eisenhower

We don’t often think of generals feeling anguish over men lost in the battles they are sent to fight. It’s not that we don’t realize that they feel bad for sending these men into battle, to their possible deaths, even to their probable deaths, because we do. Still, they are the generals, and far above the rank and file…the little guys. Generals, Admirals, the President…could they even realize the consequences of their decisions in the lives of the people under them? I think most of us somehow think that the generals and even the president have no idea how many people they are condemning to death by the orders they give. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth.

General Eisenhower, known as “Ike” was the one with the final say in the D-Day attack that could potentially take the lives of more than 160,000 men, as well as the possible destruction of nearly 12,000 aircraft, almost 7,000 sea vessels. The attack was supposed to take place on June 5, 1944, but the weather was not cooperative. For the attack to work, several factors had to be optimally in favor of the Allies. Nevertheless, these were factors that could not be controlled by humans. Things like the tides, the moon, and the weather. They needed low tide and bright lunar conditions, limiting the possibilities to just a few days each month. The dates for June 1944 were the fifth, the sixth, and the seventh. It was a very small window, and then the weather on the fifth didn’t cooperate either. If the attack was not launched on one of those dates, Ike would be forced to wait until June 19 to try again. Not only did that mean more deaths because of the German occupation, but keeping the attack secret was harder, the longer they had to wait.

Finally, it looked like June 6, 1944 was going to cooperate. All of his advisors told him that their part was a go. Finally it was time for the final decision…one that belonged only to Eisenhower. He labored over the decision. It was not one where he could decide from his lofty position and never think about it again. He knew that he was sending men to their deaths…to certain death. He couldn’t pass the buck. He couldn’t call a dozen people to see how they felt about it. He had to decide. And so he did. History has argued what his exact words were, some said, “Ok, let ‘er rip.” or “Well, we’ll go” or “All right, we move” or “OK, boys, We will go.” or “We will attack tomorrow.” I don’t suppose it really matters what he said exactly, but rather, it mattered what happened after. We now know that the Allied casualties on June 6 have been estimated at 10,000 killed, wounded, and missing in action. Among those were 6,603 Americans, 2,700 British, and 946 Canadians. It ended with an Allied victory, but it was not without cost…the loss of lives was great. Eisenhower could not “celebrate” the anniversary of D-Day, thinking that it would be like patting himself on the back, but I think that the biggest picture of the weight that the attack placed on Eisenhower was when he was going to a reunion with the 82nd Airborne Division. Upon seeing him, the men stood, cheering and whistling. Reporter Val Lauder had spoken to him, and later watched the news broadcast of the reunion, when her mother noticed something odd. Says Lauder, “My mother, watching with me, said, ‘He’s crying. Why is he crying?’ I said, ‘He’s looking out at a roomful of men he once thought he could be sending to their death.'” That says it all. Ike didn’t just pull the plug and send those men to their deaths…never giving it another thought. The decision haunted him for years, and quite likely the rest of his life.

Every four years, Americans go to the polls to elect a new president. Looking at the first time that a president is elected, quite often, we know little about the person running for president. Even if they have been in Congress, it takes some digging to really discover who they are, and what they can do for our nation. We rely on things like the political party they belong to or the campaign promises they make. Still, we have no idea what the candidate will really do, until they are in office.

Sometimes, there are exceptions to that basic rule, however. Such was the case with Dwight D Eisenhower, who was the supreme commander of Allied forces in Western Europe during World War II. Of course, running a nation is not the same as running a war, unless the nation happens to be at war, that is. Nevertheless, a commander who excelled at leading a war, was by definition, a leader…making it a good bet that he could also lead a nation. Eisenhower was that kind of leader, and the people of the United States could see it clearly. He led the massive invasion of Nazi-occupied Europe that began on D-Day…June 6, 1944. Then in 1952, with victory under his belt, leading Republicans convinced Eisenhower, who by then was in command of NATO forces in Europe, to run for president. As the campaign progressed, it would remain to be seen, just how much the people of the United States thought that he would make a good leader for the nation. The election would be the telling point.

