Thursday, July 8, 2010

Reading Ike

Exploring the Collections of Eisenhower National Historic Site

Today, I had the unique opportunity to tour the collections and archives of Eisenhower National Historic Site here in Gettysburg. The multitude of artifacts not only covers Ike's presidency and retirement days in the community, but also items from his military career and campaigns for the presidency. Like a guard watching over the collections, this bust of Ike by artist Felix de Weldon stands as sentinel at the archives. I would like to thank Museum Curator Mike Florer and Curatorial Intern Megan Sheesley for allowing me to visit the collections and share these photos with you all.

As you can imagine, there are tons of political memorabilia spanning from the 1950s and 1960s. In the foreground are the then-common and today highly sought after "I Like Ike" campaign pins. Dozens of others pins ranging in size, color, and slogans were present as well. One even was a Democrats for Eisenhower (who was a Republican) pin. On this piece of politicana, these Ike-loving Dems proclaimed themselves to be "Dem-Ike-Crats."

This very large map of Normandy and the entirety of 1944 France was captured from a German Headquarters in August of that year by Allied troops. On this map (which you can enlarge by clicking), you can see the Allied and Axis positions designated in blue and red ink and pencil markings. The northern portions of the map beside the peninsula indicates the Allied Beachheads assaulted on D-Day, June 6, 1944. I know, how cool?

Okay, I couldn't help it. How can you not make your general's pose when standing over this really cool piece of history?

This drawer contained a German M-38 gas mask and tin canister in which it could be stored. Many soldiers, however, would discard the mask and keep the case as a waterproof carrier for food and related essentials. The pouch in the background is an American gas mask carrier.

Miscellaneous jump gear equipment from American Airborne troops in addition to a "non-shatterable" can of oxygen for bomber pilots and airmen.

Original boots and covers worn by WWII soldiers.

Minus, the British canteen in the tan pack at center, the rest of these utensils were the common types used by American soldiers on all fronts of the Second World War. The cup at right could serve as a dual cup/kettle and had a folding handle which locked into place.

A very unique artifact - a piece of barbed wire from the German defenses on Point du Hoc from D-Day.

For those of you who haven't seen The Longest Day, this great painting by artist Larry Selman does a nice job of capturing the "uphill" battle for Point du Hoc, where Americans believed Nazi gun emplacements were located. However, this heavy artillery had been moved away from the coast to escape Allied bombings. This fact was not discovered until after the position had been captured.

An assortment of original WWII patches. The large Italy patch was worn by prisoners of war. The green diamond shaped one second from the top left is that of the 4th Infantry Division.
Amongst those in the 4th Division at Utah Beach on D-Day was my grandfather - Sergeant Thomas Nycum. He was led by Brigadier General Teddy Roosevelt, Jr. as depicted in this colorful painting by artist John Paul Strain.

This seat cushion from from Gettysburg's WWI Camp Colt, in which a young Captain Eisenhower commanded, was sent home by a soldier named Harold to his mother back home.

An American Mk 2 Hand Grenade found on the beaches of Normandy. (It's now inert.)

A more humorous artifact - a fake surrender flag gift from a "Mrs. J. Edgar Hoover" presented to Ike by some creative White House staff. You can figure out the humor in it by more closely examining it.

Eisenhower, at one point of his life, smoked several packs of cigarettes per day. But amongst the pieces of art, books, and other trinkets he was bestowed, he also received and/or bought numerous varieties of liquor and beverages. These are a few of his empty bottles, the contents of which I'm sure he enjoyed very much. If anything, I think artifacts like these help humanize our most famous leaders.

But this was perhaps the coolest: a set of Ike's general stars, both four and five stars. Also in this drawer are some single stars and patches from his uniforms. The four star pin was given to Ike's driver by the general himself.

This watch was given to Ike's driver, Sgt. Mickey McKeough, on his birthday when the Sergeant was in the hospital. Having forgot that it was indeed his aide's birthday, Ike took his own wristwatch off and gave it to the ill orderly. That's one heck of a memento.

Also in the archives is a far less cheery artifact: a 5x9 foot Nazi Flag. This banner was captured in 1944 from a Third Reich Headquarters in Europe.

And here is a portion of a panoramic photo of U.S. Soldiers posing at Devil's Den at Gettysburg National Military Park in 1918. These men were trained at nearby Camp Colt. This site, I believe, transformed Eisenhower into a true leader and commander and ultimately prepared him for the military and political achievements he would claim over the next five decades.

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