After the success of D-Day, a reporter asked Ida Eisenhower, mother of the commander of the Allied invasion of Europe, if she was proud of her son.
“Which one?” replied Ida Eisenhower, who had seven sons — including President Dwight D. Eisenhower.
That Midwestern humility forms the foundation, both in atmosphere and architecture and a general feel at the Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum in Abilene, Kan., a city of 6,800, located at what was once the northern terminus of the Chisholm Trail, a cattle route that started in Texas.
Ida Eisenhower had more reasons than motherly love and devotion girding her famous retort. Ike’s brother Milton served as president of Kansas State University, Pennsylvania State University and Johns Hopkins University. Brothers Arthur, Edgar and Roy succeeded in business, and Earl Eisenhower was an accomplished electrical engineer.
“The proudest thing I can claim is that I am from Abilene,” Eisenhower said in a June 1945 homecoming speech.
Eisenhower, in a 1953 speech, talked of how the Western prairie town informed his values.
“I was raised in a little town of which most of you have never heard,” Eisenhower said. But in the West it is a famous place. It is called Abilene, Kansas. We had as our marshal for a long time, a man named Wild Bill Hickok. If you don’t know anything about him, read your westerns more. Now that town had a code, and I was raised as a boy to prize that code. It was: meet anyone face to face with whom you disagree. You could not sneak up on him from behind, or do any damage to him, without suffering the penalty of an outraged citizenry. If you met him face to face and took the same risks he did, you could get away with almost anything, as long as the bullet was in the front.”
Eisenhower earned $500,000 for authoring the book “Crusade in Europe” about his role in World War II.
“I’m just a Kansas farm boy,” he said of the take. “These numbers are making my head spin.”
Eisenhower’s family emigrated from Karlsbrunn, Germany, in 1741, settling in Pennsylvania and then moving to Kansas in the 1880s. Visitors can tour the president’s modest boyhood home on the library grounds — which are flanked to the north by a rail line and grain elevator. An introductory film refers to Eisenhower as “the son of America’s heartland.”
Ida Eisenhower came from a pacifist Mennonite sect and was greatly displeased when her son pursued a military career. The museum focuses as much on World War II as it does Eisenhower specifically. Recruited by both parties, Eisenhower ran for the presidency as a Republican. In 1956, Eisenhower signed Federal Aid Highway Act financing the interstate highway system.
A few years earlier, Eisenhower extended Social Security coverage to 10 million more Americans — including farmers. The publisher of the Houston Post, Oveta Culp Hobley, a Democrat, called that expansion “criminal.”
Eisenhower’s Iowa connection is explored in great detail in a section of the library devoted to Mamie Eisenhower, the first lady who hailed from Boone. She referred to herself as “Mrs. Ike” and once described her career as “Ike.”
The couple, in the White House, often would eat dinner on TV trays. Mamie Eisenhower liked soap operas — but not hospital-theme ones, as President Eisenhower suffered a heart attack on Sept. 24, 1955.
On Jan. 17, 1961, Eisenhower delivered one of the more significant farewell addresses of any president as he warned of the rise of the “military industrial complex.” He also offered an observation with modern relevancy.
“If all that Americans want is security, they can go to prison,” he said in 1949. CV
Douglas Burns is a fourth-generation Iowa newspaperman who writes for The Carroll Daily Times Herald and offers columns for Cityview.