Dwight D. Eisenhower was the Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe during World War II and the 34th President of the United States from 1953-1961. In Part 1: Eisenhower understood war as only a soldier could. Newt discusses Eisenhower’s early years, military training, and leadership. This is part of the Immortals leadership series.
Eisenhower Military Influences
Episode 109: the Immortals: Dwight D. Eisenhower – Part 1
Newt Gingrich: (00:00):
In this episode of Newt’s World, we’re going to talk about one of the true immortals, Dwight Eisenhower. General of the Army, President of the United States, and a remarkable example of what has made America truly a unique country with opportunities for virtually everyone. In the near future, the Eisenhower Memorial will be opened and dedicated on the mall. It’s an amazing collection of very, very large statues illustrating his contribution to America. And I think it’s very fitting that President Eisenhower was chosen to be one of the people that’s honored because the combination of his military career and his career as president spans a dedication to America, that very, very few people can match. Ike, as he was known, was actually born in Denison, Texas in 1890. He was the third of seven sons and in 1892, the family returned to Abilene, Kansas, which then became their home for the rest of his youth. And in fact, his mother still has a, had a place there at the end of her life. Ike graduated from Abilene High School in 1909.
Newt Gingrich (01:30):
Ike graduated in high school in 1909 and for two years worked at the Bell Springs Creamery. He wanted to go to Annapolis, but there wasn’t an opening, but in the process, he did get an opportunity to be appointed to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York. He played on the football team, which at that time was one of the great powerhouses of American college football. He injured his knee and in sort of a typical example of Eisenhower’s stubbornness and toughness, while his knee was injured, the officer who was training them into horsemanship, because back then remember the cavalry was still a very real factor, was mad at Eisenhower and got him to spend the afternoon mounting and dismounting, mounting and dismounting. Eisenhower did not point out that his knee had been injured playing football, and as a result it was permanently weakened, and his career as a player was over. In some ways that may have been good because Ike then discovered since he couldn’t play, he could coach.
Newt Gingrich (02:44):
And so as a student coach, he began to learn the art of building teams, getting people to work together, setting very high standards, and he became one of the preeminent trainers in the American military, somebody who really understood how to train people. When he graduated from West point, he ended up marrying Mamie Geneva Doud from Denver, Colorado. Their first son, Doud Dwight, was born in 1917 and tragically died in 1921. A second son, John Sheldon Doud, who was born in 1922 and went on to have a very successful career in his own right and to write several very, very good military history books. So here’s Eisenhower in the various small peace time American military serving in camps Fort Sam Houston, Camp Wilson, Leon Springs, Texas, at Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia and then World War I comes along.
Newt Gingrich (03:48):
Ike ends up being the trainer at the Army’s first tank school, which is at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. He falls in love with Gettysburg, and later in his life, he’ll go back and buy a farm there. But he’s very frustrated because while he’s training all of these brand-new tankers using this new technology that literally had only been invented in the last couple of years during the war, so he, wasn’t getting to go into combat and wasn’t getting any experience in the battlefield. And in fact, the most famous person who was taking Eisenhower’s trainees from the tank school was George Patton, who was serving in combat, who was in Europe, and who at the time was substantially more famous than Eisenhower. So the war ends with Ike never having gotten into combat and he and George Patton become close friends because they’re both fascinated by the tanks.
Newt Gingrich (04:44):
And it’s really interesting all the places this leads like that he would never have on his own thought of. He wrote a terrific book called At Ease: Stories I Tell to Friends, and one of the stories in that book is about his participation in the first transcontinental motor convoy. Now, for those of us who drive on the interstate highway system, it’s easy to forget that as recently as 1919, it was considered an enormous adventure and a great challenge to take a convoy from the East Coast to the West Coast. And Ike talks in this book about being somewhere around Nevada, sleeping out under the stars, because of course back then there were no motels and hotels because there was no highway traffic. So he’s out there and he’s thinking to himself, “Shouldn’t we have a highway system that we knit together that lets the whole country travel?” and has no idea in 1919.
