Today we visited another presidential home. Can you believe how many of our leaders have come from this part of the country?
We were in Abilene KS, childhood home and burial place of Dwight David Eisenhower. It is a humble home, and in 1898 when his father bought it, it was on the wrong side of the tracks. But it served as a place to raise six sons, and his mother lived there until she died in 1946.
Several years ago we visited the Eisenhowers’ retirement home in Gettysburg PA. I could overlook Mamie’s passion for pink and cretonne, and focus on what could be learned about her husband, beyond what I thought I knew.
One thing cinched my feelings for the man. I read that, on the night before D-Day, he wrote two letters. One would apply if the invasion were successful. In the other, he took full blame for a potential failure.
That stunned me. A leader who didn’t point the finger elsewhere, blame the weather, detail extenuating circumstances…just confess to bad judgement and poor management. Who does that? It was then I decided to rethink Ike.
I think there is little question that he was a great soldier and a man who placed duty above self always. They say here, “He never sought the job; the job sought him.” And he seems like the right man for the tumultuous times in which he lived. Just think – he served in both World Wars and had the commanding role in the Allied invasion that eventually ended the war in Europe.
That gave him his great distaste for war, which led to many decisions and achievements of his later life. He was begged to run for president, and he of course won two terms during a time of great change. America was now a world player, and he was a man with friends in many parts of that post-war world.
No need to go into his complete administration, but there are some interesting things to remember. Ike was born the year that the American Frontier closed – 1890. And when he died, America has many new frontiers to worry about – and one of those was outer space. The Cold War was raging, and a whole new generation was coming of age and assuming power. And he wasn’t pleased about his successor. But then, he thought Nixon was a swell guy.
Ike went home disappointed in the outcome of the election, and afraid for the country. But he had happy years as a grandfather and even a painter. He worked from an office in his Gettysburg home. And when he died, the world mourned.
At the risk of appearing trivial, I was shocked by one thing I learned at the museum. Evidently Mamie Doud Eisenhower was considered one of the best dressed women of her time, and a real fashion plate. This astounded me. As a youngster when she was First Lady, even then I thought she put the “doud” in “dowdy.” Guess I was wrong! But still, someone should have assassinated her hair stylist. And she was nasty to Jackie, which is points off for her.
So we leave Abilene with renewed respect for a man who could have just rested on his war laurels, or continued in the job of President of Columbia University. He went where duty led, and I think we are all better for it.