World War II: General Dwight D. Eisenhower

Ike's Military Career in World War I and II

General Dwight D. Eisenhower
Library of Congress

Dwight David Eisenhower (October 14, 1890–March 28, 1969) was a decorated war hero, having participated in two World Wars, holding many titles. After retiring from active duty, he entered politics and served as president of the United States from 1953–1961.

Fast Facts: Dwight D. Eisenhower

  • Known For: General of the Army in World War II, U.S. President from 1953–1961
  • Born: October 14, 1890 in Denison, Texas
  • Parents: David Jacob and Ida Stover Eisenhower
  • Died: March 28, 1969 in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania
  • Education: Abilene High School, West Point Naval Academy (1911–1915), Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas (1925–1926)
  • Spouse: Marie "Mamie" Geneva Doud (m. July 1, 1916)
  • Children: Doud Dwight (1917–1921) and John Sheldon Doud Eisenhower (1922–2013)

Early Life

Dwight David Eisenhower was the third son of David Jacob and Ida Stover Eisenhower. Moving to Abilene, Kansas in 1892, Eisenhower spent his childhood in the town and later attended Abilene High School. Graduating in 1909, he worked locally for two years to aid in paying his older brother's college tuition. In 1911, Eisenhower took and passed the admission exam for the U.S. Naval Academy but was turned down due to being too old. Turning to West Point, he succeeded in gaining an appointment with the aid of Senator Joseph L. Bristow. Though his parents were pacifists, they supported his choice as it would give him a good education.

West Point

Though born David Dwight, Eisenhower had gone by his middle name for most of his life. Arriving at West Point in 1911, he officially changed his name to Dwight David. A member of a star-studded class that would ultimately produce 59 generals, including Omar Bradley, Eisenhower was a solid student and graduated 61st in a class of 164. While at the academy, he also proved a gifted athlete until having his career cut short by a knee injury. Completing his education, Eisenhower graduated in 1915 and was assigned to the infantry.

Eisenhower married Marie "Mamie" Geneva Doud on July 1, 1916. They had two sons, Doud Dwight (1917–1921), who died of scarlet fever as a child, and the historian and ambassador John Sheldon Doud Eisenhower (1922–2013). 

World War I

Moving through postings in Texas and Georgia, Eisenhower showed skills as an administrator and trainer. With the American entry into World War I in April 1917, he was retained in the United States and assigned to the new tank corps. Posted to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, Eisenhower spent the war training tank crews for service on the Western Front. Though he reached the temporary rank of lieutenant colonel, he reverted to the rank of captain following the war's end in 1918. Ordered to Fort Meade, Maryland, Eisenhower continued to work in armor and conversed on the topic with Captain George S. Patton.

Interwar Years

In 1922, with the rank of major, Eisenhower was assigned to the Panama Canal Zone to serve as executive officer to Brigadier General Fox Connor. Recognizing his XO's abilities, Connor took a personal interest in Eisenhower's military education and devised an advanced course of study. In 1925, he assisted Eisenhower in securing admission to the Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

Graduating first in his class a year later, Eisenhower was posted as a battalion commander at Fort Benning, Georgia. After a short assignment with the American Battle Monuments Commission, under General John J. Pershing, he returned to Washington, D.C. as executive officer to Assistant Secretary of War General George Mosely.

Known as an excellent staff officer, Eisenhower was selected as an aide by U.S. Army Chief of Staff General Douglas MacArthur. When MacArthur's term ended in 1935, Eisenhower followed his superior to the Philippines to serve as a military advisor to the Filipino government. Promoted to lieutenant colonel in 1936, Eisenhower began to clash with MacArthur on military and philosophical topics. Opening a rift that would last the remainder of their lives, the arguments led Eisenhower to return to Washington in 1939 and take a series of staff positions. In June 1941, he became chief of staff to 3rd Army commander Lieutenant General Walter Krueger and was promoted to brigadier general that September.

World War II Begins

With the U.S. entry into World War II after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Eisenhower was assigned to the General Staff in Washington where he devised war plans for defeating Germany and Japan. Becoming Chief of the War Plans Division, he was soon elevated to Assistant Chief of Staff overseeing the Operations Division under Chief of Staff General George C. Marshall. Though he had never led large formations in the field, Eisenhower soon impressed Marshall with his organizational and leadership skills. As a result, Marshall appointed him commander of the European Theater of Operations (ETOUSA) on June 24, 1942. This was soon followed by a promotion to lieutenant general.

