The Great Deception (1952)
by Don Whitehead

This article, distributed by the Associated Press on December 5, 1952, recounts an unannounced visit by U.S. President-elect Dwight Eisenhower to Korea amid the Korean War. Whitehead won the 1953 Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting for this work.

3292919The Great Deception1952Don Whitehead

Two Men Step Out Into Night—One Is a General

Great Deception Guards Leader From N.Y. Home to Frozen War Zone

(This is the story of the "great deception," the way Dwight Eisenhower stole silently out of New York and made his unprecedented trip to Korea. It has just been cleared by censorship.)


WITH EISENHOWER IN KOREA, Dec. 5—(AP)—It was 5:30 a.m. (EST) on Saturday, November 29, when two men stepped quickly through the doorway of the residence at No. 60 Morningside Heights in New York City into the cold star-lit night.

Their overcoat collars were turned up as though against the chill. They strode swiftly to the limousine that had pulled up at the curb a few feet from the doorway, ducked into the car, and it drove away. The street was bare and silent once again.

One of the men was U.S. Secret Service Agent Edward Green and the other was President-elect Dwight D. Eisenhower. This was the beginning of the Eisenhower mission to Korea where he hoped—as millions of Americans did—that a way could be found to bring an honorable end to the bloody fighting which in two and a half years had claimed 126,000 American dead, wounded and missing.


As the Eisenhower car drove toward Mitchell Field, the Air Force base on Long Island, other automobiles in other parts of the city moved in a precision pattern, also converging on Mitchell Field. There two big Air Force Constellations waited in the darkness.

A few minutes before Eisenhower had left his Morningside Heights residence, Defense Secretary-designate Charles E. Wilson had strolled out of the Waldorf Hotel and entered a cab. He told the driver to drop him off at the southeast corner of 58th Street and Fifth Avenue.


This gray-haired, distinguished industrialist—president of General Motors Corporation—stepped from the designated spot, paid the driver, and then stood on the street corner for a moment.

The sounds of the city were muted at this hour. A few cruising cabs drove by and a few pedestrians walked quickly in the cold streets. A car drew up beside Wilson, the door opened, and he stepped inside. It drove off into the pattern that was forming.

From a half-dozen different points, six reporters and photographers quietly left their lodgings and converged on Pennsylvania Station, which sounds like an improbable place for secrecy in movements.

But the six were lost among the other early travelers waiting for their trains, lounging in doorways and trying to kill time.

A black limousine drove down the ramp to the unloading platform and the six newsmen strolled one by one to the car driven by Secret Service Agent Ed Sweeney. The group was joined by Eisenhower's press secretary, James Hagerty.

Sweeney moved out quickly toward the East River, across the big Triborough Bridge over the East River and out Long Island to a back road paralleling Mitchell Field. The car stopped at a gate, a light was flashed, someone said the magic word "secret service" to a major who then identified the occupants by name.

The gate opened and we followed a car that swung suddenly into the gate to guide us. Then the big Constellation loomed ahead. We stepped out into the sharp, chill wind.

"I'm sorry we don't have coffee," an Air Force general said, "but security cuts down the number of people we can use at this hour."

There were two Constellations. One for Eisenhower and his party of seven. They included Eisenhower's old friend, Gen. Omar N. Bradley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who had flown up from Washington; Maj. Gen. Wilton B. Persons (ret.), his close friend and White House assistant-to-be; Herbert Brownell of New York, who will be the attorney general in the GOP administration; Wilson; James Rowley, secret service agent in charge of the White House detail; and Lieut. John Davies, who was to act as Eisenhower's secretary.

The second plane carried the newsmen, Col. Paul T. Carroll of Woonsocket, R.I., temporarily assigned to the party, Hagerty, and Secret Service Agent Richard Flohr.

In addition both planes carried double crews of 22 men. This was a total of 39 aboard the ships.

The Eisenhower plane took off at 5:55 a.m., just as the blackness was turning to gray. The second plane followed 10 minutes later. At 10:25 a.m., and 2641 miles later the planes set down at Travis Field near San Francisco to refuel. Minutes later they were off for the long overseas flight to Hickam Field, Hawaii.

No one left the planes at Travis. The ships paused just long enough to take on the fuel and then they roared westward again.

It was just after midnight when the lights of Honolulu showed on the horizon, sparkling in the dark sea like jewels reflecting the brightness of the round moon. The planes swept out of the darkness onto the Hickam Field runway and taxied to a secluded part of the field. Again no one left the planes as crews swarmed onto the wings to fill the tanks. Minutes later we were airborne again.

