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In the Kansas town that was home, the astonishing story of Eisenhower lives on

Catharine Hamm, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Travel News

ABILENE, Kan. -- They still like Ike in Abilene.

And why not? He executed the military plan that turned the tide of World War II in Europe, stopped Hitler and ultimately brought the war in that theater to an end. He did it by getting big-ego military leaders to work together by subjugating his own, by believing in his troops, by being willing to take all of the blame if it failed and none of the credit if it worked.

That he was the driving force behind the biggest invasion modern generations have known is made more stunning by knowing his hardscrabble story began not in Kansas but in Texas and ended not in Kansas but in Pennsylvania.

But Abilene is where Eisenhower's story is laid out for anyone to see and, as the 75th anniversary of D-day approaches, to remember.

Dwight David Eisenhower was born Oct. 14, 1890, in Denison, Texas, but father David and mother Ida soon moved the family to Abilene, a rowdy town once known as the end point for long-horn cattle drives. It's hard to believe now as you drive Abilene's quiet streets dotted with stately Victorian homes, but one town marshal is said to have killed 50 miscreants. His name: Wild Bill Hickok.

Abilene had calmed down considerably by the time the Eisenhowers moved here, but there was still plenty of mischief for six rascally boys who grew up on what was considered the wrong side of the tracks. (Fifth son Paul died of diphtheria at 10 months.)

 

"Bruises and emergencies were normal in a household of six boys who were convinced that they could outwit such small considerations as the law of gravity," Eisenhower wrote in "At Ease: Stories I Tell My Friends."

The family eventually settled into a permanent home in Abilene in 1898, and it is that house that visitors can walk through on a visit there.

David and Ida were religious, their leanings influenced by a Pennsylvania branch of the Mennonites, and Bible readings were a constant in daily life. So was cooking; Ida was said to have made 27 loaves of bread a week to feed her young brood and taught each of the boys to cook and sew.

Education was prized. Both parents had graduated from college (a rarity in those days, rarer still for a woman), but because they were poor, the brothers often worked to support another brother who was in college.

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