After 17-Year Effort, Construction Begins on Eisenhower Memorial

Architect Frank Gehry, center, joins Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial Commission members and Eisenhower family members in the groundbreaking for the memorial in Washington, Nov. 2, 2017. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen) | By Richard Sisk

Groundbreaking ceremonies leading up to Veterans Day were held in Washington, D.C., for a new World War I Memorial and a memorial to Dwight D. Eisenhower, who changed Armistice Day to Veterans Day.

On Nov. 2, family members and friends of the late five-star general and 34th president, members of Congress and the Eisenhower Memorial Commission gathered on four acres of land called Eisenhower Square near the National Mall to turn dirt for the construction of the National Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial.

Cadets from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, where Eisenhower graduated in 1915, and sailors from the aircraft carrier Eisenhower also joined in the ceremony.

Sen. Pat Roberts, a Republican and Marine Corps veteran from Eisenhower's home state of Kansas, told the audience, "This is a very emotional day for the Eisenhower family; I have to tell you that."

Roberts, chairman of the Eisenhower Memorial Commission, said, "My family and I hope that the National Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Memorial will serve to celebrate not just Ike's life, but also those American values that under his leadership made our country, in war and peace, a beacon of hope for the rest of the world."

Construction of the new $150 million memorial is scheduled to be completed on May 8, 2020, the 75th anniversary of VE Day (Victory in Europe) over the forces of Nazi Germany.

The groundbreaking was the culmination of a 17-year struggle over the design that included initial opposition from the Eisenhower family.

"A lot of these monuments do take a long time, but this took a long time. I wish it had been sooner," Roberts said.

Veterans Day was initially known as "Armistice Day," tracing back to the armistice that ended World War I on Nov. 11, 1918.

In 1919, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed Nov. 11 as the first commemoration of Armistice Day. "To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country's service and with gratitude for the victory," Wilson said.

In 1938, Congress made Nov. 11 a legal holiday. In 1954, during Eisenhower's first term as president and after World War II and the Korean War, Congress amended the 1938 law by changing the word "Armistice" to "Veterans" to honor all who served.

In approving the change, Eisenhower issued a proclamation stating, "In order to ensure proper and widespread observance of this anniversary, all veterans, all veterans' organizations, and the entire citizenry will wish to join hands in the common purpose" of honoring veterans each Nov. 11.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at