Who will remember that 50 years ago yesterday, one of the more ‘efficient’ presidents of our generation died in a manner totally consistent with the way he lived and served. But then, who of this generation even remembers Dwight David Eisenhower?
While most were caught up in the flubbery of baseball’s opening day yesterday – and the Reds looking like challengers for the National League Central by beating lowly Pittsburgh – nearly all missed the fact of the anniversary of the death of one of America’s best presidents.
It’s true. General Dwight Eisenhower never really got a lot of credit as such, but fifty years now from the day he died on March 28, 1969, ‘Ike’ looks pretty good in comparison to some of those who have come after him. But why name names?
For all his service in World War II, his notoriety for making some decisions that have been questioned for decades, it would have been easy for Eisenhower to have gone back to his farm in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania after the war and just enjoy the landscape. But he was pressured to run for political office…at a time when America desperately needed a post-war ‘leader’, someone with more credibility for such than the political figureheads of that day. He submitted, ran for the presidency in 1952 against Democrat Adlai Stevenson, and won in a landslide, ending a string of Democratic victories going back to 1932.
He would serve two terms, and vacate the office in 1960 when popular Democrat John F. Kennedy would win back the office.
During this time Eisenhower owned 190 acres of land adjacent to the old battlefield at Gettysburg, and it’s there that he chose to live his remaining years in peace and seclusion. And in the latter years, fighting poor health as a result of a series of heart attacks, he spent much of his time in the hospital, “clinging to one more day after another,” he once famously said to a reporter. “This is no way to live.”
Ike actually spent the last ten months of his life in Walter Reed Hospital, in Washington, hooked up to life-preserving machines that had kept him going. And frustrated by the unlikely prospects of a turnaround, Ike asked his son, John Eisenhower, to have the machines turned off. Ike was ready for eternity and immortality. And so it was, at 12:35 PM on March 28, 1969, in the presence of doctors, son John, and his grandson David, Dwight Eisenhower died, 50 years ago yesterday.
On the occasion of opening day one of my favorite photos of Eisenhower is one of him throwing out the first pitch for a Senators game (above, and look at Richard Nixon behind his right shoulder), back in the original days of baseball in the nation’s capital – back when it was funny to say that Washington was “first in war, first in peace, but last in the American League.”
I again looked at that photo yesterday to remember Ike, his service, his love of his farm and the respect he held for the battlefield at Gettysburg…and what it would be like to have someone with dignity like that run for president in this day. Not likely……
But let us remember Ike, anyway.