Honoring Ike – a veteran’s perspective
August 8, 2012
A memorial honoring President Dwight D. Eisenhower should reflect the values and qualities that made him a great leader — namely his commitment to serving the nation and his fellow soldiers and the humility with which he did so. More than anything else, these were the qualities that set him apart from his fellow generals and political leaders. Unfortunately, the proposed design for the Eisenhower Memorial on the National Mall in Washington fails to adequately honor or reflect these values.
During the Second World War, I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to serve under Gen. Eisenhower as chief of the Intelligence Branch (G-2) for the European Theater of Operations, U.S. Army. I saw firsthand the way the soldiers serving under Eisenhower were inspired by his quiet determination, his professionalism and his commitment to service. We all realized that Eisenhower’s commitment was first to the nation, then to us. We knew he would not risk our lives lightly. We returned his commitment through our own service at places like Omaha Beach and the Ardennes Forest. His leadership, along with his strategic genius, helped to turn the tide of the war.
Later, as president, Eisenhower served the nation with the same level of commitment. He helped advance civil rights, build the Interstate Highway System and ease tensions in the Cold War. Daunting as it seems today, Eisenhower balanced the federal budget three times.
I believe Eisenhower’s commitment to larger shared interests allowed him to succeed both as supreme allied commander and president. His commitment helped him to identify and build consensus toward shared goals.
Unfortunately the Eisenhower Memorial Commission has not followed his example. Despite vocal opposition from the public, as well as the Eisenhower family, the commission continues to press forward with a controversial design — one that is out of character for a man who believed so strongly in service and humility. The current design will use 80-foot-high metal screens to enclose a four-acre site at a cost of $142 million and rising. Surely Eisenhower would want a simpler, more modest memorial, especially in the difficult economic and budgetary times in which our nation finds itself.
Citizens have spoken out about this design, and their concerns are being heard by members of Congress. Some members have called for delaying the approval process to allow for further changes to the current design. Others have called for a new design competition, one that is open to all Americans and that chooses a winner based on the merit of his or her design, not, as with the current design, on the basis of reputation and experience.
I agree with their calls for a new competition. It is the best way to arrive at a memorial design that is truly reflective of Eisenhower and what he stood for. With the National Capital Planning Commission and the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts set to consider the current design as early as next month, now is the time for citizens to make their voices heard.
The memorial honoring one of the finest military leaders of the 20th century and one of nation’s most unifying and popular presidents should reflect and honor the values that he embodied. Anything short of this will not serve the primary goal of this memorial: to celebrate and learn from Eisenhower’s example.
Col. Ralph Hauenstein was chief of the Intelligence Branch (G-2) for the European Theater of Operations, U.S. Army, from 1943 to 1945, where he served under Eisenhower. During the Eisenhower administration, he served as a consultant on the President’s Advisory Commission. He founded the Hauenstein Center for Presidential Studies at Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Mich., in 2001.