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Dwight D. Eisenhower

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Presidential letter by Eisenhower during his recuperation from abdominal surgery

to the Ward Master at Walter Reed General Hospital, where Eisenhower was treated:

 “I am afraid my presence . . . created a lot of confusion and extra work for you.”

Dwight David Eisenhower, 18901969.  General of the Army; Supreme Commander, Allied Expeditionary Force, World War II; 34th President of the United States, 19531961.  Typed letter signed, Dwight D. Eisenhower, one page, 7⅛” x 10⅜”, on Eisenhower’s personal gold-engraved “DDE” The White House stationery, Gettysburg, [Pennsylvania], July 14, 1956.

This letter shows Eisenhower’s acknowledgement that it causes commotion anytime the President of the United States leaves the White House.  The President sends a friendly letter of thanks to Walter Reed General Hospital Sergeant First Class Thomas J. Lyons, the Ward Master on Ward 8, where Eisenhower was hospitalized for more than three weeks after urgent abdominal surgery at Walter Reed in June 1956.  He writes, in full:  “I am afraid my presence recently on Ward 8 created a lot of confusion and extra work for you.  This note is to thank you for taking it all in your stride, and to express the appreciation of Mrs. Eisenhower and myself for the many courtesies you extended to us.  /  With best wishes . . . .”

Eisenhower wrote this letter at the end of his recuperation at his farm at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, following his 22-day stay at Walter Reed.  He returned to the White House the next day.

Shortly after midnight on June 8, 1956, the President had severe pain in his lower abdomen.  Initial treatment by his personal physician did not help him, so the Walter Reed Chief of Medicine was summoned as a consultant.  Once it was safe to move him, Eisenhower was taken by ambulance to Walter Reed.  Four surgical consultants determined that he had a small bowel obstruction that required surgery.  The doctors unanimously decided to perform the surgery while Eisenhower was still in good enough condition rather than wait until his condition deteriorated to the point that they would be forced to do it.  The President’s reply was simple: “Well, let’s go.”  The 65-year-old Eisenhower came through the nearly two-hour surgery without incident. 

Given Eisenhower’s popularity, the Democrats did not make his his health as big an issue as they could have, particularly since this surgery followed a heart attack nine months before that left him hospitalized for some seven weeks.  But, pointing to Vice President Richard Nixon, they raised the issue indirectly:  Democratic nominee Adlai Stevenson warned that Americans had “the solemn obligation to consider with utmost care who will be their president if the elected president is prevented by a higher will from serving his full term.”  Still, Eisenhower easily won reelection, beating Stevenson by a bigger margin in 1956 than he had in 1952.

We are separately offering a formal presidential portrait that Eisenhower inscribed and signed to Lyons.  Click here to see that listing, which also contains more information about Eisenhower’s hospitalization and treatment.  A full account of Eisenhower’s illness, surgery, and recovery appears in Lt. Gen. Leonard D. Heaton, et al., President Eisenhower’s Operation for Regional Enteritis: A Footnote to History, 159 Annals of Surgery 661 (1964).

This letter is in very fine condition.  Eisenhower has signed in black fountain pen.  The letter has two normal horizontal mailing folds and a small stain on the back does not bleed through.

The tenor of this letter is outstanding—the Commander-in-Chief, a former five-star general, thanking a man very much his subordinate for his “many courtesies.”  For as stark a military bearing as Eisenhower typically had, this letter shows his more personable side.  Relating, too, as it does, to Eisenhower’s serious illness and hospitalization in 1956, it would be a nice addition to any Eisenhower or presidential collection.


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