Fox Conner and Dwight Eisenhower: Mentoring and Application

Article excerpt

Four years after giving his go-order for the Allied invasion of the Normandy coast, General of the Army Dwight D. Eisenhower addressed the Army War College. He said his thinking about coalition warfare had been molded by the ablest man he had ever known, Major General Fox Conner. In a polite understatement, he gave Conner credit for offering "a preparation that was unusual in the Army at that time." (1) Indeed, the 33 months Eisenhower spent in Panama with Conner had jump-started his personal and professional life and set him on course to international prominence.

Conner received his commission in the artillery, although he preferred the cavalry. Within 10 years he was on the staff and faculty of the Army War College. Following America's entry into World War I, Conner was recommended for detail to the European Front. On 19 April 1917 he was ordered to host and consult with the Viviani-Joffre Mission, a French delegation sent to discuss with U.S. President Woodrow Wilson how the United States could best help France. Conner worked closely with officers from the French general staff discussing details of organization, artillery requirements, internal affairs, and the immediate needs of the French and British.

Conner was the youngest officer on the senior staff when Chief of Staff of the Army General John J. Pershing chose him to become General Andre W. Brewster's assistant. Within 6 months Conner was named the chief of operations of the American Expeditionary Force (AEF). By 1921, Conner was a 47-year-old brigadier general preparing for his first command of an infantry brigade.

Conner Chooses an Executive Officer

The story of the Conner-Eisenhower adventure began in the fall of 1919, when Conner became immersed in the congressional budget hearings that were to determine the Army's post-World War I reorganization. He was about to command an infantry brigade and was looking for a top executive officer. Because he had been tied to high-level staff work for the past several years, he felt out of touch with the Army's young officers. He turned to General George S. Patton, Jr., with whom he had enjoyed a close personal and professional relationship, for help with the matter and to talk to Patton about the armored tank's place in the Army's battle formations. Conner planned a fact-finding mission to Camp Meade, Maryland, for November 1919, where Patton commanded the light tanks of the 304th Brigade. Patton had arrived at Camp Meade in the spring of 1919, about the same time as Eisenhower, and Patton promised to introduce the two men.

During the war, Eisenhower had trained men for overseas duty. For 9 grueling weeks, he accompanied an experimental motorized convoy of more than 60 motor vehicles from Washington, D.C., to San Francisco. Few men in the Army knew more about motorized weapons and transport than Eisenhower.

Eisenhower stressed that the tank would be a profitable adjunct to the infantry. (2) In November 1920, Eisenhower published his ideas about tanks in the Infantry Journal. (3) However, the Chief of Infantry, Major General Charles S. Farnsworth, was not pleased with Eisenhower's article and informed Eisenhower that his facts were incorrect and dangerous to the service. Farnsworth told Eisenhower to keep his opinions to himself or face a court martial. (4)

Eisenhower was caught between the wartime Army and the changing peacetime Army. To complicate matters, there was a simmering conflict between AEF commanders and the officers who had remained stateside. This split affected Eisenhower's promotion possibilities, and he believed that his wartime service was being demeaned.

At Camp Colt, Eisenhower's commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Ira C. Wellborn, recommended Eisenhower for the Distinguished Service Medal. (5) AEF Tank Corps Chief Brigadier General Samuel D. Rockenbach rated Eisenhower's performance as average, however, and the War Department rejected the recommendation. …