On this day in 1942, General Dwight D. Eisenhower becomes commander of all U.S. troops in the European theater of World War II, continuing the steady ascent in military rank that would culminate in his appointment as supreme Allied commander of all forces in Europe in 1943. As U.S. commander, Ike developed diplomatic skills that he would later employ as America’s 34th president.
U.S. Army military historians Carl Vuono and M.P.W. Stone have described Eisenhower as a dynamic leader who successfully planned and oversaw military strategy in a complex global environment. These qualities came in handy when Eisenhower was elected president in 1952. The Cold War between democratic and communist nations was in full swing and Eisenhower’s ability to form cooperative relationships, his military experience and calm demeanor reassured anxious Americans.
Ike attended the U.S. Military Academy at West Point from 1911 to 1915, where he cultivated friendships with future generals Omar Bradley, James A. Van Fleet and Joseph T. McNarney. After graduating, Eisenhower served in relative obscurity stateside and in Panama, rising to the rank of lieutenant colonel. He went to the Army War College in 1928 and a year later worked as an assistant in the secretary of war’s office. In 1935, he served as an assistant to General Douglas MacArthur in the Philippines. With war with Japan seeming imminent, Eisenhower returned to the states in 1941 to become a brigadier general in the Third Army. Between February and June 1942, Eisenhower was assigned to the War Department and rose rapidly within its ranks. As the leading general of the U.S. forces in Europe, Eisenhower was directly involved with planning and executing U.S. military strategy in the fight to liberate Europe from Germany and fascist Italy.
In November 1942, Eisenhower went on to become the commander of all Allied forces in North Africa, where he led the successful invasions of Sicily and Italy and dealt with irascible British General Bernard Montgomery and exiled French leader Charles de Gaulle. A year later he was appointed supreme commander of Allied Expeditionary Forces and planned and led the invasion of Normandy, France, more commonly referred to as D-Day. Eisenhower stayed on as general of the U.S. Army until 1951, when he resigned his commission to run his successful campaign for president. For two terms, Ike the war hero presided as the nation’s commander in chief.
In a speech he gave upon leaving office in 1961, Eisenhower famously warned Americans of the growing power of what he termed the military-industrial complex, or the potential for danger that existed from the relation of the nation’s commercial and military interests.