Behind Eisenhower with the Producers

National Archives
Eisenhower during the North Africa campaign.
What aspects of Dwight Eisenhower's life were you hoping to shed light on? 

Kelly Guernica:  A lot of people don’t know that he went through his life not knowing he was going to be anything in the military. But, he went on to lead the invasion of Normandy and basically saved the war in Europe.

Pamela Browne: Eisenhower's career really was stymied at 50. He really hadn’t accomplished anything by that point, which I think sends a good message. He had been honing his skills, and everything that he had been training for came to be called upon in one great moment in history. For me, the biggest surprise was in Operation Torch in North Africa, when many mistakes were made. A lot of guys got killed and Ike wasn’t used to seeing that many casualties. He was actually prepared to resign. He had a note that he had written that said, "I’m sorry, I’m not ready for this. I failed." One of his aides talked him out of it, thank God. But I think there are some parallels to what is going on right now.

What are some of the things that really surprised you about him as a man?

Browne: Well, he loved to play poker. He grew up very poor and supplemented his meager income at West Point by playing poker. His granddaughter Susan, who talked to us, said she had no idea how he kept his poker face since he had such translucent skin, but it was clearly something he used to relax. The other thing that surprised us was how close he was to his wife Mamie. She, despite being a rich girl — she was a debutante — absorbed and lived a new life with him. They lived on his salary, which wasn’t much. And he loved her. There were over 319 letters written from Ike to Mamie during the war. We looked at them, and we have a couple in the show.

How did you go about compiling what you needed to tell his story?

Browne: This episode holds the record for the number of tapes used. Something like 250 to produce one hour of "War Stories."

Guernica: We went down to the National Archives in Maryland where they have footage and still photos which are all public domain. They brought out tons of boxes and we spent days thumbing through photos and reels of tape.

Browne: It’s a lot of hard research. It's a lot of hands-on, up-to-your-elbows kind of stuff.

What would Ike say about how the military shaped the kind of president he would later become?

Browne: Calling him a multi-tasker is such a trendy, stupid word. He knew how to delegate. He knew how to assemble people around him and listen to their opinions. Ultimately, it would come down to him, and everything would land on his shoulders. When it came to launching Normandy, he decided on a day and then called it off because the weather was so bad. That was a real painful decision and something, a quality, that every president shares.

Guernica: At one point, he said he was strictly a military man and that he would not run for office. He said that a few times. But he finally bowed to the pressure of everyone wanting him to run because they knew how he would lead the country, and they knew that he was such a good man.

Browne: He was over in Europe with NATO at the time and there was a rally here at Madison Square Garden where 25,000 people crammed in, just begging Ike to run. He was unaware of it. One of his aides shot film of it (which we have in the episode) and later handed it to someone who flew it to Europe and played it for him. Ike was completely blown away, and he accepted the fact that people wanted him to run. It was just a crowd of people yelling “I like Ike.” Imagine 25,000 people screaming your name, asking you to run for president. I guess it would have an effect.

What do you hope people will take away from the show in terms of his legacy?

Browne: I hope that people will remember that we have been in hard places before, and we will continue to be in hard places and in countries where people don’t like us. I hope the leadership that is exhibited by a man like Dwight Eisenhower will inspire other leaders. He was clearly a man of the people. He was elected from a grassroots election process, and nothing was ever handed to him by any stretch of the imagination. Yet he, in my opinion, proved himself to be one of the greatest leaders of our century.

Pamela Browne is the senior producer of the highly acclaimed series "War Stories w/ Oliver North." Kelly Guernica is the associate producer for "The Life and Times of Dwight D. Eisenhower."