Newt Gingrich (05:50):
Then in fact, in 1955, he will propose the National Interstate Highway System, which all of us use and in a way, links directly back to what was a pretty long trip. He left on July 7th and arrived on the West Coast on September 6th, 1919. Imagine how quickly you and I can go today in part thanks to Eisenhower’s leadership. Then in one of those historic moments, which is a funny way why I’m a historian and not a social scientist, because I don’t think that life actually occurs in patterns that you can put up on a graph or a chart. In 1922, he is sent to serve as the executive officer to General Fox Conner in the Panama Canal Zone. Now Connor really matters. Connor in some ways may have been the most influential single officer in the American military in the 20th century. He worked for Pershing when Pershing was in charge of the American army in Europe, and he learned enormous lessons of leadership.
Newt Gingrich (06:55):
He was a great student of military history and military theory. He had a large personal library and he trains two people: George Catlett, Marshall, who goes on to become Chief of Staff for the Army and Dwight David Eisenhower. And it’s a fascinating story, this is what I always tell officers when I talk to them about this, that they can’t quite imagine because in the 1920s, the truth was as an executive officer, Eisenhower didn’t have that much work to do. He can get all of it done in about a half a day. He didn’t have all the mountains of regulations, the lawyers, the bureaucracy, all the things we encumber ourselves with. And so he literally had about half of every day free. And Connor said, “I want you to take that half day and I want you to study, because I have great faith in you and I think you have a great future.”
Newt Gingrich (07:44):
So Ike spent two years working for Connor to really learn an enormous amount, he read all of the major works and then goes back to the States. And here’s one of the great examples of why history is so much different from the social sciences. Ike had gotten in trouble right after the war because he and Patton had written articles that, if you go back and read them, are forerunners of the Blitzkrieg. They believed in tanks, they understood the power of tanks and the importance of speed. And so, these two guys, one the great trainer, the other great combat commander were co-authoring articles about tanks as a key feature of warfare. Well, this just really infuriated the head of the infantry, who didn’t like tanks, and didn’t want to see tanks as an independent arm. He wanted tanks to only be in supportive infantry.
Newt Gingrich (08:39):
He wanted them to be heavy and slow. Eisenhower and Patton wanted to be very fast and capable of moving much faster than infantry could move. And so, the two guys are basically called in and told, “Look, if you keep doing this, we’re going to kick you out of the Army.” So, Patton is always much more willing to bend than Eisenhower was, now cheerfully wanders off and becomes part of the Olympics. He’s a great horseman and so he’s part of the American Olympic team and wins metals. And he says, fine, I’ll be whoever you guys need me to be, and he becomes part of, sort of a standard approach to cabal. Eisenhower, however, is stubborn and gets in a pretty tough dialogue with the head of the infantry. And so, when Ike comes back he’s told very bluntly by the Chief of Infantry, well, I’m not going to let you go to the intermediate school you need to go to. And this was a school that was at Fort Benning and it was the infantry sort of mid-level school.
Newt Gingrich (09:50):
Well, historically, if you didn’t go to that school, you could not go to the Command and General Staff school at Fort Leavenworth, which was the key to future promotions. And in effect, the Chief of Infantry was saying well, I’m ending your career. So, Eisenhower wrote to Fox Connor, because back then you didn’t telephone. He sent a telegram to Fox Conner, and he explained what was going on. And he got this very cryptic telegram back that said, “You will receive new orders; Accept them without question.” He has no idea what’s going to happen, and suddenly he gets an order transferring him from the infantry to Adjutant General’s command to be in charge of a recruiting post in Denver. Now, as Ike says in his own memoirs, “This was a death note.”
Newt Gingrich (10:50):
Now, when you get transferred over to running a recruiting office, they were telling you, your days in the military are just about over, but Fox Conner, who he trusted, totally had said to obey whatever orders you get. So, he switched over and lo and behold, the following week now that he was in the Adjutant General’s command, all of a sudden he gets a new order because the Adjutant General has several slots for the Command and General Staff School. And so, he’s skipping the intermediate school, and he’s being assigned to go to the Command and General Staff School. And he immediately writes Fox Conner and says, “How can I go to the top school if I’ve never gotten all the intermediate training?” Connor writes back and says, “Look, the last few years I have given you all the books that they will use at Leavenworth. You’re entering the school, knowing more about the courses than anybody else in your class, and you’re going to do great.”
Newt Gingrich (12:01):
So, he got there, and Ike was a very hard worker. I think he would, he would say he was adequately smart, but his greater characteristic was a willingness to work really hard, which he picked up in Kansas as a young kid. And when he got there, a good friend of his Leonard Gerow was also in the class and they set up an entire bedroom, they took it over and it became their study room. The two of them would work every night and would work on the weekends. And when they got done, Eisenhower was first in his class and Gerow was second, and it also created a lifetime friendship. So, he then goes back to Benning to serve as the executive officer in an infantry regiment and I’ve never actually seen how the Head of Infantry dealt with all this because it must’ve been just enormously frustrating.
