The Not-So-Secret Way This Man Beat Hitler During World War II

The Not-So-Secret Way This Man Beat Hitler During World War II

A trial by fire?

Conner thus readied Ike for the job Ike, above all other Americans of his generation, would be best equipped to master and lead. Ike later wrote of his three-year sojourn as Conner’s single acolyte: “[Life with Conner] was a sort of graduate school in military affairs and the humanities, leavened by comments and discourses of a man who was experienced in his knowledge of men and their conduct.”


While living in the Canal Zone, and thanks in large measure to subtle conditioning of Mamie by Mrs. Conner, the Eisenhowers managed to clear the air between themselves over David’s death and get on with raising John, who was born in the summer of 1922.

Ike in Academia

The Infantry Tank School reclaimed Ike in September 1924—to coach the base football team—but Ike went straight to work to earn a student billet at The Infantry School at Fort Benning, Georgia. This fair fruit was denied the football coach, but Fox Conner, from his new position as deputy chief of staff of the Army, pulled a series of strings in the background that yielded, in August 1925, a coveted place for Ike as student at the Command and General Staff School at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. The pace at Leavenworth was much more grueling that the pace on post under Fox Conner, but for Ike it was mostly a repeat course. He studied hard and graduated at the top of his class, a really important career milestone, especially for a man who had missed his generation’s big war. Moreover, the friendships Ike forged or renewed at Leavenworth would be invaluable in the future. More to the point, the Leavenworth experience and its laudatory outcome finally ignited in Ike a fierce fire that caused him to aspire to greatness. Even Ike admitted to its being a “watershed in my life.”

From Kansas, the Eisenhowers were ordered to Fort Benning, where Ike, who had been reassigned to the infantry branch, was to serve as executive officer—and football coach—for The Infantry School’s crack demonstration infantry regiment. When Fox Conner learned of this, he once again used his high office in Ike’s behalf and had the 37-year-old major reassigned to duty in Washington, D.C., at the Battle Monuments Commission, which was headed by retired General of the Armies John J. Pershing. When Ike wrote (with help from his youngest brother, Milton, a former journalist, now an assistant secretary of agriculture) a guidebook for the effort, Pershing judged it excellent and wrote a commendatory letter for the major’s personnel file.

Ike next requested assignment as a student at the Army War College, which offered advanced military education at a much more leisurely pace than Leavenworth. Here, again, Ike came in daily contact, at work and play, with the best soldiers of his generation.

Upon graduation from the War College in June 1928, Ike accepted an offer to return to the Battle Monuments Commission on the promise that he would be able to spend a year in France. This seeming junket proved to be a valuable investment by the American nation. As Ike traversed most of France in a chauffeur-driven car, the military part of his mind idly fought mock campaigns on the passing vistas, memorizing terrain as it did. Who could know the benefits derived from Ike’s memories of these days and weeks on the road?

Drafting the Industrial Mobilization Plan

The one-year sojourn in France led to a return to Washington, where in November 1929, Major Eisenhower became one of two assistant executive officers assigned to the assistant secretary of war. The enterprise Ike had joined was the primary node of an effort to catalogue the whole of American industry against a time in which it might be mobilized to support an all-out war effort. The task had come about as a result of the monumentally lousy job industry and the military had done in modulating needs and effort for World War I. Ike and his fellow assistant, an engineer major, did the heavy lifting, and once again a future United States benefited immensely from the effort. Major Eisenhower lived for a time at the exact nexus between the military and the industrial behemoth that would supply, equip, and feed it in time of war—if all went well and the new economic depression didn’t obliterate one or both sides of the crucial equation.

Ike’s tenure at the office of the assistant secretary of war coincided with important planning events. The Army’s duty to maintain readiness for war had been enshrined in the National Defense Act of 1920, a document whose genesis had been overseen by Fox Conner under Pershing’s command. The army’s own document covering that ground was the Protective Mobilization Plan. But this plan covered only the Army, not the American industrial base that was needed to bring the plan to fruition on battlefields. The Army required such a plan—an industrial mobilization plan. The office of the assistant secretary had jurisdiction, and Ike and his fellow assistant executive officer were tasked with writing at least an outline.

