Several people attending Lawrence's Independence Days celebration took a trip back in time Sunday and heard a speech by one of Kansas' most distinguished native sons: Dwight D. Eisenhower.
Loren Pennington, professor of history at Emporia State University, portrayed the former president in a dramatic presentation, "Eisenhower: A Senior Statesman Reminisces." Pennington is appearing as Ike in 31 Kansas communities throughout this year, which is the 100th anniversary of Eisenhower's birth.
Pennington portrayed Eisenhower as if he were speaking in 1961, shortly after completing his eight-year term as president. And though that's nearly three decades ago, spectators said they felt many of the stateman's insights and concerns had a strong bearing on today's world.
"IKE" FIRST told the crowd about his early life growing up in Abilene. His family had little money to spare, he said, and if he and his brothers wanted baseball gloves they had to raise the necessary cash themselves. Eisenhower said he turned to growing and selling sweet corn, later selling a line of Mexican tamales in the off-season.
Eisenhower said that after graduating from Abilene High School in 1909 he hoped to go to college, but money was not available. He said he then applied to attend either Annapolis or West Point, and he received an appointment to the latter.
"I didn't have any intention to stay in the Army. I just wanted a free education," he said.
Actually, the Army was reluctant to give Ike a commission upon his graduation in 1915 because of a leg injury he'd received while playing football. However, Ike said, he eventually was commissioned to the infantry, and it was during his assignment in Fort Sam Houston that he met Mamie Doud. They were married in 1916.
Eisenhower said his military career during World War I was anything but exciting. He applied for overseas duty. Instead, the Army assigned him to train troops for the newly created Tank Corps.
"OF COURSE, I'd never seen a tank. By the end of the war, I'd seen two," Ike quipped.
However, the story was different in World War II, in which he became American commander in the European Theatre. Eisenhower said many people were critical of his decision not to push on to Berlin after crossing the Rhine in March 1945. Some even said the move was designed to allow Russian troops moving in on Berlin to have greater influence in the region.
However, Eisenhower said, "My guiding principle was to destroy enemy forces, not to capture political targets."
Eisenhower said that when the Germans surrendered on May 7, 1945, the war was "now in the hands of the historians and the critics, which usually are the same people."
Eisenhower said Democrats probably were disappointed at his election to the presidency in 1952. However, he said, "It's a good thing you didn't get my brother, Ed."
EISENHOWER said that while some Democrats wanted too many of the nation's problems to be handled by Washington, his brother Ed was on the other extreme of not recognizing that "some of the nation's problems are so large that they need the attention of the federal government." Eisenhower said he always tried to maintain a balance between those two extremes.
Eisenhower said another of his priorities as president was to work toward disarmament.
"The heavy cost of arms must be relieved for several reasons, not the least of which is the social use" of the dollars presently going toward arms, Ike said.
Ike said any plans for disarmament were always thwarted by the Russian leaders because of their desire for world dominance. However, Ike said he expected the eventual demise of Communism.
"THE COMMUNISTS are insistent on maintaining a closed society. But when the day comes that Communist people are as well informed as those of the free nations," the Communist system will be seriously challenged, Ike said.
Charles Krider, who attended the presentation, said Eisenhower's opinions are very interesting to hear today in light of the recent political and social reforms in Soviet countries.
"His views on Eastern Europe were exactly right. He showed great insight of long-term historical trends," said Krider, who is the director of business research for the Institute for Public Policy and Business Research at Kansas University.
W. Stitt Robinson, a KU history professor who also attended the event, said historians' view of Eisenhower's presidency is becoming more positive, and he said Pennington's performance would probably improve the view that others have of Eisenhower.
PENNINGTON said some people didn't think Ike was very competent, simply because of his public speeches, during which he often would stumble over his words. However, Pennington said, Eisenhower's public persona betrayed his eloquence with English, and new evidence shows that he was more active in policy-making than previously thought.
"What I wanted to do is to get rid of the Ike of legend," Pennington said. "The problem is he was the biggest perpetrator of the legend himself, so when you use his words, you can't do it."