Newt Gingrich (12:50):
He’s trying to punish Eisenhower, and instead what has happened is Ike had jumped ahead of the rest of his class because he’s already gone to the senior command school for the U.S. Army. Ike is then assigned to go to Washington to write a guide book to World War One, for the American battle Monuments Commission, which was headed by General John J. Pershing, who had been the head of the American military, the American army in World War One and who was really the dominant force in the 1920s in the American army. So, Eisenhower had an opportunity to get to know Pershing pretty well, and if writing a guide book to World War One battlefields, which means Western Europe, you’re actually writing a guide book for an area that we will be fighting in 1944 and 45. So Eisenhower is really seriously studying this stuff and his good friend, George Patton, comes with him and they go to Europe and they wander all over these battlefields.
Newt Gingrich (13:57):
So, they literally, are in the places that they will later on be fighting and they’re thinking about it. It’s also a great side story about Patton and Eisenhower, right after the war, they were very close friends, they’d get together on Sundays. And it was a period where there was a robber on the Baltimore Washington Parkway who was stopping cars, robbing people. So, these two guys would get out their service revolvers, and they would spend part of every Sunday afternoon driving up and down Parkway, hoping that the robber would show up and try to rob them. It never did happen, but it gives you some idea of the flare for adventure that both of them had. So, Ike then comes back and he goes to the Army War College, which is now the National Defense University, and that’s the most senior institution go to, and graduates from there.
Newt Gingrich (14:51):
He’s put back in charge of guidebook revision and serves in the European office in Paris, France. So, you notice he’s learning the trade and he’s also learning the geography. He then comes back to serve as an executive officer to General George Mosley, who was the Assistant Secretary of War. But one of the things to notice about all this is is that Ike is learning about the politics of Washington, dealing with the news media, dealing with Congress, dealing with the bureaucracy, all of these things are beginning to become part of his normal daily life. In 1933, he’s picked to be the Chief Military Aid to General Douglas MacArthur, who’s the Army chief of staff. Macarthur is a very, very famous name. His father Arthur MacArthur was a great hero of the Civil War and went onto to a huge career in the Army. Douglas was going in the same direction, graduated from West point, ended up winning the congressional medal of honor as a combat leader in Europe. He had a very demanding standard, a little bit of a difficult, very difficult personality, but Ike, as he had proved again and again, was very good at managing very strong personalities.
Newt Gingrich (16:09):
So, he serves with MacArthur while he’s Army chief of staff, and then MacArthur retires from the army and has an offer to go to the Philippines to create the Philippine government’s new army, because we’re trying to gradually wean the Philippines and prepare them for independence. So, in 1935, MacArthur turns and says to Eisenhower, “Will you come and be my assistant and my military advisor while we create the new Philippine Army?” So now having gotten a lot of knowledge about Europe, he is now getting knowledge about the Pacific, and in September, 1935, he goes to the Philippines. He also learned how to fly because he figures to be an all-around well-prepared person, he’s already done tanks. Now, he has a little bit of air power and the requirements of aircraft and he’s gradually, even though it’s the old army,
Newt Gingrich (17:10):
and even though it’s relatively small and even though promotions slow, by July of 1936, he gets to be Lieutenant Colonel, which is for that army in that period, a pretty good rank. Then he’s brought back home and when he served with MacArthur, Eisenhower years later with people talking about speech writing, said, “You know, who do you think actually wrote most of the speeches that MacArthur gave in the pulpits?” And it was Eisenhower! Eisenhower was a very, very good speech writer and a very good editor. So, he comes back to the U.S., MacArthur offered him a lot of money and a big promotion in the Filipino army iff he would stay in the Philippines, but he said no, it’s really time to go home. And in February, 1940, he goes and is assigned to the West Coast to Fort Lewis, Washington and really is helping develop the army because now the army is being to built up because the war is going badly in Europe for the Allies.
