By David Harmer
October 14 marks the 133rd birthday of General Dwight D. Eisenhower, who served as Supreme Allied Commander, president of the United States . . . and chairman of the board of trustees of Freedoms Foundation at Valley Forge.
In his day, Eisenhower was the best known and most admired man on the planet. Innumerable opportunities for influence and service were offered to him; competition for his favor was fierce. Of all he could have chosen to do with his all-too-finite free time, he devoted himself to the creation and expansion of our Foundation. He helped to write our charter; his is the first signature on our articles of incorporation; and he presided at our initial awards ceremony, held here on our campus in 1949. Throughout his presidency, he served as our honorary chair; after his presidency, he returned to active chairmanship of the board. He remained deeply involved in our work, not merely lending his unparalleled reputation, but attending over fifty of the Foundation’s meetings, gatherings, and events across the country.
What accounts for his exceptional engagement with Freedoms Foundation at Valley Forge?
Having lived long and seen much of the world, Eisenhower said that he considered three places hallowed ground: Normandy, Gettysburg, and Valley Forge. It’s no coincidence that Freedoms Foundation is headquartered in the latter. Of the land now occupied by our campus, our portion of Valley Forge, he said:
Meeting on this spot to rededicate ourselves to the dream that is America, it is difficult to avoid giving away to emotion so intense as to still the tongue and to leave any American silently grateful, humble, reverent.
The freedom of the American people here experienced its greatest danger of extinction, here met its sternest challenge. Here also it fell heir to its finest example of courage and selflessness, of faith and conviction, of leadership and character.
Eisenhower identified our then-undeveloped campus as “this spiritual temple of the greatest of all Americans.” He spoke not only of the land, but of “the vision that sustained Washington,” who fought not for independence alone, but for an enduring freedom.
Eisenhower thought deeply about what freedom meant, how it had been secured, and how it might be lost. In a letter to Dr. Kenneth D. Wells, first president of Freedoms Foundation at Valley Forge, he wrote that he’d heard freedom defined as “the opportunity for self-discipline.” Ike didn’t disagree: “Here is the implication,” he wrote, “that if we do not discipline ourselves someone else will do it for us—and this is not freedom.” But his own definition was more expansive:
Freedom, possible only in an orderly society, is the blessed right of the individual to think, speak, work and act as he pleases; provided only, that he does not violate the identical rights of another.
Eisenhower aspired to “give to each oncoming generation a reminder of the price of freedom in the past and present, and of our purpose of living harmoniously together, permitting the creative spirit of man to reach its highest aspirations, to seek its own destiny.”
That’s why he cared so much about Freedoms Foundation at Valley Forge.
“As Honorary Chairman of the Foundation since its inception,” he wrote from the White House in 1959, “I have a continuing personal interest in its activities and achievements. I sincerely hope it will continue to expand its influence and good works throughout our fifty States.”
Shortly after completing his second term as president, Eisenhower was honored here in Valley Forge. In his acceptance speech—extemporaneous, but recorded, transcribed, and preserved in the Foundation’s archives—he said:
This is the country that Washington founded and the one that Lincoln preserved, and it should go on, living by the same ideals and aspirations, under the same principles and institutions, to new heights of strength and glory and dedication. . . .
What Freedoms Foundation is doing, and doing so well, is to . . . think of these succeeding generations—our children and grandchildren—and how they are coming up. We want brought before them something of the spiritual character of man and therefore the spiritual character of our nation. . . .
We want them to grow up and mature in this dedication . . . to preserve this great nation, to strengthen it, to help it progress, because this nation is still mankind’s greatest hope for a true, free, happy future on this earth.
Sixty-two years later, that remains the purpose and effect of all we do. Through our programs, members of the rising generation are immersed in America’s founding ideals and inspired to preserve them. We’ve been true to Eisenhower’s vision. As his birthday approaches, we think he’d be pleased.
We hope you are, too. Thank you for your support.
Supporting America’s first principles of freedom is essential to ensure future generations understand and cherish the blessings of liberty. With your donation, we will reach even more young people with the truth of America’s unique past, its promising future, and the liberty for which it stands. Help us prepare the next generation of leaders.