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Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
“Never before has the president — Lyndon B. Johnson — sent a telegram to a former president — Dwight D. Eisenhower — to be read in tribute to a late president — Herbert Hoover,” The Gazette reported Aug. 10, 1965.
It happened that day when the first posthumous birthday celebration for Hoover was held in West Branch. Hoover had died Oct. 20, 1964, in New York City.
Though Eisenhower was at the ceremony, his former vice president, Richard Nixon was the featured speaker at the program honoring Hoover, who had been buried in West Branch on a grassy rise overlooking the cabin where he was born.
Nixon took his job seriously, spending a month on the speech.
The event also included the first-day sale of the Hoover commemorative postage stamp that went on sale at 8:30 a.m. Aug. 10 at the West Branch post office.
The stamp, printed in red, bore an official portrait of Hoover by Fabian Bachrach Sr., surrounded by the words “Herbert Hoover — Humanitarian — Engineer — President — United States Postage — 5 cents.”
Former President Harry Truman also had been invited to the event but was unable to make it.
It had been thought Johnson would be there, too, but he sent a message via Eisenhower.
It was Eisenhower’s first visit to West Branch though Nixon had been there 28 years earlier to visit relatives after he graduated from Duke University.
As a condition of Eisenhower’s appearance, he asked that he not be required to shake hands because he had a “bad case of bursitis” in his elbow. The then 74-year-old Eisenhower, the former commander of the Allied forces during World War II, clasped a few hands at the event though onlookers could see him grimace in pain.
Also there were Iowa’s Republican U.S. Sens. Bourke Hickenlooper and Jack Miller and U.S. Rep. John R. Schmidhauser, an Iowa City Democrat, who authored the legislation that established the national historic site honoring Hoover.
R.G. Stuelke, president of the West Branch Heritage Foundation, and West Branch Junior High Principal Jim Harper were responsible for coordinating the day.
Nixon, Eisenhower and Hoover’s sons were greeted by about 2,000 people at the Cedar Rapids airport as they flew in on the morning of Aug. 10.
They were taken in separate cars in a nine-car motorcade to West Branch, 30 miles away. Arriving at 10:45 a.m., Eisenhower and Nixon retired to Stuelke’s residence to rest until noon.
They had lunch at the Herbert Hoover Elementary School and then visited the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum, which had opened two years before, and then Hoover’s birthplace and gravesite.
Herbert Hoover Jr. guided Eisenhower through the blacksmith shop at the site, a reconstruction of the shop run by President Hoover’s father.
Donald Johnson of West Branch, national commander of the American Legion, was master of ceremonies.
Nixon’s speech started at 2 p.m. before an estimated crowd of more than 22,000.
The last time Hoover had visited West Branch, in 1962, he spoke about a Council of Free Nations to work for world peace. Nixon’s speech was a marked contrast.
He began by praising Hoover asa president, engineer, author, and humanitarian and for his service after his presidency.
“This warm, kind, generous, shy, witty and progressive humanitarian was painted as a cold, heartless, selfish, aloof, humorless reactionary” after the Great Depression started during his presidency, Nixon said. “But time has a way of healing the wounds inflicted by excessive partisanship.”
Nixon, who would become president in 1968, followed that sentiment by calling for stepped-up military action. “We must continue to step up air and sea attacks on North Vietnam until the Communist leaders stop their aggression against South Vietnam,” he said.
Two days later, Johnson signed the legislation creating the 200-acre Herbert Hoover National Historic Site at West Branch. Iowa Rep. Schmidhauser attended the bill signing in the Rose Garden and then donated his memento pen to the Hoover museum.
“Few freshmen (congressmen) can boast of getting a bill through Congress, let alone legislation of sufficient significance to warrant a signing ceremony with the president handing out pens used in affixing his signature,” The Gazette reported.