The immediate result came in the form of long journeys to confer upon a parochially educated Army officer all he needed to know about the inner workings of his nation’s industrial base. By undertaking the educational requirements of the task, Ike came face to face with what was possible—and not possible—for industry to do for an army. This was a private education fit for a future commander in chief of a war effort born in its largest degree upon the potentials of industry and how they might be directed in such a way as to literally overwhelm an enemy state. To start with, Ike studied all that had gone wrong with the lamented 1915–1920 industrial mobilization, and he did so with aid of many of the lions of American industry, such as Bernard Baruch, and the heads of American Telephone and Telegraph, the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, and other corporate giants. Along the way, he received an education in constitutional restraints on how the government might deal with private wealth and power in a future national emergency. It was, all told, one hell of an eye-opening experience for an obscure mid-ranked officer from the dusty Kansas prairie.

MacArthur Routs the Bonus March

By the time the industrial mobilization plan had been drafted, General Douglas MacArthur had become Army chief of staff (having stepped up to it over Fox Conner’s head in 1930). The heart of the plan, once outlined to the requisite government authorities, brought Ike to MacArthur’s attention and slowly into his orbit. When Ike’s immediate boss moved over from the office of the assistant secretary to become deputy chief of staff (and thus overseer of the Army’s budget), Ike remained formally assigned as assistant to the new executive but was increasingly called on to serve as an informal aide-de-camp to MacArthur. He was thus at MacArthur’s side during one of the sorriest episodes in U.S. Army history, the July 1928 military riot that dispersed down-and-out World War I veterans who had rallied to Washington, D.C., to seek a government bonus for their war service.

The so-called Bonus March looked like a nascent Bolshevik revolution to conservative Army officers, Ike among them. MacArthur simply went hog wild when he was deputized by President Herbert Hoover to disperse these luckless former comrades seeking redress from their nation, which once upon a time had declared itself grateful for their sacrifices in war.

Though highly disciplined (it was supervised by a retired general), the so-called Bonus Expeditionary Force refused to vacate several government sites in the capital district after a bill seeking the bonus was voted down in both houses of Congress. This refusal to disperse triggered an order from President Hoover for General MacArthur to quell what Hoover characterized as a riot. The bonus marchers were in illegal possession of government land, mainly owned by the Department of the Treasury, but they were peaceful, even passive.

With a squeamish and unhappy Ike at his side, a beautifully uniformed MacArthur unleashed infantry and mounted cavalry (the latter commanded by George Patton) to clear the marchers from the occupied grounds. In the heat of “battle” the chief of staff apparently—allegedly—ordered some of his troops to destroy the squalid bonus encampments near Anacostia by fire in retaliation for allegedly hurled bricks and other debris. Ike hated and even feared the revolutionary potential of the Bonus March, but he nonetheless hated to see the ragged former soldiers burned out.

FDR’s New Deal

That November, Franklin Delano Roosevelt was elected president by an overwhelming margin, and he and his New Deal blew into Washington in March 1933. By then, Ike had been formally assigned as MacArthur’s aide-de-camp and, wonder of wonders, MacArthur was retained by the new president. In short order, Ike was pulled into preparing the Army for overseeing the start-up of the new Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), an effort to put tens and hundreds of thousands of jobless youths to work cleaning lakes and streams, planting what would come to be billions of trees, and generally sprucing up federal parks and preserves. The Army, tasked with organizing, leading, and victualing the CCC, benefited immensely from an exercise almost identical to a military mobilization and shooting-free military expedition. Nearly at the center of the effort was Ike, who like Marshall (and Hap Arnold), gained immensely important insights into executive oversight of the art and science of manpower mobilization and maintaining a massive and far-flung military campaign in the field.