Twenty-One Years in the Making: Dedicating the Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial

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U.S. Senator Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), Chairman of the Eisenhower Memorial Commission, participated in the dedication of the national memorial to honor President and General Dwight D. Eisenhower. Below are Roberts’ remarks as prepared for delivery:

Thank you, Bret. As an Eisenhower author yourself, I know you share our enthusiasm for his legacy. Thank you so much.

Greetings to all of our guests here tonight and to those of you watching. Now, we wish we could all be together in person to celebrate the completion of this magnificent memorial. 

However, the legacy of Dwight D. Eisenhower cannot be constrained by the size of the crowd because it is reflected in the freedoms we live every day as Americans.

The memorial designer, Frank Gehry, and his partners unfortunately are unable to join us tonight, but, if the pandemic has taught us one thing, it is that you don’t have to be in the same place to be together.

So, Frank, I know you and your team are watching; the brilliance of your design reverberates around the world and lifts the legacy of Dwight D. Eisenhower to an unending global audience.

Tonight, as we dedicate this memorial, we stand on the shoulders of some giants who made it possible: Senators Ted Stevens, Danny Inouye, Thad Cochran and Lisa Murkoswki. I salute their enormous contribution to completing this memorial. Lisa, we couldn’t have done this without you.

I also want to thank my fellow Commissioners who always allowed us to conduct our business in a supportive, bi-partisan way, truly in the image of the man that we honor tonight.  

And I want to thank one commissioner in particular, my fellow Kansan, my friend, my mentor, Senator Bob Dole, a man who fought bravely on the battlefields of Italy under Ike’s command. Although gravely wounded, Bob fought his way back to health and strength.

He applied that same tenacity of spirit to fundraising on behalf of this memorial. Because of his tireless efforts, the remaining heroes of the Greatest Generation can now salute their commanding officer.

Needless to say, we would not be here today without the guiding influence of the Eisenhower family. I would like to recognize David Eisenhower and his wife Julie Nixon Eisenhower, who are with us here tonight.

David, Anne, Susan, and Mary Jean - because of your valued input, we have a fitting memorial to your beloved grandfather. We persevered, and we persevered, and we persevered and then we got it right.

I want to thank our donors, some of whom are here tonight. Because of you, this memorial is complete. Donations come in all sizes, and we are grateful for every one of them.  

I would like to extend special recognition for one donor in particular – a teacher at Navarre Elementary School in East Toledo, Ohio. In 2012, in honor of Veteran’s Day, the Navarre Elementary School classes pitched in their quarters, nickels and even pennies, and sent them to Washington, so they could support this memorial to Ike.

Robyn Hage, will you please stand so we can thank you for teaching young Americans the importance of giving back to their community and their country, as well as their heritage.

As a senator, I always say, “You are only as good as your staff,” and that adage certainly applies to this project. The entire commission staff, spearheaded by General Carl Reddel and Victoria Tigwell, deserve our heartfelt thanks and appreciation for their unwavering focus on building this memorial. Carl, Queen Victoria, Dan, Ed, Shannon, Trace, Joyce and Chris, we thank you.

From my own staff, there are two women in particular that I would like to thank. One of whom worked with me during the long years of preserving the opportunity to have this memorial, and the other shares equally in the success of bringing this memorial to fruition: Amber Kirchhoefer and Jackie Cottrell. Thank you for your creative thinking, your loyalty and your diligence.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I have just been told we have a message coming through cyber space right now-I direct your attention to the monitors…

Thank you, Chris Cassidy and the team at NASA for making that possible. Yet another Eisenhower achievement.

Before the pandemic, dedication was to be on May 8th, the 75th anniversary of V-E Day, certainly an anniversary with world-wide significance. 

But today, September 17th, is an anniversary of truly American origins. On this day in 1787, after debate and compromise, our Constitution was signed in Philadelphia. Later, it also became known as Citizenship Day. What would Ike’s message about citizenship be to us now?

