On 3rd July 1942, Major General Dwight D. Eisenhower concluded his first visit to Northern Ireland. He would return to Ulster again in May 1944 and August 1945 before the Second World War came to an end. During this short visit to Northern Ireland, he inspected elements of the United States Army. The first GIs arrived less than six months earlier when General Russell P. Hartle's 34th (Red Bull) Infantry Division landed in Belfast.
The Major General, known as Ike, attended a conference along with Hartle and General Bonesteel. General Clark, General Lee, and General Spatz were also in attendance. Little else is known of this visit to Ulster. However, Eisenhower was impressed with how the Americans were training and conducting themselves.
Eisenhower would go on to become something of a legendary military commander during the Second World War. Of course, he would one day be President of the United States of America. However, in July 1942, he was as yet an unknown quantity to the people of Ulster. The Belfast News-Letter printed a short biography:
Once he was a star of American football. A knee injury ended his career on the sports field. In the last war, he served with tanks and became one of the American Army’s youngest colonels. According to Stars and Stripes, the paper published for the U.S. armed forces in the British Isles, he is noted for his informality, lack of austerity, and pleasant manner – a leader rather than a driver of men.
“He will so into a junior officer’s office”, it says, “cock his feet upon the desk, converse amiably about everything and nothing for a half-hour or so, and then depart as suddenly as he arrived.” He will, however, have gained an idea of the officer’s capabilities.
And, much like the brief meeting with a junior officer, Eisenhower departed Northern Ireland as suddenly as he arrived. He would return again as training intensified for the Normandy Invasion in 1944.