaps simply the matter of the title was important
to Eisenhower. After all, he explained, “Mr. President” placed Eisenhower in company with Kennedy, Truman, and Hoover. “General” was an independent title, unassociated with Kennedy, something of Eisenhower’s very own. Clifton concluded, “Well sir, and if he is a five-star general, he needs no favors from you or the White House.”
Enlightened, Kennedy ordered Clifton to go ahead. When the bill was passed without opposition in March, Kennedy directed Clifton that the announcement be made “without fanfare” and “on background” at the daily presidential press briefing.
“Hold it up,” Kennedy gestured in a reference to the commissioning documents, “but downplay it, no story.”
On March 22, 1961, Clifton called Robert Schulz at the new Eisenhower offices at Gettysburg College to inform him that his boss was once again a general of the Army. As he signed the bill a day later, Kennedy penned a brief note to Eisenhower in Palm Desert officially informing him of the appointment. A day later, a red five-star pennant was run up the flagpole on the east grounds of the farm, marking Eisenhower’s return to the ranks of the Army.
A quick check of history would have explained everything. Years earlier Truman’s secretary of state, General George Marshall, had also puzzled friends and Truman by wishing to be known as “General” instead of “Mr. Secretary” after retiring from the cabinet. Marshall, reflecting Eisenhower’s sentiment, explained that the military title meant more to him than any civilian title.
“I worked all my life to be ‘General,’ ” Marshall explained. So had Eisenhower.
For several months, Eisenhower and Kennedy would exchange correspondence on a variety of routine items—the restoration of rank, the transition, a note of thanks from Kennedy for Eisenhower’s strong statement pledging bipartisan support in foreign policy. But there was little possibility of a warm, personal, even advisory relationship. Despite the surface cordiality and the holdover of many familiar faces from the Eisenhower years, including John A. McCone at the Atomic Energy Commission, C. Douglas Dillon at Treasury, Allen Dulles at CIA, and J. Edgar Hoover at FBI, there was a natural antagonism between the administrations.
The Kennedy administration swept boldly into Washington
“eager to be tried” and persuaded that the Eisenhower presidency had been a
“great postponement.” The elaborate organizational staff reforms of the Eisenhower White House were stripped away with an almost evangelical glee, in particular the downgrading of Eisenhower’s cherished National Security
Council (NSC), described in Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.’s chapter “The Hour of Euphoria” in his book A Thousand Days:
Mac [McGeorge Bundy] was presently engaged in dismantling the elaborate national security apparatus built up by the Eisenhower administration. . . . Richard Neustadt had taken great pleasure during the interregnum in introducing Bundy to the Eisenhower White House as the equivalent of five officers on the Eisenhower staff. After the inauguration, Bundy promptly slaughtered committees right and left and collapsed what was left of the inherited apparatus into a compact and flexible National Security Council staff. With Walt Rostow as his deputy, and Bromley Smith, a remarkable civil servant as the NSC’s secretary, he was shaping a supple instrument to meet the new President’s distinctive needs.
One of Kennedy’s “distinctive needs” would be the counsel of an elder statesman. Because of the lack of rapport between Kennedy and Eisenhower, the role of elder statesman naturally fell to Harry S. Truman, although he, like Eisenhower, had difficulty warming up to the president whom he had snidely called a “spoiled young man.” Nonetheless, Kennedy made an early gesture of goodwill, inviting Truman to stay overnight at the White House not long after the inauguration. As the story goes, after dinner the two men took a stroll along the ground floor of the mansion past the Diplomatic Reception Room and toward the movie theater. At the massive doorway leading to the East Wing, the two men paused at the spot where the White House renovation during the Truman years is officially recorded in gold-bronze lettering on the wall. A member of the mansion staff overheard Kennedy remark wryly to Truman,
“The S.O.B. [Eisenhower] had a painting over it.”
The story is a reminder that changes of administration in those days always touched off a remodeling of the White House to reflect the style and preferences of the new president. Paintings of presidents and first ladies adorn the White House on the ground floor, the first floor, and the presidential offices in the West Wing. The positioning of these portraits revealed the favorites of the current president. The least favored presidents and first ladies were banished to oblivion: at the very top of the Grand Staircase descending from the family quarters to the first floor, outside the doctor’s
office on the ground floor, or outside the library behind a partition that is drawn as tourists walk through.
The Eisenhower years highlighted Lincoln and Washington. The Kennedy-Johnson years would highlight Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, and Truman. The circle would come around again during the Nixon years when the Tom Stephens portrait of Eisenhower dominated the Cabinet Room and the J. Anthony Wills portrait of Eisenhower hung at the entrance to the East Room.
Certain concessions are made for the sake of avoiding pettiness. Eisenhower had inadvertently scarred the Oval Office floor with his golf cleats. He often wore golf shoes in the Oval Office so he could slip out for a quick session of putting and sand practice on the South Lawn. Kennedy decided not to repair the floor, as did Johnson. Nixon, however, had no fears about being accused of obliterating Eisenhower’s mark in the Oval Office. At Pat Nixon’s insistence, the floor was replaced soon after the 1969 inauguration, but the sentimental Nixon had the scarred portions of the old floor cut up into two-inch square pieces, mounted on small plaques, and mailed to Eisenhower’s friends as mementos.
In the 1950s, Eisenhower had felt less need for the advice of his predecessor. Throughout his presidency, Eisenhower’s relationship with Truman had been frozen in mutual antagonism. Truman never forgave Eisenhower’s decision to run as a Republican in 1952 and Eisenhower had never forgiven Truman for certain statements Truman made in the campaign, which ended a long-standing and friendly partnership. By 1961, Truman no longer cared to remember that in 1947 he suggested to Eisenhower that he would serve as vice president if Eisenhower headed the ticket in 1948. The offer, which Truman now denied, is recorded in Truman’s diary, which he presumably thought was destroyed. It was discovered in the Truman Library in 2003 in an obscure stack of books. In his diary entry dated July 25, 1947, Truman wrote,
“Ike and I think MacArthur expects to make a Roman triumphal return to the U.S. a short time before the Republican convention meets in Philadelphia. I told Ike that if he did that,” then Eisenhower should “announce for the nomination for president on the Democratic ticket and that I’d be glad to be in second place, or vice president.”
In his own diary, Eisenhower had described the day:
Astounding talk at the White House at 3:30 this afternoon. I stick on my determination to have nothing to do with politics—but I can well understand the calamity that might overtake us if some utterly ruthless
and ambitious person [a draft Douglas MacArthur for president headquarters had just opened in Washington] should capture public imagination at the critical moment.—
A cabin in the woods looms up daily as the perfect haven.
I wonder whether five years from now HT will (or will want to) remember his amazing suggestion!!
Five months later, on New Year’s Eve, December 31, 1947, Eisenhower, mulling over the pressures on him to accept the Democratic nomination, wrote:
My amazing conversation in July with President T, while I realize he may have been talking under conditions as he then saw them—yet the suggestion that he might want to take the lead to ensure the defeat of one particular danger [Douglas MacArthur] he saw on the horizon was, to say the least, extraordinary. . . .
We end the year on a somber note—but battles are not won by pessimism! We should cultivate the spirit of “Onward Christian Soldiers.” . . .
A few hours later, he recorded:
January 1. This morning I called the President to wish him a happy New Year.
Only a few days ago, he said to me “Ike, no matter what you do or whatever your plans, let us both resolve that nothing shall ever mar our personal friendship. . . .”
In early April, the Eisenhowers returned from California to Gettysburg. Granddad and Mamie loved the farm, which they had purchased in late 1950. The residence they built on the property and moved into in 1955 was the first home they had owned after thirty-three Army moves. As often as possible in White House years, they had spent weekends at the farm.
It had been Granddad’s dream for years to own a piece of land. As his farm manager, Brigadier General Arthur Nevins, recalled, Ike simply wanted the chance “to improve the fertility of the soil” of his 190 acres.
He had chosen Gettysburg because he felt a connection to the area. His ancestors had settled near the Susquehanna in 1753. Young officer Ike Eisenhower and Mamie also had strong memories of their life in Gettysburg with their first-born son in 1917–18, when Eisenhower commanded a tank-training battalion on the southern edge of town. But perhaps the strongest draw to Gettysburg was that longtime friends, the high-spirited George Allen and his wife, Mary, owned a farm in Gettysburg and had been urging the Eisenhowers to join them.
Allen was an intimate friend of Roosevelt and Truman and author of the humorous book Presidents Who Have Known Me, published in 1950. My grandparents loved his yarns about Mississippi politics, football, and Washington. Like the Eisenhowers, he was drawn to Gettsyburg as a Civil War site. His father, who died when Allen was eight, had been a scout for General Nathan Bedford Forrest during the Civil War. His uncle, John M. Allen, had been an eight-term congressman from Tupelo, Mississippi, during Reconstruction. A plaque at the Allen homestead in Mississippi read:
“This house gave nine souls to the Confederacy.”
During the presidency, Eisenhower had left the day-to-day workings of the farm to others. Eisenhower arranged to lease his farmlands to Allen and businessman B. G. Byars of Tyler, Texas, in return for a nominal rental fee for use of the arable acres, while paying the Allen-Byars partnership to maintain his growing Angus herd. Under the direction of General Nevins, the farm had been transformed. When Eisenhower purchased it in 1950, the farmland had poor fertility and drainage, inadequate fencing, and had been suitable only for dairy farming and eggs for shipment to Baltimore.
By 1961, the Eisenhower farm was a humming cattle-breeding complex equipped with corrals, cattle chutes, a platform scale, feed lots, and seventy-six head of Angus. Now, with the Allen-Byars partnership about to expire, Eisenhower looked forward to finalizing new business arrangements and to immersing himself in the farm operation.
Indeed, by spring of 1961, new acquisitions on the farm property had converted the sleepy dairy farm into an estate worthy of Eisenhower’s earliest dreams as a boy. “Pete” Jones donated a skeet and trap shoot range, landscaped so that it was hidden behind a cluster of trees adjoining Confederate Avenue and the battlefield. A putting green was nestled below the residence next to beds of roses, daffodils, begonias, and gladiolas. Granddad had a small brick hut and patio constructed for his ritual steak barbeques, served up for large parties and special family gatherings. Gifts of trees
and shrubbery comprised some of southern Pennsylvania’s most unusual landscaping. Near the residence, there were rose bushes, a davidia tree, walnut and pecan trees, and two pink dogwoods. There was also a peach orchard near the horse corral and a cherry tree orchard near the barbeque pit. Fifty evergreens lined the avenue from Waterworks Road to the farm residence, a gift of the Republican state committees. My grandparents’ prize object was an artifact of the Civil War—a rusty old pump near Sergeant Moaney’s kitchen garden that, according to legend, had been used by General John Bell Hood’s brigade encamped on the grounds during the Battle of Gettysburg.
