It was January 1944, and as World War II raged overseas, a caravan of curtained military cars pulled up to the K-State president’s residence.
One of those cars was carrying Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, just a fortnight after he had been named Supreme Allied Commander of the Expeditionary Forces. Upon his Christmas Eve appointment, the general had insisted on flying directly to Europe to start the job, but Gen. George C. Marshall ordered him to take leave and return to the country.
So Eisenhower flew back to Washington, D.C., to spend time with his wife, Mamie, and son, John, before embarking on a secret trip back to Kansas. As the new head of the Allies in Europe, Eisenhower and his location became a national security secret, so returning to his hometown of Abilene was out of the question, as the general’s presence in the small town would be sure to attract attention.
Instead, Eisenhower came to Manhattan, where his younger brother Milton was just starting out his job as K-State’s ninth president. Few details are known of the secret dinner that Milton and his wife hosted for the general, but for one night, Ike took a brief respite from the life and hell he had taken on.
The two brothers would become influential actors on their respective stages. Milton’s stage would be Manhattan — the Little Apple on the Prairie. Ike’s would be the world.
Seventy-five years after that first of four visits to Manhattan, the university honored the former U.S. president by dedicating the Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower Bedroom in the K-State president’s residence Thursday afternoon.
With a star-spangled rug and navy trim, the room honors Eisenhower’s legacy as a general, U.S. president and brother to K-State president Milton Eisenhower. Framed text on the walls tells the stories of each of Eisenhower’s four visits to Manhattan, and a scrapbook that includes a Manhattan Mercury clipping of the D-Day invasion chronicles Abilene’s favorite son as he works his way from general to the presidency.
The bedroom and its history are the culmination of efforts by a team of local researchers and historians, led by K-State first lady Mary Jo Myers. Myers, an Abilene native herself, said she felt a special connection with the brothers. She even saw Eisenhower as a child when she sat on her father’s shoulders and watched as he returned to Abilene.
“Somebody asked me why I decided to do this (project),” she said. “Well, it takes somebody of a certain age to do it, and also, I was born in Abilene, so I feel like I have this special connection with Eisenhower.”
Over the past few years, Myers consulted with the university’s archivists, the Eisenhower Presidential Library and relatives of the family to pull the room’s history together, and a team of university workers and local businesses coordinated to decorate the room.
Dawn Hammatt, director of the Eisenhower Presidential Library, said despite the president’s travels all around the world, Kansas always held a special place in his heart. He couldn’t return often, but when he did, Eisenhower visited his mother but also made sure to swing by and see his brother.
“Generally, when we talk about Kansas State University and the Eisenhower name, we’re generally talking about Milton,” Hammatt said. “Milton was the president, and of course those two names go together, but today, we’re going to honor his older brother.”
The Eisenhowers always deeply valued education, Hammatt said.
“All of the boys had to work to get through college, and some of them worked, so they could pay for the other boys to get through school,” Hammatt said. “Milton worked as a writer and an editor to pay his way through K-State, but Eisenhower found a work around and went to military academy.”
Even when he was off at war, Eisenhower treasured his relationship with his brother, and when he heard a recording of Milton’s inaugural address as K-State president, he wrote that he considered it a masterpiece.
“You can see Ike’s devotion to education through his work, writing and speeches, but the same holds true with Milton,” Hammatt said. “They had the same ideologies.
“It’s fitting that we honor both these men in this particular location,” Hammatt continued. “The brothers had a strong relationship full of respect and admiration, and Kansas State University and the Eisenhower Library also have that respect and admiration. Both Milton and Eisenhower knew how important education was to future generations, and I hope we can work on that together as well.”