A review of David Eisenhower’s Eisenhower at War: 1943-1945 (1986)
(Rating:5 of 5)
This book about Dwight D. Eisenhower’s command over the Allied European Forces in World War II is unique to all others on the same topic. For the author is the grandson and namesake of that very commander*. David Eisenhower began working on his book during the Watergate controversy that brought down the presidency of his father-in-law, President Richard M. Nixon. To the younger Eisenhower, the work was a form of escapism from the problems of their facing. However, originally his book was going to be about the second term of grandfather’s presidency because those both were happier memories and a fascinating time in the nation’s history. As he begun to work however, he found himself in the position of an old historian’s cliché. That is ‘never ask a historian for a little bit of background,’ because more often than not you end up with a larger story than you had originally asked for. Every time David Eisenhower went to describe an event in the second term, he found himself having to go back and explain the events the first. Moreover, as explained the events of the first, he found himself going back all the way to the war to provide the details that he wanted. So as a result, instead of writing a book about the second term he decided to write one about the war.
The book focuses on the planning and execution of ‘Operation: Overlord.’ Overlord was the plan of invasion of Normandy and the crusade in Europe. The book, in the first three chapters, deals with the planning, events, and atmosphere leading up to D-Day. The rest of the book deals with the war until V-E day. The book contains descriptions of battles, charts, and photographs form the events. However, that is not what I personally found to be the most fascinating part of the book. To me, what make this book a good read was where the grandson could tell stories of events only a few people would have been privy to.
“In the next several days the Eisenhowers spent the late afternoon and evening with guests at Telegraph Cottage. There were reunions with ‘Uncle Everett’ Hughes and Patton over dinners that John’s father cooked in a tall chef’s hat on the new patio behind the glassed-in porch, followed be serious after-dinner bridge games attended by hosts of orderlies. John had noted that a slight ‘military barrier’ had grown up between father and son. During a twilight stroll through the woods behind the five-acre Telegraph Cottage compound, John, walking to his father’s left, posed a question. ‘If we should meet an officer who ranks above me and below you, how do we handle this? Do I salute first, and when he returns my salute, do you return his?’ John knew he raised an unresolved point of Army protocol which his father sidestepped with a smile. ‘John, there isn’t an officer in this theater who doesn’t rank above you and below me.’” p.299
Those kinds of personnel touches between a father and son that could only be retold by a family member are some of the best parts of this work. My all-time favorite happens to involve the pervious King of England.
“The King, afflicted by ill health since youth, was notoriously quiet and shy was hampered by a speech impediment. According to a story told by staff members, the King and Eisenhower in Tunisia had once ridden together in a jeep for several hours in complete silence. On the twenty-sixth, however, King George was gregarious. Over lunch, served buffet style in an upstairs apartment, the three reminisced. The Queen told Eisenhower for the first time about something that had happened on his tour of Windsor Castle two years before. As it turned out, the guide, Colonel Sterling, had forgotten to that the King and Queen were on the grounds. The couple were sipping tea in the garden when they suddenly heard Sterling, Eisenhower, and Clark approaching. The royal couple had not wanted to intrude, so they knelt on their hands and knees behind the hedge until the Americans had walked by. Now the three shared a laugh.” p.237
The very idea of the King and Queen hiding behind a bush is very amusing. It is personnel information like that, which makes this book very enjoyable. I am sure that anyone who gives this book his or her time will enjoy it as well.
*Dwight D. Eisenhower was born ‘David Dwight’ but his mother reversed first and middle names. Later his grandson was named Dwight David Eisenhower II, but answers to David. Camp David is named after the author.