I had been working on the farm since the age of ten. My tenth birthday, March 31, 1958, had been a grand occasion. Delores Moaney used to say, “Master David, when you are ten years old, you’ll be all grown up.” Birthdays and Christmases had in the past brought forth a cornucopia of toy soldiers, model airplanes, Davy Crockett rifles, and coonskin caps. But on my tenth birthday, when we gathered on the sunporch to open presents Granddad had presented me with a large, wine-colored family Bible with ten parchment pages to enter births, deaths, and marriages of my sons and daughters, their children, and their children’s children. My parents, who knew I was an aspiring short story writer, presented me with a leather-bound folder engraved DDE.
In 1958, it was decided that I would start work as a farmhand for thirty cents an hour. My daily chore would be to weed and tend the large vegetable garden below the residence; my summer-long project was to paint the seemingly endless white corral-style fences on the farm property, beginning first in the barnyard, near the Quonset-hut shed and dog kennel. Because we were living in Alexandria at the time, Granddad arranged for me to stay with Navy Chief Petty Officer Walter West, who was supervisor of the fourteen acres surrounding the Gettysburg residence. He lived in a small, two-story frame house near Thurmont just off old Route 15, the main highway to Gettysburg.
In early June I had packed a duffel bag, hopped in the Secret Service sedan, and jauntily took off to begin my career. Each day, Chief West and I were up by six for a hearty breakfast cooked by his wife, who worked at nearby Fort Ritchie. By sunup, the Chief and I were rumbling along in his pickup at fifty miles an hour. It was a fine drive—past Cunningham Falls and Camp David, then past the sprawling snake farm, a tourist attraction north of Frederick filled with exotic cobras and rattlesnakes. By seven, we
were beyond Mount St. Mary’s College and crossing the Mason-Dixon Line. Entering the heart of the Union, we left behind us the crumbling Maryland state roads and picked up speed on Pennsylvania’s smooth and modern highways.
The workday began over coffee in the Quonset hut with the staff reviewing the assignments. We had one hour for lunch. At 2:30, a Secret Service agent and I exercised the horses Sporty Miss and Doodle de Doo. On these daily rides, we explored the Eisenhower and adjacent Alton Jones farm and occasionally ventured onto the bridle paths in the battlefield. By 4:30, after the horses were brushed and the farm tools packed, Chief West and I were in the pickup and headed back to Thurmont.
The Chief was a native Floridian with a deep tan, a military flattop, and forearms swathed with gaily decorative tattoos acquired during his years in the Navy. The Chief knew how to make hands “turn to.” He was a hard worker and an undisputed authority at the farm.
The Chief talked a mile a minute, punctuating his vivid tales with expressive gestures. His favorite subject in late afternoon was fishing and returning to the St. Johns River in Duval County, Florida, which he claimed was the best bass and perch stream in the world. He had his retirement planned to the minute and hour. It would be June 1964, a year after the interstate under construction near Thurmont, two miles away from his front porch, would be complete. The Chief figured it would take about forty-eight hours to pack all of his belongings in the pickup truck, another twenty hours to reach Jacksonville and his small cottage on the St. Johns River. Chief West ventured only one opinion about politics that summer, saying once en route to the farm, “Shoot, David, a man’s just gotta be crazy to want to be president, just crazy.”
Every two weeks Granddad arrived at the farm and the place swarmed with aides, limousines, and police. We had a day’s notice so all the equipment could be properly stored and projects rushed to completion before the Chief conducted a rigid inspection of the garden and fences. I trailed him with a notepad. Finding sloppy work or weeds, the Chief would stop and call out “holiday.” All holidays were to be squared away by quitting time.
The next day, when Granddad swept in, he carried out the same inspection. I usually awaited him at the garden. At attention, I answered questions about rainfall and the appearance of pests and certain kinds of weeds. Then I led him and Chief West through the rows of corn, peas, and
tomatoes, then on to the corral and the north pasture to check the painting. Three years later, in 1961, I would be returning to work for fifty cents an hour and the routine would be much the same, but with two changes. First, the Chief was now working part-time, and second, the Secret Service had left.
Granddad’s return to private life meant other changes for our family. My parents had moved into the house on the corner of the Gettysburg farm two years before, anxious for their children to be out of the glare of publicity permeating the White House. My father, still an aide to Granddad, had stayed in Washington during the week and commuted home on weekends. But now that Granddad was living next door to us, most of his prodigious energy would be unleashed around the farmhouse and inevitably radiate out toward his family. The most directly affected would be Mamie.
“the Great Divide,” defined by Mamie as Granddad’s fiftieth birthday, in 1940, she had experienced the gradual loss of power over her husband’s affairs. Originally Mamie had handled all the family correspondence. Granddad’s growing prominence, however, required secretaries, and eventually Granddad took over the entire burden of corresponding with the outside world except for items sent directly to Mamie.
Mamie entered her marriage with the money in the family, her father having semiretired at the age of thirty-six from his profitable meatpacking business. For the first thirty years of her marriage, Mamie had written the checks and balanced the books except for a small secret account Dwight Eisenhower kept, which consisted of poker and gambling winnings that he drew on to buy anniversary and birthday gifts for Mamie. As recently as their Columbia University years, Mamie had
filled a pinchpenny purse with small change for Granddad’s weekly lunch and incidental expenses. Now, thanks to a large income from Eisenhower’s Crusade in Europe, his best-selling account of his war years, lawyers wrote the checks and balanced the accounts. Stubbornly, almost from force of habit, Mamie kept a small account of her own for incidentals, and nightly recorded the checks and withdrawals. Now, a dozen years later, Mamie was reclaiming responsibility for many matters pertaining to the household.
Another change in Mamie’s life was that during the presidency, the affairs of state had absorbed her husband’s energies, freeing Mamie to see friends, watch television, play solitaire, and read. Now, in retirement, they spent evenings together.
“Complicating things,” Mamie recalled, “was that Ike never had the slightest notion how to live with women.” She explained: “His
mother would have been a good celibate. Ike grew up with six boys and no feminine influence. His idea of affection was a pinch and a kick.”
Mamie’s support system was Rosie Woods. Mamie recalled first seeing her future personal maid the way one remembers a first date. When Granddad was chief of staff after World War II, Mamie frequented
a hairdressing shop called Ogilvie’s, where the wives of official Washington gossiped and chatted in brocade satin surroundings over tea and coffee. The proprietor suggested to Mamie that she was in need of a companion.
With Ike’s triumphal return from the war, most of her friends had gravitated toward the war hero, leaving Mamie somewhat adrift in a sea of courtiers pursuing her husband. Almost in self-defense, Mamie decided Mrs. Ogilvie was right. She needed a companion to look after her, fix her tea, lay out her clothes, and be on hand.
“Fine,” replied Mrs. Ogilvie. “I have the right person.”
Rosie Woods, a wispy, bespectacled, soft-spoken Irishwoman in her sixties, had been “in service” for fifty years. Rosie’s parents had migrated to the United States in 1880, bringing their children along one by one. Rosie began to work at fourteen in the purple velvet uniform of the governess–ladies’ maid.
When Rosie and Mamie were introduced, they fell in love. Mamie thought instantly how much Rosie reminded her of her own governess as a child. Rosie later related that upon setting eyes on Mrs. Eisenhower, she knew instantly, “That’s my madame.”
Mamie prized Rosie’s discretion and her ability to keep a confidence nurtured over long years of domestic service. Rosie was sweet, gentle, and deferential. When Rosie brought Mamie tea, often while Mamie sat in bed writing letters and watching television, Mamie would ask her to sit down with her. “Madame,” she invariably replied, “I would rather stand.”
Rosie became not only a confidante, but also an adviser. She was “hoitytoity,” in Mamie’s words, constantly on the lookout for people who might harm Mamie with malicious gossip or intrigue. More than once, she warned, “Mrs. Eisenhower, don’t go with her—she’s not a lady.”
When Mamie was ill, which was quite frequently, Rosie would stay up all night within earshot should Mamie need tea. Mamie used to insist Rosie get some sleep. “Quite all right,” Rosie would whisper. “Quite all right.”
Now, during evenings on the farm, Rosie was always nearby to anticipate Mamie’s every wish, be it a handkerchief or a chocolate.
Like the Moaneys, Rosie was a part of the family. Routinely, she, Sergeant
Moaney, and Delores joined all of us on the sunporch to watch television.
One night that spring, as we watched, I was slightly startled by a low hum from Rosie’s corner. The singers were rendering a version of “Danny Boy,” a sentimental Irish folk song. As Rosie hummed the tune along with the singers, tears ran down her cheeks. Soon my grandparents turned and noticed.
“David,” Mamie said gaily, “this is one of the wonderful songs of Ireland and it reminds Rosie of home.” At that moment, Mamie and Granddad joined with Rosie in humming and singing the song, Granddad’s atonal bass rumbling rather off-key, but adding resonance to the song.
Granddad adored Rosie almost as much as my grandmother did. At bedtime, Rosie tucked my grandparents under the sheets, drew back, and asked if all was well and anything more was needed. My grandfather would select the western he planned to read until dozing off into loud snores. When he wiggled his toes, Rosie would lift up the sheet and let it settle over his legs, sending a slight breeze over his face.
“Thank you, Rosie,” he would chime.
“You’re welcome, sir,” she would reply, always blushing, and quickly she would slip off to her own room two doors down the hall.
Rosie would not stay for a long time in Gettysburg. She had suffered from cataracts for over sixteen years, and by 1961 she was nearly blind. Within the year, Rosie announced that she would not allow herself to be a burden, nor would she work any longer when she felt she could not earn her pay. Breaking Mamie’s heart, she retired to the home of a nephew in Arlington, Virginia, where she spent her days fussing over her grandnephews, buying them clothes, and enriching her clan with many stories of all the places she had been with the Eisenhowers in Europe and throughout America. Her life’s greatest honor had been in 1951, when she met Pope Pius XII. She spoke endlessly about him.
