Dwight David Eisenhower (1890 – 1969)

Dwight D. Eisenhower speaks with American paratroopers of the 502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division on the evening of June 5, 1944.
Dwight D. Eisenhower speaks with American paratroopers of the 502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division on the evening of June 5, 1944.

American military leader, whose great popularity as Allied supreme commander during World War II secured him election as the 34th president of the United States (1953-61).

Early Life

Born in Denison, Texas, on October 14, 1890, Eisenhower grew up on a small farm in Abilene, Kansas. His devout and industrious parents, David and Ida, raised six sons. Interested in sports and history, young Dwight went to West Point for the free education. Eisenhower was commissioned an infantry officer upon graduation in 1915 and married Mamie Doud the following year. They had two sons, one of whom died in childhood. Eisenhower did not see combat duty during World War I, but he was decorated and promoted to lieutenant colonel for his administrative skills in commanding a tank corps training center. In the interwar years, he was recognized as a promising leader at the Command and General Staff school and served as an industrial mobilization planner and as aide to the army chief of staff and later military adviser to the Philippines, General Douglas MacArthur

Service in World War II

During training exercises in 1940-41, Eisenhower won praise in several army staff positions, culminating in that of chief of staff of the Third Army; at the same time he was promoted to brigadier general. Called to the War Department as a Philippines expert a few days after the attacks on Pearl Harbor and the Philippines, he won further promotion to major general and was named chief of the newly organized Operations Division of the General Staff three months later. By this time the army’s top planner, he then prepared plans for the European theater of operations, and in June 1942 he was given command of U.S. forces in Europe by Army Chief of Staff George C. Marshall. Subsequently as Allied commander in the invasions of North Africa, Sicily, and Italy, he demonstrated outstanding skill in forging the allies into an effective fighting force and managing the large-scale operations.

Appointed supreme commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force for the invasion of France, Eisenhower, by then a full general, began his new assignment in January 1944. In the months prior to the invasion, on June 6, 1944, he supervised the preparation of air, sea, and land forces and all other strategic planning and made the crucial decision on the date of the assault. During the fighting that ensued until the end of the war in Europe, Eisenhower, who became General of the Army in December 1944, had the overall responsibility of strategic and administrative control of an Allied force that eventually numbered more than 4,500,000. Because it was strategically safer and logistically sounder, Eisenhower employed a broad-front strategy, requiring all his armies to advance more or less simultaneously. This caused disagreement with the British commander, Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery, who favored the risky single-thrust theory of concentrating the attack in one area. As supreme commander, Eisenhower prevailed, skillfully using his knowledge and experience combined with charm and tact to achieve success in his task, which involved not only fighting the Germans but also dealing with sometimes difficult allies and troublesome subordinates.

In the fall of 1945, Eisenhower became army chief of staff. During his tenure in that office—slightly more than two years—he had the dual role of demobilizing the wartime army while maintaining a suitable defense force. Although he accepted the presidency of Columbia University in 1948, he still served as a military adviser, and, some three years later, he returned to Europe as supreme commander for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.