By TIM HORAN
It may seem that the $142 million Eisenhower Memorial to be erected in the National Mall in Washington, D.C. has been both controversial and delayed but, according to the executive director of the commission, that’s status quo for memorials.
Ret. Brig. General Carl W. Reddel was in Abilene this week and visited with the staff of the Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum and the Reflector-Chronicle.
Reddel said that from the time a constituent ask congresswomen Marcy Kapture of Ohio “Why don’t we have a World War II Memorial?” to the completion, it took 17 years.
“Memorialization has always been a complicated process. It has typically always been controversial,” he said. “It was true of the Washington Memorial. It was true of the Lincoln Memorial. It was true of the most recent, the FDR, which took 44 years.”
Reddel said the law to create the Eisenhower Memorial was passed in 1999 and the commission was appointed in 2001. The Eisenhower Memorial will be the seventh Presidential memorial.
Designer Frank Gehry’s last depiction was criticized by the Eisenhower family and members of Congress.
“There have been modifications in the memorial’s design,” Reddell said. “The law tells the designer that he must memorialize the 34th President of the United States and the Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in World War II. The question is how is that best presented? We were asked to pause to allow more public input and input from the family.”
The most recent design has statues, columns and an immense tapestry. The memorial site is decorated by real Kansas Sycamore trees and designs of the tree on the tapestry.
The memorial design has what Reddel called “heroic sized statues.”
“They are about nine feet tall,” he said of the bronze statues. “So they are not small. You have Eisenhower in bronze based on this iconic photograph...Eisenhower not alone...Eisenhower with his troops. That was Eisenhower’s special magic. He could lead people.”
The image of Eisenhower as president is not final.
“The artist would like to find an image of the president which also has him in that great position of bipartisan leadership of Congress, which he did so well,” he said of the design. “The other dimension of the memorialization which has had misinformation about it; these are heroic size, the general and the president at nine feet, and what you have back here is a young Eisenhower, life sized.”
The design portrays a young Eisenhower growing up in Abilene.
“The challenge to this memorial in contrast to, let’s say, the Washington’s memorialization, father of the nation, or let’s say the Lincoln, savior of the Union. For Eisenhower, the architect was trying to bring these worlds together. Not ‘I’m going to look at the general.’ Not ‘I’m going to look at the president’. What brings them together? He felt that a young Eisenhower, having within the cone of his vision the general and the president he was to become was the Eisenhower story. That’s America’s story. That’s what you see here.
“What we have seen on these markups, particularly when the light hits it, both the sunlight and the light at night, it’s magical,” he said.
Reddel said that Gehry said of his own design, “For the first time we are going to bring Middle America to the Capitol of the United States.”
“That’s what I think he has in mind and I think it is pretty magical,” he said. “When I’m out here, I think the people in Kansas need to know what we are doing.”
Reddel said the congressional commission is made up of four senators, four members of the house and four Presidential appointments. From the beginning, that group has included a major representation from Kansas. Currently, Kansas Senators Jerry Moran and Pat Roberts serve on that commission.
“The way the process works, we are governed by a substantial set of regulations and laws,” he said. “That is the result of a lot of competition for space in the Capitol and especially the Mall. They have a set of procedures that we have to comply with. Where it stands now is we need approval by two agencies. One is NCPC (National Capital Planning Commission) and the other is CFA (Commission of Fine Arts).
“The first one is what I would call largely urban planning,” he said. “They are involved in the construction concerns, the durability issues. The other is involved in the artistic and aesthetics part of the memorial. They have different concerns. We have to go for a review and approve from those bodies.”
Before a delay, groundbreaking for the Eisenhower Memorial was scheduled last year. Now he expects that to be late this year or early next year.
General Reddel also had great things to say about the Eisenhower Library and Presidential Museum.
He said that one of his Air Force jobs was the professor of and head of the department of history of the Air Force Academy.
“I know the value of the Eisenhower Library and Museum,” he said. “It is immense. It is highly professional. It is extremely well done. I know a lot about this because it was my world for a period of time. The Library is a fundamental piece of the legacy. It is a gold mine of data. It’s the record.
“The Eisenhower legacy is going to be reinterpreted through the centuries just like The Lincoln’s,” he said.
The Eisenhower National Memorial will unite four acres of underused land and parking spaces into a dynamic new urban park near The National Mall and Smithsonian Museums in Washington, DC. To be known as Eisenhower Square, the site is surrounded by a number of federal agencies related to the Eisenhower Administration, including the Departments of Transportation, Education, and Health and Human Services (formerly Health, Education and Welfare); the Federal Aviation Administration; NASA; and the Voice of America.