John S.D. Eisenhower, a soldier, diplomat and acclaimed historian who was the only surviving son of President Dwight D. Eisenhower, died Dec. 21 at his home in Trappe, on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. He was 91.
His daughter Susan Eisenhower confirmed the death, but no cause was immediately known.
A graduate of West Point like his father and the holder of the rank of brigadier general, John Eisenhower was ambassador to Belgium and was a prolific author of history and biography books.
He published books on World War II, World War I, the Civil War and the Mexican War.
Praise came his way early for “The Bitter Woods,” which focused on World War II’s Battle of the Bulge.
He had just completed a book on William T. Sherman, a Union general in the Civil War.
He had “an extraordinary writing career,” his daughter said.
The material upon which he drew included his personal glimpses over the years of many of those who shaped the world in the past half-century. One of his subjects was his father. It was called “General Ike: A Personal Reminiscence.”
“I thought they had an extraordinary relationship,” Susan Eisenhower said Saturday of her father and grandfather, noting that John Eisenhower was with the president “at some of the most important moments” of her grandfather’s career.
A discussion in American History magazine of John Eisenhower’s biographical memoir of his father called it a “highly readable account of his father’s rise to commander and then to statesman that never fails to fascinate.”
It offers close and personal glimpses of the relationship between his father and such major figures of world history as Winston Churchill and Charles de Gaulle.
As a historian, John Eisenhower immersed himself in the politics and culture of the periods of which he wrote. But he provided a personal touch that humanized the dry tale told by the records.
“He used to say, ‘I’m a storyteller,’ ” his daughter recalled.
John Sheldon Doud Eisenhower was born Aug. 3, 1922 in Denver, where his mother, Mamie Eisenhower, lived. A son born to his parents in 1917 had died three years later.
A soldier’s son, John Eisenhower had a peripatetic childhood that took him to Panama, Fort Leavenworth, Kan., and Fort Benning, Ga. Upon his graduation from the District’s Adams Elementary School, he and his mother joined his father in the Philippine Islands.
A member of an accelerated wartime program at West Point, he graduated on June 6, 1944 — by coincidence, the date of the allied invasion of Normandy presided over by his father. Part of the new lieutenant’s graduation leave was spent in Europe as an aide to his father.
The next month, he went to infantry school at Fort Benning and in October was assigned to the 71st Infantry Division, which was later sent to Europe.
After service in postwar Europe, he was assigned to teach English at West Point and received a masters degree from Columbia University.
As a major, he saw combat with the Third Infantry Division during the Korean conflict in 1952 and 1953. He received the Combat Infantryman’s Badge and the Bronze Star.
He and his father had agreed that he should not leave his troops to attend his father’s inauguration, but President Harry S. Truman ordered him home for it. Afterward, he returned to Korea.
After holding a variety of Army posts, John Eisenhower went to the White House as assistant to one of his father’s top aides, Gen. Andrew J. Goodpaster.
After his father’s term ended, he took leave from the Army to help his father write three books. He left Army active duty in 1963.
His father, he said, had “done so well in the military” that he thought it best to “try another profession.”
John Eisenhower transferred to the Army Reserve, and ultimately was elevated to the rank of brigadier general.
After work as a book editor and foundation executive, he began in 1965 to research “The Bitter Woods,” which appeared in 1969. Its success, he told a reporter, reinforced his decision to become a historian.
His efforts to become known as more than his father’s son were sometimes termed a struggle, but reviewers of his books accepted him as a skilled historian with a reputation all his own.
During the 2008 presidential campaign, he wrote an opinion article in the New York Times saying that the child of a serving president should not serve in combat.
He and his father had agreed that he could serve, he said, but could not be taken prisoner lest it tie the president’s hands.
“I would take my life before being captured,” he wrote. But even that severe stricture, he later concluded, placed his personal interests over the nation’s.
His first marriage to Barbara Jean Thompson ended in divorce. Survivors include his second wife, Joanne; and four children from his first marriage, David, Anne, Susan and Mary.