At Ease: Stories I Tell to Friends by Dwight D. Eisenhower

Chapter XI from Dwight D. Eisenhower's book "At Ease: Stories I Tell to Friends" titled "Through Darkest America with Truck and Tank" provides a vivid and personal narrative of Eisenhower's experiences during the cross-country military convoy in the years following World War I.

This journey was a significant event in his early military career and impacted his views on infrastructure and military preparedness.

A Young Army Officer

Eisenhower, a young army officer at the time, details the challenges and mishaps of the transcontinental convoy tasked with testing military vehicles and the state of American roadways. The convoy, which included a variety of army vehicles, encountered numerous difficulties, such as mechanical failures, poor road conditions, and logistical challenges. These experiences highlighted the inadequacies of the nation's infrastructure at the time.

When we finally secured the necessary congressional approval, we started the 41,000 miles of super highways that are already proving their worth. This was one of the things that I felt deeply about, and I made a personal and absolute decision to see that the nation would benefit by it.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower

Throughout the journey, Eisenhower and his colleagues faced and overcame various obstacles, from vehicular breakdowns to difficult terrain. The narrative in the book is interspersed with personal reflections and anecdotes, providing insights into Eisenhower's character, leadership qualities, and sense of humor. He describes the interactions with local communities, the camaraderie among the officers, and the practical lessons learned during the expedition.

The Importance of the Book

"At Ease: Stories I Tell To Friends" is invaluable to the "After Ike" documentary for several reasons:

  1. 1
    Personal Insight: It offers a first-hand account of Eisenhower's early military experiences, shedding light on his leadership development and his perspectives on national issues like infrastructure.
  2. 2
    Historical Context: The chapter provides historical context to Eisenhower's later initiatives as President, particularly the creation of the Interstate Highway System. His experiences during the convoy influenced his understanding of the importance of a robust national highway network.
  3. 3
    Character Development: The anecdotes and stories told by Eisenhower reveal aspects of his personality, leadership style, and problem-solving approach, which are crucial for understanding his decisions and actions as a President.
  4. 4
    Thematic Relevance: The themes of innovation, adaptation to challenges, and the importance of infrastructure development are directly relevant to the topics explored in the documentary.
  5. 5
    Narrative Enhancement: Eisenhower's storytelling enhances the documentary narrative, offering engaging and humanizing elements to the historical analysis.

"At Ease: Stories I Tell To Friends" serves as a crucial source for the documentary, providing historical context and personal depth to the portrayal of Eisenhower's leadership and his impact on modern America.

What Ike Wrote

All drivers had claimed lengthy experience in driving trucks. Some of them, it turned out, had never handled anything more advanced than a Model T.

Most colored the air with expressions in starting and stopping that indicated a longer association with teams of horses than with internal combustion engines. It took a week or ten days to achieve any kind of march discipline.

The train also included a number of young officers from the big cities of the east who were innocent of knowledge of the west.

Their only impressions of that section of our country having been gained from highly colored books and stories. Before long, these men were identified, and their inexperience offered a chance for escape from boredom.

We were kept busy taking care of breakdowns and to improve our march discipline, but it wasn't all work and it wasn't all discipline.

Once we got into a reasonably dependable pattern, so to speak, for machines and men alike, there were effervescent spirits to take advantage of every lull.

In some places, the heavy trucks broke through the surface of the road, and we had to tow them out one by one with the Caterpillar tractor.

Some days when we had counted on 60 or 70 or 100 miles, we would do three or four. Maintenance crews were constantly on the job to keep the vehicles running.

Roads varied from average to non-existent. Even in the earliest days of the trip, where the roads were usually paved sometimes with concrete, we were well supplied with trouble.

We reached San Francisco at long last, although even in California, where the highways were the best we had encountered, we averaged less than 10 miles an hour.

Lieutenant Jackson continued to make his reports faithfully. On September 5th, the next to last day, he wrote, "But that was the last of our troubles, except for final speeches."

One byproduct of this trip, whose usefulness was entirely unpredictable in 1919, was the nodding acquaintance that I acquired with the face and character of many towns and cities across the east-west axis of the country.

Our snail's pace enabled me to observe anything different or unusual. Much that I learned was quickly forgotten. But enough stayed with me so that decades later it had its uses.

Transcontinental Motor Convoy Report by Col. William T. Carpenter – 1920
Divided Paths: Urban Renewal and the Legacy of the Interstates
The Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956, commonly known as the National Interstate and Defense Highways Act
Image Gallery – After Ike Documentary
Aerial Image Gallery – After Ike Documentary
Firestone Film – 1919
Contributors to After Ike