Eisenhower

At the time of the fall of France in 1940, Dwight Eisenhower was a lieutenant colonel in command of a regiment. In June 1942, by now promoted to General, he was appointed commander of US forces in Great Britain. General de Gaulle met him for the first time on 22 July 1942. Eisenhower, tasked with preparing the Anglo-American landings in North Africa, had been told to keep de Gaulle and the Free French out of the picture.

De Gaulle encountered Eisenhower again as commander on chief on his arrival in Algeria in May 1943. Eisenhower was constrained in his relations with de Gaulle by the orders he had received from President Roosevelt, who was very hostile to the General, but a mutual understanding and esteem sprang up between the two soldiers, each carrying heavy political responsibilities. For de Gaulle, Eisenhower was "a man of a generous heart who felt that mysterious sympathy which, for almost two centuries, has bound his country close to mine" (War Memoirs). Eisenhower, for his part, was struck by de Gaulle's "powerful personality" alongside which "others seemed like cowards".

During the preparations for Operation Overlord, Eisenhower gave frequent proof of his personal esteem for the president of the CFLN. During a meeting with de Gaulle in December 1943, he apologised for his attitude of several months earlier. Rising to his feet, de Gaulle said to him in English, "You are a man !". In the emotion of the conversation, the General added for Eisenhower's ear, "You are to liberate France, and I thank you for it. You will have to liberate Paris. If I have one piece of advice for you, it is this : do not arrive there without French troops !" Eisenhower, clearly moved, replied, "I give you my undertaking." The General's reminder of this undertaking was instrumental in Eisenhower's decision to send the 2nd Armoured Division to Paris in August 1944, in spite of Roosevelt.

De Gaulle, on whom Churchill had now turned his back, confirmed to Eisenhower his total rejection of the AMGOT (Allied Military Government for Occupied Territories) proposal : "Fighting France cannot associate itself with any occupation of the national soil". The American understood the deep-rooted feelings which motivated the General and treated them with consideration, even occasionally running counter to his instructions from Washington as a result. Instances included the participation of French forces in the Italy campaign, the use of the 2nd Armoured Division in the Normandy landings and its deployment in the liberation of Paris and also in the defence of Strasbourg when the Germans counterattacked in the Ardennes. In such circumstances, Eisenhower was capable of making allowances for the national imperatives behind de Gaulle's position. On 28 May 1945, only a few days after the victory, General de Gaulle marked his gratitude by decorating General Eisenhower with the medal of the Croix de la Libération (Cross of the Liberation).

In the light of that history, when General de Gaulle welcomed Eisenhower to France in September 1959 as the recently-elected President of the USA, he set aside the serious differences created by the divergent interests of the two countries, especially on the issue of NATO, to show his particular regard for his guest and speak warm words of welcome. De Gaulle never failed in later days to keep his US counterpart fully informed of France's plans regarding the Algerian situation, and its intention to develop nuclear weapons.

The relationship between the two men never lost the warm tones of an exchange between two old companions in arms. During de Gaulle's visit to the USA in April 1960, Eisenhower invited him to his Gettysburg farm. In the course of the evening, Eisenhower thanked de Gaulle for having helped him to avoid a defeat by convincing him not to evacuate Alsace during the winter of 1944-1945. "You asked me not to take that decision. A few months later, the Allies would have arrived at Yalta with a defeat behind them… Thank you once again, General !"

The close links between the two men were expressed in a letter from Eisenhower to de Gaulle, dated May 1960, after the failure of the Paris Summit engineered by Khrushchev. "I take away with me from Paris the warmth and strength of your friendship, which I appreciate now more than ever… and I have for you yourself a respect and an admiration that I feel for few other men." De Gaulle made a point of attending the funeral of President Eisenhower on 30 March 1969, only a few days prior to his departure from the Elysée Palace.