By Oct. 17, 1953, Dwight “Ike” Eisenhower had already experienced a life’s worth of notable achievements. Nine years earlier he had given the “go ahead” to launch the greatest military invasion of all time, as allied troops stormed France’s Normandy coast. A year later he sent a telegram to the White House to announce that the enemy’s surrender terms were signed and the war in Europe was over. A year earlier Eisenhower had been the Republican nominee for President of the United States. Seven months earlier he stood in Washington watching the parade to honor his inauguration.

    Now he was facing the responsibilities of the presidency not only facing Communist threats in Eastern Europe, but also Asia. Then there were the more enjoyable ceremonial chores, including this day when he came to New Orleans to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Louisiana Purchase. As a military officer he had seen many parades before, mostly soldiers passing in review, but now he was going to witness something different. Event organizers had arranged for the krewes of Rex and Comus to provide some of their floats as part of a makeshift, out of season parade. In a total deviation from tradition, Rex and Comus even stood side by side on a dual monarch float. 

    Dealing with kings was just another day at the office for Eisenhower. He previously had to communicate with Great Britain’s George VI during the war. Nevertheless, the president was impressed by the kingdom of Carnival and he addressed that point in a speech he delivered that day. After acknowledging the special guests, including big shot elected officials and various ambassadors, Eisenhower digressed briefly:

We have been privileged to take part not only in an historically significant occasion, but in a most colorful one, and for my part, I owe a special debt of gratitude to Your Majesties King Rex and King Comus, for graciously allowing a part of this parade – your traditional parade – to take part in this ceremony this morning. It is the first time I have had the honor of seeing it, and I thoroughly appreciate it. Thank you.

   No one would quibble that technically Comus was a god and not a king, especially since some supporters in those early post-war years would argue the same about Eisenhower. 

    For the president, Louisiana was more than a passing parade, it had been part of his career. As the build up for the war began the General had spent time in central Louisiana – specifically Alexandria – overseeing tank training.

    Many years later, not far from that day’s parade route, a museum would emerge – originally to commemorate D-Day, and then the entire war. Impetus for the museum to be located in New Orleans was that the city was the site of the Andrew Higgins plant, which built the landing boats used to carry the troops to the beaches during D-Day. (Hitler would refer to Higgins as the “American Noah.”) UNO historian Stephen Ambrose, who conducted some interviews with Eisenhower, claimed that the general said Higgins won the war for the Allies.

    Though the same could have been said about various weapon and supply manufacturers, Eisenhower was no doubt impressed with Higgins – though there is no indication if he saw, or was aware of, the facilities during his visit. For the moment though, emphasis was on floats not boats. The war was over. Ahead was the battle of maintaining the peace.





BOOK ANNOUNCEMENT: Errol’s Laborde’s new book, “Mardi Gras: Chronicles of the New Orleans Carnival” (Pelican Publishing Company, 2013), has been released. It is now available at local bookstores and at book web sites.