Viewed by many as the greatest American president, Franklin Delano
Roosevelt not only helped bring the United States out of the Great Depression,
but also led the country through World War II. Elected to an unprecedented
four terms in office, Roosevelt never saw the final victory he worked
so hard for.
Born in 1882 in Hyde Park, New York, Roosevelt graduated from Harvard
in 1903 in only three years and attended Columbia law school, passing
the bar exam before receiving his degree. After a political career that
led to the governorship of New York, Roosevelt became president in 1933,
the height of the depression.
Preparing him for the role of Commander-in-Chief was his appointment
to Assistant Secretary of the Navy in 1913, where he had much popularity
and success. He was given this position by Woodrow Wilson for his support
in Wilson's presidential campaign (he did not support his cousin, Theodore
Roosevelt)(www.academic.marist.edu). He was delighted with his new post,
saying, "I now find my vocation combined with my vocation in a
delightful way," his hobby being ships and naval history; his vocation
politics. He learned much from his superior, Secretary of the Navy Josephus
Daniels, who taught him much about national politics and ways to get
along with Congress. Experience on the job during World War I working
on wartime projects such as planning to lay antisubmarine mines in the
North Sea. He toured European battlefields and conferred with military
leaders overseas. He became known as a man who got things done,
winning him status as a national figure (Freidel 414).
P51 Mustang (Animation by Ken Blandon)
In January 1943, Roosevelt, along with Churchill, proclaimed the doctrine
of unconditional surrender. The two leaders met in many wartime conferences,
where any differences that they had were solved amicably. Roosevelt
seemed to want to avoid the sort of differences of opinion among the
Allies and misunderstanding by the Germans that had made trouble at
the 1918 Armistice. Debate at these conferences centered around the
question of a landing in France. The British successfully managed to
delay the invasion of Normandy until June of 1944 (www.normandy.eb.com).
But it was the decision of Roosevelt to concentrate on the Western front
first that ultimately was one of the deciding factors in the victory
of the Allies.
Dwight David Eisenhower (1890-1969)
Once the decision to invade France in 1944 had been made, Dwight D.
Eisenhower was chosen to head the Allied force that would invade Normandy.
Born in Denison, Texas, General, and later to be President, Eisenhower
graduated from West Point Military Academy in 1915, a remarkable class
that was to produce 59 generals (www.eb.com). In World War I he was
promoted to captain and earned the Distinguished Service Medal (encarta.msn.com).
In the 1930s he served as chief of staff to General Arthur MacDouglas
in the Philippines. However, prior to World War II, Eisenhower had resigned
himself to finishing out a distinguished yet unremarkable military career.
However, when the United States entered World War II in 1941, General
George C. Marshall put him in charge of the War Plans division. In 1942,
he was promoted to lietentant general and given command of the U.S.
Army's European Theater of Operations, his first invasion driving the
Germans out of North Africa. In 1943, he found himself serving as Supreme
Commander, Allied Expeditionary Force, Europe (www.pbs.org).
Eisenhower was selected to head the Allied invasion force that was to
cross the English Channel, land in Normandy, France, and advance into
Germany (encarta.msn.com) Ike combined a talent for administration
with an affable, commanding, personality that eventually placed him
in positions of great power and responsibility, including leading the
Allied invasion of Europe in 1944 (www.pbs.org). However, Marshall's
decision to put him in charge of executing the plan was more political
than military. "D-Day is what made Dwight David Eisenhower president.
Had it failed, it is unlikely that anyone would have remembered any
subsequent successes" (people.delphi.com).
Eisenhower's rapid advancement, after a long career spent in relative
obscurity, was due not only to his knowledge of military strategy and
a talent for organization, but also his ability to persuade, to mediate,
and to be agreeable. Men from a variety of backgrounds and nationalities
liked and trusted him, impressed by his friendliness, humility, and
persistent optimism (www.eb.com). He was also very personable, knowing
just how to play British general Bernard Montgomery, Winston Churchill,
and Marshall to hold together the Grand Alliance (people.delphi.com).
Eisenhower had an open and friendly personality so appealing that both
political parties wanted to nominate him for the presidency in 1948!
Instead, he turned them both down to become president of Columbia University
for 2 years. But in 1952 Eisenhower announced that he would seek the
presidency with the Republican nomination, and won over Democrat Adlai
E.Stevenson (encarta.msn.com). He is also something of an enigma. His
plan for defeating Germany was direct to a fault; as the war wound down,
"Ike," as he was known, completely misunderstood the geopolitical
ramifications of Stalin (people.delphi.com).
For all his military background, Eisenhower despised war. His battlefield
experiences once led him to declare, "I hate war as only a soldier
who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its futility,
its stupidity" (www.pbs.org).