A change for the grandchildren was the departure of the Secret Service detail. For eight years my sisters and I had been guarded by a group of men who had become friends. The Secret Service command post was a 1953 Pontiac station wagon, parked in front of whatever house we lived in at the time. In heat, rain, and snow, the Pontiac sat out front cluttered with coffee cups, radio equipment, newspapers, sports publications, and mysterious magazines with women in bathing suits—stored under the front seat. A sleek black government Ford sedan was the vehicle the agents used to tail us
at a distance as we roamed through the neighborhood with our friends. In Alexandria, our home before Dad went to work at the White House, my sister Anne decided one evening at dusk to “run away.” She left the dinner table and marched out the front door, down the flagstone walkway, past the Pontiac, then turned left at the first intersection. She pressed on for several blocks, casting frustrated looks backward at the agents trailing behind at forty yards in the black Ford, radioing information to the Pontiac. After twenty minutes she gave up and climbed into the front seat of the Secret Service car. My parents tactfully were waiting at the window, and gratefully welcomed her home.
Now our lives revolved around Granddad and Mamie at the farm. We joined them for dinner at least once a week. Whereas Granddad had always been a remote, though important figure in our lives, he now became a third parent, quizzing us about what we had learned at school, slipping out unannounced to sit in the bleachers at Little League games, attending Anne’s piano recitals and Susan’s horse shows. Granddad instituted an incentive system for school grades. He paid each of us five dollars for A’s brought home on our report cards, three dollars for B’s, and deducted one dollar for C’s. My parents observed this with misgiving: on payday, our earnings were taken to be placed in a savings account.
Often we fished at a pond stocked with bluegills and perch. Occasionally before dinner, Granddad, my father, and I would shoot skeet or step out into the fields facing the Blue Ridge Mountains to the west to shoot target practice at tomato paste cans that Sergeant Moaney rigged on a cardboard plank.
That spring I found myself on a “marble regimen.” It was an exercise designed to strengthen flat feet by picking up marbles with the big toe and index toe and depositing them into plastic cans. Flat feet were disqualification at West Point. Dad told me that Granddad had drilled him endlessly with marbles as a child to overcome his flat feet. It worked and he was accepted to the Class of 1944 at the U.S. Military Academy. The marbles regimen was simply “giving me the choice” should I decide to apply to West Point.
Life otherwise settled into a routine and the Eisenhowers found themselves adjusting to a relaxed pace and many quiet hours together on the sunporch. Typically, after dinner Granddad and Mamie settled down to television, which invariably brought on arguments. Mamie preferred romance and dramas with “grown-up” themes. Granddad liked westerns and
musical comedies. When Granddad had his way, Mamie would play solitaire in an alcove on the southern end of the sunporch and listen to a large portable radio with the volume turned low.
One evening, caught in the middle of a friendly argument over what to watch, I divided the difference by sitting in an armchair within view of the television and within conversational range of my grandmother at her wrought-iron card table. Granddad sat in rapt attention watching an Indian raid on a defenseless group of Conestoga wagons, and Mamie wove three decks together in a sprawling game of solitaire. After a while, one of the bird dogs dragged a skunk by the sliding glass door and deposited it within two feet of Granddad’s rocker.
“Smell anything, Ike?” Mamie asked amid the din of war whoops and broken radio reception.
“Nothing, dear,” Granddad replied.
Within five minutes, the smell became unmistakable. Granddad remained glued to the set, Mamie fixed at her card table. The cavalry arrived and the show ended. Granddad stood up, stretched, yawned deeply, and sauntered off to bed, bidding us good night. Mamie folded the hand and rose.
Passing the buck, she kissed me on the cheek and said, “Check with Sergeant Moaney, dear, and ask him if anything is spoiled in the kitchen.”
Granddad’s favorite nighttime reading was either historical biography or the western pulp paperbacks he had relied on in the White House when he needed to relax. The bookshelves alongside his bed contained several hundred books. In Gettysburg, as in past postings, a staff member, usually secretary Rusty Brown or chief of staff Colonel Robert Schulz, was assigned a special responsibility to find the General a good supply of westerns, always with the proviso he wanted them without women.
“Though Ike was sentimental,” Mamie shrugged years later, “if they put a woman in his western he just closed the book—that’s the way he liked history too, no goo—he believed in a man in men’s company.”
At night Granddad also took up studying things we grandchildren were learning in school. According to Mamie, “Ike was not going to let his grandchildren come home from school and teach him anything.” Several nights, long past midnight, Mamie fell asleep while Granddad pored over texts of the “new math” then being introduced in public schools.
Meanwhile, Granddad and Mamie were rarely without weekend visitors. The guest book records each visitor to the farm. The signatures are usually
embellished with a little comment summarizing the weekend’s activity. On April 23, 1961, former head of NATO and master bridge player General Alfred Gruenther’s guest book entry states: “Last hand—doubled by Bill. Perfect cross ruff succeeded. Bill in despair—also Pete.” Next to his signature, businessman and investor in the Eisenhower farm W. Alton “Pete” Jones added: “sad sad sad.”
As in the White House days, during the bridge games the wives retired to chat and play canasta. In a guest book entry dated April 26, they gently teased their ambitious husbands: “Ann Nevins, Bess Gruenther, Kate Hughes, Helen Titus. When you see a monkey climb a tree, pull his tail and think of me.”
When there were guests, Sergeant Moaney would haul out the movie projector and show a film. Granddad and Mamie never watched movies dealing with the war, despite possessing a large collection of films and documentaries on the subject that had been given to them over the years. To see war films, I had to arrange for an afternoon showing in the den with drawn shades. And, as in the White House, Granddad wanted no part of “message movies.” Instead he preferred light comedies, musicals, and westerns, movies for “pure enjoyment.”
Granddad’s favorite was a
1951 film titled Angels in the Outfield, starring Paul Douglas. Sergeant Moaney claimed to have run the movie for Eisenhower precisely thirty-eight times. Angels in the Outfield is a fairy tale about “Guffy McGovern,” a tough, hardhearted, weathered baseball manager on the verge of losing his job as skipper of the Pittsburgh Pirates. His temper is irascible. His ball club, a collection of utility infielders and fading stars, is a steady cellar dweller. Then Guffy is visited by an angel who offers help on condition that Guffy control his swearing and fighting.
When a young Catholic orphan insists she sees angels standing behind the Pirates when batting and in the field, a female reporter scoops the story and it becomes a sensation around the league. Guffy, the reporter, and the orphan girl become acquainted and inseparable, and the Pirates start winning.
Amid stories that angels are helping the Pirates, Guffy becomes the target of a shifty-eyed columnist determined to prove that he has gone crazy. The columnist finally provokes McGovern into losing his self-control, and McGovern punches him out. The angel reappears to tell McGovern that all deals are off.
The Pirates reach the final game in a tie. McGovern decides to settle a long-standing feud with an aging right-hander on the club by awarding him the crucial start. The angel has told McGovern that the right-hander will soon be pitching for “the Heavenly Choir Nine,” including the ghosts of Babe Ruth, Christy Mathewson, Walter Johnson, and Honus Wagner.
Bearing this secret, McGovern makes up with the pitcher. Pittsburgh wins a cliff-hanger. McGovern adopts the girl and marries the reporter.
At the conclusion of every showing, Granddad would sit silently, allowing his eyes to adjust to the light. “Wonderful show,” he would say, almost inaudibly, rising from his chair and wandering off to bed.
THE LOYAL OPPOSITION
The Eisenhower farm, ideally located roughly between Washington, D.C., and New York, afforded Granddad and Mamie the ability to attend events in the capital and to see friends in New York. It also placed Granddad within easy reach of the White House and his successor, who soon found reasons to be in touch.
In April, Eisenhower was startled by the astonishing news of the debacle at the Bay of Pigs. The news of landings of exile forces in Cuba and of an attempt to unseat Castro came as no surprise, however. A year before, Eisenhower had approved a CIA project to train Cuban exiles in Guatemala for an operation to take back Cuba from Castro. The CIA proposal as of January 1961, when Eisenhower left office, had been to land a force of exiles on the south coast of Cuba in the Trinidad area, and secure a beachhead. The invasion force would then be joined by a provisional government that would forthwith be recognized by the United States. In turn the provisional government would seek U.S. logistical backing and expand the beachhead perimeter outward from Trinidad toward Havana and wage a campaign of “attrition.” At their final transition meeting on
January 19, Eisenhower had urged Kennedy to take immediate action against the Castro government, although he could not recommend the current plan until a provisional government could be formed without pro-Batista reactionaries.
By all accounts, Kennedy struggled with the plan to sponsor the exileled invasion of Cuba. Since he sought to identify himself and his presidency with the worldwide clamor for independence against colonialism and imperial domination, Kennedy had misgivings about overtly sponsoring an invasion, preferring to remove Castro clandestinely. Kennedy hesitated for
several months. The earliest date for the invasion was postponed, and for weeks thereafter the inner councils of the Kennedy administration agonized over the plan, skeptical of success and fearful of failure and of not carrying through on a project drafted with the knowledge of Eisenhower and Nixon.
Kennedy decided on a compromise: he would approve the invasion but insist on steps to conceal the American hand. To avoid conspicuous American involvement, the landing site was shifted from Trinidad, which had been chosen because of the suitability of the beach, the proximity of a major town, and the easy avenue of escape in the event of failure, to a more remote location at the Bay of Pigs. Instead of an
“invasion” by daylight, Kennedy ordered an
“infiltration” by night. Instead of relying on military force and “attrition,” success would depend on a spontaneous domestic uprising to bring down the Castro regime. Although undoubtedly a victim of conflicting and confusing advice, Kennedy never acknowledged the irony of his insistence that the invasion be an
“entirely Cuban affair” while retaining in his hands the power to approve the operation, dictate when it would happen, choose the landing site, and order air support.
When the landings came on April 17, Castro’s counterstrokes, swift and effective, contained and defeated the small force of exiles within forty-eight hours, inflicting a spectacular humiliation on the United States. The American hand was immediately apparent to the world. As resistance petered out and ship-to-shore communications became a
“wail of SOS’s,” Kennedy commenced the painful task of containing the diplomatic and political consequences.
On April 19, the President reached Eisenhower by phone in Gettysburg and asked him to meet nearby at Camp David for a discussion. Although Eisenhower suspected Kennedy of attempting to diffuse responsibility and to associate him with the failed invasion, he readily assented.
Their meeting on the 22nd began on a bizarre note. Kennedy had not yet been to Camp David, and thus had not met the military personnel who administered the camp. In the three months since Eisenhower’s last visit to Camp David, there had been few transfers. In their unguarded thoughts, the camp staff could have been excused for wondering who was host and who was guest. With Eisenhower acting as guide, the two men toured the compound.