North Africa

Based in London, Eisenhower soon was also made Supreme Allied Commander of the North African Theater of Operations (NATOUSA). In this role, he oversaw the Operation Torch landings in North Africa that November. As Allied troops drove Axis forces into Tunisia, Eisenhower's mandate was expanded east to include General Sir Bernard Montgomery's British 8th Army which had advanced west from Egypt. Promoted to general on February 11, 1943, he led the Tunisian Campaign to successful a conclusion that May. Remaining in the Mediterranean, Eisenhower's command was redesignated the Mediterranean Theater of Operations. Crossing to Sicily, he directed the invasion of the island in July 1943 before planning for landings in Italy.

Return to Britain

After landing in Italy in September 1943, Eisenhower guided the initial stages of the advance up the peninsula. In December, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who was unwilling to allow Marshall to leave Washington, directed that Eisenhower be made Supreme Allied Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF) which would place him in charge of the planned landings in France. Confirmed in this role in February 1944, Eisenhower oversaw operational control of Allied forces through SHAEF and administrative control of U.S. forces through ETOUSA. Headquartered in London, Eisenhower's post required extensive diplomatic and political skill as he endeavored to coordinate Allied efforts. Having gained experience in coping with challenging personalities while serving under MacArthur and commanding Patton and Montgomery in the Mediterranean, he was well-suited to dealing with difficult Allied leaders like Winston Churchill and Charles de Gaulle.

Western Europe

After extensive planning, Eisenhower moved forward with the invasion of Normandy (Operation Overlord) on June 6, 1944. Successful, his forces broke out of the beachhead in July and began driving across France. Though he clashed with Churchill over strategy, such as the British-opposed Operation Dragoon landings in Southern France, Eisenhower worked to balance Allied initiatives and approved Montgomery's Operation Market-Garden in September. Pushing east in December, Eisenhower's biggest crisis of the campaign came with the opening of the Battle of the Bulge on Dec. 16. With German forces breaking through the Allied lines, Eisenhower quickly worked to seal the breach and contain the enemy advance. Over the next month, Allied troops halted the enemy and drove them back to their original lines with heavy losses. During the fighting, Eisenhower was promoted to General of the Army.

Leading the final drives into Germany, Eisenhower coordinated with his Soviet counterpart, Marshal Georgy Zhukov and, at times, directly with Premier Joseph Stalin. Aware that Berlin would fall in the Soviet occupation zone after the war, Eisenhower halted Allied troops at the Elbe River rather than suffer heavy losses taking an objective that would be lost after the end of fighting. With the surrender of Germany on May 8, 1945, Eisenhower was named Military Governor of the U.S. Occupation Zone. As governor, he worked to document Nazi atrocities, deal with food shortages, and aid refugees.

Later Career

Returning to the United States that fall, Eisenhower was greeted as a hero. Made Chief of Staff on Nov. 19, he replaced Marshall and remained in this post until Feb. 6, 1948. A key responsibility during his tenure was overseeing the rapid downsizing of the Army after the war. Departing in 1948, Eisenhower became president of Columbia University. While there, he worked to expand his political and economic knowledge, as well as wrote his memoir Crusade in Europe. In 1950, Eisenhower was recalled to be the Supreme Commander of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Serving until May 31, 1952, he retired from active duty and returned to Columbia.

Entering politics, Eisenhower ran for president that fall with Richard Nixon as his running mate. Winning in a landslide, he defeated Adlai Stevenson. A moderate Republican, Eisenhower's eight years in the White House were marked by the end of the Korean War, efforts to contain Communism, construction of the instate highway system, nuclear deterrence, founding of NASA, and economic prosperity. Leaving office in 1961, Eisenhower retired to his farm in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. He lived in Gettysburg with his wife, Mamie (m. 1916) until his death from heart failure on March 28, 1969. Following funeral services in Washington, Eisenhower was buried in Abilene, Kansas at the Eisenhower Presidential Library.

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Hickman, Kennedy. "World War II: General Dwight D. Eisenhower." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Hickman, Kennedy. (2023, April 5). World War II: General Dwight D. Eisenhower. Retrieved from Hickman, Kennedy. "World War II: General Dwight D. Eisenhower." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 5, 2023).