The growing debate over the design of the planned Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial in Washington, D.C., is unfortunate. One of the nation’s — and perhaps the world’s — most outstanding architects, Frank Gehry, has presented a design that some members of the Eisenhower family find unacceptable because they don’t think it gives sufficient emphasis to Eisenhower’s roles as president and supreme Allied commander in World War II.
Family members claim Gehry’s design focuses too much on Eisenhower’s humble beginnings and his boyhood in Kansas and not enough on his accomplishments in World War II and, later, as president.
Gehry says his design does celebrate Eisenhower’s accomplishments with heroic images and with quotes carved into stone. The famed architect said, “My detractors say that I have missed the point and that I am trying to diminish the stature of this great man. I assure you my only intent is to celebrate and honor this world hero and visionary leader.”
Gehry’s design calls for a memorial park framed by large metal tapestries depicting Eisenhower’s boyhood home in Abilene. Two large carved stone reliefs would depict Ike as president and as a military hero with a statue of Eisenhower as a boy appearing to marvel at what his life would become.
According to the Eisenhower Memorial Commission, the Gehry design for the four-acre site portrays Abilene in Eisenhower’s boyhood days, along with large, unique tapestries of woven stainless steel wire to “tell the story of Ike’s small town roots and juxtapose those with a physical representation of the magnitude of his accomplishments in war and peace, as a five-star general and as president of the United States.”
Various information pieces from the commission outline what would appear to be a striking, unique, park-like memorial in an ideal location attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors annually.
It is puzzling that some members of the Eisenhower family are calling for major changes. Is there reason to wonder whether their prime concern or objection is that too much attention is given to Abilene, Eisenhower’s early days and the influence Kansas had on the future general and president?
Maybe they don’t share Ike’s passion for his Kansas heritage. Time and time again, news reports indicate that one of the first questions Eisenhower asked when speaking to troops during World War II was whether any of the soldiers were form Kansas. Likewise, returning to Abilene after Germany’s surrender in World War II, Eisenhower stated, “The proudest thing I can claim is that I am from Abilene.” And he chose Abilene as the site for his presidential library.
Eisenhower certainly wasn’t ashamed of coming from a small, midwestern community. In fact, he was proud of it. Perhaps Gehry has it right in stressing the Abilene influence while some of Eisenhower’s family wish to push Abilene and Kansas aside in favor of supposedly more prestigious, global associations.
Whatever the case, it is hoped the Gehry proposal will proceed without too many alterations. The Eisenhower Memorial Commission was created on Oct. 25, 1999, and it’s time to get the project started.
It will be a major addition for Washington, D.C., and all Kansans are sure to be proud of and pleased by the recognition of this exceptional individual who grew up in Abilene.