At first glance, Camp David was a complex of modest cabins linked by macadam road and a flagstone walkway. But the big forest concealed a small self-contained city. There was a bowling alley maintained for the camp
personnel and a movie theater. Next to the heliport was a large, unheated freshwater swimming pool, and next to it a practice skeet range. Below the main lodge, Aspen, nestled in a clearing, was a two-hole golf course. The camp was a wildlife preserve protecting a small herd of domesticated deer that often wandered out of the dense forest and up to the back door of the main cabin looking for food.
The Navy-maintained camp had been erected only twenty years earlier by Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corps and the one- and two-room cabins, though cozy, were rustic and sometimes drafty. They still bore the quaint Navy touches of FDR, who had named the compound Shangri-la. Granddad changed the name in 1953 to honor his father, David, and me.
As Eisenhower showed Kennedy the Maple, Birch, and Dogwood cabins clustered around the cul-de-sac near the President’s cottage, Aspen Lodge, he lingered over the points of interest: the wooden bench next to a goldfish pond that FDR had used for fishing when the pond had been a freshwater stream; the bomb shelter underneath Aspen. After Eisenhower introduced Kennedy to the staff, the two men returned to Aspen.
Seated by the picture window looking out over Eisenhower’s putting green, with the eastern slope of the Catoctin Hills and the countryside of central Maryland beyond, the two men talked at length about the Bay of Pigs and Kennedy’s first months in office. In an interview five years later with his former speechwriter Malcolm Moos, at that time University of Minnesota president, Eisenhower recalled the details of his conversation with Kennedy, seemingly remembering every word.
Eisenhower noted that at the moment the two men sat down alone, “the President seemed himself,” no pretenses, openly shaken over the implications of his handling of the incident.
Kennedy: No one knows how tough this job is until after he has been in it a few months.
Eisenhower: Mr. President, if you will forgive me, I think I mentioned that to you three months ago.
Kennedy: I have certainly learned a lot since then.
Eisenhower had arrived rankled by reports emanating from Kennedy aides suggesting that Kennedy had been a prisoner of a preexisting plan with regard to Cuba, but alone together, Eisenhower recalled, “the President made no attempt to blame the previous administration.” Eisenhower had
emphasized at their final meeting in January that the ultimate decision regarding the Cuban operation would rest with Kennedy. Additionally, Kennedy had given Eisenhower no advance warning of the operation.
Kennedy: Well, I just approved a plan that had been recommended by the CIA and by the Joint Chiefs of Staff. I took their advice.
Eisenhower: Mr. President, were there any changes in the ultimate plan that the Joint Chiefs approved?
Kennedy: Yes there were—we did want to call off one bombing sally.
Eisenhower: Why was that called off?
Kennedy: Well, we felt it necessary that we keep our hand concealed in this affair; we thought that if it was learned that we were really doing this rather than the rebels themselves, the Soviets would be apt to cause trouble in Berlin.
Eisenhower then asked Kennedy how the American hand could have been concealed in view of the U.S. Navy ships involved, American weapons, and the elaborate systems of communications and B-26s involved in support of the operation. Kennedy did not reply.
Eisenhower: There is only one thing to do when you get into this kind of thing: make sure it succeeds.
Kennedy: Anything like it in the future will succeed.
Eisenhower: Well I’m glad to hear that.
The point of pride between the two men had to do with their differing views about the NSC and Eisenhower’s elaborate staff system, which Schlesinger later said Bundy was “slaughtering” with such glee. Kennedy’s most irritating campaign promise had been to restore Roosevelt’s improvisational methods of organization, a promise that appealed to liberals who for eight years had lampooned the Eisenhower “staff system.” Kennedy had further delighted nostalgic admirers of Franklin Roosevelt by stating he intended to function as his own secretary of state. Upon hearing the latter, Eisenhower had remarked to several people that Kennedy had thereby
“proven his complete unawareness of the job.”
Kennedy raised the question of process. “Well, just somewhere along the line, I blundered and I don’t know how badly,” he sighed. “Everyone approved—the JCS, the CIA, my staff.”
Eisenhower questioned Kennedy on whether he had in fact gained the approval of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS). As a former Army chief of staff and ex officio chairman of the Joint Chiefs under Defense Secretary James Forrestal, Eisenhower was familiar with the JCS habit of hedging approval with a misleading flourish of seeming enthusiasm.
The test of JCS opinion lay in what they committed to in writing. And even their written approval had to be scrutinized carefully to sort out qualifiers, conditions, and alternatives.
Eisenhower drew Kennedy into a startling admission. The JCS had issued “guarded approval” of the plan Kennedy had inherited from Eisenhower in January. As for the later plan, drafted between February and April, which shifted the landing zone, H-hour, and canceled air support, the JCS had approved nothing. But the JCS purportedly had seemed enthusiastic.
Eisenhower took the opportunity to suggest a link between Kennedy’s mishandled operation and his downgrading of the NSC. “Mr. President,” Eisenhower ventured, “before you approved the plan did you have everyone in front of you debating the thing so you got the pros and cons yourself and then made your decision, or did you see these people one at a time?”
Kennedy smiled. “Well,” he replied, “I did have a meeting but. . . . It was not my whole NSC.”
Eisenhower listened intently. He had heard from reliable sources that Kennedy had succumbed to a last-minute appeal from Ambassador to the United Nations Adlai Stevenson to call off bombing strikes, Stevenson having denied to the United Nations that Americans were flying preliminary missions in support of the Castro forces. At Stevenson’s promptings, hours before the landing, Undersecretary of State Chester Bowles and Secretary of State Dean Rusk reached the President and talked him into canceling the air strikes over the beaches as the Cuban brigade went ashore. In other words, the young President was guilty of the cardinal error of yielding to the last man he talked to, the very sin the NSC was designed to prevent.
The two men parted. Kennedy had observed protocol and had created the desired impression of joint responsibility. But Eisenhower had made his point: proper organization is a vital—the vital—element of success in any presidential undertaking.
Weeks later, Kennedy would invite Eisenhower to drop by the White House for a second meeting on Cuba and Berlin. Kennedy meanwhile had appointed General Taylor to head a commission to investigate the causes of failure in Cuba. Eisenhower suspected that the Taylor group had been
“produce a corpse,” a scapegoat for the Cuban affair, which Eisenhower predicted would be the CIA’s Allen Dulles. Eisenhower had sarcastically referred to the Taylor Commission as “appointing the fox to investigate the chicken coop.”
Kennedy must have known the antagonism Eisenhower felt toward Taylor for having published The Uncertain Trumpet, a critical look at Eisenhower’s defense policies in the late 1950s. Taylor had taken issue with Eisenhower’s “inflexible” deterrence strategy in Europe. In addition, Taylor’s commission had been formally organized to study the NSC and national security policy-making bodies, a project Eisenhower deduced was a device to produce scholarship in support of Kennedy’s preordained intention to dispense with the NSC system altogether. He nonetheless agreed to attend the meeting.
Eisenhower’s meeting with the President was outwardly cordial but insubstantial. Eisenhower’s feelings about leaving intact the NSC system he had devised were politely noted. Kennedy arranged to have Taylor brief Eisenhower on Cuba and NSC matters.
These meetings between Eisenhower and Kennedy were a civilized affirmation of their mutual wariness. As his assistant Kevin McCann later explained, Eisenhower respected but did not particularly like Kennedy and vice versa. Following the Camp David meeting, Eisenhower privately spoke more openly about the immaturity of his successor. He complained about Kennedy’s indifference about the balance-of-payments question, his thirst for power, and ridiculed the hyped accounts of Kennedy’s personal “self-confidence.” To intimates, Kennedy spoke of his respect for Eisenhower’s vote-getting ability and his skills as a general, but of his distaste for Eisenhower personally. Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., recalled in A Thousand Days a comment Kennedy had made at the Kennedy home in Hyannisport, Massachusetts, in 1959 during a campaign strategy session.
“I could understand if he played golf all the time with old Army friends,” Kennedy said caustically, “but no man is less loyal to his old friends than Eisenhower. He is a terribly cold man. All his golfing pals are rich men he has met since 1945.”
On the surface, all was fine. Eisenhower thanked Kennedy for the Camp David luncheon on May 2.
“It was a delightful lunch” and an “intensely interesting and helpful conversation,” Eisenhower wrote. He added: “You may be amused by some of the gossipy reports brought to me by one or two of the reporters who visited Camp David that day. They said that the officers and men were obviously pleased by the interest you took in the
whole establishment and had great satisfaction in showing you through the plant.”
Kennedy responded perfunctorily a week later.
“Dear Mr. President,” he began, ignoring Clifton’s insistence that Eisenhower preferred “General”:
Many thanks for your kind note of last week following our luncheon at Camp David. I found our conversation rewarding and most helpful. It was good of you to come to Camp David, and I hope that from time-to-time in the future the opportunity for a further exchange of views will present itself.
I was delighted to learn that your Gettysburg office is satisfactory, and I hope that the work on your memoirs is going well.
With every best wish,
ABOVE THE BATTLE
Back at his office in Gettysburg, Eisenhower opened the door to television executives and magazine publishers who arrived to discuss future projects. In late spring he agreed to tape a series of interviews with Walter Cronkite of CBS about his years in the White House, highlighting his views on McCarthyism, right-wing extremism, and his role in the 1960 election. Eisenhower signed with the Saturday Evening Post to write a collection of articles on defense questions and foreign policy. In addition, representatives from all three major television networks attempted to persuade him to host documentary films about historical subjects. ABC proposed a program titled “The Eisenhower Years”; CBS asked Eisenhower to become a roving commentator; and NBC sought to have Eisenhower elaborate on the thoughts expressed in his farewell address.
Some of the television and magazine executives Eisenhower saw that spring were old friends; several he met for the first time. In any case, the Eisenhower these men got to know was an entertaining and absorbing conversationalist, passionately expressive about current events and the new administration. Each in turn attempted to persuade Eisenhower to speak out in front of the cameras, in CBS executive Fred Friendly’s words
“for the sake of history.” Eisenhower proved to be a reluctant subject.
Eisenhower had many ideas he wanted to explore in articles and to communicate
to the public. One afternoon late that spring, he told Ben Hibbs of the Saturday Evening Post that he was considering an article, or perhaps a television appearance, to expand on the subject of the “military industrial complex.” He explained that he was looking for ways to lay out his views on the economic, military, and moral balance required of the nation under Cold War conditions, hoping to impress the public with the significance of the vast technological advances of recent decades. Digressing into history, he pointed out that the French and British weapons during the Hundred Years War were not much more advanced than the weapons used by the Ptolemies of ancient Egypt. As recently as World War I, a French general had actually been wounded by a lancer.