Newt Gingrich (18:07):
It’s increasingly obvious that we have to think seriously about dealing with Nazi Germany and potentially dealing with Imperial Japan and so Eisenhower was part of the buildup. He’s also a brilliant planner, and at one point there’s a huge army war game, Eisenhower’s side decisively defeats the other side, just because of the sheer quality of his planning capabilities. Then the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. Now remember, we’d really been focused on looking at the problems in Europe, and we really had a deep preference for dealing with the Nazis. And then we found that in fact, the Japanese are the ones who started the war with us. So, on December 7th, 1941, during the Japanese attack, Eisenhower is brought to Washington to serve under the Chief of War Plans Division, his old friend, General Leonard Gerow, known as “Gee” Gerado” to his friends, with whom Eisenhower had spent a year studying at Leavenworth and who would come in second when Ike came in first. when he arrives, Marshall give him a very tough assignment as chief of staff of the Army.
Newt Gingrich (19:25):
He says, “Look, we have almost no ships. The war plans we’ve made are absurd. The army had a plan that said we can hold out for three months until the Navy rescues us and the Philippines and the Navy had a plan that said we can get to the Philippines in three years.” Even though there was a joint planning board, they had never sat down and hashed out the extraordinarily radical difference in those two plans. So you have MacArthur in the Philippines, raising cane, yelling for attention saying, “I need help, I need help.” You know, the Japanese are on offense everywhere. They’ve occupied Hong Kong, they occupy Malaya. They are literally one of the most amazing offenses in history, the Japanese Navy in December, January and February of 1941-42. In that context, Marshall turnstiles and asks what can we do?
Newt Gingrich (20:15):
Remember, Eisenhower had served with many of the people who were in the Philippines, and he knew the Philippines very well. And all of his bias would have been to do everything you could to get help to them. After about two weeks of studying the plan he walks in and says to Marshall, “There’s nothing we can do.” We can get some supplies in, we can have a trickle of ammunition and other things, but the truth is we don’t have the Naval sea power, we don’t have the shipping. We don’t have the manpower prepared. And if we tried to do too much, we would simply be serving it up to be destroyed by the Japanese. So, the best we can do is ask them to hold out as long as they can, recognize that we are sacrificing them to buy time and then prepare for a counter attack probably coming from Australia.
Newt Gingrich (21:10):
Well, first of all, think about how tough this must’ve been for a guy who is describing his personal friends. He’s basically walking and advocating “I’m going to abandon all the people I work with for years,” because it was the only practical, doable thing and my assignment is to give the chief of staff of the Army, my, the best possible advice. I’m going to give them the correct advice, even if it’s unbelievably painful. I think that was a key moment in the rise of Eisenhower, because I think at that point, Marshall realized he needed a man of enormous intelligence, tremendous training and background, who would in fact do what the nation needed and would allow not his emotions, but the facts to define what he was going to analyze and suggest. So, by February of 1942 he becomes the chief of the war plans division and General Gerow goes off on another assignment.
Newt Gingrich (22:12):
In March of 1942, he gets a promotion to Major general, which is temporary, because in war time, all these things are temporary, and then you can revert back in rank after the war is over. because you’re taking a very small army, you are exploding in size by enormous numbers, and therefore you’re going to promote lots and lots people but those promotions may or may not stick. Eisenhower is called in by Marshall, and Marshall says, “I want you to understand Ike that I know you were very frustrated in World War One because you never got to go to combat. I just want you to know that you are too valuable, and I want to keep you here in charge of the War Plans Division for the war, and you’re not ever going to get to combat. I’m sorry, I know that that will restrict your promotions, and I know it’s not what you want to do, but it’s what I think is best for the country.”
Newt Gingrich (23:06):
And for the only time I’ve ever been able to find, Eisenhower blows up at Marshall. Now Eisenhower was enormously impressed with Marshall, understood that Marshall is probably the smartest guy in the army, and that his reputation for integrity and for doing the right thing and for being a Patriot was unbelievable, but this one time he blew up. He just said, “Look, I don’t care where you send me and I don’t care what you want me to do. Your job is to win the war. My job is to help you win the war. So, you tell me where you think I can serve best and I’m not ever going to complain. I’m just going to help win the war.” Supposedly at that point, Marshall got a big grin and said, “Well, you pass the test, and I’m sending you the London.”
Newt Gingrich (24:01):
So, he is sent over in May of 42, and he’s just been made the assistant chief of staff in charge of the operations division. A month later, he’s on the way to help Marshall find out, “Can I work with the English?” because the British were going to be the key to the war. That means you have to understand them, work with them and try to build a genuine coalition army where you’re going to be on the same side and not be torn apart. World War One was a terrible coalition war, the French and the British did not trust each other. They didn’t work together very well, they didn’t plan together very well, and there was a huge desire to avoid all of the mistakes that have been made in World War One. So Ike arrived in London and has a series of meetings.
