As you may have noticed — the National Eisenhower Memorial has recently become one of my favorite subjects. In fact, I am passionate in my belief that memorializing Ike should be important to all Americans. Raised in America’s heartland, in the great state of Kansas, Dwight David Eisenhower was one of the most significant figures in our nation’s history. In the heat of battle, in the icy waters of the Cold War, and in the technology race toward the 21st century, Ike was a bold and visionary leader who deserves to be honored by the nation he served with dedication and distinction.
I had the honor of serving under Ike during World War II, when I served in the 10th Mountain Division. After I was gravely wounded in Italy on April 14, 1945, I spent 39 months in a stateside hospital. During that time, I met the late Sen. Danny Inouye, who was also wounded fighting in the war. Danny and I formed a close friendship, talking for hours about the war, the victory in Europe under Gen. Eisenhower’s leadership, and our shared respect for this great American. Ike was our hero. And I believe he was a hero to most of the sixteen-and-a-half million Americans who served in World War II, as well as to countless others across the nation and around the world. Now, 70 years later, I want the country I fought for to honor Ike in our nation’s capital. I believe it is past time that Ike be memorialized and that the Eisenhower Memorial be funded and built. That’s why I have joined the effort.
In 1999, two World War II veterans serving in the Senate, Danny Inouye and Ted Stevens, spearheaded the effort to establish the National Eisenhower Memorial. Congress, in its wisdom, voted to honor Ike with the very first presidential memorial of the 21st century. The plan was that, like all memorials honoring our country’s great presidents, the memorial would be funded in full by Congress.
The news that Congress had established a national memorial honoring Ike was welcomed with enthusiasm by millions of World War II veterans and people across America and around the globe. They understand and appreciate the role that Ike played in saving civilization when it was threatened by tyranny. In so many ways, the National Eisenhower Memorial, like Ike himself, is charting new territory. Just imagine: the very first presidential memorial built in the 21st century will honor the heroic military leader and U.S. president who saw our nation through a brutal war and then led us to peace and prosperity during the mid-20th century — and that man was the last American president to be born in the 19th century.
After Congress established the memorial, and with no objections being heard, the memorial effort moved forward: a commission was empaneled; an appropriate site adjacent to the National Mall was identified; a designer and design selected. The Eisenhower family had a seat on the commission that was filled by Ike’s grandson, David. David Eisenhower served as a commissioner for the entire time, over a decade, during which all of the key decisions were made. One of those decisions was to create a public-private mechanism to fund the memorial.
For the past several years I have proudly served on the National Eisenhower Memorial’s Advisory Committee. When Eisenhower Commission chairman, Sen. Pat Roberts, recently asked me to serve as finance chair for the Campaign for the Eisenhower Memorial, I welcomed the opportunity to help build Ike’s memorial before the last of his troops are gone. I will be joined in this effort by former Secretary of State James A. Baker III and former Sen. Chris Dodd, who will serve as vice chairs of the effort.
This is an exciting time for the National Eisenhower Memorial and for the many prominent Americans who have stepped forward and lent their names in support of the memorial effort. Both federal review panels have approved the design and construction is ready to get started. And a number of prominent Americans have joined in the effort. To date, three U. S. presidents, six former secretaries of state; several former chairmen of the Joint Chiefs and chiefs of military services, government officials, diplomats, historians and spokespersons for the Greatest Generation, including Tom Brokaw and Tom Hanks have joined the memorial’s advisory committee.
We have banded together in support of the National Eisenhower Memorial because we believe it is time to put aside the squabbles and rhetoric of the past and concentrate on completing an effort that has been underway for 15 years — memorializing a great American hero, Dwight Eisenhower.
It is ironic that a handful of Republican members of Congress are trying to withhold funds for an effort that was, in fact, established by Congress. It’s time to start construction on a memorial to a great Republican president. We are hopeful that Congress will appropriate the necessary funds that will, at last, bring alive the vision of the 1999 legislation establishing the memorial.
Let’s all join forces build Ike’s memorial now.
• Bob Dole serves as the finance chair for the Eisenhower National Memorial. He is a former Senate Majority Leader and was the 1996 Republican nominee for president.