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David Eisenhower tells story of president, grandfather in memoir

| Sunday, Dec. 12, 2010

As a teenager growing up in Gettysburg in the early 1960s, he was like many of his peers. He attended school, played sports, raced his car and occasionally got in trouble. He spent a lot of time with his family, particularly with his grandfather.

Just another story, except the kid was David Eisenhower, and his grandfather just happened to have been a war hero and a president. The years after the presidency are recounted in "Going Home to Glory: A Memoir of Life with Dwight D. Eisenhower."

"My real motive for putting this out is it's a story I wanted to share," Eisenhower says. "I would have written this about a neighbor or a grandparent, just without a famous name. It's really about the two of us in Gettysburg, encountering his personality, this older man."

But when your grandfather is one of the most important figures of the 20th century, there is an inherent gravitas to your story. David Eisenhower, who previously penned "Eisenhower at War: 1943-1945," starts "Going Home to Glory" on Jan. 20, 1961, the day John F. Kennedy was inaugurated as the 35th president of the United States. After the ceremony, Dwight Eisenhower, his wife, Mamie, and a few of their personal servants left Washington, D.C., driving through Emmitsburg, Frederick and other small towns in Maryland where well-wishers lined the road. They were accompanied by a single car with two agents from the Secret Service; there were no motorcycle escorts, no press retinue. It was just a man going home to spend time with his family.

For David Eisenhower, who had been in close proximity to his grandfather since the age of 7, there was always a sense he was dealing with different personalities. Sometimes he was granddad, sometimes he was Eisenhower, and that dichotomy is reflected in the book.

"I knew he was important, I knew he was the center of our family," he says. "And then there was this other person I'm watching on television in the company of classmates. I think that when I encountered this other person, there was the thrill of knowing that I knew him. That made me different from some of the people around me. To be honest, seeing an individual on television I knew was strange for me. He felt as distant as he probably would for anybody."

It took a trip to Europe in 1962 for David Eisenhower to realize the scope of his grandfather's achievements during World War II. In France, Denmark, Sweden, England and even Germany, he witnessed firsthand how his grandfather was a global figure.

"What I saw in Europe was the weight of World War II," Eisenhower says. "I don't know how else to put it. ... I remember these crowds, and I experienced a real encounter between Dwight Eisenhower and the German people in Cologne and Bonn. Just the size of World War II hit me on that trip, and the size of anybody who went through it in a major way."

But at home, Dwight Eisenhower was granddad more often than not, stinting in his praise -- his highest compliment was that a person was "able." He was not particularly demonstrative with his family. He raised cattle on his farm in Gettysburg and took great pleasure in grilling steaks, developing his own barbecue sauce. He even liked to shop, especially taking pleasure in looking for the best cuts of beef when he visited his winter home in Palm Desert, Calif.

"He was somebody who grew up in the 1890s in a relatively poor home," David Eisenhower says. "So having discretionary income was something that was fun for him. The marvel of the department store with all of its choices and variety was something that dazzled him. He loved going to grocery stores and imagining great feasts. He was a big shopper."

Dwight Eisenhower was comfortable in his retirement, unlike many of his peers who hand over power. He did not clamor for attention, even though he was often consulted by Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson and his former vice president, Richard Nixon. Instead, Dwight Eisenhower seemed to relish golfing and playing bridge with colleagues and spending time with his family.

"This is a person in 1965 and 1966 who cared as much about people around him as much as I remember him caring about major events in 1958 and 1959," David Eisenhower says. "I saw a seamless transition (from public to private life). That's a remarkable fact about his personality."

Additional Information:

Capsule Review

'Going Home to Glory: A Memoir of Life with Dwight D. Eisenhower' is a charming remembrance of a man who dedicated most of his life to his country. David Eisenhower touches on his grandfather's accomplishments and his ongoing popularity after his presidency. But the emphasis of 'Going Home' is personal, not political; what emerges is a warm, engaging portrait of an iconic American statesman.

• Rege Behe

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