John S.D. Eisenhower, son of President Dwight D. Eisenhower, offered a life lesson about how the offspring of great and powerful parents should live.
The younger Eisenhower, who died in Maryland on Saturday at 91, was an Army general, ambassador to Belgium, and a historian and writer. In the Kim Kardashian-Paris Hilton-Billy Carter world, Eisenhower could have been become a sad footnote like so many other relatives of the powerful. He chose dignity and service instead.
On the day his father, the supreme Allied commander, led the Allied forces landing at Normandy on D-Day on June 6, 1944, John Eisenhower graduated from West Point. He served in World War II and Korea, and was a national security adviser in his father’s presidential administration.
Two months after his father’s death, President Richard M. Nixon appointed him ambassador to Belgium. Laboring in his father’s shadow, he published his first book in 1969, a history of the Battle of the Bulge, to wide acclaim. It was at that moment that the son broke free from the father.
“God, it feels great,” he said, as retold in The New York Times obituary.
He wrote about the burdens and advantages of being the son of a great man. But one particularly chilling anecdote involved his insistence that his father allow him to serve in combat during the Korean War. Dwight Eishenhower, not yet president but the 1952 GOP nominee, told his son he was welcome to do so under one condition: that he not allow himself to be captured. The implication was clear. John Eisenhower agreed, knowing his father could be blackmailed if he fell into enemy hands.
John Eisenhower didn’t squander his name. He honored his father’s legacy and crafted a life on his own terms, one to be equally admired.