Katherine's Reviews > At Ease: Stories I Tell to Friends

At Ease by Dwight D. Eisenhower
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's review
Apr 14, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: reviewed
Read from April 10, 2012 to September 13, 2013

I remember Ike but that seems strange to say in a way, because for so many people to whom I speak, he is an historical figure, someone distant and dusty, of another time. And so he is, yet I remember posters above the seats of the bus on which I traveled to school in NYC that were full head shots of the man running for President. That is my first real recollection of him as a person. Being a kid, I really didn't pay very much attention to him as President but I remember he had a cute grand-son about my age. And then, on our visits to Gettysburg, I'd always look over from Cemetery Ridge to see if the flag was flying over that house beyond the white picket fence. If it was then he and maybe Mamie and the grandkids were in residence. I remember, too, my Dad speaking of Ike during WW II, as well as other Generals who played roles in that conflict and how he felt about them. He liked Ike, thought Montgomery was an ass, wasn't too fond of Marshall. All of it went over my head. I didn't like history and it bored me to hear these things. How I wish I'd listened more closely.

Last year, on our cross country trip, my husband and I stopped in Abilene, Kansas at Eisenhower's boyhood home, Presidential library, museum and burial site. As we left I stopped in the gift shop, as I always do, to purchase a book or two about the subject and this was one I chose. The picture on the front was the Eisenhower of my memory--the old man, past all the years of military service and the uniforms and the jacket bearing his name. The title AT EASE was perfect and the Stories I Tell to Friends, an invitation to an inside look at who this man was.

The book did not disappoint. I had already read the biography chosen on the same trip but reading these scattered memories written by the man himself were so much more lively. It is easy to read and one can almost hear his voice speaking the words. Having walked through his home the early days in Abilene were particularly appealing. I, too, went to college on the Hudson and, in the days before 9/11, had been to the Point several times and knew several cadets so the scenes of his education were also vivid.

The life of a career military man was less familiar to me but as he described his career from young Point graduate through various stints as staff officer to many other famous names, in particular, MacArthur, the evolution of the man and his experiences was fascinating. Last year I'd been to General Pershing's home and bought his biography. Now, in the twilight of his career, young Eisenhower encounters him and describes the old Cavalry officer from a totally different slant.

Obviously, much of the book takes place before World War II even though to the rest of the world it is his position as Commander of the ETO--European Theatre of Operations--and later as Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in Europe that he is best remembered. These positions came when he was 52 years old and had spent 30 + years in the Army without actually getting very many promotions and having never served in combat. As a result there is much to tell about those early years and they are as interesting, because of the lack of notoriety if nothing else, as the years of action and danger of a World War. Stories about the young George Patton and Mark Clark among others is more revealing about the men they were than the heroes and icons they became.

Once the War ended, Eisenhower continued for awhile in the military--serving as Army Chief of Staff in the new Pentagon building. My Dad was an electrician on that construction job and his descriptions of the building and its many corridors and security features made Ike's recounting of his getting lost all that more amusing.

He finishes his stories with his stint as president of Columbia University and his new hobby of oil painting. I found this section a bit anticlimactic although interesting. Finally, he relates his efforts in getting NATO off the ground. Until I read this section I'm not sure I realized when studying about the organization in 1959 I realized how recently the pact had been formed.

Disappointingly, although written in 1967, two years before his death and six years after leaving the Presidency, he tells no stories about that period of his life. From the '40's onward members of both parties had tried to convince him to run for President ( as many were also encouraging MacArthur ) but he steadfastly refused to even consider such a thing. He implies that through his efforts in getting NATO established that he realized there was a real need for change in government and that the people seemed to be wanting that change. He, therefore, entertained the possibility of running on the Republican ticket and that is where he ends his stories--though there certainly was more he could have told.

All in all, if you are my vintage, I think you'd enjoy hearing your childhood memories in more detail. If you are a younger student of history this is a good place to start this period--it is far from a complete telling but it is fascinating reading and begs the reader to go to other sources to fill in the blanks.

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Reading Progress

04/14/2012 page 37
09/13/2013 marked as: read
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