This tableau was inspired by a famous photograph of Gen. Eisenhower talking to the men of the 101st Airborne Division before they took part in the battle for Normandy.
In the early morning light, two giant bronze statues lie on the ground waiting for a crane to gently lift them into position, in front of a carved limestone panel portraying a scene from the D-Day landings.
Engraved on the panel are the words “The tide has turned! The free men of the world are marching together to victory!”; spoken by General Dwight D. Eisenhower.
The statues have been sculpted by master sculptor Sergey Eylanbekov, who also oversaw the installation of the sculptures in the tableau set up to receive them.
Eylanbekov, who works from his studio in Pietrasanta in Italy, first sculpted the images in clay after studying portraits of Eisenhower and photographs taken of him during the war.
The clay models were used to create moulds that were used to cast the bronze statues that are on display today. After final finishing and polishing, the figures were shipped from Italy to Norfolk, ready for installation in front of the carved stone background.
In the evening hours of the 5th June 1944, Gen. Eisenhower clambered over a barbed-wire fence, making his way to a group of paratroopers from the 101st Airborne Division.
He spent some time chatting with the men before they prepared to board the planes that would take them to France as part of the battle on the 6th June 1944.
Eisenhower and paratroopers rise…https://t.co/lc5Eff4A7H
— Delreo Johnson (@JohnsonDelreo) January 20, 2020
In the photograph, Gen. Eisenhower is talking to the troops who are all from the 502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment, who were based at Greenham Common in England.
The men are all standing with their battle gear on, faces blackened and packs bulging before being airlifted from England to the beaches of Normandy.
The tableau is very similar to the photograph. There are three groups of figures.
The first, weighing in at around 500lbs, is of Gen. Eisenhower on his own, standing tall with his trousers showing a distinctive, military, knife-edge crease and with his fist raised, as if emphasizing a point.
The two groups of soldiers are not sculpted of any specific person; they are intended as a general representation of the men that fought.
The groups of soldiers are imposing figures as the first group has four images, and the second has two models. Both weigh many thousands of pounds each.
Even though the images of the paratroopers were not based on any person, Eylanbekov relates a story where an elderly lady saw the statues in his studio in Pietrasanta.
She had lived through the fierce battles fought in Italy, and when she told him that she had seen one of the men depicted, he felt humbled by her tears.
Eylanbekov said that the feeling that he wanted to portray was that of soldiers following a daring general and doing something so basic; fighting for the future and for freedom. He did his best to represent the intensity of the moment.
He exaggerated the size of their hands and exaggerated the size of the folds in their uniforms. Everything is designed to show the tension in the men, the way they are standing close together, and the expression in their hands, faces, and eyes.
Eylanbekov, wearing a hard hat and jeans along with a bright yellow safety vest, supervised the installation of the statues.
These images came from his soul, and he said that he used every bit of his talent to create these magnificent castings.
As an immigrant from Russia and a new citizen of America, he was enormously inspired and honored to undertake this commission.
The massive bronze statues had to be carefully raised from their shipping pallets and craned into a position where the bolts fixed into the feet of the figures were lowered into holes drilled into the floor of the tableau.
It was the first time that he had seen his work in its final position and all the elements of the tableau working together.
The carved limestone backdrop, also designed by Eylanbekov, depicts the boats floating on a calm sea while landing on the beaches of Normandy.
The backdrop carving is intentionally quiet as a contrast to the tension in the bronzes.
This entire tableau is part of the $150 million memorial that covers four acres of Independence Avenue.
Originally the monument was designed by Frank Gehry, an architect, in 2010, but it was not approved by Eisenhower’s family nor by the United States Congress.
After many revisions and arguments, the final design was adopted in 2017, the year that also marked the ceremonial ground-breaking of the memorial.
Eylanbekov looked over the entire tableau when the statues were finally in place and declared that he was satisfied. After almost a decade in the making, they were finally in the place they were supposed to be.
The dedication of the memorial is scheduled to take place on the 8th May, which is the 75th Anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe.
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Over the next few weeks, statues of Gen. Eisenhower as a child and as the 34th President of the United States will be erected to complete the entire memorial.