7/31/12 - the death of a child

In today's excerpt - it has sometimes been said that if you think someone you know has not faced adversity, you simply do not know them well enough. And so it was that in 1921, thirty-year-old Dwight Eisenhower and his twenty-four-year-old wife Mamie lost their three-year-old first-born child:

"Fifteen months after Ike and Mamie were married, they were parents. Doud Dwight Eisenhower was born on September 24, 1917, his father a newly promoted captain. His parents called him Ikey at first, then Icky. He was a healthy boy, spirited and bright, openly adored by his father. When Ike and Mamie were transferred to Fort Meade, soldiers there nicknamed him 'Mascot of the Corps.' He loved to march about in his miniature Army uniform and was delighted by football and tanks, parades and pag­eantry. Ike's reserve melted in the presence of his son. 'I was inclined to display Icky and his talents at the slightest excuse, or without one, for that matter,' Eisenhower wrote many years later. 'In his company, I'm sure I strutted a bit and Mamie was thoroughly happy that. . . her two men were with her.'

"As Christmas of 1920 approached, Ike splurged on his son. The house was decorated. A red tricycle shimmered beneath the tree. A few days before the holiday, Mamie went into town to do some shopping and returned to find that Icky was not feeling well. The base doctor looked at him but thought little of it, suggesting that perhaps he'd eaten something that did not agree with him. Then Icky began to run a fever, and the following morning the doctor advised that he be admitted to the hospital. As he was carried out of the house, Icky pointed at the tricycle and smiled.

"His condition worsened, and it took a civilian doctor to realize that he had scarlet fever. Icky was quarantined. Ike took up a spot on the other side of the glass, talking to his son, comforting him but unable to hold or touch him. Scarlet fever turned to meningitis. Late one night, while Mamie teetered on the edge of pneumonia, Ike was allowed past the glass to hold his boy one more time. Icky died in his father's embrace. Ike never quite recovered. He and Mamie had difficulty sleeping, and Ike withdrew into his grief. On January 2 every year thereafter, he sent Mamie yellow roses. Icky loved yellow.

"Nearly half a century later, as he reflected on a career filled with accom­plishment and the crushingly serious duty of sending soldiers to their deaths, Ike described the loss of his son as 'the greatest disappointment and disaster in my life.' Even at the vantage of so many years and such ranging experience, he added: 'Today when I think of it, even now as I write it, the keenness of our loss comes back to me as fresh and terrible as it was in that long dark day soon after Christmas, 1920.'

"Icky's death was the most tragic moment in Ike and Mamie's long mar­riage; it changed them both and for a time introduced a reserve between them."


Jim Newton


Eisenhower: The White House Years


Doubleday a division of Random House


Copyright 2011 by Jim Newton


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