MHS Alumnus Photographed with D-Day Paratroopers and General Eisenhower
Milton Hershey School has a deep and longstanding relationship with the United States Armed Forces. At the height of World War II, over 800 alumni and staff served in all areas of the military, including two as midshipmen at the Naval Academy.
This famous photograph of General Eisenhower talking to D-Day paratroopers, taken June 5, 1942, was featured on a stamp to mark the centenary of Eisenhower’s birth. The stamp also has important ties to Milton Hershey School. Standing in the center of the photo is alumnus and former houseparent Eugene Lowe ’41.
Much of what we know about the circumstances surrounding this photograph is because of the efforts of James Wolf ’38. Mr. Wolf happened to pick up The New York Times one morning in August 1991 and read an article about the photo. One of the soldiers in the photograph was on a mission to identify all of the soldiers pictured. When Mr. Wolf recognized Lowe ’41, he contacted the gentleman and contributed Gene Lowe’s name. The gentleman shared a bit more information about the photo with Mr. Wolf. He said, contrary to some reports, General Eisenhower was not giving a last minute pep talk to the soldiers. Instead, he was making small talk and chatting with the men about their lives back home to relieve the tension.
According to the National Archives, Eisenhower’s grandson wrote about the scene by saying that his grandfather,
“wandered through the formless groups of soldiers, stepping over packs and guns. The faces of the men had been blackened with charcoal and cocoa to protect against glare and to serve as camouflage. He stopped at intervals to talk to the thick clusters of soldiers gathering around him. He asked their names and homes. “Texas, sir!” one replied. “Don’t worry, sir, the 101st is on the job and everything will be taken care of in fine shape.” Laughter and applause. Another soldier invited Eisenhower down to his ranch after the war. “Where are you from, soldier?” “Missouri, sir.” “And you, soldier?” “Texas, sir.” Cheers, and the roll call of the states went on, “like a roll of battle honors,” one observer wrote, as it unfolded, affirming an “awareness that the General and the men were associated in a great enterprise.”
The story of how Lowe ’41, a member of the 101st Airborne Division, happened to be in the photograph also is intriguing. He was in the hospital recovering from an appendectomy when his equipment was brought to him. Knowing that this was unusual, Lowe knew something was happening.
In a MHS alumni newsletter interview, Lowe said, “We knew this wasn’t just another dry run because they had never done that before. We figured this was the real thing.”
Lowe and a few of his buddies went AWOL from the hospital and got to the nearest airfield. It was there that Gen. Eisenhower came and the famous photo was taken. Lowe and his friends fast-talked their way onto the plane since they were not on the manifest. Lowe landed safely in St. Mere Elise in France, and the rest is history.
After Lowe retired from the military, he and his wife Betty served as MHS houseparents at farm home Englewood during the mid 1960s. Mr. Lowe is remembered fondly by “his boys,” and Milton Hershey School appreciates his service to our country.
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MHS Department of School History works hard to preserve the Hersheys’ values and students’ cherished memories through articles, photos, interviews and artifacts. Follow along with our monthly blog series focused entirely on the fascinating school history and inspiring work of our founders.