And so it went. Eisenhower won a convincing victory over Democrat Adlai Stevenson and would serve two terms in the White House (1953-1961). Even more amazing than his victory was the fact that General Dwight D Eisenhower won the American presidential elections with the largest number of popular votes ever recorded for a presidential candidate. It was a landslide victory. The people had spoken. Also of note, is that Eisenhower was the only other president to win the presidential election, having never served in any other political office. I’m sure everyone knows that the other president to do that is our current president…Donald Trump. That is an almost unheard of feat. A general and a businessman, both of whom had not been politically inclined, and yet, here they were. During his presidency, Eisenhower managed Cold War-era tensions with the Soviet Union under the looming threat of nuclear weapons, ended the war in Korea in 1953 and authorized a number of covert anti-communist operations by the CIA around the world. Here at home, America was in a period of relative prosperity, nevertheless, Eisenhower strengthened Social Security and created the massive new Interstate Highway System. Eisenhower was so well liked that he would beat Stevenson again four years later in a landslide to win re-election, despite health concerns after suffering a heart attack in 1955.

Eisenhower was born in Denison, Texas, on October 14, 1890. He grew up in Abilene, Kansas, as the third of seven sons in a poor family. His mother, a devout Mennonite and pacifist, was quite distressed when young Ike…as he was known…won an appointment to the US Military Academy at West Point, New York. Nevertheless, he went on to graduate in the middle of his class in 1915. While stationed as a second lieutenant in San Antonio, Texas, Eisenhower met Mamie Geneva Doud. The couple married in 1916 and had two sons, Doud Dwight, who died of scarlet fever as a small child, and John. World War I ended just before Eisenhower was scheduled to go to Europe, which was frustrating to the young officer, but he soon managed to acquire an appointment to the Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Graduating first in his class of 245, he served as a military aide to General John J Pershing, commander of US forces during World War I, and later to General Douglas MacArthur, US Army chief of staff. During his seven years serving under MacArthur, Eisenhower was stationed in the Philippines from 1935 to 1939.

Eisenhower returned soon after Nazi Germany’s invasion of Poland sparked the outbreak of World War II in Europe. In September 1941, he received his first general’s star with a promotion to brigadier general. After Japan attacked Pearl Harbor that December, US Army Chief of Staff General George C Marshall called Eisenhower to Washington, DC to work as a planning officer. Beginning in November 1942, Eisenhower headed Operation Torch, the successful Allied invasion of North Africa. He then directed the amphibious invasion of Sicily and the Italian mainland in 1943 that led to the fall of Rome in June 1944. In early 1943, he was made a full general. Eisenhower was appointed supreme commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force in December of that year and given the responsibility of spearheading the planned Allied invasion of Nazi-occupied Europe. On D-Day…June 6, 1944, more than 150,000 Allied forces crossed the English Channel and stormed the beaches of Normandy. The invasion led to the liberation of Paris on August 25 and turned the tide of the war in Europe decisively in the Allied direction. Having risen from lieutenant colonel in the Philippines to supreme commander of the victorious forces in Europe in only five years, Eisenhower returned home to a hero’s welcome in 1945 to serve as chief of staff of the US Army.

In 1948, Eisenhower left active duty and became president of New York City’s Columbia University. His brief return to civilian life ended in 1950, however, when President Harry S Truman asked him to take command of the new North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) forces in Europe. In that position, Eisenhower worked to create a unified military organization that would combat potential communist aggression around the globe. As President of the United States, while weathering criticism from both left and right, Eisenhower enjoyed high approval ratings throughout his administration. After leaving office in January 1961, he retired to his farm in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. He worked largely on his memoirs, and would publish several books over the following years. He died on March 28, 1969, after a long illness.

While researching some of the larger battles of World War II, I began to consider the brilliance of the men who planned these battles. Men like Sir Winston Spencer-Churchill, Supreme Allied Commander General Dwight D Eisenhower, Admiral Chester Nimitz, Admiral Frank Fletcher, and Admiral Raymond Spruance (who was a replacement, but proved to be instrumental in the success of Midway). These men and others like them knew that the stakes were high, and by sheer numbers, the Allies were outnumbered by the Axis armies. That said, they also knew that the fate of the world was in their hands. If they lost this war, the Japanese and Germans would quite likely take over and rule the world. Life as we knew it would cease to exist.