But little things seemed to get in the way. “I considered doing a piece with NBC to discuss the implications of these changes,” Eisenhower told Friendly some months later; “however I learned that this was to involve
two skunks [two TV journalists] who had distorted U-2 [the Soviet downing of a U.S. spy plane that derailed the 1960 summit meeting] to our disadvantage—and when the network came back with a Lincoln idea, I just got busy.”
A persistent stumbling block was Eisenhower’s time-honored “rule against discussing personalities.” Retirement had not softened the rigor of this self-imposed rule, nor had the critical articles and books on Eisenhower that had appeared in recent years. Eisenhower had veered close to technical violation of his rule when he derisively labeled an unnamed Democratic candidate for president in 1960 as “this young genius.” But except for that lapse, he had confined himself since to broad and often ambiguous pronouncements about the Democrats and Kennedy. Eisenhower also observed a “rule against answering criticism.”
“I don’t answer criticism as such,” Eisenhower evenly told Hibbs. “I just lay out the facts.”
Eisenhower was wary of being drawn into criticism of Kennedy or of the Democrats except at the level of “principle.” That June in Gettysburg, Saturday Evening Post editor Ben Hibbs almost persuaded Eisenhower to attack Kennedy’s decision to downgrade the cabinet, an evident move by Kennedy to take personal credit for all the accomplishments of his administration. When Eisenhower expressed the suspicion that Kennedy was afraid of being overshadowed by independent voices on his staff and in the cabinet, his indignation rose to fever pitch. “The country has confidence in strong, able men around the President,” Eisenhower thundered righteously. He recalled the example he had set in bringing self-made individualists into the
cabinet, choosing, for the moment, not to remember how irritating these individualists had been when they departed from the official administration line.
Hibbs hopefully asked Eisenhower to commit his thoughts to writing. “But no personalities,” Eisenhower replied. “Perhaps I will present the idea in the abstract. After all, there is nothing so cheap as columnists maligning people for money.”
In a later meeting that year with Hibbs, Eisenhower discussed future projects for the Post, including governmental reorganization, the Republican Party, and the interdependence of government, business, and defense. Hibbs offered Eisenhower a chance to criticize administration policies on Berlin and Kennedy’s decision to accept the neutralization of Laos. In an article for the Post, Eisenhower had sidestepped the question of the Berlin Wall erected that August by the Soviets and instead focused on the genesis of the Berlin situation, the question of Allied rights in the city, and his own role as general and president in Berlin’s history. After three years of tension with the Soviets over Berlin, Eisenhower was taking the view that West Berlin’s freedom was secure. As for Laos, despite his misgivings, Eisenhower would remain silent.
Lastly, there was the injunction of
“knowing when to quit.” Eisenhower had seen many wartime colleagues make vain attempts to stay in the middle of public affairs past their prime and he was mindful of ex-President Truman’s unsuccessful forays into Democratic nomination politics. Eisenhower’s sense of personal dignity compelled him to maintain a low profile.
But visitors learned that Eisenhower had a healthy regard for the job he had done as president, and that despite his ambivalence about politics, he had liked public service and missed it. In early January 1960, on the eve of the presidential campaign, Eisenhower at a press conference had dropped a casual suggestion that it might be legal for him to offer himself as a candidate for national office again, as vice president. A week later, under questioning, Eisenhower revealed he had consulted the Department of Justice several hours after the press conference, and it had tendered an opinion that it was indeed constitutional under the Twenty-second Amendment, which barred him from seeking a third term as president, for Eisenhower to be elected vice president. Now retired, he was beginning to think that the amendment had been a mistake, telling a visitor that he
“had a dream recently that the amendment had been repealed . . . and it wasn’t a nightmare.”
Eisenhower had a well-deserved reputation for modesty but he also enjoyed flattery, even if he often failed to recognize it as such. My father recalls particularly the example of Eisenhower’s business partner Pete Jones. Jones had been born impoverished, and in the pattern of Horatio Alger rose rapidly as a young man to the top of the corporate ladder of Cities Service Oil Company despite his lack of education. Jones carried ten thousand dollars cash in his wallet at all times as a reminder of what he had accomplished, and was famous for leaving hundred- and two-hundred-dollar tips at roadside restaurants on a whim. Jones also had difficulty restraining the praise and wonderment he felt about Dwight Eisenhower.
“Who would ever have imagined,” Jones was fond of saying in Eisenhower’s presence, “that I would ever walk in the White House as a guest, and know the greatest man in the world?” Jones’s reverence for the White House was something Eisenhower shared, and his frequent praise of the Eisenhower administration was, in Granddad’s view, factual.
To defend the party and his legacy, Eisenhower met with Republican leaders in Gettysburg and kept in touch with his political associates and friends. Richard Nixon, while toiling away at his memoir in California, called occasionally to keep Eisenhower abreast of political developments and planning for the 1962 off-year elections, while Bryce Harlow kept Eisenhower informed of developments in the Congress. By late April, in the wake of the Cuba news, Eisenhower gave serious thought to the idea of forming something like a “shadow government” built on maintaining close links to his former cabinet and GOP elective officials. Following a suggestion made by Wisconsin congressman John W. Byrnes, in early May Eisenhower hosted two meetings. On May 1, a congressional delegation led by Senator Dirksen arrived for a breakfast meeting and discussion of the current congressional session. On the 11th, Eisenhower hosted a larger group of former cabinet officials and advisors for lunch at his Gettysburg office. The group included former Secretary of Commerce Sinclair Weeks, Senator Thurston Morton, former budget director Maurice Stans, former UN ambassador James Wadsworth, former NSC secretary Gordon Gray, former attorney general William Rogers, and former secretary of agriculture Ezra Taft Benson.
The purpose of the meeting, recorded in formal minutes, was to entice Eisenhower into accepting the role of opposition to Kennedy and using a speech he was scheduled to give at the National Armory on June 1 as a
springboard. In the judgment of many present, the so-called honeymoon had gone on long enough and Republicans were justified in assuming the role of partisans. The party had underestimated Kennedy’s political talent, and the receptiveness of pundits and popular opinion to the views of the young president. The idea of demurring to the Kennedy White House and simply waiting for events to bring Republicans back into the spotlight was too passive.
James Wadsworth raised the matter of Eisenhower’s support of the President after the Cuban disaster. Eisenhower replied by describing his meeting with Kennedy at Camp David and his promise of bipartisan support for Kennedy’s effort to counter communist penetration of the hemisphere. He indicated he sympathized with Kennedy’s plight to some degree, and that he had warmed to the President’s query, “Where do we go from here?”
Rogers countered this line of thinking. The Kennedys were doing everything they could to undermine the Eisenhower record, calling members of the press directly in order to appeal to their awe of the office and to line up reporters as political supporters. They were playing Cuba two ways, with Kennedy accepting blame for the Bay of Pigs fiasco in public, while Robert Kennedy and White House staffers intimated to others that the plan had been inherited and carried out merely at Eisenhower’s wish. Rogers added that Kennedy’s appointment of General Taylor to investigate the CIA sounded to him like an effort to scapegoat Allen Dulles, a holdover, for an “intelligence failure” when of course the Cuban operation had fallen apart because of command failures and Kennedy’s lack of resolution.
Eisenhower shared their lament. He was mystified by the effort in the press to minimize the dimensions of the Cuban fiasco by comparing it with U-2, the secret 1959 overflights of Soviet territory—a comparison Eisenhower rejected. “The U-2 merely unmasked a highly successful operation from which we derived great benefit,” he said, “while the ‘Bay of Pigs’ was a failure from the outset.” Eisenhower felt that Republicans should applaud Kennedy’s purpose to oust Castro but recognize that “once a resort to force is made, you must ensure its success.”
He digressed into a discussion of the failed tactics: placing all communications aboard one ship; changing the landing beach to a remote corner of south Cuba, encircled by swampland, with few roads leading out of the landing area; no fire support; and the general lack of aggressiveness when opportunities to move ashore did present themselves. “There was one intelligence failure,” Eisenhower added: “the Cubans had jets.”
Eisenhower related to the group that the previous year he had authorized the CIA to assemble a group of refugees eager to return to Cuba. The group had lacked leadership or means, and so the CIA had provided extensive training for what had been anticipated to be a protracted paramilitary effort. The pro-Batista elements had been weeded out and an effective leadership cadre was being identified and organized. “But the ‘Bay of Pigs,’ ” Eisenhower stated, “has all the earmarks of a new venture, based on the expectation of an uprising within Cuba itself, and yet the administration blames the CIA, but perhaps the CIA was not off all that much since over 200,000 Cubans in Cuba have been jailed since the failure.” Eisenhower added his familiar criticisms of Kennedy’s organization of the White House staff. The President had dispensed with cabinet meetings, holding only two before the Cuban adventure. And only after the fiasco had Kennedy consulted Eisenhower, Nixon, Hoover, and MacArthur in “an effort to diffuse responsibility.” “I will not be held to blame for Cuba having been consulted after the fact,” Eisenhower said.
Discussion moved on to another sore point, the media’s downplaying of Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara’s recent briefing in which he blandly discounted the existence of a “missile gap,” laying bare as false one of the basic claims of the Kennedy campaign. Other complaints surfaced and temperatures around the room began to rise.
Morton urged Eisenhower to “let fly in his June 1 speech.” “It’s a keynote and the party is waiting for what you have to say, though you should probably remain bipartisan in foreign affairs.”
“People still have faith in you,” Benson added. “Take the gloves off. Opposing Kennedy is not the same thing as disloyalty to the United States.”
Eisenhower appreciated the expressions of support and the implicit sense of pride being expressed in the Republican record, and his own. But Eisenhower was unsure. “As emeritus,” he said, “I must be silent.”
Stans disagreed. “I think you should hit hard at ‘gapsmanship’—all the business about the education gap, the growth gap, the missile gap, all the gaps that the administration is busy creating.” Morton seconded Stans by reminding the group of recent administration statements that blamed the balance-of-payments problem on Eisenhower.
Gordon Gray cast the question in more fundamental terms. “This is an increasingly conservative country,” he observed. Gray reported that his three sons at Harvard were “considerably” to the right of himself. The party, in
his opinion, should take cognizance of the growing appeal of conservative ideas that the Eisenhower presidency had advanced. It should appeal more to youth. The weekly “Ev and Charlie show,” he intoned, referring to Republican congressional leaders Senator Everett Dirksen and Representative Charles Halleck, “is doing nothing.” But, he added, “is it wise to yell ‘failure’ after one hundred days?”
