Dwight D. “Ike” Eisenhower is one of America’s – and the world’s – most iconic military and political figures. As supreme commander of Allied forces in World War II, Ike led the most successful military coalition in history to victory over Nazi Germany. In June 1944, he made the most momentous decision of the war by uttering the simple words “OK, let’s go” to launch the D-Day invasion force into the stormy English Channel.
Eight years later, in 1952, Eisenhower was elected to the first of his two terms as president of the United States. He oversaw an unprecedented period of prosperity while managing a new kind of global conflict – the Cold War. Facing the stark reality of nuclear weapons, Ike again held the fate of civilization in his hands.
Today, Ike is still very much revered around the world. It is therefore fitting that the Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial will be built on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., as a tribute honoring his extraordinary life and legacy. As executive director of the Eisenhower Memorial Commission, Brigadier General (U.S. Air Force, Ret.) Carl W. Reddel leads this endeavor.
What is the latest update and status of the Eisenhower Memorial?
REDDEL: We continue with the approval review process for the design, and are very close to completion, while also finalizing modifications for things such as landscaping, the actual Eisenhower quotations for the physical memorial, and also the sculptural elements. We project the possible dedication will be in 2017 at the earliest.
How did you become part of the memorial commission?
REDDEL: I was in the Air Force near the end of the Cold War, specifically in Russia leading a group of young Americans cooperating with Soviet officers under Reagan and Gorbachev to destroy nuclear tactical missiles. That got me interested in how they ended World War II, and I became interested in Eisenhower more specifically at that point. I was later looking for a new job at the Department of Defense because I wanted to be part of the adaptation at the end of the Cold War. And as I was doing that, a University chancellor gave me a call and said, “Carl, I know you are looking for a new position, and this may not be exactly what you are looking for, but it sounds a bit like you.” It was, and I came to Washington by way of Russia to be president and CEO of the Eisenhower World Affairs Institute, and I have been involved with [Ike] ever since.
I was with the institute for about two years and then was up at Gettysburg College for about a year. And it was during that time the commission was formed, and one day I got a call that asked if I would help put together the work for the commission. By that time, I had become a big fan of Eisenhower. My first meeting was in June 2001 at the Capitol, where they asked me to coordinate some staff activities, and I have been with the commission since then.
There is already an “e-memorial” operating. Can you tell us about that?
REDDEL: This is particularly appropriate to Eisenhower, who was innovative and creative in the use of science and technology. And having access to the world’s leading experts on Eisenhower, we learned he also had a profound dedication to education. The first time he put on a uniform was to get an education at West Point, and the first time he took off the uniform was to become president of Columbia University.
So we were compelled to share this great legacy in a 21st-century way with our 21stcentury audience, knowing of course that the Internet was born in a government agency created by Eisenhower. Therefore, we worked with our experts to pick “pivotal moments” of his life and are presenting them in a way that young Americans can benefit from and appreciate. The memorial will be right in front of the Department of Education – and of course [Eisenhower] created the Department of Health, Education and Welfare.
Can you tell us about leading the U.S. Air Force Academy history department?
REDDEL: I was first assigned to the Air Force Academy since I was a Russian specialist and was the first active duty officer to go on an educational exchange to Russia. I lived at Moscow State University in 1975, which helped me later when I took teams of young Americans into Russia to destroy missiles. I am pretty sure that my becoming a professor and head of the history department at the Air Force Academy was rooted to a degree in my Russian background during the Cold War.
As a specialist in Russia, how did you approach teaching lessons of history?
REDDEL: I teach that it is not just knowing your enemy, but more about how do we address security issues of the United States. I advocate long-range thinking since history offers the long view. Little did I know that Eisenhower was fundamental in the creation of the Air Force Academy, and how it evolved into this superb educational instrument.
What stands out to you as Eisenhower’s greatest contribution?
REDDEL: What he brought as the last general to be president of the United States, and having the experience of three wars: World War I, II, and then III – the Cold War. He had personal control of the most destructive weapons that mankind had created, which could destroy civilization, and he understood that perfectly when he said, “The only way to win World War III is to prevent it.” He took us through a dangerous period when people were looking under their beds for Communists.
What role in your past best prepared you for your job today?
REDDEL: Having been a military officer prepared me to work in a dispassionate, factually based way under the leadership of diverse individuals, such as the 12 commissioners for whom I work. They are four members of the Senate, four members of the House, and four presidential appointees. These bipartisan commissioners are our bosses, and I work to fulfill their will and am proud to serve them as the representatives of the American people.
What leaders in history do you most admire?
REDDEL: After Eisenhower of course, I would say George Washington, whom Eisenhower admired greatly because, among other attributes, he created this country as the new free experiment for all of history. I would put the two of them at the head of the list.
What do you believe are the main traits of outstanding leaders?
REDDEL: Outstanding leaders need different characteristics at different times of history. Today it is an extremely complex world, with the military being the most challenging profession, so I appreciate leaders who possess an innate and genuine respect for the dignity of each individual human being, and I am ready to follow that person.
What aspects of military history are most important to you?
REDDEL: To understand the complexity of modern warfare, particularly as it related to the USA, which I was fortunate to learn at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland from Professor John Erickson, who wrote The Road to Berlin and The Road to Stalingrad. He was a genius.
John Ingoldsby conducted this interview. He is an award-winning writer on the intersection of sports and the military and is president of IIR Sports & Entertainment Inc. (IIRsports.com), a public relations and media firm in Boston.
Originally published in the July 2014 issue of Armchair General.