The opening of the Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial on Sept. 17 has been over 20 years in the making, but it couldn’t have come at a better time, according to Senator Pat Roberts of Kansas, who led the effort to build the monument.
The new memorial honoring the legacy of the World War II supreme allied commander and America’s 34th president will aim to preserve a slice of American history, capping a summer in which protestors and Democrats have sought to tear down many symbols of our nation’s past.
Roberts, who chairs the Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial Commission, said in a recent interview with National Review that for visitors of the monument, “I think there’s a lot of contemplation that will spark in their minds with regards to the worry that people have about where our culture is headed and the times we’re in.”
“I hope that this memorial will make people more aware of Eisenhower’s accomplishments and inspire a dialogue about what qualities constitute truly great leadership,” he said, adding that he hopes the tribute will lead visitors to “reflect on where we’d be as a nation or world without one man’s vision and leadership.”
The monument, which has been in the works since 1999, was designed by architect Frank Gehry and is housed in a newly-created public park across from the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.
“The Memorial highlights Eisenhower from his humble childhood in America’s heartland, to his decisive role as Supreme commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force in World War II and his two terms as President,” an announcement reads.
The memorial features stone bas-relief imagines, inscription panels with words of notable Eisenhower addresses and three bronze statues of Eisenhower: One depicts him alongside 101st Airborne troops the day before the invasion of Normandy, another shows Eisenhower in the White House surrounded by civilian and military advisors, and a third depicts the former president in his boyhood.
The entire park is surrounded by a stainless steel woven tapestry which illustrates the cliffs at Pointe du Hoc on the Normandy coastline, which Gehry said it meant to represent the memory of “the monumental task that the brave Allied soldiers faced, staring up at those rocks as they landed on the beaches of France, and how difficult it must have been for them to scale those heights with the full force of the Nazi forces pushing against them.”
Countless videos on social media prove that a determined mob can tear down a decades-old statue in a matter of minutes, but erecting monuments to our nation’s past takes the lengthy work of coalition building and compromise.
“It’s been a labor of love for me,” Roberts said. “It’s been 20 years. It’s very difficult to have any monument or any tribute to a person. You have to go through an awful lot of agencies of the federal government.”
The Republican senator said he believes the memorial, and others like it, are important for their role in encouraging people to learn about history and for their ability to teach and remind the next generation about past events and people.
“I call them the intersection of memory and history,” he said. “They not only commemorate our shared past, they also commemorate a country’s artistic and architectural heritage and I think that it really is a good way to have a monument in a time when many seek to really tear down many other tributes to our national history.”
Roberts called the recent removal of monuments “terribly counterproductive.”
“I realize and understand what the issues are but a memorial can really mean a time of reflection and to better understand what was going on at a particular important time in our history and then to reflect on that and move forward, have a dialogue,” he said.
Though he added that in the case of Eisenhower, that his legacy is as a leader in a war that was universally considered “more than appropriate.”
“We’d all be speaking German now if he wasn’t successful,” he said.
The Eisenhower monument was originally set to open on May 8, the 75th anniversary of Victory in Europe (V-E) Day, but was postponed to September due to the coronavirus pandemic. While the original event had an expected 1400 attendees, the September opening will be smaller and socially distant.
“It’s not the ceremony that we had planned for but it will be a very appropriate ceremony,” he said. The monument will then be turned over to the National Park Service.