Early Military Career
" . . . Always try to associate yourself closely with and learn as much as you can from those who know more than you, who do better than you, who see more clearly than you. Don't be afraid to reach upward. Apart from the rewards of friendship, the association might pay off at some unforeseen time -- that is only an accidental by-product. The important thing is that the learning will make you a better person."
It was mid-September 1915, when Second Lieutenant Dwight D. Eisenhower left Abilene to join the 19th Infantry at Fort Sam Houston, Texas. In the next three and one-half years, he would serve at eight different military posts, marry, become a father, and experience the Great War from stateside.
For troops stationed at "Ft. Sam" in 1915, there was far more concern about conflict with Mexico than the war that consumed Europe. President Wilson proclaimed that he would keep the United States out of war, and most Americans supported that policy. But, by the winter of 1915-16, criticism of President Wilson became more vocal. Some citizens were becoming impatient with his cautious reaction to Germany’s submarine warfare and Pancho Villa’s guerrilla warfare along the border.
With the entry of the United States into World War I, Ike was ordered to Leon Springs, Texas, to set up a training camp. From there he was assigned to train officers at Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia, and Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Next, he helped to create the first tank training school at Camp Meade, Maryland. Finally, he assisted in organizing the first official tank corps at Camp Colt, near Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. After the armistice, he accompanied his troops first to Camp Dix, New Jersey, and then on to Fort Benning, Georgia, before returning to duty at Camp Meade in March 1919.
Ike and Mamie, Fall of 1915, San Antonio, Texas
Through this period, Ike’s superiors recognized his genius for managing big projects with painstaking attention to detail. In turn, he was placed in positions of leadership and given much responsibility. He learned about effective training methods, army administration, and organization and planning on a large scale. Working under a variety of commanding officers exposed him to various personality types and leadership styles. Because Ike worked very hard to do his very best whether he liked the job or not, he was building an enviable reputation among his superior officers. In fact, his performance at Camp Colt so impressed his commanding officer that Ike was recommended for the Distinguished Service Medal, which he later received.
Soldiers and officers who trained under Ike respected and admired him. Although a demanding and strict disciplinarian, he was scrupulously fair. His overriding objective was to prepare his troops for what they would meet in the trenches of France. Often he was frustrated in his efforts to get proper equipment and supplies for his men. From these experiences, he learned how to improvise and find creative ways to get what he needed. He was conscientious to a fault and applied such intensity to this job that he often worked far beyond the point of exhaustion. When he delivered his men to the ships that would transport them across the Atlantic, not one was turned back for any reason. He had done his job well, perhaps too well, because the top brass of the army now knew that it could not afford to lose this officer to the bloodbath of the Western Front.
Ike ached to receive orders for active duty. Leadership in battle was all that he had trained for, and he found it impossible to wait patiently. To his extreme frustration, many of his West Point classmates were already in France. Time and again his superior officer promised him that he would accompany his men overseas, only to rescind the order at the last minute. Another promotion did little to lessen the disappointment. Despite his nearly constant frustration, however, Ike continued to carry out his duties to the best of his ability.
When orders came through that he would ship out with his men on November 18, 1918, he was euphoric! But, when word came of the Armistice on November 11, 1918, it seemed that all the earth had conspired to thwart his dreams. He had missed his war, and he could scarcely bear the bitterness of it.
“Some of my class were already in France. Others were ready to depart. I seemed embedded in the monotony and unsought safety of the Zone of the Interior. I could see myself, years later, silent at class reunions while others reminisced of battle For a man who likes to talk as much as I, that would have been intolerable punishment. It looked to me as if anyone who was denied the opportunity to fight might as well get out of the Army at the end of the war.”
First Lieutenant Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1916
When Ike was commissioned into the small peacetime Army of 1915, promotions were based on seniority and were few and far between. The great mobilization for World War I had changed that temporarily. As a result, Ike had risen in rank from a second lieutenant in mid-1915 to a temporary lieutenant colonel on his 28th birthday in 1918 — one of the youngest in the history of the U.S. Army. With the end of the war, the standing army shrank back to its pre-war size. Wartime Lieutenant Colonel Dwight D. Eisenhower reverted to a peacetime permanent rank of major in 1924. Here he would remain for another sixteen years.
Though often frustrated during the Great War years, Ike’s personal life had been on the whole, happy and fulfilling. On a sunny October 3rd afternoon, in 1915, he met Miss Mamie and her family, the Douds of Denver. There was an instant spark of attraction between 18-year-old Mamie and soon-to-be-25-year-old Ike. Mamie was a popular young woman who had lived a sheltered and privileged life. When Ike asked her on a date, he had to wait four weeks for her schedule of suitors to clear. In the meantime, he was a constant fixture in the Doud’s winter San Antonio home. When Mamie’s dates arrived, Ike greeted them, and when they brought her home, he met them at the door. Ike spent his time getting to know John and Elvira Carlson Doud and Mamie’s three sisters. By the time he and Mamie had their first date, Ike had already won over the rest of the Doud family.
