Going Home to Glory

A Memoir of Life with Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1961-1969

By David Eisenhower and Julie Nixon Eisenhower

Simon & Schuster, 336pp., $28

David Eisenhower, grandson of the 34th president and author of the authoritative Eisenhower at War: 1943-1945 (1991), now publishes an informal memoir of Ike in his brief retirement. A more logical successor to the World War II account—Eisenhower’s postwar career and two-term presidency—might have been more welcome, but Going Home to Glory has its place in the canon. It is a measured, sympathetic, revealing account of the aging soldier-statesman by a grandson who, in his late childhood and adolescent years, clearly held some special place in the General’s affections.

 By any reckoning, the last eight years of Dwight D. Eisenhower’s public life—stretching back three decades—were the least important. He handed the presidency, with some reluctance, off to John F. Kennedy instead of his own vice president, Richard Nixon, and grappled with the varying demands of titular political leadership, setting down the historical record, a changing cultural landscape, and declining health. But Eisenhower’s lifelong devotion to duty, now in elder statesmen’s robes, was not shirked in retirement: As readers of his diaries can attest, he retained a critical, perceptive, and well-informed interest in public affairs and, especially, in foreign policy; and his successors did not hesitate to seek his counsel or, in certain circumstances, wrap themselves in his protective mantle.

One theme which tends to dominate this volume is the awkward relations between Eisenhower and his immediate successor Kennedy, and it is not to Kennedy’s advantage. While Lyndon Johnson, as Senate Democratic Leader, had developed a friendly working relationship with the Republican President, Kennedy had paid little attention to the White House during his Senate tenure, and he and his inner circle—notably his brother Robert, Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., McGeorge Bundy, and others—held Eisenhower in contempt. As is well known, Kennedy sought Eisenhower’s guidance after the Bay of Pigs debacle, and David Eisenhower’s meticulous account of their meeting and discussion is (whether intentionally or not) devastating to Kennedy. At Kennedy’s inauguration, Eisenhower had been forced to listen to JFK’s finely-worded generational insult to his predecessor and call to arms; at Camp David, Ike was astonished by the depths of Kennedy’s inexperience, ineptitude, and callow arrogance. The New Frontiersmen still thought little of the old General, but their boss had learned to shield himself with Eisenhower’s prestige.

Inevitably, age, ill health, and exile from the corridors of power took their toll, and Eisenhower was obliged to observe the 1960s at a distance: Distressed by American fecklessness in Europe and cynical strategy in Southeast Asia, the collapse of the postwar foreign policy consensus unfolded before his eyes, and he died at the dawning of the Age of Aquarius. But his bookish grandson seems to have been something of a balm to him at the time, and between public events and physical deterioration, this portrait captures something of Eisenhower’s substance and humanity.