" . . . Military discussions need not, in these days, be prefaced with long and exhaustive arguments to prove a nation's need for defensive strength. World events, daily reported in our newspapers, continue to hammer home the deplorable fact that life, liberty, and property are not safe in a defenseless nation when its wealth is coveted by a more powerful neighbor."
- DDE, March 24, 1939
Dwight D. Eisenhower would serve four long years in the Philippines under General Douglas MacArthur, military advisor to the new Philippine government. Ike had not sought this duty and accepted it with some reluctance. The only thing that made it bearable was that his old and dear friend, James “Jimmy” Ord, was going along and they would work together.
On October 26, 1935, after a pleasant twenty-two-day voyage, President Harding, carrying the MacArthur entourage, docked in Manila’s harbor. General MacArthur enthusiastically assured President Manuel Quezon that an effective defense plan for the Philippine Islands would be forthcoming. The details would fall to Ike and Jimmy.
In addition to his duties as assistant military advisor to the Philippine government, Ike continued to write MacArthur’s speeches, letters, and reports. Because MacArthur thought it beneath him to meet with President Quezon on a regular basis, Ike became an important liaison to the Philippine leader. Nearly nine months after his arrival on July 1, 1936, his twentieth wedding anniversary, Major Eisenhower was automatically promoted — as was the rest of the class of 1915 — to lieutenant colonel.
With his characteristic optimism, Ike threw himself into the task of building a Philippine Army. Serious roadblocks began to surface from the very start, but Ike and Jimmy went back to the drawing board again and again. President Quezon grew to rely on Ike, setting up a private office for him next to his own in the Malacañan Palace. The two men developed a friendly relationship of mutual respect, exchanging political views and even playing bridge together.
Working for MacArthur grew complicated and more difficult. When confronted by an angry Quezon demanding answers about plans for an ostentatious military parade through Manila, MacArthur denied any knowledge of the plan, shifting the blame to Ike and Jimmy. Ike, furious at the injustice and the insult to his integrity, demanded that he be allowed to return to the United States immediately. MacArthur attempted to smooth things over with a joke, but Ike never again felt the same way about his superior officer. When Jimmy died from injuries he had received in an airplane crash shortly thereafter, Ike was devastated with grief. For the next two years, he poured his mounting frustrations over his job and his boss into his personal diary.
In late June 1938, the Eisenhowers returned to the United States for three months. It was a welcome respite for Ike. There would be some family and vacation time, but the primary purpose of the trip was to secure used military equipment for the fledgling Philippine Army. When he had no such dealing with the lower echelons of the War Department, Ike went directly to the Army Chief of Staff, convincing him that the Philippines were vital to U.S. interests. Ike returned to the Philippines with some “obsolete but useful equipment” and several new airplanes purchased at Stearman (now Beechcraft) in Wichita, Kansas.
Although his years in the Philippines were difficult and appeared pointless at the time, Ike’s experiences there further prepared him for what lay ahead. He honed his leadership skills by developing, coordinating, and executing military plans on a national scale. Working closely with President Quezon and the Philippine legislature, he refined already considerable political and diplomatic skills. As he had in France, Ike absorbed an intimate knowledge of every aspect of the geography and culture of the Philippines.
Even though he felt isolated in the Philippines, Ike followed current events through radio broadcasts, cables, and army intelligence. In his diary, he condemned Nazi aggression and Hitler’s persecution of the Jews. When Great Britain and France finally declared war on Germany on September 3, 1939, he knew that it was only a matter of time before the United States would be at war. But not even Dwight Eisenhower dreamed that war would begin in the Pacific.
Eisenhower had friends in the Jewish community in the Philippines. He was flattered, and tempted, when they offered him a job, at a salary of $60,000 a year, locating Asian countries willing to take in European Jewish refugees. After much consideration, he felt he had no choice but to decline. A war was coming, and he had been a soldier for a quarter of a century.
On May 24, 1939, Ike’s orders came through; he was going home at last! At the time, he had no way of knowing that this tour of duty that he had disliked so much had placed him in exactly the right place and at precisely the right time in history.
When Ike had left for the Philippines in the autumn of 1935, the Eisenhower family would be separated for a year. Mamie had insisted that she and John stay behind so he could finish his last year at John Quincy Adams School in Washington, D.C. When Ike greeted his family at the pier in Manila one year later, Mamie was shocked that her husband had completely shaved his head. She openly expressed her displeasure, but Ike insisted that it kept him cooler in the oppressively hot and humid climate.
Mamie had another surprise in store. For the past year, Ike had been taking flying lessons early in the morning before leaving for work. He loved flying — struggling to master snap rolls and loops. His instructor judged Ike’s flying as “fair,” explaining it was not as smooth as he would like. It was a proud moment for Ike, however, when he was awarded his pilot’s license after two and one-half years of lessons and logging 350 flight hours.
The Eisenhower apartment at the Manila Hotel was spacious with spectacular views from every window. But it was not air-conditioned, and mosquitoes, red ants, and cockroaches were constant, unwelcome visitors. Mamie hated them and everything about living in the tropics. When the six month rainy season began the first of June, Mamie rarely left their apartment until it ended.
John was enrolled at the Brent School, high in the mountains at Baguio on the island of Luzon. Classes were very small — five or six students — and John felt at home in the warm and friendly atmosphere. Because of the remoteness of Baguio, he saw his parents — especially his father — only during school vacations. When John was home, Ike got away as often as he could and took his son on short airplane trips to the various Philippine islands.
The Eisenhower were a popular couple in Manila and were invited to a steady stream of social events. Ike found them exhausting, but his position and good manners made it impossible to avoid them. Events at the Army-Navy Club only added to a busy schedule for Ike and Mamie.
The stress of his job caught up with Ike, and he was hospitalized a number of times with ileitis, a partial stoppage of the intestines. Despite his misgivings about his job — especially in the last two years — Ike still felt immense loyalty to his chosen profession. When John shared his intentions of applying for West Point, his father carefully pointed out the realities of a military career. However, working with “honorable and dedicated” men and doing the best job he could do had more than made up for the shortfalls, he explained.
As they prepared to return to the United States, both Ike and Mamie were jubilant; John was not because he liked his school so much. The Eisenhowers departed Manila in mid-December 1939. As they welcomed in the new decade in San Francisco, Ike was a 49-year-old, anonymous lieutenant colonel in the United States Army. Europe was already at war, fulfilling Fox Conner’s prediction of nearly twenty years before. What it would all mean to Ike was yet to unfold. He knew just one thing: he must be assigned to troops.
This content is from The Eisenhower Life Series: In the High Cause of Human Freedom, an educational series written by Kim Barbieri for the Eisenhower Foundation, copyright 2002. Funding was provided by the Dane G. Hansen Foundation and the State of Kansas.
For a complete timeline of Dwight D. Eisenhower's life, visit the Eisenhower Memorial Commission's Eisenhower Interactive Timeline.