Gray’s question answered itself and his counsel carried the day. The first—and last—shadow cabinet meeting adjourned, recommending that Eisenhower “remain above the battle.” Grievances and frustrations had been aired, but an opposition role for Eisenhower was inappropriate and the issues to be developed against Kennedy remained unclear.
And so in the spring of 1961, Eisenhower reached an informal resolution to retire from national politics. But the sense of incompleteness remained and his interest in Republican Party affairs would, if anything, increase in the coming months. The clearest indication was his ongoing correspondence with Nixon, who was weighing important decisions about his political future.
On his last full day in the presidency, Eisenhower had set the bar high for Nixon’s future political service, writing him from the Oval Office:
“The passage of years has taken me out, so far as active participation is concerned, but the future can still bring to you a real culmination in your service to the country.” Eisenhower made it clear he was defiant about the 1960 outcome, writing, “As you know, I am not an individual that accepts defeat easily. When I have to recognize a major set-back, my sole reaction is to redouble effort in order to recover lost ground.” Later that year, Eisenhower would strongly urge Nixon to accommodate the party and run for governor of California.
Nixon himself was conflicted. On July 13, he wrote
“Dear General . . . I continue to lean strongly against the idea of entering the race if we can find another candidate who will have some reasonable chance of being successful.” Shortly afterward, he traveled to Gettysburg to consult with Eisenhower in person. He had already discussed financial support with several of Eisenhower’s sympathetic friends and was busy canvassing high-level Republican opinion around the country. In a follow-up note to Eisenhower on July 25, Nixon set forth the pros and cons. First, the pros:
1) that I can win . . . 2) there is a great risk that any of the other candidates might lose . . . 3) if I were to run and win, the office would provide me with a staff . . . and a respectable forum for any public statements I might want to make . . . 4) it would also provide an opportunity for building a team of young administrators . . . and the chance to develop a reputation for handling administrative problems.
The cons . . . 1) If I were to lose, I would be virtually finished as far as public influence goes . . . 2) a California governor is saddled with programs which are more liberal than the type of program a Republican presidential candidate would want to stand on . . . 3) I would have to devote my full attention almost exclusively to the problems of California.
This latter argument is the strongest one against running as far as I am concerned. My experience in government has been in national and international affairs. I think the problems which governors have to handle are immensely important but my interests are simply in other fields.
Nixon thus articulated a case against himself that his opponents later would eagerly exploit. He was less interested in being governor than in being president. He was less interested in state affairs than in national and foreign affairs. Finally, Nixon was seeking a platform from which to launch an eventual campaign for the White House. Political realities would force him to say otherwise and to pledge that he would serve a full term in California, but Nixon’s heart would palpably not be in such a pledge.
Eisenhower, however, was adamantly in favor of the race.
Through former GOP national chairman Leonard Hall, he exerted pressure on Nixon to consider whether, without the governorship, he would retain an ability to command national attention, assuming New York governor Nelson Rockefeller’s reelection. Eisenhower wanted California to be in Republican hands, and Nixon offered the best chance of victory. Six days later, September 11, Eisenhower wrote a letter that proved decisive in Nixon’s thinking:
In my own mind I can find no alternative to an affirmative decision. None of our other Republican “friends” would stand a chance, in my opinion, of defeating the incumbent. If Knight, for instance, should
run and be defeated (assuming you backed him, as assuredly you would have to do), then in effect you have suffered a defeat. If you run and win, as I believe you can, you offset to a large extent the razorthin margin by which you lost the Presidential race last November. Finally I see no reason why, if you are elected Governor, you cannot, if you wish, make the 1964 Presidential race—and I think you would be in a far more powerful position as Governor, controlling a large delegation, than otherwise.
So, for whatever it is worth, I have added my two cent’s worth.
SUMMER OF ’61
As school let out, I began work on the farm, tending the vegetable gardens near the residence, repainting the fences, and caring for the horses, a chore I shared with my sisters. Granddad kept four horses on several acres. Granddad, however, no longer rode, because his activities were restricted. In 1955 he had suffered a major heart attack, in early 1956 he had undergone an operation for ileitis, and in late 1957 he had had a minor stroke. None of his illnesses had impaired him significantly as president, and officially he had left office in “robust” health. But he was under the care of physicians, making regular visits to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington and observing a careful regimen at home in Gettysburg under the supervision of a local doctor, C. H. Johnson.
The horses were used by the grandchildren. I “owned” Sporty Miss, a hickory-brown quarter horse with a proud black mane. My sister Anne “owned” a chestnut-colored quarter horse named Doodle de Doo. Two Arabians, gifts from President Habib Bourguiba of Tunisia, “belonged” to my younger sisters Susan and Mary Jean. Granddad cherished the hope that we all would become accomplished equestrians.
This meant a daily horseback ride, brushing down the horses before retiring them to pasture for the evening, cleaning the stables, and polishing the saddles, halters, and bits. In time Doodle de Doo became uncontrollably wild and we had to restrict her to foaling. Sporty Miss, on the other hand, remained a good-natured, well-mannered riding horse.
My middle sister, Susan, emerged as the accomplished rider in the family. She entered horse competitions in the Adams County area. My parents set aside a corner of the family recreation room to display her trophies. Whenever possible, Granddad took time away from the office to watch
Susan compete. She became the model of deportment and finesse astride a horse, the example held up to the rest of us, a matter of some irritation to me. My faults on horseback were technical: no bearing, a preference for the uncouth western saddle over the more refined English saddle, a thirst for speed and excitement.
Granddad indulged the horses in a way he indulged no other animal. The Angus were raised for slaughter and show. Granddad had issued a “shoot on sight” order regarding the barnyard cats that wandered on and off the property. The bird dogs nicknamed Art (Arthur Nevins) and George (George Allen) were confined to a kennel and trained strictly for fetching pheasants and quail. Because the dogs chased butterflies and mice more aggressively than game, they were periodically shipped off for obedience training.
One evening, Susan lost control of the two Arabians while brushing them down at a hitching post next to the stalls. The Arabians, in full view of Granddad and a number of guests enjoying a cocktail on the sunporch, galloped away to romp over the pastures adjoining the backyard. After several laps, the Arabians darted toward Granddad’s putting green and sand trap. Susan watched, mortified, as the horses rolled around in the sand, reared up in ecstasy over the green and scattered the sand and dirt. According to the guests, Granddad observed the destruction of his practice green with speechless equanimity. As the Arabians grew bored with sharpening their hoofs on the putting surface and trotted away, Granddad turned to his stunned guests and beamed, “Isn’t that the loveliest sight you’ve ever seen?”
Granddad was also tolerant of one of my major transgressions. As a thirteen-year-old farm employee I had two privileges that I cherished: I could invite friends over to play war games in the barn haylofts; and I had the right to drive the four-gear “Ike and Mamie” Crosley golf cart up and down the farm lane and on the gravel roads connecting the eastern pastureland to the farm. Unfortunately, on one of my maximum-speed jaunts, I stripped the gears. I explained what happened to Sergeant Leonard Dry, Granddad’s driver, who maintained the automobiles. I got word that I would be retaining my driving privileges and could resume driving the Crosley as soon as it was repaired. It never was.
Meanwhile, Granddad decided to get his driver’s license. He had not driven since 1941. Since the automobile was the key to his independence now that he was out of office, he approached the study of traffic safety brochures with the same grim determination he had used studying tactics
thirty-five years earlier at Command and General Staff School at Leavenworth, Kansas.
The family did not know whether to be amused or concerned. We supposed that the state would pass him, regardless of his performance on any test. We knew that Granddad’s reflexes had deteriorated, and that from his trial runs around the farm after returning from Eldorado he drove from rote since his feeling for the technique of driving had vanished. At the same time we could barely suppress our amused anticipation of the ordeal some courageous member of the Pennsylvania State Police would undergo in the front seat of Granddad’s Chrysler Imperial. The driver’s exam would require Granddad to execute turns, parallel-park, and navigate the open drive from the Department of Motor Vehicles branch on Chambersburg Road past the Lutheran Theological Seminary and back.
In August 1961, the state of Pennsylvania licensed Dwight Eisenhower to drive a car. Predictably, the grader pronounced him an
“excellent driver” before a battery of local reporters, and licensed the general “without hesitation.” It was a moment of terror for the family, especially for Dad and me. Dad, who was helping Granddad write his presidential memoirs, would have to ride to work the two miles between the white gated entrance to the farm and our house on its corner, and the new offices now located on the campus of Gettysburg College. Occasionally, I would be on the hook for a five-mile trip between our home and the golf course for a late-afternoon round.
The drive to the course was a traumatic experience. Thankfully, the speed limits kept us at 25 miles per hour along Confederate Avenue because of the caravans of tourists who parked along the road to inspect the monuments. Granddad took corners sharply; the squeal of rubber against concrete and gravel roads never ceased to surprise him, or unsettle me. Each time we screeched, pitched, yawed, and lunged all the way out and back. Every bump and lurch elicited a faint “damnation,” and every other driver on the road was evaluated by the literal standards Granddad had memorized from his driving brochures. Granddad drove with total concentration.
I remember approaching a carload of tourists drawn up one afternoon alongside a cluster of Confederate cannons near the Virginia monument and the statue of General Lee riding his famous horse Traveler. The rear end of their station wagon extended onto the road and the inattentive driver and his passengers dangled out the windows on the right side of the car snapping Brownie photos of the cannon. “No oncoming traffic” I noted
anxiously as Granddad applied hard left rudder. “Damnation!” he roared, reflecting his irritation with the flouting of the rules.
Passing the station wagon, Granddad leaned on the horn, which blared like an air-raid alert. The driver appeared to collapse on top of the steering column, looking stunned. With another “damnation,” the Imperial squealed to the right, back into our lane. As Granddad’s eyes remained fixed on the road ahead, I peered back to see if anyone had died of fright. Slowly the driver struggled back to his upright position behind the wheel.
Granddad’s hard expression had melted and a benign look came over his face.
“When you get your license,” he said deliberately, “you must never impede access along a public thoroughfare.”
By now the family’s move from Washington was complete and historic Gettysburg had become home. That summer it was a place of endless adventure and fun. We lived on the south end of town, and so most of my earliest friends—the Teeters, the Hills, the Deardorfs, and the Millers—were children of parents who ran the law firms and the proliferating tourist-oriented businesses south of town. But the first year of junior high school had brought the north and south ends of town together. I got to know more kids, some whose parents taught and worked at the college: the Richardsons, the Horners, the Codoris, the Raffensbergers, the Rosenbergers, and the Pickerings. Republicans and Democrats, Yankees and Pirates fans, ballplayers and musicians, I felt I had the best circle of friends I’d ever made.
