Another of America's great men is dead. Another old soldier is gone. Somehow, the death of General Dwight David Eisenhower touched a still tender part of the American heart — and perhaps it signaled the passing of more than just a man. IT WAS fully expected — for months we had known any morning's newspaper could bring the announcement of former President Eisenhower's death. Still — there was the shock and sadness.
Passing of an Era Suddenly, Americans stopped to reflect on a different time. An era of men of stature came alive again as we reminisced about the victories of a forgotten war — and thought of names like Eisenhower, MacArthur, Churchill, Roosevelt, Halsey, King, Nimitz, Patton, Clark, and dozens more.
Perhaps one reason for sad reflection was that these belonged to a time when America was experiencing the taste of victory and triumph — when a hoped-for peace in the future was still bright with promise; that crew-cut time when Americans were closer together than today — much, much, closer together. Perhaps there were other, more subtle reasons.
We sent our own correspondents to Washington to observe and photograph the various ceremonies in honor of General Eisenhower; to speak to the people of the nation's capital, and get the pulse of the events which brought many of the world's top political leaders to honor the memory of "Ike." We are publishing their brief report with this article. Read it carefully. It carries much of the irony of our times in its lines — the irony of pomp and ceremony amid fear and crime; of citizens unaware of General Eisenhower's death and irked by bothersome traffic delays, and the matter-of-fact attitude of people more curious than sad, people with very little depth of feeling for a fallen man of courage.
As I watched some of the same ceremonies over nationwide television, and saw some of the hours-long network documentaries on the life of the former president, I was struck by a number of outstanding things about "Ike" which were perhaps more the measure of the man than his many military and political victories. Like the comment by a newscaster that the body would be carried in a special train to Abilene, Kansas, over the same railway the former President and his first lady had traveled so often en route to their winter home in Palm Springs, California — Mamie didn't like to fly. So the President, the former Supreme Allied Commander, was a man who did not demand that his wife undergo something a little frightening to her, even though he had his own private airplane, "Air Force I"
Or like the General's reason for buying his Gettysburg farm. He said he had simply wanted
... But did they really care? to find some land — build it up, and leave behind him a piece of ground better than he found it.
To the sound of thundering cannon salutes, and the traditional military strains of "Hail to the Chief," the flag-draped casket of former President Dwight David Eisenhower was borne up the east steps of the Capitol building. From our press vantage point directly in front of the steps we were eyewitnesses of this dramatic event. The arrival of the casket at the Capitol Rotunda was the climax of the traditional funeral procession down Constitution Avenue.
Chilling winds, and a gray overcast sky, showering mixed rain and snow, set the mood for this sober occasion. To the American public this was an all too familiar ceremony. Fellow newsmen, cab drivers, and other citizens gave us graphic comparisons with the recent funerals of John F. Kennedy, his brother Robert F. Kennedy, and Dr. Martin Luther King. These funerals had much in common. The pomp and pageantry. The horse-drawn caissons. The pressing crowds lining the streets along the procession way.
There was one difference most people overlooked. As one Washington paper editorialized, "A Nation Numbed by Murders Finds Release in a Quiet Death." Not all people were deeply moved by the death of former President Eisenhower. Succinctly stated one reporter, "His death was no surprise." As if surprise was the major criterion for honest emotion.
During the preparation for the funeral procession we were hailed by a passing motorist and asked, "What's going on here?" She wasn't even aware that General Eisenhower's funeral was taking place! This typified today's uninvolved, head-in-the-sand attitude. It seemed some people had been so calloused by the speedy sensation of recent assassinations that they were unable to show true heart-felt emotion.
While photographing the funeral procession from the White House to Capitol Hill we noted a strange sight. Vendors selling ice cream, soft drinks and other confections. Despite the muffled reporting of the news broadcasters, the live scene was one of unemotional curiosity. Bernard D. Nossiter in the Washington Post commented, "It has been generally noted that the citizens who have filed past the casket of General Dwight David Eisenhower are mostly dry eyed, and not particularly moved; that they, are curious, respectful, but essentially uninvolved."
After 24 hours of repose in the Capitol Rotunda the casket was taken by hearse to the Washington National Cathedral for religious services. We were stationed at the north transept entrance through which the funeral party was to pass. People began to arrive early to obtain a glimpse of the heads of state and foreign dignitaries who were gathering to pay homage to the soldier president.
