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My Room Mate… Is Dwight Eisenhower…”
April 1973 | Volume 24, Issue 3
“My room mate (tent mate, rather) is Dwight Eisenhower of Abilene, Kansas.…” On JuIy 30, 1911, Paul A. Hodgson thus informed his mother of the beginning of a close friendship, about which General Eisenhower commented in December, 1942: “The four years we spent in the same room more than a quarter of a century ago are still one of my most treasured memories.”
The new cadets had been at West Point six weeks when they were thrown together more or less accidentally because each had lost his initial roommate. It was a happy accident, for they had much in common. Both were Kansans, both came from large families, and both loved sports.
After their first rigorous summer as cadets both Eisenhower and P.A. (as Hodgson was called) went out for football. Neither weighed more than 170 pounds, but that was enough for a back in those days. In addition to their love of the game they appreciated a particular advantage of making the team. Plèbes who earned a slot on the varsity could eat relaxed meals at the training table and enjoy the camaraderie of upper-class teammates rather than the normal harassment. Hodgson made the squad but wrote his family: “My roommate did not stick … he feels pretty sore.” But Ike made the team in his sophomore year and by mid-October was, according to P.A., “a promising sub.” In the game against Tufts on November 16,1912, however, Ike injured his knee. This, complicated by re-injuries, ended his football playing. But he did play enough to win his letter. “Dwight got his A last night,” Hodgson wrote, “and was nearly ‘tickled to death.’ He hasn’t received his sweater yet though, and so can’t wear it. He borrows mine occasionally so as to enjoy the sensation.”
In the last months of their plebe year both P.A. and Ike pondered their chances of becoming corporals the next year. “Dwight doesn’t think he has any chance to get a ‘corp,’” P.A. wrote, “but I think .he has. He doesn’t get quite as many demerits as I do, and he is fairly ‘military’ and thoroughly likable.” Both made the rank, and during their last year Ike became a color sergeant and P.A. a lieutenant. But each had problems holding his cadet rank. Ike lost his stripe because of his exuberant dancing at a hop, yet he did regain it before graduation. P.A. was not so fortunate. Some ten weeks prior to graduation he failed to notice the absence of two cadets when he checked rooms at taps. The Tactical Department found P.A. guilty of unintentional neglect of duty and broke him to private.
During the fall of his second year at West Point (October, 1912), Ike got into a social situation that P.A. recounted with amusement : Dwight is in an embarrassing predicament just now anent the importunities of two extremely fascinating femmes. He met them last summer and managed to make them both think he was crazy about them. Unknown to him, they were very good friends, and when they got together to count scalps at the end of the season, they both found Dwight’s clinging (as they had supposed) to their respective girdles. They then put their heads together and this week he received a pair of letters in which each volunteered to come up for the same dance. He looked wild and hunted for a day or two but he thinks he has solved the difficulty now—and though still rather pale and wan his appetite is returning.
The rigidly disciplined routine of cadet life did not permit much contemplation of affairs outside the Academy. But when his mother asked him about the coming Presidential election in 1912, P.A. gave an interesting reply…considering that his roommate would later be a Republican President : As to voting for Roosevelt, cadets are not interested. You see, we are classed with criminals, idiots, and women when it comes to voting.˗ I must take that back about the interest, though. Dwight is interested. I never knew anyone with such a strong and at the same time, causeless and unreasonable dislike for another, as he has for Roosevelt. I can put him into the most unpleasant mood by merely defending Teddy. You’d think that Teddy had done him some irreparable wrong, from the way he talks, and he hasn’t a reason in the world for his attitude. He actually offered to bet me his furlough that Roosevelt wouldn’t even be nominated.
˗See back cover of this magazine.
T. R., of course, did make the race as the Bull Moose candidate—and lost, no doubt to Ike’s great satisfaction.
As the graduation date—June 12, 1915—approached, P.A. hoped that his class standing might be high enough to gain him a commission in the Corps of Engineers. Ike knew that he was heading for the infantry. When all of the grades were in, P.A. ranked eighteenth and Ike sixty-first in the class of 164 graduates; P.A. did make the Engineers.
From 1915 until 1941 the careers of the two friends were roughly parallel, but their only opportunity to see each other was during the igso’s, when both were on duty in Washington. P.A. and Anne, whom he had married in 1925, got to know Mamie, and the two couples played bridge frequently.
Pearl Harbor brought a call from Washington for Ike to join the general staff. P.A., who was severely troubled by arthritis, received orders to active duty as the executive officer of Fort Sam Houston. He remained in this position throughout the war and carried on a sporadic correspondence with his friend.
After the North African landings in 1942 Ike—now a lieutenant general and commanding general of the Allied forces—sent from Algiers a lengthy letter about his responsibilities. He regretted that he could not talk over his problems with P.A. and wrote: I can say … that high command, particularly Allied Command, in war carries with it a lot of things that were never included in our text books, in the Leavenworth course, or even in the War College investigations. I think sometimes that I am a cross between a one-time soldier, a pseudo-statesman, a jacklegged politician and a crooked diplomat. I walk a soapy tightrope in a rain storm with a blazing furnace on one side and a pack of ravenous tigers on the other. If I get across, my greatest possible reward would be a quiet little cottage on the side of a slow-moving stream where I can sit and fish for catfish with a bobber. In spite of all this, I must admit that the whole thing is intriguing and interesting and is forever presenting new challenges that still have the power to make me come up charging.
By early September, 1943, Ike had been a four-star general for more than six months, yet he had just received a promotion in the Regular Army from lieutenant colonel to major general. Still a lieutenant colonel, P.A. took note of Ike’s new permanent rank: “Well, you’ll never again be a mere field officer… and I don’t know whether to be glad for you or sorry.… it’s going to be pretty hard on you to be prominent all the rest of your life.… Anne and I are very proud of you.” Ike responded: “Your worry about my difficulties in being ‘prominent’ the rest of my life can be dismissed at once. When this war is over I am going to find the deepest hole there is in the United States, crawl in and pull it in after me. As an alternative I am going to live on top of Pike’s Peak or some other equally inaccessible place.”
With the end of the war P. A.,then a colonel, retired and moved to Mill Valley, California, near San Francisco. Ike returned to become chief of staff. On October 30, 1946, he wrote P.A. : My life is one long succession of personnel, budgetary, and planning problems, and I am getting close to the fed up stage. While the shooting was going on I always thought that I would be able to retire the second the Japanese war was over. I was counting on Bradley serving as Chief of Staff while I could take Mamie off to some cabin in the woods and do a lot of high-powered resting. The more time goes on the more anxious I am to begin such a program.
When P.A. brought up the possibility of Ike’s running for President in 1948—“I think you’d make an excellent President, but am not sure you’d be very happy doing it” —Ike replied: “To settle one thing once and for all, as far as the one subject mentioned in your letters goes—I don’t want any part of a political position. That is completely sincere and honest and there are no mental reservations either real or implied.”
As the years passed, Ike became president of Columbia University, NATO Commander, and then President. Though more infrequently, he still corresponded with P.A., who was now crippled by arthritis. In 1955 Ike wrote him a couple of newsy letters and expressed concern upon hearing that he was in Letterman Hospital. Two months after the last letter, on October 7, 1955, P.A. died.
The President of the United States sadly wrote: “In P.A.’s passing, I have lost one of my oldest and best friends; one who always had my admiration, respect, and deep affection. I shall miss him more than I can say.”