WASHINGTON — Longtime Kansas Sen. Bob Dole is planning an ambitious fundraising effort to build the long-debated Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial in Washington, and he will have help from Tom Hanks, Tom Brokaw and others.
Dole told The Associated Press on Friday that he aims to raise $150 million in private funds, if necessary, to build the memorial after more than 15 years of planning. Critics of the memorial's design have stalled funding in Congress.
The 92-year-old World War II veteran says it's time to honor "Ike," the 34th president and supreme Allied commander during World War II. Organizers hope to create "I Still Like Ike" clubs nationwide to support the memorial.
"Personally, Eisenhower was my hero," said Dole, who also called him one of the greatest men in U.S. history. "... So I decided that we just need to go out and raise the money privately and get the memorial built for this great American."
The memorial should have been built by now, Dole said, considering Congress authorized the project about 16 years ago. But objections from the Eisenhower family and other critics slowed the process of winning approval for the design by architect Frank Gehry.
Critics won't stop Eisenhower's memorial, though, Dole said, even if they have "poisoned the well" among influential Republicans in Congress.
"To heck with 'em," he said. "We're going to go ahead and build it." Eisenhower wouldn't want taxpayers paying for his memorial anyway, Dole said.
"It's been 70 years since the end of World War II, and some of us older guys would like to be there for the dedication," he said.
Every Saturday, Dole visits the World War II Memorial in Washington to welcome veterans. He is gathering petitions signed by veterans to support the Eisenhower project and is looking for support from the Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Legion.
"We can't satisfy every critic. Every memorial that's been built, I believe, has had criticism. The World War II Memorial was criticized by some. They didn't like the design," he said. "And we finally said OK, we'll just go raise $170 million and build it. Now it's the most visited memorial in D.C."
The Eisenhower project won final approvals for Gehry's revised design and now must raise funds to begin construction. Congress already appropriated $60 million for design and planning, of which $17 million was still on hand in July.
Gehry designed a memorial park with statues of Eisenhower as a general, as president and as a young man from Kansas. A large metal tapestry would serve as a backdrop, depicting the Kansas landscape of Ike's boyhood home.
The park would be situated among federal agencies from Eisenhower's era near the National Mall, facing the National Air and Space Museum.
Dole pledges to work the phones and write fundraising letters. Next week, he'll visit the Kansas State Fair and greet visitors at a booth promoting the memorial. Dole is also amassing a network of support, calling on former presidents, congressional leaders and cabinet officials to join the effort. Brokaw, the NBC newsman, signed on this summer.
Hanks is also joining the memorial's advisory committee. The filmmaker and actor from "Saving Private Ryan" also worked with Dole to help lead the fundraising effort for the World War II Memorial.
"My role in that effort was meant to honor the sacrifices of Ike's troops and all those who served in that global conflict," Hanks said in a statement to the AP. "I am pleased to join the effort to remember their leader who went on to become one of our most prescient and wise of presidents."
Eisenhower Memorial Commission: http://eisenhowermemorial.gov/
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