One of the greatest honors of my life was serving, as a young second lieutenant assigned to the 10th Mountain Division on the Italian front in 1945, under the leadership of a fellow Kansan, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower.
While I was recovering from wounds I sustained in April 1945, one of my fellow patients at what was then the Percy Jones Army Hospital in Battle Creek, Mich., was Lt. Daniel Inouye, who was also seriously wounded in Italy. As we supported each other through recovery and shared our hopes and dreams, little did Danny and I know that we would both be elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, and later, to the U.S. Senate.
I came to Washington just as Ike was leaving after eight years as president. Danny and I, like nearly every other World War II veteran, viewed Eisenhower as a historic figure who should be honored appropriately. Many years later, he and I proudly served, respectively, as commissioner and advisory committee member of the Eisenhower Memorial Commission.
In 1999, legislation to create the National Eisenhower Memorial was co-sponsored by Sens. Inouye (D-Hawaii) and Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) and passed by Congress as part of the fiscal 2000 defense appropriations bill. They intended the presidential memorial honoring Ike to be funded by Congress and gifts from grateful U.S. citizens.
Surprisingly, as Ike’s memorial has moved toward construction, it has been the subject of controversy, with a small but well-funded minority focused on trying to change the design and delay construction.
One of the first projects I took on when I left politics was the National World War II Memorial. I worked to raise funds for that worthy project and had the privilege of engaging with many World War II veterans along the way. The Greatest Generation is dwindling with the passing of each day. And yet, those who remain move heaven and earth to travel to Washington on “Honor Flights” so they can experience the magnificent memorial dedicated to their service and sacrifice. I have met with thousands of these veterans when they come to Washington to see their memorial. And I know firsthand that they have strong feelings about honoring the great general who led them to victory and, in doing so, saved millions of lives and ended a brutal war. They want to see Ike’s memorial completed in their lifetimes.
During my service in the Senate we passed the Commemorative Works Act of 1986 (CWA) to ensure that memorials were designed appropriately, adequately funded and built to stand the test of time. I’ve seen a lot of projects put through the processes CWA established, and I know they always come out right. Ike’s memorial is right. In fact, two significant elements of the federal process established under the CWA — preliminary approvals by the National Capital Planning Commission and by the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts — have already been granted.
Ike’s memorial is moving forward in all the right ways. It was recently announced that the Eisenhower Memorial Commission will soon have a new chairman, Sen. Pat Roberts from my home state of Kansas. Roberts, a longtime member of the commission, is the right man to lead the memorial toward completion. The time to deliberate is over. All we need now is for Congress to fund the National Eisenhower Memorial.
The writer, a Republican, represented Kansas in the Senate from 1969 to 1996.