Dwight D. Eisenhower photo

Remarks Upon Receiving the Hoover Medal Award

January 10, 1961

Mr. President and distinguished guests of this distinguished audience:

I am indeed proud to join that company of men which has been awarded this medal during these years since Mr. Hoover first accepted it. And that reminds me that 30 years is just too long a time to elapse between Republican Presidents. And that is a sentiment which I think Mr. Hoover would share.

Ladies and gentlemen, as I listened to the statistics with which I was overwhelmed by General--and we called him "Slam" Marshall--I had the feeling it was a rather good thing he didn't know all those figures, and give them to me somewhere along about December of 1944. I would have been so impressed that I think my mind would have been taken off the war. And certainly it is enlightening, even at this late date, to find out exactly what such devoted and professionally competent people achieved.

And indeed it was the confidence of military men that our technical and professional people could do this. That was at the bottom of the plan that came later to be known as Operation Overlord. This plan came finally to a preliminary state of completion in about April of 1942. It was placed before General Marshall and all of the possibilities were explained to him, and he approved and later got the approval, of course, of the President and the British counterparts. But the point is that the planners knew there would be no ports to use, that the beaches would be mined and defended. But they also had the great faith that the American engineering profession could provide us the equipment and the materiel that would be needed, finally, for victory.

There are one or two incidents that General Marshall did not mention. I am not going to go too deeply into statistics, but there is a story--a true one--that I thought always was interesting. The American engineers equipped with the kind of mechanisms such as he mentioned, went over to Malta; and there was a British air officer, General Park, a very competent and gallant man, who knew that the Americans needed a new fighter field fight close by. The only spot that was possible to use was an island and I think it was named Gozo, but if I am wrong General Gruenther will tell me after we leave this meeting. But anyway it was nothing but a mountain. And the British having long ago given up with their hand tools on building this field, said to the engineer colonel visiting for the evening, "How long would it take you to get this field ready?" And the British thought, at least, that anything under a year, if you could do it at all, would be all right. And this man took a look and said, "Oh, 12 to 14 days." And the British officer was so astonished, and really so insulted in a sense, he said, "When can you start? .... Well," he said, "let's see what headquarters will give me." And he cabled back to Africa--he was over in Sicily--and it happened that all this equipment was in a harbor in Philippeville and ready to go, so it went right over.

From the time the equipment reached there, 13 days later, our first fighter flew on and off the field. And General Park made a special flight to me and said, "I take back everything about American bragging; it's all true."

And then, many months later, we were about to go across the Rhine, and we made finally, down near Wesel, what we called a power crossing. It was way down toward the mouth--it was flooded rivers and it looked pretty bad--all the bridges of course were blown, as the general said.

But we wanted a railroad bridge just to the north of the river, and so the supply people, showing their confidence in themselves, invited me-and I think it was 12 days later--to ride on the first train that was to go across the Rhine on their bridge. They had not yet gotten all the piles and equipment on the side. Well, the amazing thing is that 11 days I went up and they were ready to go, and I didn't have time to stay, but they cut off a piece of rail and gave it to me as a trinket to show that they had done it. That was another of those great accomplishments that people called impossible and therefore took a little time to do.

But finally there was one little incident that impressed me almost more than any other. We had in Normandy what is called the "bocage" country, and it's a country that is very closely bounded and broken up with hedges, fields the size of this room are not uncommon, and these hedges are so old that they have banks of earth formed up around them. And so you have these big hedges--enormous--sometimes 20 feet high--15 feet and that kind, growing out of these big banks of earth. Every time our tanks would try to go across, of course, they would "belly up," and even a machine gun would go through them, and we were losing tanks and pretty helpless.

There was a little sergeant. His name was Culin, and he had an idea. And his idea was that we could fasten knives, great big steel knives in front of these tanks, and as they came along they would cut off these banks right at the ground level--they would go through on the level keel--would carry with themselves a little bit of camouflage for awhile. And this idea was brought to the captain, to the major and to the colonel, and it got high enough that somebody did something about it-and that was General Bradley--and he did it very quickly.

Because this seemed like a crazy idea, they did not even go to the engineers very fast, because they were afraid of the technical advice, but then someone did have a big question, "Where are you going to get the steel for all this thing?" Well now, happily, the Germans tried to keep us from going on the beaches with great steel "chevaux de frise"--big crosses, they were all big bars of steel down on the beach where the Germans left it. And he got it--got these things sharpened up--and it worked fine. The biggest and happiest group I suppose in all the Allied Armies that night were those that knew that this thing worked. And it worked beautifully.

Now Sergeant Culin later had a leg shot off, but he is still strong and healthy--in New York the last time I saw him--a salesman. And he is one of those humble Americans who had an idea, who had the courage to bring it up to someone who could do something about it. And unquestionably he saved--the idea, properly implemented, of course, by technical and professional men--saved thousands of lives.

So that I submit that sometimes your engineering profession can profit by a little bit of "lay" imagination and wit.

By no means, my friends, did I mean to supplement General Marshall's history with these little accounts, but I couldn't help having my mind jumping around to the theatre of those years, and exciting years.

I cannot tell you how proud I am for the award I have been given, how complimented I am by General' Marshall's brilliant remarks this evening, and how happy indeed that I have met so many of you this evening. It is a great privilege. I shall hope to. see you again one day, when I am not quite so busy as today.


Note: The President spoke at the Statler Hilton Hotel in Washington on the occasion of the annual Hoover Medal award dinner. The award is sponsored by four leading engineering societies.

The President's opening words "Mr. President" referred to Walker L. Cisler, president of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, who presented the medal and accompanying citation. Later in his remarks, the President referred to Brig. Gen. Samuel L. A. Marshall, Gen. George C. Marshall, Gen. Alfred M. Gruenther, Air Vice Marshal Sir Keith Rodney Park, and Sergeant Curtis J. Culin.

Dwight D. Eisenhower, Remarks Upon Receiving the Hoover Medal Award Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/234793

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