For the millions eagerly waiting to visit the long-planned Eisenhower memorial on a four-acre site on the National Mall, there’s bad news.
The powers that be are still – still – fighting over what it should look like 15 years after the federal government approved the idea of a memorial to Dwight Eisenhower, the 34th president and five-star general who served as supreme allied commander in Europe during World War II.
You will remember the uproar a few years ago when designers decided to portray Eisenhower as a carefree farm boy. I asked his granddaughter Susan, an accomplished, genteel woman, what she thought. She was apoplectic: Eisenhower may have been proud to have grown up in Kansas, but she was adamant that depicting him as a young farm boy was not the way to remember her dignified grandfather in the first presidential memorial of the 21st century. The farm boy idea bit the dust.
The current design depicts Eisenhower the soldier addressing troops with an inscription that reads: “The tide has turned. The free men of the world are marching together to victory.” It, too, has drawn criticism as not grand enough, too cartoony, too big, too expensive. But many love it.
Even as the few remaining Americans who fought on D-Day and in the Battle of the Bulge would appreciate seeing a memorial to Eisenhower before they die, the controversy in Washington grows more intense. Groundbreaking was supposed to start two years ago. The ground is still intact. Currently, Congress has approved no money for construction
The hapless Eisenhower Memorial Commission finds itself trying to defend itself from congressional critics who say the memorial is just another Washington boondoggle. The House Natural Resources Committee wonders where the $41 million spent on the project has gone. There are calls for scrapping the design, by the renown Frank Gehry architectural firm, in favor of holding a public design competition.
The all-powerful National Capital Planning Commission has voted 7-3 to oppose the design. Gehry said in a statement his seven years of work on the memorial have been pro bono. He is disheartened that politics has gotten into the mix.
In Washington politics always gets into the mix. The controversy of Maya Linn’s somber wall engraved with the names of those who died in Vietnam was searing although most agree now it is one of the most moving memorials ever conceived.
The eerie spectacle of 19 life-size American soldiers in Korea wearing ponchos cast in steel rising out of the ground thrilled most but appalled some. There were many questions about early fundraising efforts for the memorial and a group of early supporters for a memorial was disgraced. Ambassador Douglas MacArthur II is quoted as saying, “I only wish that the swindlers who conned so many of us could be slowly and painfully emasculated.” Finally, the memorial was dedicated in 1995and is considered one of the most inspiring memorials in the nation.
It’s hard to believe how intense the fury was over the World War II Memorial, located between the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument, with its water fountains, pavilions, Field of Stars and sculptures. Although it is now wildly popular, especially with veterans, the design still rankles some, with one describing it “as a kind of corny pseudo-European classicism that is out of place on the Mall.”
It finally was dedicated in 2004 after decades of controversy, with funds raised by former senator and WWII veteran Bob Dole. It was built with $181 million in private donations and only $16 million in taxpayer money.
The simple, dignified memorial to Franklin Delano Roosevelt took 41 years to finish. Some didn’t like the stooped Depression-era figures and five water features. Others were upset that Roosevelt, disabled by polio, is not shown in a wheelchair. Volunteers raised the money for another statue at the entrance showing him in a wheelchair.
Don’t despair, you who like Ike. His memorial is scheduled to be dedicated on Memorial Day 2017 at a cost of $142 million. Eventually, everybody will love it.
Ann McFeatters is an op-ed columnist for McClatchy-Tribune. Readers may send her email at firstname.lastname@example.org.