Bob Dole Leads Push to Complete Eisenhower Memorial With Private Funds

Article Author: 
John McKinnon, Wallstreet Journal
News Abstract: 
At age 92, Bob Dole is embarking on what he terms his final mission—an effort to rescue the controversial and long-delayed memorial to his World War II commander, Dwight Eisenhower.

Mr. Dole, who was severely injured by enemy fire in Italy during World War II, is using some new tactics, however. With lawmakers deadlocked on the memorial amid squabbles over its design, he is seeking to bypass Congress, where he served for 35 years, and build the project with private money.

Mr. Dole, the Eisenhower memorial’s new finance chairman, will be getting a lot of help. In the past few weeks the Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial Commission also has brought in all the living ex-presidents— Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush—to serve on its advisory panel.

Former Secretary of State James Baker and former Sen. Chris Dodd (D., Conn.), now head of the Motion Picture Association of America, will help Mr. Dole with fundraising, and Tom Hanks, who starred in the World War II drama “Saving Private Ryan,” has signed on.

Mr. Dole, the former Kansas senator and 1996 Republican presidential nominee, says it is time to complete the memorial to Mr. Eisenhower, who served as Supreme Allied Commander in World War II and later became the 34th U.S. president.

“Maybe we’re being selfish, but some of us guys in our 90s want to…pick up the pace” on the effort, Mr. Dole said, “so at least there’ll be a few [World War II veterans] around when it’s dedicated.” He hopes his efforts will persuade lawmakers to resume chipping in. If not, “we’ll raise it privately,” he said in an interview.

Mr. Dole has had success in the past raising money for war memorials. He chaired an effort that raised more than $170 million in private donations for a World War II memorial on the Mall that opened in 2004.

The Eisenhower memorial, authorized by Congress in 1999, was supposed to have an easier path, with about 80% of its funding expected to come from the government. The project was a favorite of powerful lawmakers like Sens. Daniel Inouye (D., Hawaii) and Ted Stevens (R., Alaska), both decorated World War II veterans. 

But the project has found itself under fire for its unconventional design by architect Frank Gehry, known for his dramatic, visionary style. 

Mr. Gehry’s design for the memorial—to be located next to the Mall near the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum—features 80-foot columns supporting a massive stainless-steel tapestry that depicts Kansas, where Mr. Eisenhower, popularly known as “Ike,” grew up.

An unlikely element is a life-size statue of Mr. Eisenhower, depicted not as general or president, but as a youth sitting on a wall imagining his future accomplishments (which are depicted in statues elsewhere on the 4-acre site).

The image was taken from a speech Mr. Eisenhower gave in his hometown of Abilene when he returned from the war, which began, “I want to speak first of the dreams of a barefoot boy.”

But several surviving grandchildren of Mr. Eisenhower have opposed the Gehry plan, arguing it is too grandiose and focuses too much on Mr. Eisenhower’s Kansas roots as opposed to his global accomplishments. 

Some traditionalists also say the structure should be more in line with the classical style of the Lincoln and Jefferson memorials. Those critics have found allies among House Republicans. Some have called for starting over from scratch.

In a 2014 letter to the memorial commission, granddaughters Anne Eisenhower and Susan Eisenhower said the changes to the Gehry design did “not address the major problems identified by many stakeholders, including our family.” They suggested a simpler design that eliminates the pillars and the tapestry, or a reopening of the design competition.

In the face of the renewed push by Mr. Dole, Eisenhower family members are toning down their criticisms without endorsing the design.

“We have decided not to make any comments at this time except to say how deeply appreciative we are to the many distinguished Americans, including all living former presidents, who are supporting the building of an Eisenhower Memorial in Washington, D.C.,” the family said in response to a request for comment.

Still, Congress for the time being has halted new contributions to the construction fund and effectively blocked any ground breaking. The memorial is expected to cost $140 million to $150 million but has received only a fraction of that.

That’s where Mr. Dole—who doesn’t want the project delayed by the design issues—comes in. While organizers so far have little in the way of private-sector donations, they believe they are close to announcing some significant ones.

Sen. Pat Roberts (R., Kan.), who chairs the memorial commission, believes Mr. Dole will prove the key in reviving the effort.

Mr. Dole is confident the project will come to fruition. Even if he isn’t around to see it open, he predicts, “There’ll be a few guys around.”

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News Date: 
Thursday, November 26, 2015