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Dwight D. Eisenhower

Dwight David Eisenhower
(1890-1969)
American General

Dwight David Eisenhower commanded the largest multinational military force ever assembled in the most massive war effort in world history. In charge of more than 4 million men, Eisenhower planned and led the Allied offensive that defeated the Axis powers in World War II. His exceptional abilities to coordinate and administer diverse Allied forces and headstrong subordinate commanders yielded a united army that produced a difficult victory.

Born on October 14, 1890, in Denison, Texas, Eisenhower moved with his parents to Abilene, Kansas, where he grew up. Unable to afford college, Eisenhower applied to, and was accepted at, the U.S. Military Academy. At West Point he played football as a member of the class of 1915, which produced more than fifty future general officers. Graduating sixty-first in a class of 164, Eisenhower received a commission in the infantry.

In his initial assignments, Eisenhower made a name for himself developing training for the infantry and the newly organized tank corps. Although Eisenhower missed out on combat in World War I, spending the duration of the conflict in stateside assignments, he benefited from the rapid promotions of the times by advancing to the rank of major in 1920.

The rewards of peacetime in the post-World War I army were few, however. Eisenhower remained a major for two decades and struggled to maintain a family on limited military wages. However “Ike” used the long years as if he were aware of what challenges the future would bring. At Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, he gained recognition by finishing first in his Command and General Staff College class. In 1929 he worked for General John Joseph Pershing, producing a guidebook to World War I battlefields. In 1935, Eisenhower joined General Douglas MacArthur at the Office of the Army Chief of Staff. He then accompanied MacArthur to the Philippines and remained there for three years as his assistant.

Eisenhower enhanced his reputation as the consummate staff officer in various positions. During the prewar period of expansion, Eisenhower finally gained the rank of lieutenant colonel. It is doubtful that even those who recognized Ike’s talents at the time could have predicted that in three short years he would wear the rank of five starts and hold the title of Supreme Allied Commander in Europe.

Cause of Eisenhower’s performance and the positive impression he had made on Pershing and MacArthur, Army Chief of Staff George Catlett Marshall appointed him to head the army’s Operations Division shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Eisenhower played a major role in devising the overall Allied strategic plan that called for containment in the Pacific theater while first defeating the Nazis in Europe.

Eisenhower became Marshall’s choice for promotion to major general and command of American troops assembling in Great Britain. Then, in July 1942, the chief of staff promoted Ike to lieutenant general and placed him in command of U.S. forces in Operation Torch – the invasion of North Africa. Eisenhower responded to an initial setback at Kasserine Pass by making sweeping changes in his subordinate commanders. He relieved from command those who had failed and replaced them with his own handpicked officers.

Ike’s changes and leadership turned the tide against the Afrika Korps of German general Erwin Rommel, forcing a mass surrender of Nazi and Italian soldiers. Along with gaining victory, Eisenhower proved in North Africa his ability to control headstrong and flamboyant subordinate leaders, such as Bernard Law Montgomery and George S. Patton.

Promoted to full general, Eisenhower took command of the July 1943 invasion of Sicily and the subsequent march into mainland Italy. In December 1943, Eisenhower became commander of the Supreme Headquarters, Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF), charged with the planning and execution of the invasion of France in Operation Overlord. Because of Eisenhower’s direct leadership and administrative abilities, the Allies assembled the largest invasion force in history and maintained security to make both the time and place of their landing a surprise to the Germans.

After successfully landing at Normandy, Eisenhower commanded the multi-million-man Allied force as it pushed inland toward the German homeland. After brief setbacks in a failed airborne invasion in Holland called Operation Market Garden and a surprise German counteroffensive in the Ardennes known as the Battle of the Bulge, Eisenhower’s army crossed the Rhine River and threatened Berlin itself. In a controversial decision based on incorrect intelligence about Hitler’s final defense plans, Eisenhower turned away from Berlin and secured the mountain ranges south of Munich, where the Allies anticipated that the last battles would take place. This decision allowed the Soviets to take Berlin.

Following the war, Eisenhower replaced Marshall as chief of staff before retiring in 1948 to become president of Columbia University. Three years later, he returned to Europe to lead NATO. In 1952, Ike campaigned as a Republican for the presidency and won by the largest popular-vote margin up to that time. His administration brought an end to the Korean War. After two terms, Eisenhower retired to his Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, farm with a final warning of the dangers of big government and what he labeled the “military-industrial complex.” He died at age seventy-eight in Washington, D.C., on March 28, 1969.

Eisenhower readily demonstrated his tremendous abilities in forging and maintaining relationships among the Allies and in managing large-scale operations. While often criticized for never directly participating in combat, Eisenhower proved his personal bravery in making and enforcing difficult decisions. Although more a staff officer, manager, and facilitator than combat commander in the traditional sense, Eisenhower was the right man for the right job at the right time.

His influence was immense. Without his patient leadership and ability to form coalitions and foster teamwork, the Allied army might never have attained the cohesion that secured victory. Denied Berlin by his own decision, Eisenhower nevertheless earned credit for the final victory in Europe. Only Adolf Hitler, who initiated the conflict, and Marshall, who served as Ike’s commander, surpasses Eisenhower in influence during the most destructive war in history.