Newt Gingrich (24:52):
He was very calm, talks to people, you know, in a very practical way. He’s a superb listener. One of the things that for people I developed, was the term “listen, learn, help and lead,” and in many ways it was modeled on Eisenhower. I spent time on his wartime papers, just to see how he wrote, how he thought, what he was trying to do. He listened really well and he asked good questions and he would take seriously what people would tell him. So, he’s over there now at the time, you know, 95 or 96% of the forces in Great Britain were British or Canadian. Some of them were, were Poles, some of them were Dutch who had fled from the Nazi occupation. So, a few free French, but the Americans were still tiny. We were coming and we’re going to be much bigger, people could see it down the road, but at that moment, Eisenhower represented a hopeful future, not a powerful present.
Newt Gingrich (25:53):
He begins to work with them, and because he’s rising in authority, he has to rise in rank just to be able to deal with them. You can’t have a major general trying to negotiate with a three or four star general with any kind of real success because he’s just outranked. That’s the way the military thinks. So, by July of ‘42, Eisenhower is being promoted to lieutenant general. Now this is really important because what’s happened is Marshall wanted to go straight across when his whole model was that the United States will produce so many tanks, so many airplanes, et cetera, that we ought to drive straight for the heart of Germany, we had to land in France, et cetera. They had tried a raid with a Canadian unit and they had really gotten shot up badly, and the British had this deep memory of World War One trench warfare.
Newt Gingrich (26:51):
They were really frightened of getting too deeply involved in Europe and ending up with another long, deep bloodlettings like World War One. So, Churchill was very resistant, and as a purely practical matter, it became obvious by summer that we just weren’t producing enough forces and getting them to Europe fast enough to be able to mount the kind of campaign Marshall wanted. So, Churchill meanwhile, wanted to lure us into the Mediterranean; the British were already fighting around Egypt, and they thought if we could come in with the British and other forces on the Western side, coming in through Morocco and Algeria, that we would gradually cut off and crush Rommel and the Germans and their Italian allies. By mid-summer, it was very clear that if we were going to fight in Europe in a serious way, we were going to have to fight by landing in North Africa.
Newt Gingrich (27:49):
Now this was a very bitter disappointment to Marshall. The Navy, of course, had cheerfully said, “Look, if you guys don’t want to fight in Europe, that’s fine. Give us the extra forces and we’ll use them in the Pacific.” Well, that galvanized Marshall, into finding a way to fight in Europe. So now they needed a commander, and who’s the one guy who’s there who already knows how to deal with the British, has already proven that they are pretty good administrator, and a pretty good planner? Dwight David Eisenhower. And so they say to Ike, “This will be in the early stages, a very heavily British operation, fair number of Americans, but also a pretty good number of Brits, and they will be the people that battle with experienced folks coming straight off training programs, and for most of our folks, this will be their first time in battle.
Newt Gingrich (28:36):
But for psychological and political reasons, we want an American commander because we know that the French will go crazy if there’s a British commander. It was really weird, the French official government, the Vichy government, as it was called, because it was located in the town of Vichy actually was angry at the British for not surrendering because it made them look bad. If the British had surrendered too, then everything would be cool, but the British insisted on fighting, and it just drove the French crazy. So you had some gradual emergence of people who were called the free French and they were the ones who were prepared to work with us to fight against the Germans. But the official French army and the official French Navy were still committed to being sort of an ally of Germany against us. The theory was if we could pretend that it was an American landing with an American commander, that they will be less likely to fight, now turned out in reality, it didn’t quite work.
Newt Gingrich (29:46):
And there was some pretty sharp fights, particularly around those years, but that was the theory. So, you had to have an American general in command. The American general who was available was named Dwight Eisenhower, and so he became the commander of the invasion of North Africa in early November, 1942. This was the first really big American effort of the war. It was, if you look at the maps, it was big. It runs all the way from the Atlantic coast of Morocco, all the way into Algeria and has multiple landings, has tremendous shift of air power. As a pretty large fleet they get reasonably good tactical surprise, which is itself amazing. Patton brings his forces straight from the U.S. They finished training, got on the ships, go to Morocco, get off the ship. That’s their entry point into combat. No time to condition, no time to get used to things, they’re just doing it.
