The dedication of the Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial, just off the National Mall in Washington, D.C., is set to take place Thursday, even as the legacy of the World War II commander and nation’s 34th president has become a subject of debate in the current presidential election.
The event had originally been set for May 8, the 75th anniversary of Victory in Europe, or VE-Day, a triumph that Eisenhower oversaw as commander of allied forces through the D-Day landings, the Battle of the Bulge and the crossing of the Rhine. It was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
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Thursday’s ceremony, at the site off Independence Avenue near the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum, is for invited guests only. It will be livestreamed on Facebook at 7 p.m. ET Thursday.
President Donald Trump is on the list of invited guests, according to the Eisenhower Memorial Commission, but it was unclear as of Tuesday whether he would attend the ceremony.
Eisenhower, a five-star general and Republican, was ranked in a 2017 C-Span survey of historians as the fifth-greatest president. First on the list was Abraham Lincoln, followed by George Washington, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Theodore Roosevelt.
Thursday’s ceremony will feature an address by Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kans., a Marine Corps veteran and chairman of the Eisenhower Memorial Commission, and recorded remarks from former Secretary of State Condolezza Rice.
In a statement leading up to the ceremony, Roberts said he is “proud to honor Kansas’ favorite son” at the dedication. Though Eisenhower was born in Texas, he spent much of his childhood in Abilene, Kansas.
Victoria Tigwell, deputy executive director of the Memorial Commission, said, “While we have had to adjust our celebratory plans, it’s important to note that Eisenhower’s legacy, as honored through the memorial, transcends one moment in time and must be shared with the world.”
The four-acre park on which the $150 million memorial is situated will open to the public on Friday, Sept. 18; it will be operated by the National Park Service.
The memorial, designed by architect Frank Gehry, combines “grand architectural elements, sculpture and green space” to record Eisenhower’s rise “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,” the commission said.
To depict his historic career, the memorial features three bronze sculptures of Eisenhower, stone bas relief images and inscription panels from addresses he made.
The park’s most striking feature is a first-of-its-kind stainless steel woven tapestry by artist Tomas Osinski, which depicts the cliffs at Pointe du Hoc on the Normandy beach stormed by Army Rangers in the D-Day landings of June 6, 1944.
The memorial was 21 years in the making and survived a dispute between Gehry and the Eisenhower family over the design.
Susan Eisenhower, the late president’s granddaughter, objected to the original design, which depicted her grandfather as a barefoot boy gazing at the metal tapestry showing the Kansas prairies.
The barefoot boy now has shoes, and the metal tapestry was changed to depict the cliffs in Normandy.
The memorial dedication comes at a time when Eisenhower’s legacy on civil rights and his warnings about the influence of the “military-industrial complex” have gained attention in the increasingly bitter back-and-forth of the current presidential campaign.
Trump threatened to invoke the Insurrection Act of 1807 to send active-duty troops to quell the nationwide protests that arose following the May 25 death in Minneapolis of George Floyd.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper said he is against invoking the Insurrection Act, as Eisenhower had done in 1957 to send the Army’s 101st Airborne Division to enforce the desegregation of public schools in Little Rock, Arkansas.
Former Vice President Joe Biden has taken a position against the use of federal troops in protests.
Last week, Trump drew another comparison to Eisenhower during a broadside against Biden on Sept. 7, in which he also defended himself against charges in an Atlantic Magazine story that he had insulted military leaders and branded those who fell in battle as “losers” and “suckers.”
Trump charged that Biden is in favor of “endless wars” and suggested that military leaders also want wars to curry favor with the defense industry.
“And it’s one of the reasons the military — I’m not saying the military is in love with me — the soldiers are,” Trump said at a news conference. “The top people in the Pentagon probably aren’t because they want to do nothing but fight wars so that all of those wonderful companies that make the bombs and make the planes and make everything else stay happy.”
Trump later that day posted tweets comparing himself to Eisenhower, whose final address before leaving office in early 1961 focused on the power of the “military-industrial complex.”
However, Trump may have missed the nuances in Eisenhower’s speech. The late president noted the “imperative need for this development” of close cooperation between the military and industry to counter the threat of the Soviet Union, while warning of the implications of its abuse.
“In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist,” Eisenhower said.
— Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.
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