“ A Man’s wisdom gives him patience; it his glory to overlook an offense” (Prov 19:11).
Do you see a man skilled in his work? He will serve before kings; he will not serve before obscure men” (Proverbs 22:29).
Along the journey of life, we all need a few heroes. I was born in 1951, just before Dwight David Eisenhower became President. I remember 1956 and “I Like Ike” buttons. His smiling, confident face was the face of America during my childhood. A few years ago, I decided to read a bit about people who made the 20th Century what it was for better or for worse. Winston Churchill was probably the “Man of the Century” since he was an important figure in World War I, World War II, and in the postwar period. He was a politician, leader, writer, historian, painter, and general Renaissance Man. His biography is worth reading.
My personal favorite, however, is Ike. Ike was born in Texas but grew up in Kansas. He embodied those virtues we connect with small-town America. He was hard-working, straightforward (unless he was bluffing in poker, politics, or war), and one of the greatest managers who ever lived. Military historians and theorists argue about his generalship. I only note that he was the leader of the greatest successful amphibious invasion in history. He led the greatest army of our history in the successful defeat of one of the most evil regimes in human history—Nazi Germany. The decision to launch D-Day was one of the most difficult decisions of World War II or any war before or since. Whatever his critics say, Ike’s deeds speak for themselves.
While at West Point, Ike injured his knee. It was disappointing. He could not play football or baseball as a result. During World War I, he never made it to Europe. He was too useful in training soldiers for combat. After the war, he spent many years as a staff officer, including difficult years as the Chief of Staff for Douglas MacArthur. He once noted that he spent a lot of time “Studying acting under MacArthur,” who was a difficult boss.
By the late 1930’s, Eisenhower was convinced he would retire as a forgotten Lt. Colonel. He never retired. Generals of the Army are on permanent active duty. (It is little known that, after he retired as President, he gave up his presidential retirement and was reinstated in his military rank. He was buried in a simple military uniform with his insignia of rank. Although he reached the highest office of the land, he thought of himself as a soldier who became President. )
First, there is that button, “I Like Ike.” Eisenhower was likable. People liked him because he liked people. While he was a soldier, his home was often called “Club Eisenhower.” He was popular, affable, and friendly.
Second, Eisenhower had natural grace. Unlike Patton and MacArthur, who grew up sophisticated and privileged, Ike was from a humble, almost poor background. Nevertheless, he was a gentleman. He never lost the common touch.
Third, he worked hard. His capacity for work was legendary before and after World War II. As President, he often hid behind an image of an almost out-of-touch grandfather. Those who served under him knew differently. He was a master at hiding his true influence. (A habit some contemporary politicians might emulate.) He was a wonderful manager of people, situations, armies, and institutions.
Fourth, he was a shrewd judge of people and situations. He was a great poker player, so good that he gave it up at times when it would have hurt his career. Many of the people he worked with were difficult, and some were more powerful than he was. Nevertheless, he prevailed because of his ability to read people and situations.
Finally, he never let his ego get in the way of what was best for the group. Patton, Montgomery, and other soldiers were sometimes disrespectful and tried his patience, but he never let his personal irritation interfere with what was best for the nation. He was a master of self-control.
Ike was not perfect. His temper was legendary. As a soldier, he sometimes sought solutions to international problems that today we would regard as flawed. None of that matters as far as his character is concerned. He was a great human being and a great American—a hero worth emulating.
Some years ago, I ran across two magazine covers. On the cover of one was Ike in his military uniform at the end of the war. On the other cover was the picture of one of the then most powerful people in America. Ike’s face was that of a man who worked hard, dared the odds, faced adversity, and succeeded after a life of preparation, work and adversity. His was the face of a man. The other was the face of a common politician whose fundamental character was even then suspect. Both men served as Presidents of the United States. Only one was the face of a person of deep and abiding character. Not a perfect man, but one to be trusted and emulated. That is why I like Ike.