Five days before Christmas Day, John Sheldon Doud Eisenhower, the second and only surviving son of President Dwight D. Eisenhower and First Lady Mamie Eisenhower died at his Maryland home. He was ninety-one years old.
John Eisenhower was one of the last First Kids who was able to live a relatively anonymous life during the time his father was President. That was likely due to the fact that by then he was an adult father of four children.
Those four children, the President’s grandchildren, garnered the lion’s share of media coverage all during the Fifties. Grandson David mimicked his famous granddad “Ike” in playing golf alongside him, and even had the presidential retreat “Camp David” named for him.
Granddaughters Anne and Susan were often photographed alongside grandmother Mamie and her Weimaraner Heidi, on the White House grounds. Youngest Mary Jean was even christened in a Blue Room ceremony.
John Eisenhower had followed his father’s path, enrolled at West Point and then saw active duty during the Korean War.
He figured unwittingly in the feud between his father and outgoing President Harry Truman, when the latter recalled John from the front to attend his father’s 1953 Inauguration – a move Ike felt was a pull of rank and show of privilege, which he abhorred.
To the President, it became vitally important that his son was never captured and potentially held as a prisoner of war by the North Koreans, a move which the father felt might jeopardize his being able to remain chief executive.
In Ike’s second term, John accepted an executive advisory position in his father’s Administration and often found himself the victim of the President’s famous red-hot temper, blamed more often than other staffers and credited less for accomplishments.
Still, loyally, he helped his father in retirement to draft his best-selling memoirs.
It was not until John authored his own history of the Mexican War, following his father’s death, that this First Son felt he had finally escaped his father’s overwhelming shadow to emerge on his own by accomplishing something, he said, his father “could not do.”
At the 2000 State Dinner hosted by the President and Mrs. Clinton in honor of the White House Bicentennial, I had a chance to speak briefly with him, recalling how he quipped it took a “very long time” before he felt he was his own person. By all accounts he found his mother Mamie to be loving but “smothering” in her fears for his well-being long decades after he’d become an adult. When I once wrote asking him for an interview about her, he politely declined, writing that he’d “rather not speak publicly about my mother.”
Despite his independent accomplishments, however, Eisenhower could never entirely escape being known as the son of one of the world’s most famous and celebrated figures: especially as he aged, John Eisenhower’s facial resemblance to Dwight D Eisenhower was strikingly uncanny.
Besides earning a well-deserved reputation as a military historian and a person who loved the craft of writing, this Presidential Child earned another footnote as the father-in-law of another Presidential Child: in 1968, his son David married Julie Nixon, the daughter of President-elect Richard Nixon.
His son’s father-in-law later named John Eisenhower to the position of Ambassador to Belgium.
It is the recently-appointed U.S. Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy who now ranks as the senior member or “dean” of the twenty-six living children of Presidents.
Her father, John F. Kennedy, served as President immediately after Dwight D. Eisenhower. The rank of “dean” of presidential children was held relatively briefly by John Eisenhower, only since the 2008 death of Margaret Truman, daughter of President Harry S. Truman.
Although Margaret Truman was born in 1924, making her younger by two calendar years than John Eisenhower, her father’s presidency had immediately preceded that of his father’s.
Although 56 year old Caroline Kennedy is the senior among presidential children in terms of historical chronology, she was only three years old at the time her father was inaugurated President in 1961.
She is not the eldest by age among the offspring of U.S. Presidents.
Among the group, she is actually preceded by seventeen others by this measure.
Born in 1944, Lynda Bird Johnson will be 70 years old in three months; she is now the eldest among the pool of living presidential children.
Michael Reagan, the adopted son of Ronald Reagan and his first wife, actress Jane Wyman, is the next eldest, born on March 18, 1945.
He is followed by Tricia Nixon, who was born eleven months later.
A bit of coincidental oddity then takes places, with four presidential children all born within a five-day range over a three-year period.
George W. Bush, the eldest son of President George Bush and, of course, himself, a President, was born on July 6, 1946.
Luci Baines Johnson was born on July 2, 1947.
The next day, Jack Carter, Jimmy Carter’s eldest child, was born, on July 3, 1947.
Julie Nixon Eisenhower was born July 5, 1948.
The next in the timeline are two presidential sons born in 1950, Mike Ford (March 14) and Chip Carter (April 12).
Two presidential sons and one daughter were born in 1952: Jack Ford (March 16), Jeff Carter (August 18) and Patti Reagan (October 21).Then come brothers Jeb and Neil Bush in 1953, and Marvin Bush and Steve Ford in 1956.
Susan Ford shares a July 6 birthdate with George W. Bush, but was born eleven years after him, in 1957.
She is four months older than Caroline Kennedy, who was born on November 27, 1957.
Following Caroline Kennedy, presidential children by birth order are Ron Reagan (May 20, 1958) and Doro Bush (August 18, 1959).
Then comes a stretch of eight years before the birth of another living presidential child (John Kennedy, Jr. born in November of 1960 died in 1999), Amy Carter whose birthdate is October 19, 1967.
After Amy Carter’a 1967 birth comes an even longer thirteen-year period during which no presidential children were born.
That stretch is broke by Chelsea Clinton’s birthdate in February of 1980, followed a year later by Barbara Bush and her sister Jenna, the twin daughters of George W. Bush.
And then comes another long stretch without any presidential children being born; it is a record-breaking seventeen years between the birth of the Bush twins in 1981 and that of incumbent First Daughter Malia Obama, who was born July 4, 1998.
Malia Obama is also one of the six living presidential children born within the five-day range from July 3 to July 6.
The youngest of the group is current First Daughter, formally named Natasha Obama but known as Sasha.
Born on June 10, 2001, she will become a teenager in six months. She is the only Presidential child born thus far in the 21st century.
Oddly, there were no Presidential Children born during the 1930s – nor were any Presidents or First Ladies.
In recalling the life and times of John Eisenhower as First Son, one is also struck by another curious fact.
Not since the end of the George Bush Administration twenty years ago has there been anything but Presidential Daughters.