Midway Island was next—1320 miles and four hours and 50 minutes later. Gulls, terns, and those ridiculous members of the albatross family known as gooney birds wheeled overhead or gathered in conclaves near the apron of the field.

The gooney birds—some with wing spreads up to nine feet—appeared to be putting on a show just for the amusement of the general and his party. They waddled toward each other, touched bills, bowed, curtsied, and then danced about in solemn and absurd tribal rites.

Our ships were travelling under false identifications and numbers but there was tight security across the whole Pacific from San Francisco to Korea to guard against any leak that Eisenhower was enroute.

It was Sunday, November 30, when we left Midway on the longest oversea hop of the trip—the 2695 miles to Iwo Jima. But a few minutes after leaving the island it was Monday. Our ships had crossed the international date line.


Our press plane was less than half way to Iwo Jima when the No. 1 engine began losing power. Major Thomas E. Dye of Somerset, Ky., was forced to feather the prop and we flew with only three engines. A fuel pump had gone bad.

Dye headed for Wake Island for emergency repairs and messaged his decision to the Eisenhower plane. "Message received" was the only reply, a curt reminder that security even prohibited any talking back and forth between the planes. But we learned later that Eisenhower and his group were concened over our safety until they learned we had limped into Wake Island safely.

It seemed to us that the whole population of Wake had turned out to see our plane land and we wondered if the news of Eisenhower's trip hadn't already swept around the world.


But Richard Fisher, U.S. commissioner on the island and Pan American Airways base manager, came aboard and assured us that the island had been "secured" and communications were being watched so that inter-island traffic would reveal nothing unusual.

With this assurance, the Secret Service and security guard permitted us to leave the plane for the first time since we had left New York.

Three hours later the faulty fuel injector had been repaired and we were roaring off Wake toward Iwo Jima.

The Eisenhower ship landed on Iwo Jima at 3:30 p.m. (local time) and we landed five hours later.

One of Eisenhower's first acts on Iwo Jima was to visit the Marine memorial on Mount Suribachi—that knob of a hill where a gallant little band of warriors in February, 1945, raised the American Flag in defiance to the Japanese making a fanatical defense of this island.


There the general stood looking out across the black beaches where 21,000 men were killed or wounded in trying to storm the stronghold. And he was told the story of Iwo Jima by Col. W. W. Buchanan of Athens, Ga., who was the assistant operations officer for the Fourth Marine Division, and by Master Sgt. Robert T. Fox of Honolulu and Long Beach, Calif., who had been with the Second Battalion of the 24th Marine Regiment on the assault.

The general turned in early—before 8 p.m.—to get a good night's rest. He hadn't been off his ship until Iwo, and most of this time he had spent in getting briefings from Gen. Omar N. Bradley and reports from the Korean war zone.

The general had just gone to bed when Capt. Wayne Melvin of Los Angeles rang his telephone—thinking it was the number for the base commander.

Telling the story later, Melvin said:

"I rang No. 10 and after while somebody answered and I asked if Major Weldon was there.

"This guy said, no, Weldon wasn't there and I asked if he knew where I could reach Weldon.

"He said: No, I'm just a visitor here. And then I knew I was talking to Eisenhower."

The island had begun to buzz with excitement the day before, when planes began landing and depositing VIPs, a staff car and six brand new refrigerators for the officers' quarters.

Second Lieut. Eugene G. Hobbie, Red Level, Ala., said he figured it had to be Eisenhower who was coming to Iwo.

"When they brought those refrigerators in from Japan and the staff car," he said, "I couldn't see them doing it for anybody but Eisenhower. So I went around making bets with the guys on who was coming in.

"Most of them figured it was a command staff meeting and I got $60 bet that it would be Ike."

Then another plane came into Iwo carrying security police, special cooks and waiters and service personnel to handle the influx of visitors.

These men had been given only an hour's notice to pack and get ready to move to an unknown destination.


Second Lieut. William H. Thompson, Chicago, said he was told to get ready for an emergency assignment. He was the food supply officer at the Air Force base at Tachikawa, Japan.

"I said I had a day off coming to me and I wasn't supposed to work that day," Thompson said with a grin. "The man said that's just too bad because you are leaving in an hour."

The Eisenhower party was billeted in spanking clean quonset huts just a few yards from the beach where the Americans stormed Iwo Jima in one of the bloodiest battles of World War II. Sentries patrolled the huts throughout the night and Secret Service agents kept watch with them.


A young officer said to me:

"They told us to give you everything you wanted—and if you people asked for the battleship Missouri, then I was to call for the island commander and he would see what he could do about that."

