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Former President Eisenhower Celebrates His 78th Birthday

In 1968, Dwight Eisenhower sent a letter to students at Eisenhower College expressing his surprise that he had reached the age of 78. He wrote: "Despite the formidable number of years I have been marking October 14 as an annual milestone, each birthday has at least one new and fresh element in the letters and messages I receive. This year it was the greetings from you, the charter class of Eisenhower College.

"I must say that when I was your age the thought that I might reach the venerable age of 78, if it entered my mind, was instantly written off as improbable; and in my most fantastic imaginings I am sure I never entertained for a moment so absurd a notion as a college named after me."

But Eisenhower wasn't the only person to be surprised at his reaching the age of 78. On September 24, 1955, during his first term of office in the White House, Eisenhower suffered a heart attack while vacationing in Denver, Colorado. Although he recovered fairly quickly, many questioned his physical ability to withstand another term in office. A sudden attack of ileitis (a disorder of the small intestine) on June 9, 1956, furthered that questioning, but Eisenhower not only ran again he was elected again. When, on November 25, 1957, the President suffered a mild stroke, those who had questioned his running for a second term were once again convinced that Eisenhower would not survive another four years in the White House.

Eisenhower did indeed survive his tenure as President, and when he left office he became the oldest man to have been President (a mark since surpassed by Ronald Reagan). Unfortunately, the health problems he suffered while President continued after he left office.

The former President's health gradually declined after he suffered two mild heart attacks in late 1965. In April 1968, after another mild heart attack, he entered Walter Reed General Hospital in Washington, D.C. He suffered three more heart attacks in the hospital. The prospects of Eisenhower celebrating his 78th birthday looked, for a time, grim.

But, on October 14, 1968, Eisenhower was serenaded by an Army band and chorus and cheered by 200 spectators who had come to the hospital to wish him a happy birthday. In his first "public appearance" in nearly six months, the former President sat before an open window of his third floor room and waved to the cheering crowd on the lawn below. He looked fit and alert throughout the 15-minute ceremony, during which his wife Mamie stood beside him.

Eisenhower waves to well-wishers from his hospital room
former President Eisenhower waves to well-wishers from his hospital room

It was one of the few times in his life that Eisenhower was taken by surprise. The ceremony outside the hospital was quietly planned as an off-stage extension of a private birthday party in which only his immediate family, the hospital staff, and a couple of added staffers took part. It began when nurses and attendants assigned to his suite brought in a birthday cake complete with candles. At a signal from Major General Philip W. Mallory, commanding officer of the medical center, one of the nurses raised the bedroom window. There was a fanfare of trumpets outside and the band and chorus let go with "Happy birthday, General Eisenhower, happy birthday to you."

Sadly, this "spontaneous" outpouring of celebration for Eisenhower's 78th birthday would not be repeated for his 79th. In February, 1969, he underwent intestinal surgery and then developed pneumonia. On March 28, 1969, he died of heart failure.

See Also

Ronald Reagan

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The Robinson Library >> Dwight David Eisenhower

This page was last updated on December 10, 2018.