There were countless games of pickup baseball and basketball. The weeknights centered around Little League and Big Little League baseball, which were huge social events involving everyone’s parents, sisters, and brothers. Every home in town was accessible by bicycle. On Friday nights, a group of twenty of us would angle for permission to camp out at a tree house north of town near the Eternal Light Peace Memorial. This gave us license to explore the area by night, crashing Gettysburg College parties at various ends of the battlefield.
My parents and grandparents became concerned about our nights out after receiving complaints from the Park Service about pranks by “campers” near the peace memorial. Thus there were several discussions with my grandparents about park regulations, bicycle safety, and “staying out of trouble.”
My dad later explained that Granddad and Mamie were protective on all matters of personal safety. It was because they had lost their first son, Doud Dwight, “Icky,” the older brother my dad never knew. Because of Icky, Dad felt he had been overprotected by his parents. He did not want me to grow up feeling the same way, and so he did not object to the bicycles and Friday nights at the tree hut.
By August, a grand drama gripped the country and Gettysburg. In baseball, 1961 had become the year of the “M&M” boys, Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris of the New York Yankees, and their fabled pursuit of Babe Ruth’s single-season record of sixty home runs. The Mantle-Maris drama fired ambition in me to play for the Yankees someday.
By August, everyone in the family became interested in the race. Dad was a Yankees fan. He had lived in dozens of places and had never developed attachments to a local team, but had instead followed the World Series every year, which in those years meant following the Yankees. I remembered Dad’s remark once that Mickey Mantle was “the best” at his chosen profession, and worthy therefore of the high salary he was being paid. “Mantle will never have to worry about a job,” he told me, which was one of the most impressive things I had ever heard said about anyone. Dad had less interest in Maris, questioning the legitimacy of it all since 1961 was an expansion year for the American League, which meant lower-quality pitching and eight extra games. Dad seemed satisfied with Commissioner Ford Frick’s ruling that any homer total exceeding Ruth’s 60 after regular season game number 154 would go into the books with an asterisk. Granddad thought home runs were overrated.
I liked both Mantle and Maris, and was pulling for the two of them to break Ruth’s record, Mantle preferably, but Maris, too. In early September, Mantle succumbed to injury and attention shifted to Maris, who braved a mid-September slump to accumulate fifty-eight homers by game 154, needing two to satisfy Frick’s edict.
There were privileges in being the “grandson of,” and a memorable night was in store for me. My orthodontist, also a big baseball fan, was able to arrange tickets to the Yankees’ game 154 in Baltimore. After a few arguments at home—Dad was expecting nothing to come of game 154 and was reluctant to allow me to go—I was allowed to leave school early in order to be in Baltimore by game time.
I vividly remember that September night: listening anxiously to radio reports about the rain and high winds in the Baltimore area, which threatened
to postpone the game. Phil Rizzuto’s pregame show kept breaking up because of bad weather. The news via radio was that Mantle would be sitting out with a leg abscess while Maris was set to play. We shared binoculars at the game so we watched Maris closely as he batted and took the field. He popped out his first time at bat. His fifty-ninth homer in the fourth inning brought the crowd and the television audience to the edge of their seats. Maris batted three more times, striking out, fouling deep down the right-field line before flying out to far right field, and then tapping back to the pitcher for his final out.
I got home late that night, and Dad, not having listened to the game, was waiting at the front door. “Did he do it?” I recounted the game in detail. When I described Maris’s fifty-ninth, Dad shook his head, “amazing.” I took it from Dad’s reaction that Maris, like Mantle, would never have to worry about getting a job.
Soon it was football season. Playing junior high school football was required of anyone who wanted to play basketball that winter, since Don Bickel coached both sports. Afternoon practice was an ordeal since football brought us into contact with some tough farm kids, many of them a year or two older from having to repeat grades, and some weighing nearly two hundred pounds. In the 1960s, the rural areas of Adams County would be classified Appalachia as part of the Kennedy-Johnson War on Poverty. The Gettysburg school system was one of the few east of the Alleghenies to grant a day off to a pupil, upon request, to hunt deer. Occasionally, rumors would swirl in school about the latest welfare caseworker who ventured onto one of the backwoods farms only to be driven off by gunpoint.
Granddad was very interested in the football team, having played at West Point and coached at several Army posts early in his career. He felt that football, above all other sports, built character and was excellent conditioning. A superb athlete himself, he had been touted as a potential all-American until a knee injury ended his career. Apparently, Granddad had also been an excellent baseball player, though the facts were somewhat murky. At the time, it was rumored that Dwight Eisenhower had actually played professional baseball the summer of 1909 in the Central Kansas (CKL) League, but under the pseudonym “Wilson” to preserve his amateur status and eligibility for college sports.
Years later, I attended an Angels game with Arthur “Red” Patterson,
once publicity director of the Brooklyn Dodgers. Patterson brought up the rumors. He told me that in 1948 he had accompanied General Eisenhower to a game at Ebbets Field. “General, we have heard you once played in the CKL under the alias Wilson. Our records show there were two Wilsons who played in the league in 1909. I am wondering,” he asked, “which Wilson was Wilson and which was Eisenhower?” Eisenhower had grinned. “I was the Wilson who could hit,” adding, “that’s between you and me.”
By fall, Granddad had turned in earnest to the writing of his presidential memoir. In addition to my father, who was on extended leave from the Army, his chief assistant was William Ewald, a former White House speechwriter on loan from IBM. The two assistants were hard at work on drafts of chapters that Granddad would edit and shape to his satisfaction.
In 1947, working twelve-hour days with thirty minutes off for lunch, Eisenhower had completed Crusade in Europe, a long, lucid account of his wartime service, in less than ten months. But he found writing a presidential memoir to be very different. Granddad devoted only several hours a day to his writing and relied heavily on Dad and Ewald. The comparative lack of zeal for his presidential memoir is understandable. The wartime experience had meant more to him. The story recounted in Crusade had been his introduction to the great personalities of the era—FDR, Winston Churchill, General George Marshall. Granddad’s conduct had been bathed in acclaim and the war in Europe had been carried on without any significant questioning of the purposes of the Allied leadership. In Crusade in Europe, Granddad focused on explaining the operational and strategic considerations that had guided his decisions.
An account of the Eisenhower administration confronted him with more difficult problems. A discussion of the presidency required deeper explanations of actions for which he was solely responsible. In addition, he felt he had to be relatively circumspect due to his role as senior statesman. And he knew his presidency lacked the drama that permeated Crusade.
Eisenhower undertook the first volume of his presidential memoir, Mandate for Change, braced for mixed reviews and a relatively apathetic reading public. At the same time, he determined that he would not attempt to enhance his account of the presidency in any way to create drama for the sake of greater readership. His concept of his memoir was to provide a debriefing,
an unemotional, practical, and careful explanation of his presidency. As he observed years later:
“a record of personal experiences can have several useful purposes, none of which is basically to amuse or entrance. If the story is about conflict, the conscientious memoir writer does not seek to contrive such tense situations as are dreamed up by gifted historical novelists . . . [T]he drama, if any, should be in naked facts.”
Eisenhower’s approach to his memoirs concerned his editors at Doubleday, who hoped he would unwind and speak freely. He had dealt with many fascinating personalities in the White House. His presidency had, in fact, encompassed moments of high drama, and with a few embellishments, Eisenhower could write a suspenseful and colorful account. The editors wanted a livelier narrative; details about the Korean War settlement, the showdown with Senator Joseph McCarthy, the election campaigns, Eisenhower’s dealings with the Soviets and Khrushchev, his clash with the British and French at Suez; in other words, more insight into the emotions he experienced in making the big decisions of his presidency.
Sharp disagreements arose over Eisenhower’s dry treatment of the McCarthy period. His editors could not comprehend Eisenhower’s reluctance to dwell on the personal battle that had raged between the two men for almost eighteen months; Eisenhower could not grasp why his editors found the McCarthy story so interesting. He was not influenced, as Dad recalls, by
“the intensity of feeling which existed among those groups that McCarthy had abused, which included the intellectual and publishing world.” Eisenhower’s policy had been one of refusing to argue with McCarthy, and whatever the damage to his image of leadership on this vital issue, in his view his policy of ignoring McCarthy had worked.
Eisenhower had realized McCarthyism was a massive distraction that imperiled everything he had fought for in the 1952 campaign. He had run in 1952 in order to bring the Republican Party back from oblivion and restore a two-party system after twenty years of one-party rule. As president, he had been determined to point a “modern” Republican Party forward and to induce Republicans to move beyond old arguments about the war in Europe, Social Security, and the principle of government intervention in economic affairs, all policies Eisenhower had regarded as vital and had supported under Roosevelt and Truman.
Eisenhower and his editors also discussed his relationship with John Foster Dulles, to whom he would devote an entire chapter of the second volume of his memoirs. Dulles intrigued the editors, yet despite their urging,
Eisenhower did not feel compelled to set the record straight about a complex partnership that he now chose to insist had been wholly cooperative and mutually beneficial. His veneration of Dulles had begun at the secretary’s funeral in May 1959, one of the grandest pageants of the Eisenhower years, but only one of the several monuments that Eisenhower erected to his secretary of state. In July 1959, Eisenhower had announced that Chantilly Airport, under construction west of Washington in the Virginia suburbs, would be named “Dulles International Airport.” By 1961, Eisenhower likened his partnership with Dulles to that between Robert E. Lee and his trusted and indispensable lieutenant Stonewall Jackson.
Eisenhower’s chapter on Dulles would be one of the few he would write without significant aid. He would devote long passages to evaluating Dulles’s great abilities, portraying his secretary as an effective instrument of his will and presidency. In discussions with his editors, Eisenhower tossed aside suggestions that Dulles had manipulated him and that the two had not enjoyed a smooth or easy partnership.
“Well,” Eisenhower reflected, “if people want to make you stupid and say that other people are leading you around by the nose, there is nothing much you can do about it. History will tell the story anyway. . . .”
As he wrote in his memoirs, Eisenhower had marveled at Dulles’s personal courage and his refusal to accept painkillers after cancer operations in 1956 and 1959, so his mind would remain clear and he would be available for consultation with his State Department.