Strategy is everything. Of course, part of that strategy involves something that many Americans have come to hate these days…fake news. These strategic minds knew that somehow they had to fool the Japanese into believing that no attack was coming, or that the advancing armies were headed elsewhere. It sounds simple, but this wasn’t the movies. Nevertheless, information was leaked to the enemy, while the Allied armies advanced as planned. The strategy worked perfectly on D-Day when Hitler was fooled, by men he had called idiots, into thinking that the target was at some point along their Atlantic Wall…the 1,500-mile system of coastal defenses that the German High Command had constructed from the Arctic Circle to Spain’s northern border…or even as far away as the Balkans. Vital to Operation Bodyguard’s success were more than a dozen German spies in Britain who had been discovered, arrested and flipped by British intelligence officers. The Allies fed faulty information to these Nazi double agents to pass along to Berlin. A pair of double agents nicknamed Mutt and Jeff relayed detailed reports about the fictitious British Fourth Army that was gathering in Scotland with plans to join with the Soviet Union in an invasion of Norway. The Allies also fabricated radio chatter about cold-weather issues such as ski bindings and the operation of tank engines in subzero temperatures. The plan worked as Hitler sent one of his fighting divisions to Scandinavia just weeks before D-Day.

At Midway, the American “Doolittle” raid, a propaganda air attack on Tokyo launched from the carrier USS Hornet, prompted Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto to plan a final showdown with the remnants of the American fleet before letting his forces rest. The “Doolittle” raid had been an insult and it had threatened the life of the emperor. Yamamoto was confident that he had the advantage in numbers and quality to destroy the American carrier fleet. He planned to confuse the enemy with a diversionary attack on the Alaskan coast, drawing the Americans north, only to launch his main attack on Midway Island the following day, which would see the Americans hurrying south, into an ambush. With a great show of overelaboration, which was typical of Japanese military planning. Yamamoto divided his force into three main groups. There were four big carriers, the battlefleet, and the invasion force. These three groups were too far apart for mutual support. The Japanese carrier group operated in close order, commanded by Admiral Nagumo, who had led them for the attack at Pearl Harbor. Nimitz, for his part, could not hope to win a direct engagement. He had to stake everything on exploiting his intelligence windfall, and try to ambush the enemy. He secretly reinforced the air units on Midway, using the island as an unsinkable aircraft carrier. His sea-going carriers were positioned to the northeast of the island, waiting to ambush the Japanese carriers when they arrived for their assault. The American tactics relied on the peculiar characteristics of carrier warfare. Nimitz knew the first attack would be decisive for either side, carriers being full of fuel and ordnance, hence highly vulnerable to bombs and torpedoes. The American tactical commanders, admirals Frank Fletcher and Raymond Spruance, also knew they were playing for very high stakes. They kept the two task forces separate. The strategy worked, and the Japanese never fully recovered.

Most people know about the Great Lakes in the north-central United States, but quite possibly, many are not as familiar with the Saint Lawrence Seaway. Nevertheless, the Saint Lawrence Seaway is one of the most important parts of the Great Lakes shipping system. Prior to the Saint Lawrence Seaway there were a number of other canals. In 1871, there were locks on the Saint Lawrence River that allowed transit of vessels 186 feet long, 44 feet 6 inch wide, and 9 feet deep. The First Welland Canal, constructed from 1824–1829, had a minimum lock size of 110 feet long, 22 feet wide, and 8 feet deep, but it was generally too small to allow passage of larger ocean-going ships, which would have eliminated the majority of ships that could ship in quantity. The Welland Canal’s minimum lock size was increased to 150 feet long, 26.5 feet wide, and 9 feet deep for the Second Welland Canal, then to 270 feet long, 45 feet wide, and 14 feet deep with the Third Welland Canal, and to 766 feet long, 80 feet wide, and 30 feet deep with the fourth and current Welland Canal. Still, everyone knew that something else was going to have to be done soon.

The first proposals for a bi-national comprehensive deep waterway along the Saint Lawrence were made in the 1890s. In the following decades, developers proposed a hydropower project that would be inseparable from the seaway, the various governments and seaway supporters believed that the deeper water to be created by the hydro project was necessary to make the seaway channels feasible for ocean-going ships, which we all know was an essential part of the shipping business for the United States and the world. United States proposals for development up to and including World War I met with little interest from the Canadian federal government…at least at first. Later, the two national governments submitted Saint Lawrence plans to a group for study. By the early 1920s, both The Wooten-Bowden Report and the International Joint Commission recommended the project.

The Liberal Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King really wasn’t all for the project, mostly because of opposition to the project in Quebec, in 1932. He and the United States representative finally signed a treaty of intent. The treaty was submitted to the United States Senate in November of 1932 and hearings continued until a vote was taken on March 14, 1934. The majority did vote in favor of the treaty, but it failed to gain the necessary two-thirds vote for ratification. Additional attempts between the governments in the 1930s to forge an agreement Failed due to opposition by the Ontario government of Mitchell Hepburn, and that of Quebec. In 1936, John C Beukema, who was the head of the Great Lakes Harbors Association and a member of the Great Lakes Tidewater Commission, was among a delegation of eight from the Great Lakes states to meet at the White House with United States President Franklin D Roosevelt to get his support for the Seaway project.