But out of sight and sound of the television came the cheers of onlookers as leaders and celebrities arrived. One photographer by us incredulously remarked, "Cheering at a funeral just isn't done." While the prayer was being amplified to the assembled crowd one man remarked in a quite audible voice, "Yes, Ike has gone to that great P.X. in the sky." Behind our Press section a television commentator stood in front of a live camera with bowed head while beside him the crowd shuffled, some talking and joking, almost embarrassed. They seemed divorced from the soberness of the moment. They were more interested in seeing the personalities and public figures present than in paying tribute to the dead national leader. The general underlying attitude of numerous spectators in Washington was as if they were attending a national holiday rather than a state funeral.
John Kilburn and David Conn
"Ike" Eisenhower Human and Warm His sincere comments from the American military cemetery near the Normandy beaches in France were revealing. Waving his hand toward the acres of stark white crosses, General Eisenhower talked of the irony of all those young men, cut off in their prime, assaulting the nearby beaches on the same day his own son was graduating from West Point. He went on to tell how his son had married, become the father of children ("precious to Mamie and me"), and had realized some of the fulfillments of life. He knew it could have easily been his own son lying under one of the white crosses there in Normandy — knew and sensed the grief each one of them represented for families all over the nation. Shaking his head, he expressed his heartfelt hope that mankind could learn the lessons from bitter death in war, and never again return to the battlefields that chopped young men down in their prime.
And that's what endeared "Ike" to other human beings. He was human — warm — unaffected. He was never a professional politician. He was completely believable. He may have stumbled over his words sometimes, had difficulty expressing himself — but you always had the impression he meant what he said, and said what he meant.
Perhaps that, too, is what endeared General Eisenhower to millions of Americans, and millions abroad. He was unique in the past decades — a common man in high office, a plainspoken, unaffected, simple man — even though having been a professional military officer.
The Qualities So Many Lack And it's also interesting that millions recognized these simplest of human qualities in "Ike," and honor his memory because of them. Yet, they're the qualities ALL men should possess — at the very least — directness, a certain plain-spoken sincerity, honesty of feeling and mood. The very fact millions feel General Eisenhower to have been an OUTSTANDING leader for having possessed these qualities of character is in itself an indictment against our peoples for failing to have those same qualities. There is so precious little honesty, integrity, sincerity, just homespun plainness today, that men stand in numb and silent recognition of those who have it.
General Eisenhower's desire to leave a piece of land a better place than he found it came true. But his dream of seeing the world a better place than he found it — despite having fought to make it so — was a shattered and empty thing. At the very moment "Ike" died, after his heroic and lengthy struggle against numerous heart attacks, a delicate intestinal operation and then pneumonia, one sees the white crosses again marching across the land. Thousands of other young men are being chopped down in their prime, in Vietnam. Though he fought for it in war, and struggled for it as President of the most powerful country on earth in the respite between wars — General Eisenhower never found the "peace with justice" he so earnestly sought.
It was not because he didn't desire it; not because he did not sincerely investigate every possible avenue for understanding between nations; not because he did not stand ready to concede whatever was within reason to enemies for peaceful progress toward a world of harmony. It was because for all his deep personal religious feeling, and his desire for peace — the only WAY to lasting peace with justice still eluded him.
Headlines spoke wistfully of the memories of "Ike" bringing Americans together — of a renewed dedication to the principles of peace and harmony.
But other headlines continue to give the facts of daily brutalities, war, crime, suffering and death — and a divided, seething, crime-ridden, hate-filled America.
It is empty folly to suppose Americans — many of whom were only mildly irritated that "Ike's" funeral took so long, that the flags were at half-mast so long, that their quick trip to the shopping center was interrupted by the passing procession — will discover methods of peace and harmony through General Eisenhower's death, when they could not discover those values during his life, while he was struggling to achieve them as the President.
So people paused for a few moments. Many did. Not all did. To honor a fallen soldier — to speak of all the good and endearing qualities in solemn eulogy of a man the world has called great. But a nation that was not shocked into drastic change by the sudden murder of President Eisenhower's successor in office; that was not sickened into national repentance and remorse by the shooting of Medgar Evars, Dr. Martin Luther King, and Robert Francis Kennedy, will hardly be expected to experience any lasting rededication of national purpose at the death of a tired old soldier.
America may have buried more than just a man.