DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Dwight David Eisenhower was one of the towering figures of the 20th century. A five-star general, he led the D-Day invasion and helped defeat the Nazis. A two-term president, he brought stability to postwar America. Since his death in 1969, memories of the man called Ike have faded. But this week, NPR special correspondent Susan Stamberg says the dedication of a memorial to Eisenhower in Washington will bring him vividly back to mind.
SUSAN STAMBERG, BYLINE: It's not like any other presidential monument in D.C. No sky-piercing white obelisk - Washington. No massive looming bronze statue - Lincoln. The Eisenhower is just a bit above street level with somewhat larger-than-life sculptures. It sits on four acres of a nondescript street near the National Mall and the Air and Space Museum. Modern and clean with geometrical shapes, it's designed by star architect Frank Gehry.
FRANK GEHRY: To be creating something that has so much gravitas for the world, in the end, it's a great honor to be part of it.
STAMBERG: An open-air plaza with two tableaux sit several feet apart, highlighting major points of Ike's career - on one, bronze sculptures of General Eisenhower talking with his men before D-Day; on the other, President Eisenhower standing with three assistants in front of a map of the world carved into the limestone wall. Behind the tableaux a screen - Gehry calls it a tapestry - woven stainless steel cables patterned with an outline of the cliffs of Normandy. This scrim runs the length of the memorial, softens the dull Department of Education building behind it and, lit at night, makes magic, says Washington Post architecture critic Philip Kennicott.
PHILIP KENNICOTT: I went down there one evening right around sunset, and they were just turning the lights on, and it was really spectacular.
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DWIGHT D EISENHOWER: Soldiers, sailors and airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force, you are about to embark upon the great crusade toward which we have striven these many months.
STAMBERG: Eisenhower's orders on D-Day. Frank Gehry didn't know much about Eisenhower until he read Stephen Ambrose's biography. He liked Ike's modesty, his diplomacy, how he always gave credit to others and didn't grandstand. Gehry liked what Ike said about the kind of memorial he would prefer.
GEHRY: He had said to his family that he didn't want to be on a horse. And I understood that. And I just fell in love with the guy.
STAMBERG: Eisenhower's family was one of several hoops Gehry jumped through to get the memorial approved. Various commissions, arts groups, demanded changes. It took more than a decade. Much of the fuss was about another sculpture in the plan, a life-sized statue of a young boy, maybe 15, sitting the way boys - do arms around his knees - looking into the distance. It's Ike as a Kansas kid. He never forgot where he came from.
GEHRY: He referred to it many times. I'm the barefoot boy from Abilene who never fully leaves.
STAMBERG: Gehry's original design put the boy behind and between the two tableaux, general and president. No said a chorus of critics, so Gehry moved it to a far side looking toward the sculpted men. So moving there, the boy looking toward his future - what he can't know, what he will become. It's a statement about hope. After this week, kids coming to the Eisenhower Memorial can think, I could do that. That could be me someday. In Ike's day, that was true. It can be true today, too. In Washington, I'm Susan Stamberg, NPR News. [POST BROADCAST CORRECTION: In the audio, as in an earlier Web version of this story, we incorrectly state that the statue of Abraham Lincoln at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., is made of bronze. It is made of marble.]
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