Dwight David Eisenhower, prior to becoming President of the United States, served the U.S. Army for more than 40 years, achieving the highest rank of any officer.
Though he was born in Denison, Texas in 1890, Dwight Eisenhower (who was born David Dwight Eisenhower, but later switched the order of his names) spent much of his childhood in Abilene, Kansas after his family moved there in 1892.
Eisenhower’s passion as a child was sports – he wanted to be a professional baseball player and also excelled in football (which he would play at West Point). He desired to go to college at West Point, which his parents, David and Ida, agreed to even though they disagreed with militarism.
Dwight Eisenhower attended West Point from 1911 to 1915, and upon leaving embarked upon a long military career, beginning as an infantryman in Texas.
America would enter World War I only three years after Eisenhower’s graduation, and though this young officer (then a Captain, though during the war he would be temporarily assigned the rank of Lieutenant Colonel) did not see any combat (nor would he ever), he served the army by leading the tank corps (an entirely new division – this was the first war in which tanks would be used).
After the war, Eisenhower was promoted to Major and sent to Camp Meade, Maryland where he served for the next three years, where he continued to grow more interested in the theories of tank warfare.
Between the two World Wars, Eisenhower continued to serve in many military capacities – mostly uninteresting office jobs and administrative positions.
His travels during this time took him to the Panama Canal Zone as aide to General Fox Conner in 1924, and to the Phillipines, where he was aide to General Douglas MacArthur from 1935-1937.
Until World War II broke out, Eisenhower became one of the top military aides, and was finally promoted to Brigadier General in September of 1941, only months before the Japanese would attack Pearl Harbor, forcing America to finally enter the war.
Eisenhower in World War II
World War II saw Dwight Eisenhower rise through a series of ever more important positions of command in the United States military, thanks to his gift for administration and tactical organization skills.
Eisenhower held such positions as “Deputy Chief in Charge of Pacific Defenses,” “Chief of War Plans Division,” and “Assistant Chief of Staff in Charge of Operations Division” before being appointed “Commanding General, European Theater of Operations” in 1942.
Added to this weighty position, Eisenhower (even then known to many as “Ike”) was given command of the North African Theater and the Mediterranean Theater. In 1943, Eisenhower’s success in these theaters would earn him the position of Supreme Allied Commander in Europe. It was in this capacity that he would be instrumental in planning and implementing “Operation Overlord” – the successful invasion of Normandy on D-Day, June 6, 1944.
For more than a year after this, Eisenhower remained in command of the Allied forces in both success and failure, being promoted to General of the Army in December of 1944, and dealing face to face with world leaders such as Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin.
From the World War to the Presidency
After World War II ended in Allied success in both Europe and the Pacific, Eisenhower was sent to Europe to oversee the U.S. occupied zone in Germany to deal with the German P.O.W.’s and the war crimes tribunals.
From 1945, Eisenhower served as Army Chief of Staff until 1948, when he accepted the position of President of Columbia University in New York – a far cry from his military career, but certainly a place in need of his administrative abilities.
Two years later, while still technically President of the University (a distinction he shares among Presidents with only Woodrow Wilson, who had been President of Princeton University), Eisenhower was named Supreme Commander of NATO.
Throughout his life up until this point, Dwight Eisenhower had been, for the most part, politically ambivalent. In fact, during the 1948 elections, he had been courted by both major political parties in hopes that he would run for President, for he had never declared a political affiliation. In principle he was probably more aligned with Republicans, but he had certainly been a great friend to President Roosevelt and, at times, to President Truman.
Finally, in 1952, he allowed himself to be nominated by the Republican Party (in part to oppose the nomination of Senator Taft, and in part in opposition to Truman’s Korean War policies).
Like such war heroes who had come before him – Washington, Harrison, Tayler, Grant, and Theodore Roosevelt – Eisenhower’s great popularity carried him easily into the White House in the 1952 election, defeating Adlai Stevenson by almost eleven percent of the popular vote.
Eisenhower entered the White House in 1953 with a mandate from the American people, and he certainly had quite a name to live up to.