General Fox Conner
6-B—THE GASTONIA GAZETTE, Wed., Apr. 2, 1969 Fox Conner-The Man in Ike's Life By TUB ASSOCIATED PRKSS The decisive influence in Jlwight n. Eisenhower's life as a professional soldier is a man whose name is little known today, Gen, Fox Conner. "He was my teacher," Eisenhower often said. In fact, Conner was his commanding officer in the lS2Q's. In calling him "my teacher," Eisenhower meant that Conner broadened his understanding or the relation between war anil geopolitics, revived an interest in military history that hart been stifled in West Point, and introduced him to what Eiscn- lirwer called "the gre.it world of writing and thinking." To the end of his days. liisen- hnwer revered (ion. Conner. Their relationship constitutes one of the warmest and most touching chapters in Eisenhower's story. They met in laji at Camp Meade, Md. Eisenhower, then a major, was enrolled in (he Infantry Tank School there. (Ho graduated with an "A.") One day, ha was introduced to a tall, slim Mississiiiplan, Conner. Eisenhower noted on the. general's Iwnic (lie Purple Heart, symbol of a comhat wound, and the Distinguished Service Medal. They had a hrief discussion about tanks and tactics. That was all. Even so, something ahout Eisenhower evidently impressed Conner. When he became commander ot the 2l)ih Infantry Brigade at Camp Gailiard in the Panama Canal Hone, he asked the War Department lo assign Eisenhower to his staff as his senior aide. KisenhoKcr and Mamie sailed for the Canal Zone Jan. 7, 1911. Conner frequently invited Ei- souhouer lo his quarters and Kiscuhower was immediately struck by the general's library. Naturally, it was weighted on the side of military subjects. However, he noted thai the. shelves were filled with everything from Shakespeare and Plato to the latest fiction, as well. Eisenhower had an inherent laste (or history, but the method of teaching in West Point had all but extinguished it. The cadets were required to learn by rote, the names of every general officer in the Battle of Gettysburg, for example, and where each was operating at a given hour, etc. Memorizing military history bored Eisenhower. Conner discovered tins. He began Eisenhower's re-education by encouraging him to read Shakespeare's accounts of battles and his portraits of soldiers. Next came Clausewitz. Eisen- howt % r read his "On War" three times along with the works of Jonrini and fioper. Then he had, at Conner's suggestion, a thorough bath of the Civil War, Grant's memoirs. Slecle's "Campaigns," the accnuijls by Kremautlo and Ilaskelt of the Battle of Gettysburg. Apart from mililary history, Conner nudged him into reading Plato and Tacitus whom he made "palatable and interesting (o mo -n very large achievement considering my previous altitude . toward such men and their works." Conner never quizzed Eisenhower about a book in the manner of a teacher and student. Ha would introduce it into a conversation so casually that it was more like a "bull session, 11 Eisenhower recalled. These talks took place especially when they were in the field, reconnoitering the terrain in the Canal Zone. Years later, Eisenhower would recall with the keenest pleasure sitting around a camp fire at night discussing with Conner the Battle of Gettysburg and the campaigns of the Civil War. In his quarters, he fitted up what he called a "work room" in which he spread but large maps. Then along with a book, he would trace the development of a particular campaign. In this way, he once told me, ho studied In minute detail Napoleon's operations at Austcrlitz and Marengo and the emperor's last campaign in Italy. 1! was a thrilling period for Eisenhower. Conner deftly look him along paths thnt led to nn- dreamed-ot vislas of Ihought. One day, Eisenhower's boyhood friend, "Swede" Hazlelt, appeared at Camp Gailiard. Hazlett, a graduate of the Naval Academy, was (hen commander of a submarine. He brought his ship into Panama for repairs. lie found a much difterenl man from Ihe one he had known in Abilene when they crammed lo(Tether for the examinatian for Annapo'Js and Wesl Point. "What interested me most was his work," llazlett wrole. He ... had been largely responsible (or drawing up war plans far the defense ot the area, Ho explained them to me with the enthusiasm uf a genius." Eisenhower showed Hazlelt his "work room" and Hazlelt commented: "This was particular unusual at a torrid, isolated post, where most officers spent then off hours in trying lo keep cool and amused," Gone forever was the carefree cadet who had sludkd from necessity at (ho Academy, jus, enough and no more. Conner's greatest gift lo his protege was still to come. The general, with remarkable prescience, foresaw a second world war. The potentialities for another great conflict, built into tlie Treaty of Versailles, were bound to explode, he sairl. When? In 15 years, Conner said, 20 at the most. He urged Eisenhower to prepare himself for thai day.