The first time reporters saw Eisenhower on the trip was at breakfast next day, December 2. He came into the officers' mess about 7:30 a.m. looking rested and in top condition. He grinned and waved to those in the room.

"By golly," he said, "I got into bed at 7 o'clock last night and then I woke up at 4 o'clock this morning and had a devil of a time going back to sleep."

After breakfast, the general agreed to go back Suribachi so that cameramen could get the picture they had missed the day before. He rode in a Chevrolet sedan to the foot of Suribachi and then climbed out to transfer to a jeep for the steep climb up a dusty trail cut out of the side of the hill.

Wilson, the president of General Motors, asked the driver why the change was being made from the sedan to the jeep.

"That hill's too steep for the Chevrolet to make it," the driver said.

"Are you sure?" Wilson asked.

"I'm damned sure, sir," the youth replied.

Later, the driver was told he had been talking to the next secretary of Defense and the man whose company makes Chevrolets.


"Oh, lordy," he exclaimed. "I put my foot in my mouth, didn't I?" He was assured he had—both feet.

Eisenhower's plane took off at 2 p.m. from Iwo for the 1700-mile flight to Seoul. The overnight stop at Iwo had been planned so that he would arrive in Korea after nightfall.

It was 7:57 p.m. Korea time (5:57 a.m., Tuesday in New York City) when the general's plane touched down on the icy runway near Seoul. It had spanned the 10,836 miles between New York and Korea in 47 hours and 15 minutes flying time. The temperature was 10 degrees above zero.

Armed guards and Secret Service agents waited on the field—but there was no welcoming committee. Gen. Mark Clark had remained at the Eighth Army headquarters in Seoul with Gen. James Van Fleet. The only newsmen present were those in the Eisenhower party. Their plane had landed 20 minutes ahead of the general's.


Eisenhower stepped from his plane wearing civilian clothes and only a medium-weight brown camel's hair overcoat to shield him from Korea's wintry winds, the coldest of the season.

The general quickly climbed into a waiting sedan with Bradley and Wilson. Two secret service agents—Rowley and Flohr—were in the front seat. Then the heavily-guarded caravan moved quickly across a land of frozen rice paddies into the war-battered city of Seoul.

Only President Syngman Rhee of the Republic of Korea had any notice of the general's arrival. But there was plenty of evidence the President-elect was expected. Banners and arches across the streets carried messages of welcome—and appeal.

They said "welcome President Eisenhower." Others read: "drive away the Chinese Reds" — "strengthen ROK forces" — "we oppose withdrawal of United Nation forces."


At Eighth Army headquarters, Eisenhower was warmly welcomed by Clark and Van Fleet—and the first thing he asked for was hot chocolate. He retired a short time after dinner.

The general was up early on December 3 and spent the morning being briefed on the Korean situation by Clark, Van Fleet and others.

Clark later told this reporter: "We gave him the whole story including the problems that lie ahead for us." He didn't say what the problems were.

After lunch, Eisenhower was flown in an L-19 "puddle-jumper" plane to an airfield where he visited a fighter interceptor squadron and the 67th Tactical Reconnaissance Wing headquarters.

This time he wore regular Army issue winter clothing—with no insignia. The winter clothing had been issued to the general and those in his party during the morning. He was accompanied by the entire group which had traveled with him from New York—and by his son, Major John Eisenhower, who is stationed in Korea as assistant operations officer for the Third Infantry Division.

Young Eisenhower had flown from the front early in the morning to see his famous dad and to stay with him during his Korean visit. It was the first time he had seen his father since July.

Outside the squadron headquarters, Eisenhower stopped to shake hands with Capt. Herbert Weber of Brattleboro, Vt., a jet pilot just back from a mission along the Yalu River.

"Did you get any MIGs?" Eisenhower asked.

"We saw some," Weber said, "but we didn't get into any fights."

On the apron of the field, Eisenhower stopped to chat for a moment with Lieut. Ira M. Porter of Fort Worth, Tex., a 23-year-old jet pilot with two MIGs to his credit—and a Silver Star for heroism in action.

A few minutes later, he was flying from the airfield toward the First Marine Division Headquarters on the fighting front while F-86 Sabre Jets swept the skies on the lookout for any enemy planes trying a sneak attack from the north.

The frozen land below—white with ice and snow—showed the scars of old battles.

The little planes carrying the Eisenhower party set down on an airstrip six miles from the actual battle line. But in this area a sniper had shot a Marine two nights before.

The Marine Band—waiting in eight above zero weather—played Ruffles and Flourishes for the President-elect. Just as the echoes faded into the bleak hills there was the sound of sharp explosions.