Dulles and Eisenhower had not been social friends, but Eisenhower fondly recalled their many sessions in the Oval Office in which the two had discussed topics well removed from foreign affairs. Dulles had feared the effects of affluence and had often talked about the American quest for the soft and easy life. Philosophically, Eisenhower tended to agree with his secretary that “battle is the joy of life.” He also agreed with Dulles that in mid-century America, the principle of representative government was “on trial.” Occasionally they commiserated about the insatiable demands for federal outlays and spending by Washington pressure groups that would, in time, undermine the vitality of America’s self-governing society. He recalled Dulles’s favorite expression,
“the brotherhood of man under the fatherhood of God,” and his belief that the United States should take the offensive on moral and ethical questions.
“Small men made life very tough for Foster,” Eisenhower recalled. And he himself had been guilty of a mistake: “I got so I disliked Truman’s idea of
keeping in his desk a liquor bar. Now with Foster, I have thought of it since. If I had only had the sense to give him a scotch and soda—he loved scotch and soda—he would have just sat and talked things over, loosened up more. . . .”
As the writing of the book proceeded, Doubleday again asked for more controversy, divided decisions, agony, regret, and mistakes. Dad recalled how he, Granddad, and Bill Ewald huddled for hours to discuss ways of accommodating the suggestions. As my father recalls, the three of them
“couldn’t think of anything.” In reporting to the editors, the best Dad could do was to shrug contritely.
Dad later told me that ironically, as a staff officer in 1929, Eisenhower had been in the position of recommending to John J. Pershing that the latter enliven his long and tedious account of his experiences during World War I.
Pershing’s obsession with literal accuracy went to fantastic lengths. He wanted to include items like the reproduction of formal engraved invitations to state dinners, menus, calendars, appointment logs, and weather reports. Major Eisenhower, solicited for his advice, had strongly urged that Pershing do more highlighting and put less stress on literal descriptions in order to make the book more readable.
But Pershing had also consulted a young colonel in Washington named George C. Marshall. Marshall and Eisenhower met for the first time while conferring on the project. Marshall rather liked the details and disliked departing from literal accuracy into “the realm of speculation.” Eisenhower, outranked, decided he was not the one to challenge Marshall’s judgment or Pershing’s and so he dropped his suggestions.
Thirty-three years later, Eisenhower found that tackling a presidential memoir opened an entirely new set of issues from those he had encountered when advising Pershing and Marshall. In a presidency spanning eight years, problems recurred and often defied resolution. By the fall of 1961, many of the issues Eisenhower thought he had disposed of as president were, in fact, unresolved. For example, one of the key events of Eisenhower’s first term was the end of the French war in Indochina in 1954, which resulted in a settlement in Vietnam and partition of the country into a communist north and pro-Western south. For the rest of the Eisenhower presidency, the partition in Vietnam held, but the Laotian conflict had erupted in late 1960 and a year later, as Eisenhower began writing the Indochina section of his memoir, North Vietnam had resumed a war to unify north and south under communist rule.
Uncertain of the administration’s likely course, in the winter of 1961–62, Eisenhower would feel compelled to slash by 50 percent his detailed draft on Indochina lest it constrain President Kennedy’s freedom of action and that of the South Vietnamese government of President Ngo Dinh Diem. In the Preface to Waging Peace, as volume two of his memoirs would be titled, he also would carefully note:
“This does not pretend to be, nor shall it be taken, as an index to the specific current or future policies of the United States.”
That America was moving toward direct intervention in Vietnam had been made plain to Eisenhower by Bryce Harlow, his White House congressional liaison and now a lobbyist for Procter & Gamble in Washington. In March 1962, Harlow passed along a memo given to him by William Sprague, an unidentified Washington insider, about the merits of calling for a joint resolution in Congress to acknowledge the developing war in Vietnam.
In detail, the memorandum provided by Harlow described a “guerilla war of increasing ferocity” that had developed in 1961. In South Vietnam, Viet Cong insurgents were “running rampant,” putting the Diem government in an increasingly “precarious position.” Quietly, the U.S. troop presence had been built up from the Geneva Treaty limit of 685 to 4,000. U.S. “training mission leaders” were in fact leading Vietnamese army platoons in combat, “shooting first and often.” A special command had been formed in anticipation of full-scale intervention, and a major Marine force was standing in readiness to enter the theatre on “a few hours notice.”
The memorandum summed up the “beneficial effects” of a congressional resolution:
1. Testimony and debate would serve to inform the public of the true situation and develop popular support.
2. The Communists would be on notice.
3. Such a resolution would stiffen the spines of the Administration.
4. It would confirm bi-partisan support. . . .
There is no record of any move by Eisenhower to persuade GOP congressmen to back a joint resolution concerning the situation in Vietnam, but the memo was a vivid reminder of how difficult it was to get a handle on the facts of the growing crisis in Southeast Asia.
Concern about Vietnam did not escape even my attention as a thirteen-and
fourteen-year-old. One of our closest family friends was Colonel Fred Ladd, lionized in David Halberstam’s The Best and the Brightest as one of the most effective Special Forces advisers in the 1961–62 period. Back from Vietnam and now stationed at the Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, Ladd—Dad’s high school classmate at Fort Lewis, Washington—was an occasional visitor in our Gettysburg home. More than once I sat quietly in our playroom listening while Ladd described to Dad the Dantesque inferno developing in Vietnam. It was a war waged at night by peasants in black pajamas who were friends by day. “We just don’t know who the enemy is in Vietnam,” Ladd said. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”
As autumn lengthened, the topic at dinner at the Gettysburg farm was war—not Vietnam, but the Civil War and the centennial observances that would unfold over the next three years. These dinners were formal occasions and children were to be “seen and not heard.” But by now I was thirteen, an avid reader of military history, and I could enjoy the lively discussions between Dad and Granddad and any guests present.
Granddad spoke as a real expert. He had first visited Gettysburg in 1915 with his West Point class to study the terrain. During World War I, as commander of Camp Colt, Granddad had used Big and Little Round Top and the adjoining fields as a training ground for the fledgling U.S. Tank Corps. When he served on Pershing’s staff, touring and studying battlefields had become a hobby, which he imparted to Dad, who subsequently took me to the Civil War battlefields Manassas, Fredericksburg, Petersburg, and Chancellorsville. More vivid than the military lessons learned was the experience of walking through the entrenchments and imagining the units mustering to the sound of bugles.
One of Granddad’s most memorable dinner subjects was General George Meade. For almost a hundred years, historians had fixed in legend the idea that Meade, commander of the Union forces at Gettysburg, had forfeited an opportunity to end the Civil War in 1863 by failing to pursue Lee’s defeated forces after Gettysburg. It was interesting to me that Granddad often offered facts about Meade that, to his way of thinking, explained, if not vindicated, the General’s caution in the aftermath of the first decisive and significant victory for the Union.
In hindsight, in these evening seminars about the Civil War, Granddad
was reviewing his wartime service. In the summer of 1944, Dwight Eisenhower, like Meade, had been accused of failing to exploit the victory in Normandy in ways that might have ended the war that year. The situations faced by Meade, Grant, Lee, Thomas, and other Civil War commanders were analogous to the situations Granddad had faced; but unlike the Second World War, the Civil War was a safe topic.
A theme of these dinner conversations was the importance of planning, and of the unexpected. Once Granddad told a story about his days at the Command and General Staff School in Leavenworth in 1926. Every officer who studied at Leavenworth knew about the
“Young Turks,” a group of students who in 1912 had convinced the faculty to modernize the curriculum by scrapping old battle problems based on the German-French campaigns in the Alsace-Lorraine and substituting the Gettysburg and Manassas campaigns. Their argument was that these were battles fought on American soil “where the American army might fight a battle” in the future.
“About a few years after that happened, World War I started,” Granddad recalled. “We were fighting in the Alsace-Lorraine.” The moral: “When you are planning for an emergency, you must start with this one thing—the very definition of an emergency is that it is unexpected.” Meade had faced the unexpected at Gettysburg, and so had Eisenhower in 1944.
As the office records show, these family seminars carried over into office hours. In Dad’s records is a memorandum of a conversation between Granddad and Civil War historian Bruce Catton, who visited Gettysburg to discuss the prospect of a joint appearance on an hour-long television special on the topic of Lincoln’s attributes as a wartime “Commander-in-Chief.” According to Dad’s notes, in response to Catton, Eisenhower rated Lincoln as occupying a “separate category” as president (along with Washington), and rated Lincoln’s capacities as a wartime C-in-C as outstanding.
“The principles of war,” Eisenhower explained, “are neither exclusive nor specialized. They are the principles of life which are fulfilled whenever an individual has a task or an objective to perform. They are a matter of common sense. Human nature is constant, as are the elements of political power, military power, economic power and morale,” adding, “an army is not licked until it admits it.”
Eisenhower opined that Lincoln’s one weakness was his “propensity to appoint political generals,” offset by his key appointment of Grant. The minutes continue:
In response to a question, General Eisenhower said Grant was particularly noteworthy for his common sense. He had the foresight to bring the war to the population . . . that it was impossible to rely on a mere defeat of military forces. Grant was also outstanding in the selection of his subordinates, picking such men as Sherman. He had to go way down . . . the list to pick Phil Sheridan. . . . McPherson was one of Grant’s selections and might have had a political future had he not been killed at the battle of Atlanta. Grant had had no use for McClernand but selected Thomas personally, a man that nobody could scare. Grant had respected Meade . . . and had essentially refrained from running Meade’s business.
By late 1961, there was one more topic of dinner conversation that had been quietly discussed by my parents and grandparents for over a year—my future. Twelve months before, Granddad had received a visit from General Milton Baker, superintendent of Valley Forge Military Academy, a well-known boarding school, which incidentally provided part of the setting for J. D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye. Baker offered to accept the President’s only grandson on a complete all-expenses-paid four-year scholarship. This offer had ignited a yearlong debate within the family.
Granddad was intrigued by the Valley Forge Military Academy. First, he loved Valley Forge itself, in his view one of the “two or three really inspirational locations” in the United States. Second, Granddad had visited the campus and been impressed by the precision drills, the snappy discipline, and the academy band. Baker did not have to try hard to persuade Granddad that Valley Forge was the place for me. Granddad was convinced that I would “benefit by discipline,” undoubtedly not reflecting upon how a young fourteen-year-old Dwight Eisenhower, fifty-five years earlier, would have taken to the restrictions of military school.
My parents countered that military school would be too abrupt a transition for me. In fact, Dad took the position that his son would go to the academy “over his dead body.” His views prevailed. At Thanksgiving, we learned three items of news. First, I was slated to enter Phillips Exeter Academy in the fall. Second, the family would be spending part of Christmas in California, a state I had never visited. Third, my sister Anne and I would probably be accompanying our grandparents on a trip to Europe the following summer. My days as a farmhand were numbered.