Saturday, April 28, 2012

General Ike by John S D Eisenhower

Published in 2003,  236 pages including three speeches in the Appendix and 41 pages of index and notes by chapter, "General Ike" by his son is a readable, historical series of essays explaining Ike's training, background and character development but primarily his WWII years and  interactions with so many heroes of our time, General Douglas MacArthur, Winston Churchill, Charles de Gaulle, General George "blood and guts"  Patton, General George C Marshall, Field Marshall Sir Bernard Law Montgomery and others who were so influential in his early military career.  There is a chapter dedicated to nearly each one of these.  The writing is excellent, not repetitive as could have been since the time span covered often overlaps.  Initially I was  slightly intimidated by the military maps in the front of the book showing the campaigns of the war and the Allies strategies and  the references to military terms, abbreviations, acronyms, ranks and structure and the like but it is a book I am fortunate to have read.  This was discarded by our local library when they did some shelf purging so I acquired it for $1.   I remember President Eisenhower and the "I Like Ike" slogans; it is the first presidential campaign that I recall as a child.  This book makes the characters real  and does not disguise foibles and issues between the characters.  The author, John S D Eisenhower, is the eldest son, a West Point Grad,  retired Brigadier General,  a historian and by the inside  cover looks exactly like his famous father. He explains for ease of readership his use of "Ike" although he admits to never calling him anything but "Dad."  It is a revealing portrait of history with much information confirmed in other historical accounts and with the addition of Ike only tid bits.  

On page 39, I laughed at Ike's adoption of the "Beer Barrel Polka" a popular tune in the  1940's which Ike enjoyed, his declaring it the official song of the 15th  He so designated it Infantry of the Army at Ft. Ord, CA.  "Military morale is often built on things that seem trivial to a civilian."    So that when there was a marching review of his division the band would suspend whatever march it had been playing and swing into the "polka" until the last man in the regiment passed by, then the band would revert  back to standard military marches.   It was said that the men of the 15th refused to march to any other tune.   I never knew that.

George Patton and Ike had a long history and acquaintance prior to WWII.  There are multiple examples of Patton's outbursts and arrogance and Ike's tolerance.  Pg 61...  "..the type of annoyance Ike  was willing to undergo  in order to save this man for what he was best at, fighting."  in another reference to  Patton.  On pg. 73.."I think that Ike treasured George's memory as a bit of nostalgia for simpler times, a simpler Army.....speaking as President in 1957....he referred to George Patton's old sergeant, who was so disgusted with the men in his squad that he declared them "not even fittin' to be civilians."  Now that's funny too.     On Pg 76 we learn that Ike always tended to worked off stress and concern by making vegetable soup,   like "Lucy Manette's father in Dicken' Tale of Two Cities.  "Perhaps going through an established ritual allowed him to pull his thoughts together." 

There are many touching passages including the eulogy which Ike delivered at Churchill's burial and his "intangibles of freedom:"  in his June 12, 1945 address to the Guildhall in London  slightly one month past the end of the European phase of WWII.   When the European operations ended in 1945, Ike would  still have nearly 25 more years of public service ahead.  This  book  merely mentions here and there  some incidents of Ike's presidency instead it is a heartfelt tribute to his character and his ability to persevere.

 I would keep this book on my library shelf but instead am sending it along to a retired military friend who has not read it and who will enjoy it even more than I did.  It is a great read about the history of our time and how Ike, the consummate soldier led and administered a  coalition of troops and how his character developed as it was destined to be amidst and along with some of the greatest men.   I give this 4 ****.