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JACKIE and IKE

  • Written by  Margaret Miller Curtis
President Eisenhower presents the Harmon International Trophy for men to Chuck, and the Women’s Harmon International Trophy to Jaqueline Cochran. President Eisenhower presents the Harmon International Trophy for men to Chuck, and the Women’s Harmon International Trophy to Jaqueline Cochran.

My Dad was a (yellow dog” Democrat. (He would vote for a yellow dog before he would vote for a Republican) but Mother believed in voting for the person, not the party. “What good is a leader if people won’t follow him?” she asked. When she said she was voting for Dwight Eisenhower, he threatened to move his bed to the next county.

Jackie Cochran, known as the best woman pilot in the world both before and after WWll, was also born and raised in Jackson County. Jackie didn’t just vote for Eisenhower, she worked to convince him to run and then helped raise money for his campaign. As early as 1946, she was among his admirers as a war hero, and told him he should run for president. She was not the only one who thought so, because both Democrats and Republicans were urging him to run. Under the guise of helping raise money for the Air Force Pilots Association, Jackie invited Eisenhower to be the speaker at a VIP fundraising banquet.

In describing the banquet, she said, “I fed and watered 350 people at that dinner at the Plaza Hotel. If you had dropped a bomb on that building, there would be little power left in the United States. Everybody who was anybody was there.’’

Dwight David Eisenhower won the presidency by a majority of 72% and Jackie won a friend for life. At his inaugural ball, she was invited to pay her respects to the new president, and Mamie Eisenhower greeted her saying, “Look what you’ve done for us, Jackie.” 

From that time on, Ike became her best friend. After he retired from the presidency, he spent a great amount of leisure time at Jackie’s ranch in the California desert. She had a guest house converted into an office, where he could write his memoirs. It was a quiet and private place, where he could play golf, relax or work as he chose. Having a former president in residence changed her life. She said,” Phone calls- did we get the phone calls for him! I had to put an extra person on the switchboard for the first two years he was out here. Walter Cronkite did his interviews with the general right in the guest house and when they aired, we had a barbeque buffet to celebrate. 

Everything at the buffet went like clockwork that night except the dead silence that fell following Eisenhower’s interview with Cronkite. Bob Hope was a guest and broke the spell by saying, ‘Well, General, you had fourteen million people in the palm of your hand for an hour and not one single laugh in the whole of it!’ Nobody but Bob Hope could say something like that and get away with it, but we broke up laughing, she said.”

Chuck Yeagar, acclaimed as the greatest test pilot of all time, was also a frequent guest at Jackie’s ranch. She knew Yeagar admired Eisenhower, who had befriended him during the time Yeagar served as a combat pilot in England. Yeagar happened to be present when she was entertaining Eisenhower and Lyndon Johnson at the same luncheon. Jackie was a Democrat when she married Floyd Odlum, who was a millionaire Republican, but Yeagar said Jackie had favorites among both Democrats and Republicans. But no matter how important they were, she was intimidated by no one. Yeagar reported that after reading something in the papers about an Air Force or space program she didn’t like, Jackie would just pick up the phone and call the White House. One time, she couldn’t get through to Johnson, but when he called back, she told her husband, Floyd, to tell LBJ she was washing her hair and to call back. Floyd wanted to strangle her but LBJ did call back.

 Yeager was also present when Jackie was serving lunch to both presidents. During the meal, Johnson said to her, “Hey, Jackie, when are you gonna show me that golf course you’re always bragging on?” She said, “Right now. Come on, we don’t need dessert, we’ve both fat enough. And she grabbed him, hustled him into her car and took off.”

This did not sit well with President Eisenhower. When they returned, he was furious with her. He told her she should know better than to drive a president anywhere. “A civilian never drives a President. What if there was an accident and you killed him!”

She just sniffed and said, “Well then, Lyndon should have said something.” 

When Air Force regulations required Yeager to return to the United States during the war, he appealed to Eisenhower for help. He knew the war was far from finished and he did not want to end up   as merely an instructor. He wanted to fight until the war was over. Eisenhower admired his patriotism and managed to get him permission to continue to serve in combat.

Yeager returned the favor by leading the fly-by at Eisenhower’s funeral.   

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