After much back and forth wrangling, the two countries agreed that the Saint Lawrence Seaway was a necessary addition to the Great Lakes shipping industry, and it would later prove to be a vital part of it. In the years that my sister, my parents, and I lived in Superior, Wisconsin, the Saint Lawrence Seaway was something that, at least our parents remember being under construction. The opening ceremony took place on June 26, 1959, and was presided over by United States President Dwight D Eisenhower and Queen Elizabeth II. Once it was opened, it created a navigational channel from the Atlantic Ocean to all the Great Lakes. The seaway, made up of a system of canals, locks, and dredged waterways, extends a distance of nearly 2,500 miles, from the Atlantic Ocean through the Gulf of Saint Lawrence to Duluth, Minnesota, on Lake Superior.

In any wartime situation, there always seem to be those who think the United States should not get involved…mostly because they think that if we just stay out of it, the enemy will leave us alone. Of course, history does not prove that theory. When we look at the wars that the United States has been drawn into, only after we were attacked too, we find that the enemy always intended to take on the United States too, and we were only delaying the inevitable. It seems like every wartime president has had to deal with the naysayers, and President Eisenhower was no different. During the Cold War years when the Communists were trying to take over the world, Eisenhower chose a strong United States defense against it, but his view of a strong defense was much different that General Hoyt Vandenberg’s view. Vandenberg wanted a massive increase in conventional land, air, and sea forces, while Eisenhower said that a cheaper and more efficient defense could be built around the nation’s nuclear arsenal. Senator Robert Taft argued that if efforts to reach a peace agreement in Korea failed, the United States should withdraw from the United Nations forces and make its own policy for dealing with North Korea, basically a completely independent foreign policy, or what one “might call the ‘fortress’ theory of defense.” While both of these suggestions might seem like the best course of action, history tells us that Senator Taft’s suggestion would make us look weak, and possibility bring about attacks on the United States, and while I would tend to agree with General Vandenberg, that we need a strong defense system, I also understand that as technology changes, nations must change with it. Having hundreds of fighter planes is not necessary, if a few can drop a bomb that will settle the matter once and for all. It is similar to the use of pen and paper when we live in a computer age.

President Eisenhower was no stranger to sending the military might of the United States out to attack the enemy, and in his days as a general, he made those decisions every day, but as every one should realize, the more men you have to send, the more possibility of losing them. The decision to send soldiers to their deaths was not one that Eisenhower ever took lightly. With a strong nuclear arsenal, the enemy nation knew that they had better think twice before taking on the United States.

Without naming either man, President Eisenhower responded to both during a speech at the National Junior Chamber of Commerce meeting in Minneapolis. His forceful speech struck back at critics of his Cold War foreign policy. He insisted that the United States was committed to the worldwide battle against communism and that he would maintain a strong United States defense. It was just a few months into his presidency, and the Korean War still raging, but Eisenhower laid out his basic approach to foreign policy with this speech. He began by characterizing the Cold War as a battle “for the soul of man himself.” He rejected Taft’s idea that the United States should pursue isolationism, and instead he insisted that all free nations had to stand together saying, “There is no such thing as partial unity.” To Vandenberg’s criticisms of the new Air Force budget, in which the president proposed a $5 billion cut from the Air Force budget, Eisenhower explained that vast numbers of aircraft were not needed in the new atomic age. Just a few planes armed with nuclear weapons could “visit on an enemy as much explosive violence as was hurled against Germany by our entire air effort throughout four years of World War II.” With this speech, Eisenhower thus pointed out the two major points of what came to be known at the time as his “New Look” foreign policy. First was his advocacy of multi-nation responses to communist aggression in preference to unilateral action by the United States. Second was the idea that came to be known as the “bigger bang for the buck” defense strategy.

Anytime a nation is facing war, it is a stressful time for its people, but no nation will do well using the isolation strategy, because a nation that appears to be weak in its own defense, will ultimately become a target for attack. I am not an advocate for the United Nations, and in fact, I believe we need to disband the United Nations, but I do believe that a nation must have allies…nations with like values, who are willing to go to war to back up their allies, and that we must not allow bully nations to take over smaller nations, because that only strengthens their resolve to expand further. I also believe that when technology becomes available, it must be properly combined with human forces to achieve the best result in the most efficient way.

