IKE THE SOLDIER

As They Knew Him By Merle Miller

Putnam. 859 pp. $24.95

SEVERAL MILLION words have been written about Dwight D. Eisenhower and his relationships with generals of the army Douglas MacArthur and George Marshall, not to mention Captain Kay Summersby. None of all those words ever convinced me that I was getting the real, or the whole, story. This old sergeant, for example, always wondered, "How did that English corporal driver wind up a captain in our Army."

So, apparently, did former master sergeant Merle Miller. And he found out about Summersby; and about who was paid vast sums in gold by the government of the Philippines and who was not; and about how close Ike came to forcing a choice between himself and General Sir Bernard Law Montgomery; and about a hundred other things that previously I never considered satisfactorily explained.

It is a disservice to great men -- and I think Dwight David Eisenhower was one of our greatest -- to write their histories leaving out the warts. If Miller missed one of Ike's warts, I don't know what it would be.

Miller takes Ike from Kansas before he went to West Point through his command of the most powerful military force the world has never known, and tells his story through the eyes of people who knew him at every stage of his life. His West Point classmates, for example. And his brother Milton and his son John. And Churchill and Roosevelt and Marshall and the King of England, plus MacArthur and Montgomery, and a vast cast of peripheral players, including his first sweetheart and his last.

The West Point creed of Duty, Honor, Country has been assailed in the last couple of decades as unworkable in the modern, "real" world. If nothing else, Miller shows how that creed sustained Eisenhower in both his professional and personal life as, in a remarkably short time, he changed his epaulet insignia from the gold leaf of a major to a circlet of five stars; and a man whose highest ambition was to command a division wound up, very nearly literally, with the fate of civilization as we know it depending on his judgment.

A hundred times, reading Miller's Ike the Soldier, I found myself grunting and nodding my head and thinking, "So that's the way it really was."

Ike the soldier comes across as a nice guy, which we all knew. He also comes across as a man who would let nothing interfere with what he saw as his duty, even when that was personally excruciatingly painful.

Here, early in the war, he writes to Mamie, "All my conferences this morning have been of the irritating type. People have misquoted me, others have enlarged on my instructions, still others have failed to obey orders. So I ended up tanning a few hides. I feel positively sadistic -- but I undoubtedly got a certain amount of satisfaction out of the process."

HE COMES ACROSS, more important, as a man of far greater wisdom and competence than other biographers, even the fawning ones, have shown. Miller shows, with research beyond argument, how Ike quickly learned to play the game of high-level international politics, undoubtedly surprising Churchill, who clearly believed he would undoubtedly have the simple Kansas soldier in his pocket.

And Miller paints a picture of Ike the Officer, who knew how to lead men, and Ike the Tactician, who planned and then fought the war in Western Europe, which should put to rest once and for all the petty sniping which has suggested that he was merely a man who knew how to get along with other people.

And the late Merle Miller comes across as a biographer and a writer we lost much too soon.

W.E.B. Griffin is the author of "The New Breed" in the Brotherhood of War series and "The Corps: Book II -- Call to Arms."