Veterans are calling for a do-over to the 17-year-long, $66 million effort to build a memorial to Dwight Eisenhower, criticizing the design by architect Frank Gehry as "glitzy" and "over-the-top."
Right by Ike, a group that opposes the Gehry design, released a video on Tuesday featuring Retired Air Force Maj. Gen John Borling surrounded by other veterans.
Borling, a highly-decorated fighter and bomber pilot who was held by the Vietcong as a prisoner of war from 1966 to 1973, said the Gehry design should be scrapped and replaced by a more appropriate design.
"When Congress enacted legislation they expected a public competition. They didn’t get one. Instead they went to an architect with no design and ended up with something so glitzy, so over-the-top that there was broad rejection of it at all levels," Borling said.
Gehry, an architect known for undulating and disruptive contemporary designs, was selected to design the Eisenhower Memorial through a closed selection process rather than a public competition. Public competitions have been the norm for major memorials since the Vietnam War Memorial.
Borling called for a public competition to be held to reboot the Eisenhower Memorial process, which has dragged into its 17th year amid squabbles between the commission and Congress.
"We need to re-compete in a public process so we get an Eisenhower Memorial worthy of the name," Borling said.
Congress cut off construction funds to the memorial in 2013 at the request of the Eisenhower family, which panned the Gehry design as "extravagant" and "far off base."
The Eisenhower Memorial Commission has pressed forward with the Gehry design despite setbacks. Its stated plan is to raise enough private funds to demonstrate popular support so that Congress will resume funding the $150 million memorial. Failing that, the commission’s fundraisers have hinted they may bypass Congress altogether through a massive private fundraising campaign.
This week, the commission confirmed a Free Beacon report that it had raised just $5 million from a five-year private fundraising campaign. The commission stressed that it has another $2.5 million "awaiting final documentation."
Veterans have lined up on both sides of the fierce debate about the Gehry design. Concerned Veterans for America called for a design reboot in a November letter, singling out for criticism the focal point of the Gehry design—a statue of Eisenhower as a lanky Kansas farm boy.
"The focal point of the memorial by Frank Gehry is unrecognizable," said Shaun Rieley, a research analyst at Concerned Veterans for America. "It cuts him down to size."
The American Legion passed a resolution stating it would support the memorial only "if the design is acceptable to the Eisenhower family." The family has not withdrawn its opposition to the design.
On the other side, Veterans of Foreign Wars passed a resolution urging Congress "to reinstate funding and build the National Eisenhower Memorial." Prominent World War II veterans, including former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, have lent their support to the commission.