Newt Gingrich (30:50):
Luckily in Morocco, there’s not much resistance, but there’s pretty good fighting around Algiers and the Germans in what is really a strategic act of stupidity decided they’re going to fight us. Although once we landed, it was clear that they were probably not going to be able to hold North Africa, but Hitler had in his mind this notion that you never give up any territory easily. So, he actually began pouring troops into North Africa and ultimately puts about 250,000 German troops in what is essentially an untenable position. In the spring of ‘43, they surrender. This was one of the largest German surrenders of World War Two, and Eisenhower’s the guy who did it. He goes on to lead the occupation of Sicily, then he goes on to occupy the Southern part of Italy. And then he’s told he’s going to command the landing at Normandy, and so he leaves the Mediterranean, goes to London, along with General Montgomery, who was the top British general. And they designed the most complicated single operation of the war.
Newt Gingrich (32:19):
And the fact is, with the power that the they have, and the respect the two of them have, they design a much bigger, much more complicated campaign landing far more forces. There are moments in time when Eisenhower really takes on the establishment. For example, Eisenhower demands that all the strategic bombers be used to cut off the railroads in France to cripple the Germans ability to move forces to Normandy and try to stop us on the beaches. Churchill was terrified; He says, “You know, in order to bomb the railroads, you’re going to be bombing French civilians and you could cause several hundred thousand casualties and I don’t want to be the person remembered as having killed that many French civilians.” And Eisenhower says, “Look, my job is to make sure that when we land that we’re so powerful, we can’t be kicked off the beach.”
Newt Gingrich (33:25):
He said, “So I’m going to demand that we use every asset we have to focus on being able to get to the beach and stay on the beach.” So General de Gaulle, who’s the head of the free French comes in and says, “If that’s the cost of liberating France, I will broadcast in favor of it. You have to do it.” And Churchill says, “Well, I really don’t want to do this.” And Eisenhower, again, in many ways is seen as a relatively pleasant guy. “I Like Ike” was the term used in his campaign in 1952 for president, but he’s actually very tough. Pleasant, but tough. So he turns to Churchill and says, “Look, I’m sure you can find a general who will do that, but it won’t be me. So if I don’t have control of the bombers for the six weeks before, I won’t take responsibility for the invasion and you’ll have to find a replacement.”
Newt Gingrich (34:31):
Well, Churchill knew that he couldn’t not go to Roosevelt and Marshall and say, I just forced Eisenhower to resign. And furthermore, he have been required to take another American because by then the size of the American contribution to the war was so massive, that it’s clear that the Americans were increasingly in charge. So Churchill backs down and he used the bombers the way Eisenhower wanted. The second big decision, which I think is one of the most courageous of the war, is that Eisenhower had concluded that we had these paratroopers inland, and some of this is covered in the, of the brilliant movie, saving private Ryan. But he’s decided that we have to land inland to have the paratroopers help cut off the German reinforcements. Now the top British Royal Air Force general said, “You’re going to put so many people in gliders,
Newt Gingrich (35:27):
and so many people in very slow moving transport planes that I think you’re going to have 70% casualties.” That is seven out of every ten paratroopers, are going to be killed before they ever land. And he said, “I really beg you not to do it.” Eisenhower looked at it and he said, “If I can only get 30% to land, that’s 30% more than I have right now and I have to do everything I can to make sure that in the crisis period, the first three or four days of the landing, that we have slowed down and stopped as many German reinforcements as possible.” “I’ll take the responsibility. It’s my problem, not theirs.” So, he ends up overruling the British Royal Air Force commander. Then he has to go through Marshall. Now, he always had enormous respect for Marshall and Marshall writes him and says, “Ike, have you considered landing much further inland because if you ever visit Normandy, you’ll see this, I mean they are very close to the coast.
Newt Gingrich (36:35):
And Marshall says, “You know, if you were to put them in 30 or 40 or 50 miles deeper, you can create a sort of fortified area and draw the Germans off to try to deal with them. Ike, who up until that point had almost always done what Marshall recommended, goes and says, “You know, that will not work. I think there’s a very high likelihood that we could not get to them in time and they would all be massacred. And it doesn’t solve my problem, which is how do I stop Germans from getting to the beaches?” So, it’s the first time I can remember in all the stuff I’ve read about Marshall and Eisenhower, Eisenhower just flatly turns him down.
