Since I’m a child of the 1950s, the first U.S. President I recall being in office was Dwight D. Eisenhower. Even in elementary school, I knew that during World War II, “Ike” had been a commanding general in Europe. I also knew that he seemed to have a lot of health problems while in the White House and after he left office in 1961. He died on March 28, 1969.
While most people associate Eisenhower with his family farm in Pennsylvania, the 34th President was actually born in Texas in 1890, according to whitehouse.gov. The third of seven boys, he grew up in Abilene, Kansas and secured an appointment to West Point. While serving as a second lieutenant in Texas, he met his future wife, Mamie, and married her in 1916.
Eisenhower had an unusually successful military career as a staff officer, culminating in his assignment as Supreme Commander of the troops that invaded France on D-Day in 1944. A lesser-known piece of career information is his stint as President of Columbia University after the war.
The former Army officer decided to run for President on the Republican ticket in 1952. After a campaign remembered for the slogan “I like Ike,” he won easily. The death of Stalin in 1953 brought challenges to his Presidency as far as relations with Russia.
Most Americans old enough to remember the Eisenhower years recall that the former President suffered from a number of heart problems. While in Denver in 1955, he suffered a heart attack, but recovered in time to be re-elected in 1956. During this period, the desegregation of American schools began, and he ordered desegregation of the Armed Forces. His Presidency is also associated with the U-2 spy plane incident.
When Eisenhower left office, he and his wife headed for their family farm near the Civil War battlefield in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Heart problems continued to plague him, and he died of congestive heart failure at Walter Reed Army Hospital.
The Crohn’s Connection
A majority of American voters were well aware of Eisenhower’s heart problems during and after his Presidency. However, fewer knew that he was diagnosed as suffering from Crohn’s disease in 1956 and underwent surgery for the incurable digestive condition only six months before his bid for re-election, Health.com reports.
After my own Crohn’s diagnosis in the 1970s, Eisenhower was the first public figure I read about who had suffered from the illness. It continued to plague him in retirement. I developed an admiration for a man who attempted to follow such a full schedule amidst weighty health problems and a concerned public. Each year, I remember him and his health struggles on March 28.