Billy Graham met Dwight D. Eisenhower before he was elected president, while Eisenhower was serving as a general in Europe. Eisenhower had grown up in the Mennonite tradition, with devoutly pious parents, but privately told Billy that he “had gotten a long way” from his faith, jaded by preachers who veered from spiritual truths to focus on worldly enticements.
However, once Eisenhower became president, he joined a Presbyterian church, and it was during his administration that Billy Graham and others began what became the National Prayer Breakfast.
Billy met with Eisenhower many times during his term of office, including on the president’s farm in Gettysburg in August 1955. Eisenhower took Billy to the famed battlefield to the site where Billy’s grandfather had fought during Pickett’s Charge. Billy marveled at the amount of knowledge Eisenhower had about the Civil War, and he learned things he had never heard before. Later that afternoon, Eisenhower paced in front of the fireplace in his den and asked Billy if he believed in Heaven. Billy assured him he did and walked the president through God’s gift of salvation, as he had done on previous occasions.
Following his presidency, when Eisenhower became ill in 1968, he invited Billy to his bedside at Walter Reed Army Hospital. In his autobiography, Just As I Am, Billy recounts: “As my scheduled twenty minutes with him extended to thirty, he asked the doctor and nurses to leave us. Propped up on pillows amidst intravenous tubes, he took my hand and looked into my eyes. ‘Billy, you’ve told me how to be sure my sins are forgiven and that I’m going to Heaven. Would you tell me again?’ I took out my New Testament and read to him again the familiar Gospel verses, the precious promises of God about eternal life. Then, my hand still in his, I prayed briefly. ‘Thank you,’ he said. ‘I’m ready.’”
The Billy Graham Library is featuring an exhibit Pastor to Presidents highlighting Billy Graham’s friendships with our nation’s Executive Office. The exhibit runs through December 31, 2020. For more information on the exhibit, visit www.billygrahamlibrary.org.