Eisenhower memorial in DC to be unveiled
WASHINGTON – The long-awaited presidential memorial honoring Dwight D. Eisenhower will be dedicated and unveiled in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 17 – more than 20 years after Congress commissioned it.
The memorial – dedicated to the life, military service and presidency of Eisenhower – sits on four acres along Independence Avenue, just off the National Mall. It was designed by architect Frank Gehry, now 91, and went through various stages of redesign because of criticism from Eisenhower’s family.
On Tuesday evening, the site was blocked from view by green privacy fence. Inside were three statues of America's 34th president: one as a young boy in his home state of Kansas, one as a general addressing troops on D-Day, and one of Eisenhower as president, surrounded by advisers.
Carl Reddel, the executive director of the Eisenhower Memorial Commission and a retired brigadier general, sat on one of the memorial’s many stone benches, wearing an “I like Ike” face mask. Reddel joined the commission in 2001. He led a study of Eisenhower’s legacy and saw the memorial through its lengthy site-selection, design and construction processes.
“Eisenhower is one of the best pieces of evidence that this American experiment can work,” Reddel said. “He’s the real thing.”
Reddel pointed Tuesday night at the statue of Eisenhower as a boy. The statue, in the northwest corner of the memorial, faces the statues of Eisenhower as a general and president.
“The Eisenhower story starts over there with a young man,” Reddel said. “He has no idea that what he’s looking at from over there, at the general and the president down here, were part of his future. Can you imagine? No famous family name, no advantages of money and no particular assets in that regard.”
Eisenhower was born in Denison, Texas, but grew up with six brothers in Abilene, Kansas, as part of a poor family. The longest quotation at the memorial is from Eisenhower’s speech on June 22, 1945, at a homecoming celebration in Kansas following World War II. In part, it reads, “…I come here, first, to thank you, to say the proudest thing I can claim is that I am from Abilene.”
Eisenhower won an appointment to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. Later in his military career, he served as a military aide to Gen. John J. Pershing, commander of the U.S. forces during World War I, and to Gen. Douglas MacArthur, U.S. Army chief of staff.
During World War II, Eisenhower led an Allied invasion of North Africa. He was appointed supreme commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force in 1943 and tasked with leading the Allied invasion of Nazi-occupied Europe. At the memorial, a quotation from Eisenhower’s address to troops on D-Day is inscribed on stone. It reads, “The tide has turned! The free men of the world are marching together to victory!”
Along one side of the memorial is a towering, 60-foot tall, 450-foot wide metal tapestry. During the day, the tapestry is nearly transparent. At night, however, it lights up to reveal a sketch of Pointe du Hoc, a D-Day landing site in Normandy, at peacetime.
The D-Day invasion led to the liberation of Paris and turned the tide of the war in Europe. Following the war, Eisenhower became the Army chief of staff and later took command of the NATO forces in Europe. He ran for president and won in 1952.
The final quotation inscribed at the Eisenhower Memorial is from his second inaugural address in 1957: “We look upon this shaken earth, and we declare our firm and fixed purpose – the building of a peace with justice in a world where moral law prevails.”
The quotations at the memorial, along with its location and other details, were chosen carefully.
The memorial is located south of the National Air and Space Museum and surrounded on other sides by the Federal Aviation Administration and the Department of Education. The location is symbolic, Reddel said. Eisenhower called for the creation of NASA in 1958, signed the legislation that formed the FAA and created the Department of Health, Education and Welfare as a Cabinet-level agency in 1953.
Eisenhower is also celebrated for strengthening Social Security, forming the massive Interstate Highway System and working behind-the-scenes to discredit Sen. Joseph McCarthy.
Reddel, who has spent 19 years working to establish the memorial, said the former president “was worth all the time and effort.”
“In his own way, he transformed the country during his presidency and his time alive,” Reddel said.
A dedication ceremony will be held at the memorial on the evening of Sept. 17. Fox News host Bret Baier will emcee the event, and Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., will deliver an address. There will also be recorded remarks by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and performances by the 101st Airborne Honor Guard, the U.S. Marine Band and Voices of Service, a quartet of veterans and service members.
President Donald Trump and the Eisenhower family, as well as former and current members of Congress, Cabinet members and military leaders, were invited to the ceremony.
Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the event will be a scaled-down unveiling compared to original plans to dedicate the site on May 8, the 75th anniversary of Victory in Europe Day. The Eisenhower commission created an online memorial that includes an audio tour, an interactive timeline of Eisenhower’s life and 18 lesson plans for educators.
Over the past 19 years, Reddel learned a lot about Eisenhower, whom he described as complex, intelligent, fascinating and one of the most accessible and popular U.S. presidents.
“I think Eisenhower is a great lesson in life itself and dealing with challenges and change in a manner that doesn’t hurt people and gives them hope for themselves and their future,” Reddel said. “He was a lesson in being personally committed to that positive story about himself and his fellow Americans.”
The memorial will open to the public Sept. 18.