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Eisenhower Family Opposes Grand Memorial Design for a ‘Modest’ Man

What sounded at first like a dream match-up—a renowned architect designing a memorial to a beloved president and war hero—has descended into a nasty spat over the proper way to honor Dwight D. Eisenhower. The Eisenhower family is leading the opposition to a $120 million memorial designed by famed architect Frank Gehry, slated to be built on four acres south of the National Mall near the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.

Gehry, whose best-known creations include the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, and the Walt Disney Concert Hall in downtown Los Angeles, was picked for the project by the Eisenhower Memorial Commission from among 44 architectural firms. He envisioned a memorial park bordered by large metal tapestries showing Eisenhower’s boyhood home in Abilene, Kansas. Eisenhower as D-Day commander and as president would appear separately on two large stone carvings. A life-size statue would show a young Ike gazing in awe at what would become of his life.

Susan Eisenhower, the president’s granddaughter and frequent speaker for the family, told the Associated Press that “I just don’t feel any part of him in this.” She later added that, “The man we celebrate is not a dreamy boy, but a real man who faced unthinkable choices, took personal responsibility and did his duty, with modesty and humanity.”

At the same time, Susan Eisenhower criticized the memorial for being too grandiose, comparing the tapestries to those that once honored Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, and Vladimir Lenin in Moscow’s Red Square. David Eisenhower, Ike’s grandson, resigned from the Eisenhower Memorial Commission as family opposition grew.

Congress recently jumped into the fray. The House Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands held a hearing on the controversy last March. “The Gehry proposal not only fails, but fails utterly,” Bruce Cole, former chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, told the panel. “A unifying narrative, a story if you will, is absent in both conception and in design. Without this no monument to an individual can succeed.” Gehry did not attend the hearing, but in a letter to the subcommittee said he would be willing to work with the Eisenhower family to make changes.

Gehry has supporters, too, starting with the Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial Commission, which was created by Congress in 1999 to oversee the memorial project. The commission issued a statement on March 27, offering its “unanimous” and “unqualified” support for the architect: “His design for the Memorial is exciting, creative and inspiring. It captures the life and the spirit— and commemorates the historic achievements—of Dwight Eisenhower as one of the greatest generals in human history and one of our finest presidents.”

Philip Kennicott, culture critic at the Washington Post, agreed. He called Gehry’s design “the first serious innovation in the history of memorial design since the bold and abstract geometries of Maya Lin’s Vietnam Veterans Memorial.”

Kennicott also questioned the Eisenhower family’s standing to determine what happens to the memorial. “The Eisenhowers no more own the legacy of their grandfather than any soldier who served under him, or any citizen a century from now reading about him in a history book.”

Still, pressure is growing to delay the project until the dispute is resolved. The dedication of the memorial is tentatively scheduled for Memorial Day 2015. The ultimate decision is up to the National Capital Planning Commission, which has yet to put the issue on its agenda.

Washington memorials are often controversial, of course. Recently, the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial was described as unduly “authoritarian” and criticized for paraphrasing one of the civil rights leader’s most famous quotations. And Lin’s Vietnam War Memorial, which lists the names of those killed or MIA on a long black wall, was originally derided as a “black gash of shame.” Now it is considered a near-masterpiece.

New Audie Artifacts for the Murphy Museum

Audie Murphy’s uniform, the German Mauser he picked up during World War II, the billboard he used for target practice, and some of his Hollywood scripts are among 60 Murphy artifacts just acquired by the Audie Murphy/American Cotton Museum in Greenville, Texas. The items came from the Audie L. Murphy Memorial Veterans Hospital, which no longer had room for them.

Murphy, born into a family of sharecroppers in Texas, was the most decorated American soldier of the war. During fighting in Sicily, Italy, and France, the 5-foot-5 Murphy was credited with killing 240 enemy soldiers and capturing or wounding many more. Among his many commendations was the Medal of Honor he received for climbing into a burning tank destroyer, commandeering its machine gun, and mowing down attacking Germans in a battle near Holtzwihr, France, in January 1945. Ignoring a leg wound, he kept fighting until he ran out of ammunition, then withdrew and organized a successful counterattack—all while refusing medical attention.

After the war, Murphy became an actor, starring in movies such as To Hell and Back and The Red Badge of Courage. He was killed in a plane crash in 1971.

The Audie Murphy/ American Cotton Museum displayed the new items for the first time in April as part of its annual Audie Murphy Days, a two-day salute to the military.

The Band Loses a ‘Brother’

For years, it looked like Lynn “Buck” Compton would be best remembered for being a two-sport athlete at UCLA; for helping prosecute Robert F. Kennedy’s assassin, Sirhan Sirhan; and for his two decades as a California judge.

Then came the Band of Brothers phenomenon— Stephen Ambrose’s bestselling 1992 book and HBO’s popular 2001 miniseries. Suddenly, Compton’s wartime experiences as a lieutenant in Easy Company, 2nd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment in the army’s 101st Airborne Division overshadowed anything he did on a baseball diamond, on a football field, or in a court of law.

Compton, who died February 25 at age 90 after suffering a heart attack, was friendlier with enlisted men than he was with officers. He is portrayed in Band of Brothers as a tough man worn down by war, especially after seeing his friends Joseph Toye and William Guarnere mauled by artillery fire near Bastogne in January 1945. After that incident, he was evacuated from the front, ostensibly for trench foot. “He had stood up to everything the Germans had thrown at him,” Ambrose wrote. “But the sight of his platoon being decimated, of his two friends torn into pieces, unnerved him.”

After retiring from a successful legal career, Compton became what his daughter called a “poor man’s Rush Limbaugh,” hosting a conservative talk radio show.

Spy Penetrates Britain’s MI5—Until His Own Personality Ousts Him

Not all spies can be as suave and effective as 007. Take Dutch double agent Folkert Arie van Koutrik, for instance. The Germans managed to plant him inside British intelligence, only to see their mole fired from the sensitive position because of his abrasive personality.

Britain’s National Archives recently released details on Van Koutrik. He was originally employed by Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service (better known as MI6) in 1937 in the Netherlands, but switched sides a year later and joined the Germans. Working under the code name Walbach, he gave the Germans information that allowed them to kidnap two British operatives in 1939—a major embarrassment for Britain known as the “Venlo incident” (see “Unveiling Venlo,” November 2009). Undetected, the next year he landed a job as a low-level intelligence operative with the Security Service (MI5) in London, making him the first German agent ever to penetrate the organization. He didn’t do the Germans much good, though: they lost contact with him—until he was fired in 1941.

An official MI5 evaluation of Van Koutrik’s performance concluded that he was “very resourceful” but possessed the “rather unfortunate habit of absolute forthrightness toward officials when careful tact would have been better…. In this way, he frequently antagonized and offended officials.” That got him sacked. Officials learned of the deception in 1946 from German prisoner interrogations.

After the war, Van Koutrik returned to the Netherlands. He was detained by Dutch authorities, but was never charged with any crimes. He escaped prosecution because the British didn’t turn over evidence of his espionage activities. There were also doubts about trying him in a Dutch court for betraying British intelligence while he was in the Netherlands, a neutral country until the 1940 German invasion.

Once he was released, Van Koutrik had the audacity to apply for a job with the British Army on the Rhine, advising anyone with doubts about his loyalties to contact his lawyer. “I have been a victim of unfortunate circumstances,” he wrote. He didn’t get the job. An exasperated British official wrote that Van Koutrik’s job application was “a piece of brazen effrontery…. It would be utterly grotesque if he were ever employed in any capacity by any British concern, governmental or private.”


Originally published in the August 2012 issue of World War II. To subscribe, click here.