Eisenhower's approach to leadership was shaped by his military career, much of which had been closely tied to participation in civil government and public affairs for the three decades before he became president. Born in Denison, Texas, on 14 October 1890 and raised in rural Kansas, Eisenhower attended the United States Military Academy in order to get a free education. He was more interested in athletics than studies, graduating sixty-first in a class of 164. He was awakened intellectually and became a keen student of military strategy somewhat belatedly, between 1922 and 1924, when he served in the Panama Canal Zone under the gifted and inspirational General Fox Connor.
Through Connor's intervention Eisenhower was chosen to attend the elite Command and General Staff School at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. After graduating first in a class of 275, he promptly was selected by the War Department for special opportunities. These included a stint in France writing a guidebook to World War I battlefields, attendance at the Army War College, and, in 1929, assignment as deputy to the assistant secretary of war.
In 1933 Eisenhower became the principal aide to the intensely politicized army chief of staff, General Douglas MacArthur. From 1935 to 1940 he accompanied MacArthur to the Philippines, where they advised the Philippine president and legislature on defense policy, returning to the United States the year before America entered World War II. Just a few days after Pearl Harbor, his meteoric ascent to national and international prominence began. Army Chief of Staff George C. Marshall assigned him to the planning division of the War Department in December 1941. By June 1942 he had so impressed not only Marshall but also Roosevelt and Churchill that he was dispatched to England to head American troops in Europe. In November of that year he commanded the American invasion of North Africa, and by late 1943 he had been advanced to supreme commander of Allied forces in Europe. After leading the Allied invasion of Western Europe and achieving victory in the spring of 1945, he returned home to a hero's welcome.
As supreme commander Eisenhower demonstrated a remarkable capacity both to rally the troops in his command and to bring together larger numbers of civilian and military leaders with widely diverse personalities. This made him a logical prospect for public office. By the end of the war, Gallup polls showed that voters in both parties thought he would make a good president. Immediately after the war ended, President Truman offered to support him for the presidency. In 1948 there was a move by liberal Democrats (squelched by Eisenhower) to draft him for the Democratic presidential nomination.
During the war and in his postwar service—first as chief of staff, next as president of Columbia University (but on leave much of the time to help lead the newly formed Department of Defense), and then as first military commander of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)—Eisenhower exhibited the same dualism that was to mark his approach to presidential leadership. The tasks he had to perform made it necessary for him to be closely involved in national and international political maneuvers, but he succeeded in defining them in neutral terms, stressing that all of his actions were based on his official responsibility to serve the wartime and postwar alliances he led and the American national interest. He displayed his buoyant personality in rallying the public, but his private propensity continued to be to act on the basis of cool logic and carefully calculated strategic planning. In short, he did not directly transfer his methods of military leadership to the presidency, but the former provided the template for much of the latter, and neither was politically innocent.