Newt Gingrich (37:25):
Marshall responds and says, “Look, you’re in charge, you know what the details are over there, I don’t. It was just an idea.” And it’s the first time you really see a psychological transfer of authority beginning between Ike and Marshall. At that point, and I can’t overstate this, this is the most complicated single thing humans have ever done. It’s vastly harder than going to the moon. They are coordinating bombers, fighters, ships off shore, people landing, paratroopers coming in, I mean, all of these things, during a pre-computer age, are being handled with paper and it’s really amazingly complex. And if you ever look at it, the clockwork they got out of this thing was just unimaginable. Then suddenly there’s a problem. They have picked particular days because they want the tide to be just right and they want the moon to be just right.
Newt Gingrich (38:24):
There are only a couple of these days every month. If you don’t land on the fourth, fifth or sixth, you may have to wait until mid-July. And at the end of May, the weather turned terrible, and this, again, is one of those great ironies that you can do it in a novel, but it’s sort of hard to believe. They decide that they’re going to check the weather since we have a huge advantage over the Germans. We have a weather station in Greenland and the weather comes from the West. So, we get about a two day to three day advanced notice of probable weather. Let me emphasize the word “probable,” there was no guarantee. They began going through a series of tests where the weatherman will come in and say, “Our estimate is that two days from now, everything will be fine.”
Newt Gingrich (39:24):
Eisenhower made a decision, to practice, have the privates practice for several weeks. And now they’re faced with the weather’s really bad. Now, ironically, and nobody had actually planned this because the weather so bad and because the Germans had no weather station to the West, the Germans assume it’s impossible to land. So, the Germans actually have senior officers all over the place. They’re in a relaxed status because after all, the great landing can’t be occurring now because of how bad the weather is. The guys come in and say to Ike, “You have to cancel the 5th of June.” Now they’re already prepared, they’re already loading on ships, they’re all ready to go, and Ike has to cancel and they do. But they stay on the ships, and they’re really worried because now when you start moving that many hundred thousand people, are the Germans going to figure this out?
Newt Gingrich (40:24):
So, on the fifth, they get the report from the weatherman and Eisenhower listens those over and sits on the couch, thinks about everything he’s learned from these practice ones, and thinks about the difficulty of not going until July. They’re almost certain that the Germans will learn about it by July and the morale cost of bringing all those people back and taking them off the ships and sending them back to training. He looks up and he says, “Go.” Now he’s, the only person that could make that decision. He then has in his pocket, a note, which says, “Despite the best efforts of the Allied forces, our efforts at landing failed today, and the responsibility is entirely mine. He carries that around with him for two days. One last pre-landing example: Eisenhower goes to visit some of the paratroopers now.
Newt Gingrich (41:31):
Remember, he’s been told that there’s a chance that 70% of these nice young guys are going to be dead before they even land. He’s going to visit them because he has nervous energy and for morale reasons, he thinks it’s good for the community in general. So, there’s a very famous picture of Eisenhower talking to a young guy and he has his hands in front of his face and his right hand forms a particular way of being held. And for years I had wondered what that was, and I finally went to a museum one day and I asked them, what is this all about? They said, “Well, actually Eisenhower would ask every soldier, where are you from? What are you doing, et cetera.” “He gets to a guy from Michigan and Ike says I used to go to Michigan to for trout. The other guy says, “Oh yeah, I fish up there too.”
Newt Gingrich (42:25):
And so, Eisenhower is actually out holding his hand, showing him how he would use the fly to do fly fishing in Michigan. And that’s all it is. I had never understood what he’s doing before, but it showed you, one of his now great strengths, which was an ability to relate to everyday people so that he and they were in the same zone having the same conversation. So, at this point in his career, he makes the biggest single decision he’ll ever make, which is to land. And the next time we revisit Eisenhower, I’m going to pick up with this, but I think the most appropriate way to end this first session on why Eisenhower truly is historically immortal and worth endless study. I want to leave you in his own voice, with Eisenhower and what he said to the troops about the landing. Because I think you’ll understand the sense of pride and the sense of moral determination that a young American said when they went to shore, or they landed on the beaches and in the hedge rows of Normandy. So, listen to Dwight Eisenhower and we’ll come back and we’ll have a future visit with Eisenhower for the rest of the war, and then a third visit for Eisenhower as President of the United States.