On June 6, 1944, the future of the world rested in the hands of General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Supreme Allied Commander of all forces in Europe, the Mediterranean, and Africa during World War II.
Known as Operation Overlord, it was the date of the Normandy invasion when US, Canadian, and British troops stormed the beaches of France and altered the course of history.
On October 6, 1963 at a train stop in Des Moines, IA, the hands of President Dwight D. Eisenhower rested in a shoebox of plaster for a purpose with a less weighty outcome – an outcome that now resides in the VFMAC Museum in Mellon Hall.
President and Mrs. Eisenhower were en route back to their farm in Gettysburg, PA after visiting the Boone, IA, home of Mrs. Eisenhower. They agreed to the stop to fulfill a goal of Dr. Adrian E. Flatt, the head of the Department of Orthopedics at the University Hospital of the State University of Iowa.
Dr. Flatt was establishing a museum of hands of prominent people. Along with Presidents Hoover, Truman, and Kennedy, President Eisenhower was invited to participate.
The process involved filling a shoebox with a plaster substance similar to what dentists use with teeth. President Eisenhower’s hands were placed through a hole in the shoe box and held there for about 40 minutes while the plaster set. When complete, the President and Mrs. Eisenhower were on their way back to Gettysburg.
There were three hand busts made and then bronzed of President’s Eisenhower’s hands. One went to the University Hospital of the State University of Iowa for Dr. Flatt’s museum. Another went to the Eisenhower Foundation and the third was gifted to Robert Schulz, Brigadier General US Army (Ret), the executive assistant to President Eisenhower in honor of his nearly two decades of service for the President.
From there, the path to the VFMAC Museum is direct and gracious. Mr. Carl Schulz, son of Brigadier General Schulz, attended camp at VFMAC in the mid-1960’s. “VFMA made a made a memorable and lasting, positive influence on my life,” he said. “And there was an Eisenhower Hall located on campus, so it made perfect sense that VFMAC should display and become the permanent home for these hands.”
Mr. Schulz personally delivered the prized hands to Director of Alumni Relations, Tom Goldblum, and the Museum. “There is a rich history of VFMAC and events of our nation housed in this Museum,” said Mr. Goldblum. “These hands of President Eisenhower are displayed adjacent to a saddle owned and used by President Eisenhower as well as many other important artifacts.”
A valuable historical piece, the hands are a welcomed addition. “We are grateful for those like Mr. Schulz whose experience at VFMA was so important to him that he chose to bestow on the Museum a gift as rare and unique as these hands,” said Mrs. Stephanie M. Helgeson, Director of Development. The Hand Museum established by Dr. Flatt now resides at the Baylor Medical Center on the campus of Baylor University. One set of the Eisenhower hand busts are displayed with those of Winston Churchill, Abraham Lincoln, Neil Armstrong, Walt Disney, Troy Aikman, and Roger Staubach among others.