Eisenhower: A Soldier's Life
Owl, 2003 (2002)
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Reviewed by Wesley Williamson
arlo D'Este is a military historian whose four previous works on the battles of the Second World War in Normandy and in the Mediterranean, and his biography of General George S. Patton Jr., appear to qualify him uniquely for this very detailed account of Eisenhower's life as a soldier. He ends his story with the cable to the Combined Chiefs of Staff after the German surrender, a single simple sentence, '
The mission of this Allied Force was fulfilled at 0241, local time, May 7th, 1945
' signed Eisenhower.
'Este devotes a chapter to Eisenhower's ancestry, and his early life on the wrong side of the tracks in rural Kansas, in an impoverished family of six energetic and squabbling boys. He was noteworthy only for his aggressive temperament, his athleticism, and a somewhat surprising love of history, and for his determination, in combination with his brother Edgar, to obtain a good education. He finally achieved this by getting an entry to West Point, though not, apparently, with any real ambition for a military career. Indeed, he repeatedly jeopardised his career there by breaking the rules. Nevertheless, he graduated, was commissioned as Second Lieutenant, and assigned to Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas, in September, 1915.
ver the next 14 years, Eisehower's career followed a predictable pattern, as he moved from post to post and assignment to assignment, with promotion coming slowly. He married early, and his wife Mamie, who was accustomed to comfort and even luxury, had to learn to make do on a junior officer's salary and found it difficult. Then, tragically, their much loved son died, and neither ever really recovered from the loss. However, with storm clouds gathering in Europe, the army began to be expanded, and Eisenhower's talents as a dedicated, hard-working and resourceful staff officer drew the attention of his superiors, most importantly George C. Marshall, though it is not really evident why he was eventually selected to command U.S. forces in Europe.
'Este, as might be expected, gives an exciting account of the battles in North Africa and Sicily, as they relate to Eisenhower's command, and of the personalities of the generals and politicians with whom he had to deal, from Roosevelt and Churchill, to Patton and Montgomery. However, it is the events just before and after the landings in Normandy that best define Eisenhower's essential role as leader and coordinator of fractious, mistrustful, and competing allies, which D'Este describes masterfully. These chapters provide insight into what made Eisenhower deserve the respect, even when they disagreed with him, of such men as Churchill and Montgomery, and even of his own jealous and resentful generals like Bradley and Patton.
isenhower : A Soldier's Life
is a most interesting history of the involvement in Europe of U.S. forces in the Second World War, and its unique viewpoint, that of the Supreme Commander of Allied Forces, lends it even more interest. D'Este has accomplished a very difficult task, in making us understand this many faceted and complex man facing a monumental task.
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