Ike and Mamie quickly became a pair. On dates, they often went to a Mexican restaurant called “The Original,” where dinner for two was just $1.00. When Ike could afford it, they took in movies and vaudeville acts at the Orpheum Theater. On Valentine’s Day 1916, Ike and Mamie became engaged, promising the Douds they would wait to marry until after Mamie’s 20th birthday. But tensions with Mexico escalated, and, fearing that Ike would be sent to the border, they moved up the wedding. On July 1, 1916, Ike and Mamie were married in the Doud’s Denver home. Friends of the Douds whispered among themselves that, at nineteen, Mamie was too young to marry and that First Lieutenant Dwight D. Eisenhower had married above himself.
Feb 14, 1916 Engaged Ike and Mamie July 1, 1916, Ike and Mamie's wedding day
For most of the first three years of their marriage, Mamie lived with her parents because there was no family housing available on post. When they could live together, their popular quarters was nicknamed “Club Eisenhower” — a place to play cards, listen to music, and generally have fun. Mamie was a perfect Army wife. She loved to entertain and did it well, despite the fact that she could cook little except fudge and mayonnaise. Elvira Doud had not allowed her daughters to learn to cook — that way they would never have to. Ike cooked as often as he could, and they dined frequently at restaurants.
On September 24, 1917, while Ike was living in the trenches with his men at Fort Oglethorpe, Doud Dwight Eisenhower was born in San Antonio at his grandparents’ home. John Doud was so taken with his new grandson, that he gave Mamie an allowance of $100 a month thereafter. Little “Ikky” quickly became the centerpiece of Ike and Mamie’s life. Ike’s great disappointment in being stationed stateside was tempered with the happiness he felt as a husband and father.
Ike administered the demobilization process conscientiously. He demonstrated the same care and responsibility for the men in his charge as he had when preparing them for war. Although he did not realize it yet, his performance in carrying out his duty had been noted in high places. For his part, he felt only overwhelming regret at having missed his war. As he recommitted himself to a military career, he vowed to make up for lost opportunities. He would “cut a wide swath” through the post-war, peacetime Army that would be impossible to ignore.
“I am inclined by nature to be optimistic about the capacity of a person to rise higher than he or she thought possible once interest and ambition are aroused.”
"Life with General Conner was a sort of graduate school in military affairs."
“. . . Just when this depression and this pessimism will cease no one can foretell . . . . But right now I am going to make one prediction. Things are not going to take an upturn until more power is centered in one man’s hands. Only in that way will confidence be inspired; will it be possible to do some of the obvious things for speeding recovery, and will we be freed from the pernicious influence of noisy and selfish minorities.”
Except for a pleasant, one-year interlude in France, the years from 1927 to 1935 were the “Washington Years” for Dwight D. Eisenhower. For the first time in his career, Ike was able to leave behind the increasingly distasteful extra duty as football coach. It was an extraordinarily busy period of his life that placed him on the inside track of the nation’s military and political establishment. Here he was to become well acquainted with the Washington social and political scene, observe the processes of government, and meet the great men of his day. Yet, by 1932, Ike yearned for duty with troops again; he would have to wait eight long years.
In January 1927, the Eisenhowers moved to Washington, D.C., General John J. “Black Jack” Pershing, upon the recommendation of Fox Conner, had chosen Ike to compile a guidebook for the American Battle Monuments Commission. The Commission had been created to establish cemeteries for American soldiers who had been buried in France during World War I and to erect monuments at major battle sites. American tourists soon would be visiting the sites of the war in France and guidebook would be needed.
In less than seven months time, Ike transformed enormous quantities of raw data into a very readable 282-page guidebook. General Pershing was very pleased with Ike’s work, and he wrote a lavish letter of commendation to the Chief of Infantry. Ike was so proud of the letter that he sent it home to his parents. He felt confident that he was on his way up the Army’s career ladder, and graduation from the Army War College was an essential next step.
Finished with the guidebook, Ike entered the Army War College in late summer, 1927. At 36 years of age, Ike was one of the youngest officers ever admitted to the War College. Unlike Command and General Staff School, the atmosphere at the War College was a relaxed and collegial respite to consider policy development at the highest levels of the Army.
After graduating first in his class at the War College, Ike was given a choice of assignments: a position on the General Staff in Washington or a chance to go to France to continue the work on the American Battle Monument Commission guidebook. Mamie made her preference clear — the Eisenhowers would be going to France.