"What are they dropping in here?" Eisenhower snapped.

The officers nearby laughed and explained that a pilot had just fired four rockets into enemy positions—the sound carrying for miles in the sharp, cold mountain air.

Eisenhower was given a secret briefing of the situation along the Marine front. And then when he was ready to visit another unit his son, John, couldn't be found. He had wandered away for a moment.

When he returned, Van Fleet said: "You're the general's aide. That's your job. Stick with him." But the rebuke was given with a smile.

In mid-afternoon, the general arrived at First Corps headquarters where units of fighting men from 15 nations stood stiffly at attention in the bitter cold. Eisenhower had changed his GI hat for an overseas cap. Eisenhower "trooped the line" and then stood on a platform at the edge of the air strip while the troops marched in review with a color guard carrying the American and United Nations flags.

The Australians came first—tall men with wide-brimmed hats—and then the British, Belgians, Canadians, Colombians and Ethiopians. There were Greeks and Koreans and Dutchmen, New Zealanders, Filipinos, Thailanders, and Turks and finally units of the U.S. Army and Marines.

Loudspeakers had been set up with a microphone on the stand—and everyone expected the general to make a talk to the troops who symbolized the effort of the free world to resist aggression. But Eisenhower remained silent.

From the reviewing stand, he went to corps headquarters where he was given another briefing on the battle situation in this zone of the front. Then he flew back to Seoul for an hour-long talk with President Rhee who came to Eighth Army headquarters.

One source said Rhee had proposed a seven-point program calling, in part for a free and unified Korea; strengthening of the ROK forces and U.N. aid for reconstruction of Korea.

But there was no report that the general had made any promises on what he might do—although he has advocated building up the military strength of South Korea in order to lift some or all of the burden of fighting from American troops in Korea.


Eisenhower's second day in Korea—Thursday, December 4—was a whirlwind visit of United Nations combat units in the snow-covered valleys near the front.

I asked soldier after soldier how he felt about the President-elect's visit—and there was not one who did not say he was glad the general had made the trip and that he had hopes Eisenhower would find a way to end the war.

An Irishman in the British 1st Commonwealth Division—Sgt. Joseph Kililea of County Roscommon—felt like a great many American soldiers: "If anybody can end it, General Eisenhower can. He's the man to do it, sir."

Eisenhower traveled from unit to unit by plane—an L19—hopping over the frozen mountains from valley to valley sometimes in sight of the front where Air Force and Navy planes were hitting the enemy positions with napalm and bombs.

During the day, the general visited the commonwealth division, the ROK First Division, a surgical hospital, an ROK cavalry unit, and the U.S. Second and Third Divisions. After more than 34 hours, only a few of the front-line troops knew he was in Korea.


At the Third Division command post, Eisenhower ate lunch with members of the Fifteenth Regiment—the battalion which he commanded only 12 years ago as a lieutenant colonel. The soldiers didn't know they were to lunch with Eisenhower until they saw him climb from a jeep.

While Clark, Van Fleet and the other generals and VIP's went into a mess tent for lunch, Eisenhower sat on a pine box in the near zero weather to eat and chat with Sgt. Jack R. Hutcherson of Frankford, Mo., Cpl. James A. Murray of Muskogee, Okla., and Pfc. Casper Skudlarck of Avon, Minn.


The social atmosphere was a bit strained as newsmen and photographers crowded around them to watch every bite and to picture every move. The general—again wearing no insignia—cleaned his tray of pork chops, mashed potatoes, gravy, sauerkraut, peas and apple pie.

Later, he watched an ROK unit assault a hill in realistic training maneuvers. Wilson, Bradley, Clark, Van Fleet, Brownell and President Syngman Rhee were among the spectators.

When it was over, Rhee presented Eisenhower with a big silk Republic of Korea flag and the general said: "I assure you, Mr. President, that it will hang in a suitable place where people will see it and not forget it."


Rhee and the South Korean generals have made it clear to Eisenhower during his visit that they favor his plan to build up the strength of the South Korean Army.

Eisenhower returned to Eighth Army headquarters in mid-afternoon and one of his visitors was Maj. Gen. William Chase, who heads the U.S. military mission in Formosa. This conference was a hint that Eisenhower also was getting a fill-in on Chiang Kai-shek's National Chinese Army and its capabilities.

The general's third day in Korea was reserved for a news conference and further talks with Chase and other military men. He refused to talk politics, and concentrated on the problems of peace.

These were three fateful days for Korea—and the world.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was legally published within the United States (or the United Nations Headquarters in New York subject to Section 7 of the United States Headquarters Agreement) before 1964, and copyright was not renewed.

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