President Dwight D. “Ike” Eisenhower is among the most accomplished presidents in American history. He balanced the federal budget several times, created America’s interstate highway system and brought about the Civil Rights Act of 1957. And that all came after Eisenhower, promoted to five-star general of the Army during WWII, led a multinational coalition to victory over Nazi Germany and its Axis alliance.
The 34th president will be honored on Thursday at the long-awaited opening ceremony of the Eisenhower Memorial in Washington.
“I am proud to honor Kansas' favorite son with the unveiling of the Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial,” said Sen. Pat Roberts, chairman of the Eisenhower Memorial Commission, in a statement. “This memorial pays tribute to Ike’s historic leadership.”
For safety during the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of attendees will be limited onsite and the event will be livestreamed on Facebook beginning at 7 p.m. Eastern. The memorial was scheduled to open to the public in May, but that event was delayed due to the pandemic. Commissioned by Congress in 1999, the memorial didn’t break ground until November 2017.
According to the Eisenhower Memorial Commission, the project cost a total of $145 million. Some $15 million of that was raised through private donors and the rest was appropriated from Congress, which is typical for federal memorial projects.
The memorial is located at 540 Independence Ave., just south of the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum. It sits on four acres and takes up more than half the city block it shares with the U.S. Department of Education building.
Two bench-lined paths zigzag south from the six-lane road, amid trees and other greenery, to reveal a large, semi-transparent metal tapestry depicting the Normandy coast, where Allied forces landed on D-Day. Two large stone blocks etched with quotations cap the dioramas at opposite flanks. Several bronze statues show Eisenhower as a powerful military leader and a thoughtful president with his military subordinates and political cabinet members looking on. The memorial also includes a statue of Eisenhower as a boy, which represents his humble and strong upbringing in Abilene, Kansas, said Frank Gehry, who designed the landmark.
The man behind the plan
Gehry is a world-renowned architect and an Army veteran. With a career in design that spans more than 60 years, the Eisenhower project is Gehry’s first federal memorial.
In the early 1950s, Gehry served with Third Army, which was also Gen. Eisenhower’s unit. He went on to join the Special Services Division, where he designed day rooms and service clubs.
Gehry told Military Times he felt connected to Eisenhower.
“I remember him, of course,” Gehry said. “I always liked him. I thought he was a decent human being, as he came across.”
When Gehry began working on the memorial, he dove into Eisenhower’s past, even visiting his hometown of Abilene.