David Eisenhower brings a personal and scholarly look at his grandfather Jean Marbella


September 20, 1990

The incident seems right off of today's headlines: An American president decides to land troops in the Middle East in part because an adviser warns that Iraq has designs on "reclaiming" land considered its own, Kuwait.

The year, however, was 1958 and the president was Dwight D. Eisenhower.

His bold and prescient move, which sought to prevent what Iraq finally got around to doing last month, may seem surprising to those whose image of him is as the president who golfed his way through the politically pale 1950s.

But neither the man nor his times were as bland as they may seem -- not, at least, to Ike's most devoted historian, grandson David Eisenhower, who discovered this tidbit about Iraq while studying the presidential papers.

"The thing that hasn't happened is a real appreciation of the role the Eisenhower administration played since 1945," said David Eisenhower, who at 42 years old is, by his own admission, looking more and more like his grandfather.

Mr. Eisenhower was in Baltimore recently to meet with officials of USF&G, a major financial backer of an upcoming celebration to mark the 100th anniversary of his grandfather's birth. The events at Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania, where Ike retired after leaving the White House, will commemorate his Oct. 14 birthday and are expected to draw ex-presidents and other colleagues and scholars of his administration.

As both historian and grandson, Mr. Eisenhower'sreflections on Ike are at once scholarly and personal. In one breath, he'll analyze the decision to land troops in the Mideast on that July day in 1958. In the next, he'll recall that as the same day he wrote his first "novel," got it typed and photocopied by Ike's secretary and then sold copies to Cabinet and National Security Council members.

As Ike's only grandson, he was often just "David" to headline writers as the media followed his cute romps at the White House and elsewhere. The first fish he caught (an 11-inch trout during a Colorado vacation with Granddad), his school reports (Khrushchev seemed "nice" and invited him to visit Moscow), even his crayoned drawings (inscribed "How are you Ike? David") were newsworthy events.

And, when he began to date Richard Nixon's daughter, they became "David and Julie" to the media that followed their courtship and marriage.

Today, he leads a quieter life, living in Valley Forge, Pa., with Julie and their three children. Still, he retains the boyish looks of those oldphotographs, the Eisenhower trademarks of flyaway ears and wide, loopy grin.

He seems entirely comfortable living a life often defined by his family relationships, as in "grandson of" or "son-in-law of" or even "nephew of," which is what some Baltimoreans might call him in memory of Milton Eisenhower, former president of Johns Hopkins University and Ike's brother and confidant.

Mr. Eisenhower has published one of a planned three-volume biography of his grandfather, "Eisenhower: At War 1943-1946," and Julie has published a book about her mother.

Now, he and his wife are working on a book about their view of the quarter-century that culminated in 1968.

"Those 25 years mark off a distinct era in American diplomacy and our posture in the world . . . and which have a profound pull on us today," he said. And, he noted, it just so happens to overlap with his grandfather's emergence as a world figure.

The postwar years that Ike presided over marked the ascendancy of the Western ideal that is now sweeping the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, he said.

"What's happened is our formula caught on," said Mr. Eisenhower, adding that his grandfather's role as the Allied leader allowed him to ignore small differences among nations in favor of the larger good. "His operating assumption was: We all agree. The implications for us in the long range are that, in an international environment that lets people develop as they will, they will choose the dynamism of the West. It's what's happened."

While Mr. Eisenhower worked as a sports columnist for the now (( defunct Philadelphia Bulletin for several months in the '70s, it's clear his real career passion is politics and history.

The question of political office has long followed him, especially after it was revealed that the young David left "I will return" notes at the White House when he visited his grandfather.

His deflection of the question, though, usually takes the form of noting that he's already been beaten to office by his oldest daughter -- who recently won a student council election.

... TC Remembering Ike

The 100th anniversary of Dwight D. Eisenhower birth will be celebrated at Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania with an academic conference, a gala dinner and other ceremonies, exhibits and tours.

The commemoration begins Oct. 10 with a four-day symposium that will bring together former Eisenhower cabinet and staff members, White House reporters from that era and scholars of the administration.

On Oct. 13, Bob Hope will host a dinner at the college to inaugurate the Eisenhower Leadership Prize for national and international leaders. The following day, the entertainer will lead a memorial ceremony at the college. Also on tap are displays of Ike's paintings and various letters and papers.

For more information, call the college at (717) 337-6800.

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