Nearly every day, Ike traveled through the French countryside, driven by a French-speaking chauffeur. His mission was to view the historic sites of World War I firsthand. A favor pastime was to stop along the road, sharing food and conversation with French farmers and road workers. During his year in France, Ike absorbed a detailed knowledge of the French country side, of the road and railroad systems, and of the French people and their culture. All of this would prove invaluable to him later as Supreme Allied Commander in World War II.
Returning to the United States in September 1929, Ike would spend the next six years as a staff officer in the War Department. During the autumn of 1929, he finished his work for the American Battle Monuments Commission. It was here that Ike first met Colonel George C. Marshall, the man so respected by Fox Conner. It was a brief, but tantalizing, encounter.
In November of that year, Ike was assigned to the Office of the Assistant Secretary of War. He and Colonel Gilbert Wilkes were given an assignment to develop a plan that would effectively mobilize American industry in the event of another war. Through his work, Ike met prominent businessmen and industrialists that he would later call on during World War II. In April 1930, he and Wilkes traveled throughout California, southwest Texas, and northern Mexico, investigating the guayule plant as a possible substitute for Asian rubber. By March 1932, Ike’s work was complete, and he began working full-time for the Army Chief of Staff, General Douglas MacArthur.
"My ambition in the Army was to make everybody regretful when I was ordered to other duty."
For three long years, Ike wrote interminable reports, letters, and speeches. Often at his desk twelve or more hours a day — sometimes seven days a week — Ike was bored and frustrated. It seemed that his career was at a standstill, and working for General MacArthur did nothing to disavow him of the notion. He longed for challenging staff work or an assignment with troops. But, MacArthur, who was growing dependent upon his very capable assistant, had no intention of letting him go.
When MacArthur’s tour as Chief of Staff was up in late 1934, he asked Ike to accompany him to the Philippines. Here MacArthur would serve as a military advisor to President-elect Manuel Quezon. Ike did not want to go to the Philippines nor work for MacArthur, but he found it impossible to refuse. As he prepared to leave for the Philippines in 1935, Ike grudgingly promised himself that this assignment would not be long term.
The years from 1927 to 1935 were happy ones fro the Eisenhower family. When Ike and Mamie moved to Washington, D.C., they took out a lease at the Wyoming apartments near Dupont Circle. Ike’s old friend “Gee” Gerow and his wife, Katherine, lived there too. The Wyoming was within walking distance of the State-War-Navy building (later renamed the Dwight D. Eisenhower Executive Building) where Ike worked. But the year the Eisenhowers lived in Paris, from 1928 to 1929, was, by far, the happiest time for them.
In late July 1928, the Eisenhowers, including young John who would celebrate his sixth birthday at sea and Mamie’s parents, set sail for France. They found an apartment in Paris, located on the Right Bank of the Seine River, close to Pont Mirabeau. Ike and Mamie even took French lessons. Mamie was not a serious student, but Ike was and he was perpetually frustrated with this inability to speak or understand the French language. Son John, on the other hand, became fluent in French in their year abroad. John and his friend “Bo” Horan often accompanies Ike on his travels through the French countryside. Now and then, Mamie are along as well.
John, Ike, and Mamie, 1933
Before returning to the United States in September 1929, the Eisenhowers and their friends, the Grubers, took a 17-day road trip through Belgium, Germany, and Switzerland. When Ike and his family returned home in September 1929, the America economy was fluctuating erratically, and the greatest economic disaster in American history was weeks away.
By 1932, the Great Depression had worsened considerably, and millions of Americans were without work or hope. Ike was fortunate to have a secure job, although his salary had been reduced by 20 percent. His job at the War Department required civilian clothes, an added expense on an already-tight budget. John Doud, however, always made sure that Mamie had a new car and provided her with a maid, who doubled as a cook, for $50 month.
Milton Eisenhower and his wife, Helen, lived in Washington, D.C., too, and, on Saturday afternoons, both Eisenhower families would gather to listen to Army football games on the radio. In 1933, four of the Eisenhower “boys” — Edgar, Milton, Earl, and Ike — had a reunion of sorts in Washington, D.C. Assessing his brothers’ outward signs of material success, Ike felt that he, by comparison, was a failure. Yet, when he was offered a civilian job at three times his Army salary, he did not hesitate to turn it down.
“Club Eisenhower” continued to be a popular spot for family and friends. There were weekly card parties where Mamie charmed her guests and entertained them at the piano. The Gerows were regular guests, and, of course, Milton and his wife visited often. Milton introduced his older brother as a man who was “going places” to his friends and colleagues in Washington’s elite inner circle. Upon meeting the 45-year-old still “Major” Eisenhower, they wondered at Milton’s pronouncement.