An exclusive interview with Eisenhower’s grandson and his new memoir about Ike.
After his second term, President Dwight Eisenhower left Washington, D.C., and retired to his farm in historic Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. In his most recent book, David Eisenhower celebrates his famous grandfather’s life after leaving the Oval Office—an endeavor years in the making.
“Within seven years of my grandfather’s death, I decided to undertake a book about the life and times of Dwight Eisenhower,” writes David Eisenhower. “I began research in the summer of 1976, spending a month in Abilene, Kansas, at the Eisenhower Presidential Library examining documents, the first of five research trips to Abilene between 1976 and 1982. I then embarked on a long journey, mostly by car, to locate private collections about the Eisenhower years and to interview as many associates of Eisenhower as I could. … In writing Going Home to Glory, I relied heavily on my personal recollections, which run seamlessly from my earliest memories as a child: the summer of 1951, which I spent with Granddad and Mamie in Paris, where he had assumed command of NATO, to his death, which coincided with my twenty-first birthday.”
Combining a grandson’s love and devotion with a historian’s quest for accuracy and candor, David Eisenhower offers an endearing look at the final years of one of America’s most popular presidents. The Post continues its interview with David and Julie Eisenhower and presents one of Dwight Eisenhower’s favorite recipes.
Q: Eisenhower worked hard and played hard. He led a very regimented life, which he, according to the book, attempted to pass along to you. Are you that disciplined?
A: No. He approached his hobbies the way he approached his work—all out. What he could not appreciate fully is the effect that his position had on others. For example, Julie and I play golf and enjoy it a lot today. I am as good as I have ever been, because I learned a whole phase of golf that I did not pay any attention to when learning the sport as a kid. When I was 11 playing golf with the president of the United States, my main job was to figure out how to tee off in front of 500 spectators. That’s all I cared about. My Grandfather worried about sand shots, chip shots, and putting. I played quite often with him during that period. I was somewhat terrified by those events, and I don’t think that would occur to him necessarily. If it was easy for him, it should be easy for everyone around him.
Q: After leaving the White House, why did he move to reclaim the title as a five-star general, forfeiting his title as Mr. President?
A: The way it was told to me: My dad quoted him as saying, like General George Marshall, “I worked all my life for this title.” Personally, he knew that this would reflect one way or another on perceptions of his presidency. It was his way of saying that he regarded his presidency as an exception to the rule: He did not feel the military people should be in national politics. He wanted the record to show that he had been a general and military man. But I honestly don’t know. It puzzled President Kennedy, who wondered why in the world he would want to be general when he could be president. It was not that Eisenhower did not revere the presidency or enjoy it. He was very proud of being president and its title.
Q: If Dwight David Eisenhower were alive today, where would he be, and would there be an opportunity for him today that there was in his time?
A: Very good question. Extremism is a very serious issue facing our country. It alarms everybody. By the same token, you have to be aware of where and what is driving it. To me, one factor driving it is the sense that the doors of opportunity are closing. The ability to come out of Abilene, Kansas, and make a difference that somebody in that generation made just as a matter of course is disappearing. That is driving a lot the emotion in politics today. You don’t want extremism in politics, but you have to understand that there is a major issue the nation must confront and that is opening doors to new opportunities. One field that still offers lots of equal opportunity is the military. You can come from anywhere and serve.
The Army has had that function in American history, and Dwight Eisenhower is the leading example of the virtues that an Army background instills. I do a lot of career counseling at the University of Pennsylvania, but when I do run into someone going into the Army or Naval academy, I really encourage them and make their example known because when they come out of service, they are going to be in demand everywhere, because the service teaches leadership and resourcefulness. In fact, one thing we are doing right in this country is the National Guard. Many people are getting a lot out of the National Guard—a citizens’ army—that is an important part of the American tradition.
Q: In the book, you discuss his thoughts on the military-industrial complex. Do you find it interesting that what he feared did come true?
A: Yes. It’s this idea that Americans worship the world right now. Places put a premium on specialization and technical expertise. However, there is a danger if we over rely on it. It is necessary for all Americans as citizens to remind themselves and know that all the innovations in the world and all the ideology in the world—anything that asserts itself a basis for doing as it pleases—is worth our attention. This is a call to be vigilant. It’s an ongoing struggle, and the technology issue is right there.
Q: Dwight Eisenhower once wrote, “Politics is particularly bewildering for a man who was raised in the simple concepts of army existence. Personalities—particularly personal animosities—are seemingly far more important than are issues, ideals and principles?” What would he think of today’s political scene?
A: We have a need for people who are perceived widely as statesmen, and that is what he tried to be in the 1950s. There is a desire for a reprieve in politics—that is one thing that the Eisenhower presidency provided in the 1950s. Politics are always intense, but we need people to be perceived widely as statesmen, and that is what he tried to be in the 1950s.
Q: What do you think he would believe to be his legacy?
A: Perhaps the best short biography about Dwight Eisenhower was written during WWII by Kenneth Davis titled Soldier of Democracy. The idea was that Eisenhower was a person who may have been a soldier but personified and embodied American attributes. He was challenged by the threat to democracy and led 15 million Americans undergoing the threat to our way of life, and it succeeded. That’s the story of the mid-20th century. Our Republic was saved. That is how he would have looked upon it. There were so many challenges to the American democratic ideal in the 1930s, and these were not alien challenges. This was a substantial fascist threat to France, England, Germany, and other places Americans came from in the 20th century. While this caused great crisis of American values, we pulled through it.
Eisenhower’s Barbecue Sauce
- ¼ cup butter
- 1 can tomatoes, sieved (2 cups)
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 3 teaspoons paprika
- 1 small onion, finely chopped
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 2 teaspoons chili powder
- 1 ½ teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
- ¼ teaspoon Tabasco sauce or more according to taste
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
Mix ingredients and simmer for about 15 minutes. Use for basting meat or chicken, and as a sauce. Makes enough for 5 pounds of meat (or chicken).