Grateful American® Foundation

Written by Ed Lengel

Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Children

Dwight D. Eisenhower (1890-1969) served during World War II as commander of Allied forces in western Europe, at the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF). Among his momentous decisions that affected the lives of thousands, was the “Go” order for D-Day–the invasion of Normandy–on June 6, 1944. Later, he served two terms as President of the United States, from 1953-1961, during the most contentious part of the Cold War. Even after retiring to his Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, farm with his wife Mamie Doud Eisenhower (1896-1979), the nation still turned to him; after John F. Kennedy’s assassination in November 1963, Eisenhower offered words of consolation to a nation in grief.

Through all of this, the memory of one very short life—Dwight and Mamie’s son, Doud Dwight Eisenhower–proved to be a powerfully enduring presence. Taken away at just over three years old because of scarlet fever, Doud left a legacy of pain and inspiration. In some ways, the Eisenhowers’ second son, John Sheldon Doud Eisenhower, who led a long and distinguished life, would never escape from the shadow of his deceased, older brother.

Doud Dwight Eisenhower

By the time Mamie Doud met Eisenhower in 1915 at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas, he was already a career army man. They married at her family home in Denver on July 1, 1916, and off they went from one base to another, like many military couples. During the next four decades, she estimated that they moved almost thirty times. Even so, they chose to raise a family. The firstborn child, taking the name of his mother’s family and his father’s first name–but forever known to his parents as “Ikky,”–was born in San Antonio on September 24, 1917.[1]

Dwight was away at a camp in Georgia when his first son was born, and he wrote to Mamie delightedly: “I understand that Mr. Ike Jr. has my feet, hands, and shoulders. . .. Just wait until I come home, if we don’t have more fun with that boy than with a barrel full of monkeys, then I don’t know a thing.” During their frequent separations over the coming months, Dwight wrote to Mamie constantly, asking for news about Doud. But, in December 1920, while Dwight was stationed at Fort Meade, Maryland, Ikky caught scarlet fever—apparently from the family maid. Despite their desperate efforts to save their son, he died in his father’s arms on January 2, 1921.

Ikky’s death devastated his parents; but it may have hit his father the hardest. Dwight was to call it “the greatest disappointment and disaster in my life, the one I have never been able to forget completely.” Every year thereafter Dwight and Mamie marked their lost son’s birthday in solemn sorrow; and it was on that date in 1955 that then-President Eisenhower suffered a major heart attack. The reinternment of Ikky’s remains at the Eisenhower Presidential Library in 1967 cast Dwight into a renewed gloom from which he never fully recovered before his death in 1969.[2]

John Sheldon Doud Eisenhower

Ikky’s death changed Dwight D. Eisenhower’s personality, and the birth of his second son, in Denver, on August 3, 1922, only temporarily dispelled Dwight’s sense of loss; although he unquestionably loved his boy, deeply, Dwight repressed much of the open affection that he might otherwise have shown. Their relationship, as a result, would always retain a certain undercurrent of tension.

John S. D. Eisenhower grew up in relative obscurity, as befitted the son of a then little-known military officer. He lived practically every moment in a military environment. Among his formative experiences was a prolonged tour of America’s World War I battlefields in 1927, when Dwight was attached to the American Battle Monuments Commission to help write the standard guide for those hallowed grounds. John went to high school in the Philippines in the 1930s while his father served there under General Douglas MacArthur, then, in 1941; then, just before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, which propelled the United States into World War II, John entered the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

Still, no one outside his family and West Point paid much attention to John until his father’s 1942-1943 rise to prominence in the U.S. military hierarchy. And, when he graduated from West Point on June 6, 1944, the media had even bigger things to think about—D-Day.

As a new lieutenant, John’s initial assignment was to spend time with his father during the stressful days following the Normandy invasion. He hoped for an eventual combat assignment, but he was relegated to desk duty in military intelligence. Later, as a major during the Korean War, John did see combat, and on election day, 1952, a reporter found him in a dirt-floored tent “somewhere in Korea” with the 3rd Infantry Division. “Win or lose,” John said in reference to his father’s presidential run, “the old man has played it straight and doesn’t need to apologize to anyone.”[3]

By that time, John had been married to Barbara Jean Thompson, five years. They would have a son and three daughters before their 1986 divorce.

John assisted his father in the White House before retiring from active military service as a colonel in 1963; later, he became a brigadier general in the Army Reserve, and President Richard Nixon’s Ambassador to Belgium, from 1969-1971.

After World War II ended, John got a master’s degree in English from Columbia University, and as his military career ended, he turned to writing. Sick of being seen simply as “the great man’s son,” he decided to “do something my old man couldn’t get into.” After helping his father with his memoirs, and writing his own, he started a successful career as a popular military historian, writing well-received histories of, for example, the Mexican American War, World War I, and World War II.

In his final years, he re-claimed the legacies of his parents’—especially his father’s—to ensure that “Dwight D. Eisenhower” would remind Americans of all that is best in their country.

John S. D. Eisenhower died on December 21, 2013.[4]


[2] Michael Beschloss, “D-Day Wasn’t the First Time Eisenhower Felt as if He Had Lost a Son,” New York Times, June 11, 2014.

[3] New York Times, December 22, 2013; Spokane Chronicle, November 4, 1952.

[4] New York Times, December 22, 2013.

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