Following his arrival in London, Major General Dwight D. Eisenhower takes command of U.S. forces in Europe. Although Eisenhower had never seen combat during his 27 years as an army officer, his knowledge of military strategy and talent for organization were such that Army Chief of Staff General George C. Marshall chose him over nearly 400 senior officers to lead U.S. forces in the war against Germany. After proving himself on the battlefields of North Africa and Italy in 1942 and 1943, Eisenhower was appointed supreme commander of Operation Overlord–the Allied invasion of northwestern Europe.
Born in Denison, Texas, in 1890, Eisenhower graduated from the United States Military Academy in 1915. Out of a remarkable class that was to produce 59 generals, Eisenhower ranked 61st academically and 125th in discipline out of a total of 164 graduates. As a commissioned officer, his superiors soon took note of his organizational abilities, and appointed him commander of a tank training center after the U.S. entrance into World War I in 1917. In October 1918, he received the orders to take the tanks to France, but the war ended before they could sail. Eisenhower received the Distinguished Service Medal but was disappointed that he had not seen combat.
Between the wars, he steadily rose in the peacetime ranks of the U.S. Army. From 1922 to 1924, he was stationed in the Panama Canal Zone, and in 1926, as a major, he graduated from the Army’s Command and General Staff School at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, at the top of a class of 275. He was rewarded with a prestigious post in France and in 1928 graduated first in his class from the Army War College. In 1933, he became aide to Army Chief of Staff General Douglas MacArthur, and in 1935 he went with MacArthur to the Philippines when the latter accepted a post as chief military adviser to that nation’s government.
Promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel while in the Philippines, Eisenhower returned to the United States in 1939 shortly after World War II began in Europe. President Franklin Roosevelt began to bring the country to war preparedness in 1940 and Eisenhower found himself figuring prominently in a rapidly expanding U.S. Army. In March 1941, he was made a full colonel and three months later was appointed commander of the 3rd Army. In September, he was promoted to brigadier general.
After the United States entered World War II in December 1941, Army Chief of Staff Marshall appointed Eisenhower to the War Plans Division in Washington, where he prepared strategy for an Allied invasion of Europe. Promoted to major general in March 1942 and named head of the operations division of the War Department, he advised Marshall to create a single post that would oversee all U.S. operations in Europe. Marshall did so and on June 11 surprised Eisenhower by appointing him to the post over 366 senior officers. On June 25, 1942, Eisenhower arrived at U.S. headquarters in London and took command.
In July, Eisenhower was appointed lieutenant general and named to head Operation Torch, the Allied invasion of French North Africa. As supreme commander of a mixed force of Allied nationalities, services, and equipment, Eisenhower designed a system of unified command and rapidly won the respect of his British and Canadian subordinates. From North Africa, he successfully directed the invasions of Tunisia, Sicily, and the Italian mainland, and in December 1943 was appointed Supreme Allied Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force. Operation Overlord, the largest combined sea, air, and land military operation in history, was successfully launched against Nazi-occupied Europe on June 6, 1944. On May 7, 1945, Germany surrendered. By that time, Eisenhower was a five-star general.
After the war, Eisenhower replaced Marshall as army chief of staff and from 1948 to 1950 served as president of Columbia University. In 1951, he returned to military service as supreme commander of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Pressure on Eisenhower to run for U.S. president was great, however, and in the spring of 1952 he relinquished his NATO command to run for president on the Republican ticket.
In November 1952, “Ike” won a resounding victory in the presidential elections and in 1956 was reelected in a landslide. A popular president, he oversaw a period of great economic growth in the United States and deftly navigated the country through increasing Cold War tensions on the world stage. In 1961, he retired with his wife, Mamie Doud Eisenhower, to his farm in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, which overlooked the famous Civil War battlefield. He died in 1969 and was buried on a family plot in Abilene, Kansas.