“Duty to country before self” was Eisenhower’s creed. In his reflections on his first day at West Point, he said, “When we raised our right hands and repeated the official Oath…a feeling came over me that the expression ‘The United States of America’ would now and henceforth mean something different than it ever had before. From here on, it would be the nation I would be serving, not myself.”

Eisenhower saw the promise that America holds for everyone and the reciprocal responsibility to serve the country that offers so much. As he said in his first Inaugural address, “It is the firm duty of each of our free citizens….to place the cause of his country before the comfort, the convenience of himself.”

Putting his country before himself meant many things in Eisenhower’s life. It meant moving from place to place, often to other countries. It frequently meant leaving his family behind. It meant bearing the responsibility to send hundreds of thousands of sailors, soldiers, and airmen into peril. It meant sacrifice as we see reflected in the soldiers of the 101st Airborne as they listen to their commander on the eve of D-Day.

In this memorial, we see the coming of age of Eisenhower and America, embodied in the dreams of a young man. Just as Eisenhower left Abilene at twenty to go to West Point and was later selected to be the Supreme Allied Commander during World War II and then President of the United States, America too was transitioning from humble beginnings to global leadership. Ike led the way.

The legacy of that emergence of America can be seen in the tapestry of Pointe du Hoc in peacetime - Normandy at Peace, a symbol of the sacrifice that was made there to liberate Europe and secure freedom from Nazi tyranny, saving western democracy. 

Memorials act as historical touchstones – they are the “intersection of memory and history.” They are meant to inspire contemplation and reflection about events and people, like Eisenhower, who have shaped our history profoundly.

I hope this memorial not only makes us more aware of Eisenhower’s accomplishments and where we would be as a nation or world without one man’s vision and leadership, but, even more importantly, I hope it causes us to reflect on where we are today and what we, as individuals and a society, can do to change the course of the nation and the world.

It is incumbent upon us to learn from the past and apply those principles to our circumstances today, to build on the foundation Eisenhower desperately fought to protect and restore.

This memorial teaches us that through all the darkness, there is light. And this memorial comes at exactly the right time to provide some light in troubling times.

As we look to the entrance of the memorial to that teenage boy from small-town Kansas looking back at us, we see the hopes of all young men and women as they imagine their future: a reminder that we still have within us our own dreams, and that liberty and freedom make it possible for us to find our way, to pursue those hopes and dreams, and to seize the opportunities before us.  

Eisenhower understood that in a country where destiny is determined not by one’s position at birth, but rather strength of character and determination of spirit, dreams do come true. Eisenhower understood one person’s ability to chart his or her own course and change the course of the world.

That American story, the story of a young boy from Abilene, is celebrated at the entrance of this memorial.

For me, as a small-town Kansas boy, I never dreamed I would one day dedicate a memorial to Kansas’ favorite son, Dwight David Eisenhower. It is with wonder in my heart that I stand here near the statues of Eisenhower as General and as President, with the towering cliffs of Pointe du Hoc behind us. And I marvel anew at the lessons he left for us.

Life in a small town is not easy, but the rewards come from a community of people who know your name, your parents’ name, and your teachers’ name.  

If you fall down a few rungs on the ladder of success, somebody is there to help you climb back up. We cheered each other's victories and stood beside each other in our moments of defeat. 

No wonder Dwight D. Eisenhower declared, “The proudest thing I can claim is that I am from Abilene.”

In closing, I take you back to the moment just before Eisenhower began his First Inaugural Address. He asked the crowd for the privilege of offering a prayer of his own. I share some of that with you now:

Almighty God, give us, we pray, the power to discern clearly right from wrong, and allow all our words and actions to be governed thereby and by the laws of this land. Especially we pray that our concern shall be for all people regardless of station, race or calling. May cooperation be permitted and be the mutual aim of those who, under the concepts of our Constitution, hold to differing political faiths; so that all may work for the good of our beloved country and Thy glory. Amen.

May the United States of America mean something more to each of us because of Eisenhower’s legacy and our reflections at this memorial. 

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