General Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Allied Commander, during World War two. He wears the five-star cluster of the newly-created rank of General of the Army.
Yes, it is true. Most of us imagine that our war heroes had worked themselves up to the top job by showing great leadership on the battlefield. Dwight Eisenhower, however, our 34th President and the General who led the Allied forces during WWII, never stepped one foot on an active battlefield in his career. Let’s be fair, however, — it wasn’t his fault, because he longed to be on the front lines, but it never happened. Before we talk about why, let’s discuss who did go to combat.
Defeating the enemy in World War II took the best military minds on the planet. Eisenhower was chosen as the Supreme Commander of the Allied forces. A Five Star General, (only nine in American history) Eisenhower was known for his leadership and decision making.
There were many people, however, who were skeptical, and felt that the Supreme Commander should be someone who actually had combat experience.
Also, the public was not sold on the idea that an office man, like Eisenhower, was up to the job.
Eisenhower, however, surrounded himself with the best military minds– England’s General Bernard Montgomery and Chief Air Marshal Arthur Tedder, America’s General’s Omar Bradley, George Patton, and others. Montgomery openly expressed his disdain for Eisenhower and felt that Ike’s generalship was second-rate. Patton referred to Eisenhower as ” Britain’s straw man.” meaning he felt that Ike was too weak to face the coming storm. With the exception of Dwight Eisenhower, the others had front line experience.
Bernard Montgomery served in World War I and survived the battle of Le Cateau. Half the members of his battalion were killed. With a group of battlefield survivors, Lt. Montgomery avoided capture by marching at night and hiding during the day. In a later battle, Montgomery was shot through the lung.
Arthur Tedder served as a pilot and squadron commander on the Western Front during World War I. He participated in many dangerous missions and was awarded the Italian Silver Medal for Military Valour.
Omar Bradley, a West Point classmate of Eisenhower, received his front-line experience during World War II. He led the American forces in the D-Day invasion. Like Eisenhower, Bradley had wanted to be in combat during World War I, but was denied the request.
George Pattons combat experiences are legendary. His colorful career centered on his desire for war. Before World War II, Patton saw action in the war with Mexico (1915), and, as well as a tank commander in France during World War I. His philosophy of leading from the front lines earned him two Silver sSars, one Bronze, two Purple Hearts, and many other medals.
Dwight Eisenhower’s desire for combat experience was a passion he had from the moment that he graduated from West Point. When the United States entered World War I, he immediately asked to be sent overseas, but his request was turned down. Two more times Eisenhower requested to go into combat, and instead, he spent World War I in the States as a training officer.
Throughout his career Eisenhower’s organizational skills and genius for military strategies made him indispensable to the Army. In other words, Dwight Eisenhower was just too valuable to chance his life on the battlefield. Although he never fulfilled his dream of participating on the battlefield, Dwight Eisenhower did what the world needed, and brought about the end of the war in Europe during World War II.
For more readings: The Longest Day, by Cornelius Ryan, and Eisenhower in War and Peace, by Jean Edward Smith.