Sitting Chiefs Memorialized, Too
Presidents Who Dedicate Monuments Often Get Names Engraved
By Caryle Murphy
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 7, 2004; Page B01
George W. Bush recently joined a special group of U.S. presidents -- those whose names will forever be part of Washington's monumental landscape. To belong to this club, a good sense of timing is required.
In the case of the newly opened National World War II Memorial, Bill Clinton's timing was off. He signed the 1993 legislation authorizing the memorial and presided at both the site's dedication in 1995 and the groundbreaking in 2000. But his name is nowhere on the completed memorial, while Bush's is engraved on the one of the two huge stones flanking the main entrance.
It was pure serendipity, and not any partisan conspiracy, that bestowed this honor on Bush, the memorial's sponsors are quick to point out. He just happens to be in the Oval Office at the time of the project's opening.
"If Al Gore had won the election, his name would be on that stone," said Mike Conley, spokesman for the American Battle Monuments Commission, the independent federal agency that established the memorial.
But not all presidential engravings are created equal. A tour of the Mall's major memorials reveals that although most of them identify the president who dedicated the monument, some names appear more discreetly than others. And in the case of the Korean War Veterans Memorial, which was built by the same commission as the World War II memorial, there is no mention at all of Clinton -- even though he presided at its dedication in 1995. Officials say they can't explain the omission.
Bush did quite well compared with the billing that some other sitting presidents got at major monuments. Engraved in black letters about two inches high, Bush's name comes right after the name of the memorial and before the name of its architect, Friedrich St. Florian.
And Clinton, though absent from the Korean War memorial, got generous credit at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial: a stone plaque at least 10 feet high in the visitors' center notes that Clinton dedicated the landmark in 1997.
At the other end of the spectrum is President Warren G. Harding. In 1922, he dedicated the Lincoln Memorial before an audience in which blacks and whites sat separately. Nothing about the dedication or Harding's role is carved into the memorial. Instead, an exhibit in the basement includes a photo of the dedication, with a caption noting that "President Harding, not known as a public speaker, did find the words to express the real meaning of the Lincoln Memorial."
Chester A. Arthur provides further proof that presiding at a memorial's dedication does not ensure fame. Arthur, mostly recalled for being an unmemorable president, formally dedicated the Washington Monument in 1885, a fact that is noted on a bronze plaque near the entrance rather than on the monument itself.
Roosevelt and Dwight D. Eisenhower also got low-key treatment. An inscription on the cornerstone of the Jefferson Memorial notes that Roosevelt laid the stone in 1939. Eisenhower presided at the 1954 dedication ceremony for the U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial, better known as the Iwo Jima memorial, but earned no more than a mention on a separate informational panel.
The name of Herbert Hoover, however, is directly engraved on the D.C. War Memorial. Hoover dedicated the memorial, a tribute to District residents who served in World War I, in 1931.
The most unusual case is that of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, formally added to the city's memorial roster in 1982. Ronald Reagan was the sitting president. But the memorial's design had been so heavily criticized that "it was deemed too controversial at the time for the president to attend," said Jan C. Scruggs, president of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund. Orphaned by the White House but loved by the nation, the memorial bears no presidential name.
The presidential absence at the Korean War Veterans Memorial is something of a mystery, however. A bronze plaque affixed to the back of the memorial notes its 1995 dedication but says nothing about Clinton's role at the ceremony.
Retired Gen. Fred F. Woerner, who was chairman of the American Battle Monuments Commission at the time, said he does not know why Clinton's name was not put on the plaque. Members of the commission are presidential appointees.
Retired Gen. P.X. Kelley, whose first term as commission chairman ended in 1994 and who is again serving in that post, also had no explanation. "The truth is that I learned that it wasn't there when asked the question," Kelley wrote in an e-mail this week.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company