On this D-Day, a subject I have previously written about, I began to wonder about a different side of the story of this age old battle that everyone has heard of, even if some don’t know what it was all about. My thoughts turned to General Eisenhower. It was he who had the unfortunate task of deciding to attack the Germans who were occupying France, by way of the beaches of Normandy, France. It was he who had to carry the emotional burden of knowing that if the attack was made, he would be sending men to die. I would not have wanted to be in his shoes as he pondered this monumental decision. Nevertheless, someone had to make the decision. Things could not go on as they were. The future of the free world was dependent on the decisions made by this one man.

As families listened to their radio stations on the morning of June 6, 1944, one Valerie Lauder, who was 18 at the time, had graduated from Stephens Junior College that May and was not due at Northwestern University and the Medill School of Journalism until September was among the listeners. Her father was listening too, until he had to go to work. She said that President Roosevelt came on the radio and offered a prayer. Then, she heard General Eisenhower’s recorded reading of the order of the day, the troops in LSTs and transports heard it over loudspeakers. At that point, Val decided that she would really like to meet General Eisenhower, and given her chosen profession as a journalist, she was able to eventually make that happen. In fact, she was not only able to meet General Eisenhower 2½ years later, but was also able to preside at his press conference with the student press club that she had created and the Chicago Daily News sponsored.

She related the scene, “On January 18, 1947, Wearing two battle ribbons on his waist-length “Eisenhower jacket,” the supreme commander of the Allied Expeditionary Forces in Europe stood to my left, facing 165 student editors and photographers from high school and college newspapers throughout the greater Chicago area gathered in the Drake Hotel. Dressed in their Sunday best, pencils poised, notebooks open, they were seated on straight-back chairs set out in rows of 10 on either side of a center aisle. Ike stood at the end of the center aisle, about three feet in front of me. I introduced him.” As Val introduced General Eisenhower, she asked him, “General Eisenhower, what was the greatest decision you had to make during the war?” Eisenhower contemplated her question for a moment, and then answered her in a somber and serious tone about the D-Day landings. “To ensure the success of the Allied landings in Normandy,” he explained, “it was imperative that we prevent the enemy from bringing up reinforcements. All roads and rail lines leading to the areas of fighting on and around the beaches had to be cut or blocked. If reinforcements were allowed to reach the areas of fighting there, in our first, precarious attempts to get a foothold on the continent, the whole operation could be jeopardized. The landings might fail. The success of the landings on the beaches,” Ike said, reaching the end of the first row, starting back, “might well turn on the success of the paratroopers behind the lines.”

Then, on May 30, just six days before the scheduled landings, which were to have been June 5, a trusted aide and personal friend came to him, deeply concerned about the airborne landing. Val later that learned it was British Air Chief Marshal Sir Trafford Leigh-Mallory, who had been assigned to the Allied forces, with the title of Air Commander in Chief, which made him the air commander of the Allied invasion. He was apologetic about how late it was, so close to the jump-off time. But, he’d gone over it, and over it, and over it, and felt it simply would not succeed. The casualties would be too great. He pleaded with Eisenhower. “Casualties to glider troops would be 90% before they ever reached the ground,” he said. “The killed and wounded among the paratroopers would be 75%.” Eisenhower knew that would mean an unbearably high percentage of the 18,000 men who would drop into the darkness over Nazi-occupied France would become casualties. This would also mean that the survivors would be too few in number to succeed in their crucial mission of seizing, and holding the causeways. “The man was absolutely sincere, absolutely convinced it wouldn’t work,” Eisenhower said. “As a highly respected, capable officer, I trusted his judgment. I told him I’d think it over.”

After agonizing over the possible losses, he was still undecided just four days before the planned date. Eisenhower slowing, turned to face the students, he said, “I let the order stand.” With the words, his face seemed to relax. I suppose you would have to decide that you were going to be ok with the decision, or else it would drive you crazy. The students sat in stunned silence. “The airborne boys did their job.” Eisenhower went on with relief almost bordering on elation. “And, I am happy to say, the casualties were only 8%.” Eisenhower was not just a general setting up a battle, but rather a man with a heartfelt concern for the men in the airborne divisions and the men in the landing craft headed for the beaches. As he put it in his book, Crusade in Europe, “It would be difficult to conceive of a more soul-racking problem.” I have to agree. To only lose 8% of the men in that situation, well that is…unbelievable!!

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