The memorial to Dwight D. Eisenhower proposed by architect Frank Gehry fails miserably to capture the essence of our 34th president. Bruce Cole’s article “Doing Right by Ike” in a recent issue of THE WEEKLY STANDARD makes this point, coupled with this indisputable plea: Let’s give Ike the memorial he deserves.
During my thirty years of military service, I had the honor and privilege to be in the presence of President Eisenhower on three occasions, each time reinforced my image of him not only as a great man but as a great leader of men.
The first time I was in Ike’s presence was in June 1945, when he came to West Point. He had just witnessed victory in Europe in May 1945, and because he was ‘busy’ running the war in Europe, he had missed his son John’s graduation. Major General Francis Wilby, then the superintendant of the academy, decided cadets should honor Ike with a parade. At the time, the class of 1945 had just graduated and the class of 1946 was away for training or on leave, so the only class at the Academy was mine—the class of 1947.
We had just finished our first (plebe) year and there were no upperclassmen to serve as commanders of companies, battalions, and the “adjusted” regiment. So, the class of 1947 alone put on a parade in full field uniform and with fixed bayonets. After the parade, we were assembled in Washington Hall for our noon meal. There, we stood beside our tables and at rigid attention, awaiting Ike’s arrival. He soon appeared accompanied by the Superintendant and his staff and took his place on the elevated deck looking down on us young cadets. And then he spoke: “What's the matter, gentlemen, don't you all have seats?” He addressed us not as a war hero and a visiting 5-star general, but more like an old soldier or an uncle talking to men who were brand new to the profession of arms. We melted at his words, and we were transformed from being at rigid attention to smiles and laughter. I doubt any of us ever forgot that moment of witnessing Eisenhower’s brand of leadership.
My next encounter was in 1954, when I was appointed to serve as a White House social aide under President Eisenhower. For two years it was my duty to assist Ike and the first lady, Mamie, in hosting guests/VIPs, like Mary the queen mother of England, ambassadors, members of Congress, etc. Before Christmas 1954, and again in 1955, I and the other twenty aides were guests at a party in the Eisenhowers' living quarters in the White House. The president, Mrs. Eisenhower, and Mrs. Dowd, Mamie’s mother, formed a receiving line to welcome each of us aides. The president gave us each a copy of his painting of Gilbert Stuart’s “George Washington.” And in 1955, Ike’s gift to each aide was a lithograph of his painting “A Colorado Landscape.”
In the receiving line of 1955, I said to the president, “I’m going home on leave and intend to ask a special young lady named Ann to marry me.” He responded, “Don’t worry, she’ll accept.” A few months later, I was required to abdicate my position as an aide, because as a married officer I was no longer eligible to be a White House social aide. Ann and I invited the Eisenhowers to our wedding in Kansas City, Missouri, even though we knew it was very unlikely they would be able to come to the ceremony. Nevertheless, we were pleased when we received a very warm and sincere telegram from the Eisenhowers congratulating us and wishing us many years of happiness. On June 24, 2012, we celebrated our 56th anniversary.
My third personal interaction with Ike was in 1966, when I was an Air Force colonel attending the Industrial College of the Armed Forces (ICAF) in Washington, D.C. Ike came to ICAF to speak to a joint session of the student bodies of ICAF and the National War College. I was chosen to be one of a handful of students who would have coffee with Ike during the time between his inspiring presentation and the usual Q&A session. Ike had a special attachment to ICAF, as he was an early advocate for the need to educate military officers in the “art” of mobilizing our country’s resources for national defense. In the 1930s, Ike had worked closely with Bernard Baruch (chairman of the War Industries Board and advisor to several presidents) in developing the curriculum for ICAF. For his contributions to ICAF, Eisenhower Hall is the school’s main building.
Bruce Cole’s comments are right: What architect Frank Gehry has designed is a “monstrosity.” In no way does it reflect Eisenhower’s leadership.