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Eisenhower Memorial, opening in DC this week, pays tribute to Ike's Kansas roots

By Bryan Lowry, McClatchy Washington Bureau on

Published in News & Features

"I think the timing of this is especially crucial in that this is a time when many folks are in the business of taking down statues and monuments," Roberts said.

"They act as sort of a historical touchstone. They link the past and present and they facilitate what we hope to be a dialogue."

Susan Eisenhower said she would be surprised if her grandfather's memorial faced the same controversy as other monuments.

"Eisenhower during his presidency laid the groundwork for the civil rights advances that came later," she said.

Congress passed the legislation to memorialize Eisenhower in 1999, an effort championed by Hawaii Democratic Sen. Daniel Inouye and Alaska Republican Sen. Ted Stevens, two World War II veterans representing states added to the union during Eisenhower's presidency.

Both have since died - Inouye in 2012, Stevens in a 2010 plane crash.

As commission chair, Roberts oversaw the planning, construction and fundraising for the memorial, paid for by a combination of $150 million in public funds and $15 million in private support.

The private donations include $1 million from the government of Taiwan, a contribution that reflects the conflict with China during Eisenhower's presidency, which began during the Korean War.

Roberts noted that Eisenhower was the only president to visit Taiwan, the island nation where Chinese anti-communists fled after dictator Mao Zedong took power in China.

 

The memorial is surrounded by federal agencies established during Eisenhower's presidency: The Department of Education, the Department of Health and Human Services and the Federal Aviation Administration.

"He was president when America began our leadership on the world stage. He established much of our nation's current infrastructure. He started NASA. There's a lot of things he started," Roberts said.

The opening of the memorial will be the retiring Kansas senator's last major act as a lawmaker after four decades in Congress.

Now 84 and the longest-serving member of Congress in Kansas history, Roberts' exposure to politics began with Eisenhower's 1952 campaign when his father, Charles Wesley Roberts, was involved with organizing support for Eisenhower at the Republican National Convention.

Roberts, then a high school sophomore, got to meet Eisenhower at the convention and months later participated in his inaugural parade after his father was tapped to chair the Republican National Committee.

"I think the thing that I remember most about the inauguration was we were in a Buick convertible," he recalled. "My dad was national chairman at the time and we were far up in the parade and we were going through red lights and I thought that was pretty neat."

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