The Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial is now open to the public following a dedication service Thursday in Washington, D.C.
A combination of structures and statues honors America’s top World War II general and former president.
The newest memorial in the nation’s capital was more than 20 years in creation, from Congressional approval to dedication. The opening ceremony had been planned for May to mark the 75th anniversary of the defeat of Germany in World War II. But the coronavirus health crisis forced organizers to postpone the event until September 17.
The U.S. Marine Band, also known as The President’s Own, started the celebration.
Senator Pat Roberts of Kansas heads the commission that led the building project. At the ceremony, he thanked the long list of supporters for the memorial, including the Eisenhower family.
Then he introduced a special guest speaker from very, very far away.
“Good evening, Senator Roberts and honored guests. I’m NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy, commander of the International Space Station, orbiting 260 miles above Earth. Along with our NASA administrator, I'm honored to join you in celebrating the memorial dedication of our nation's 34th President - Dwight D. Eisenhower ”
Allied commander, president from Kansas
To most Americans, Eisenhower was known simply by his nickname “Ike.”
Eisenhower was born in Texas in 1890 but he grew up in Abilene, Kansas. After high school, he attended the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and became an officer in the U.S. Army.
In World War II, Eisenhower received increasingly important positions. He led the Allied invasions of North Africa, then Italy, then finally Normandy, France as a five star general and Supreme Allied Commander.
After the war, Eisenhower showed interest in running for president. He chose Richard Nixon as his running mate and the two were elected in 1952.
Gaining the presidency was among the pivotal moments recognized by the memorial’s commission as central to Eisenhower’s life and legacy. He took office while the country was involved in a war on the Korean Peninsula. In addition, the United States increasingly faced competition from the former Soviet Union, which sought to expand its economic and military influence in Europe and Asia.
The general-then-president would face an unusually wide set of issues at home and abroad during his two terms, which continue to define and trouble America.
One of Eisenhower’s first tasks was to end the conflict in Korea. In that war, North Korea, with ally China and support from the Soviet Union, fought against South Korea and United Nations troops from several countries led by the United States.
On July 27, the United States signed the Korean Armistice Agreement, bringing fighting to an end. The peace deal marked the end of a “hot” war in what would change into a “cold war” with the Soviet Union (U.S.S.R.). The Cold War was a period of intense competition between the Communist U.S.S.R. and its allies and the democratic capitalist West, led by the U.S.
Troops sent to Arkansas
Another issue important to Eisenhower’s presidency was civil rights. He appointed Earl Warren, who was the Supreme Court chief justice who gave the Brown v. Board of Education ruling that desegregated public schools.
Eisenhower ordered federal troops to enforce U.S. law to integrate the Central High School of Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1957. During Eisenhower’s term, activist Rosa Parks pushed for integration of busing in Alabama. And Martin Luther King, Jr. began to lead peaceful protests in the American South.
Eisenhower’s efforts to push space exploration form a third part of his legacy. The Soviet Union was first to launch a satellite into orbit in 1957. However, Eisenhower created the U.S. space agency NASA and supported science education as an answer to “the space race.” By 1959, NASA had introduced seven astronauts and the American space program was fully established.
And during his time in office, “Ike” was and largely remains one of America’s most popular and well-liked presidents.
Dispute over the design
The long road to completion of the memorial was partly caused by disagreements between Eisenhower’s family and memorial designer Frank Gehry. The family did not accept Gehry’s first design, which had at its center a statue of Eisenhower as a shoeless boy.
The disagreement over the design grew severe, involved Congress and legal action, and delayed progress on the project for many years. The cost of the project rose to about $150 million.
The final design places importance on Eisenhower’s two main roles in history: his leadership of the D-Day invasion of Normandy and his time as president. A statue of a young “Ike” remains. Behind is a wide metal structure, which memorializes the beaches of Normandy – where D-Day took place.
At the ceremony, Gehry spoke in video message. He praised the debate over the memorial design.
“There were sensitivities, for sure, expressed by many - including the Eisenhower family. We listened to all and the result is better.”
Susan Eisenhower is one of the president’s granddaughters. She told the New York Times that the whole family was happy with the result after the trials of the earlier disagreement. She said, “For me, personally, this memorial is also going to be a symbol of how open and honest dialogue finally produced a better result.”
She also offered an observation. She said the memorial to her grandfather spoke to current events in the country. “What a timely figure right now,” she said.
Eisenhower noted that the “calming steadiness that he represented is something that is also worth reflecting on and reminding ourselves of.”
“Just because the 1950s look like a quiet time, it just didn’t just happen that way. That was his underlying commitment, to keep this country united,” she said.
The memorial rests on land next to the Department of Education, across Independence Avenue from the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum and beside the Voice of America.
I’m Mario Ritter, Jr.
And I’m Caty Weaver.
Mario Ritter Jr. adapted this story for VOA Learning English. Caty Weaver was the editor.
Words in This Story
tribute –n. something done to honor or show respect for a person
legacy –n. something that is left behind by someone who dies, something left for people in the future
integrate –v. to bring together races or different people
symbol –n. a sign, action or object that stands for an idea or quality
dialogue –n. a discussion or talks aimed at ending a disagreement
figure –n. a person who is well-known and who is considered to have certain qualities
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