The Note In Ike’s Pocket – Eisenhower and D-Day

“Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops. My decision to attack at this time and place was based on the best information available. The troops, the air and the Navy did all that bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt it is mine alone.”Ike - World War II  Eisenhower D-Day letter

History remembers the D-Day landings as a great success. They opened the door to the final destruction of the white supremacist Nazi tyranny. Unprecedented in their scope and unparalleled in their success, the landings on the beaches of Normandy are rightly considered a brilliant example of military strategy. But for Eisenhower D-Day also carried with it the chance for horrific failure. The absolute success of Eisenhower D-Day plans was not a preordained success.

However, a deeper look at the history of D-Day shows that success was far from certain. In the history of warfare, there had never been a large scale seaborne invasion of a defended coastline that had succeeded! Had the Germans employed a better defense, better intelligence, better strategy, the offensive might have failed. The weather didn’t help. Hitler did not fully grasp the significance of what was happening or his forces would have been better deployed. The Allied supply line could have failed. Any of these factors – let alone a combination of them could have led to a German victory on the beaches of Normandy. The Eisenhower D-Day plans could have resulted in a tremendous defeat for the Allies.

Ike was well aware of the overwhelming odds. While Eisenhower had great confidence in his plan and in his men, Eisenhower was a humble leader who was prepared to take responsibility if the landing failed. With Edward R. Murrow and Ernie Pyle daily reporting the deaths piling up among soldiers and civilians alike, Eisenhower knew that casualties among the men he loved would be heavy but that the ultimate goal would be worth it. And so he wrote a note n pencil on a 4 1/2-by-7-inch sheet of notebook paper. explaining why the landing had been a failure, just in case.
In his original draft, Eisenhower included the phrase, “this particular operation (had failed.) he changed it to, “My decision to attack” Karen had failed.) This small edit demonstrates the depth of Eisenhower’s willingness to take personal responsibility, his humility and the wisdom of his leadership.

Of course, we know that the Eisenhower D-Day strategy turned out to be a brilliant success. On July 11, with Allied troops driving through France, Eisenhower discovered the letter was still in his wallet. He showed it to a fellow officer, Capt. Harry C. Butcher, who recounted in his memoirs that that Ike save it for posterity. Today the original in the Eisenhower Memorial Library in Abilene, Kansas

We live in an era where, increasingly, political leaders seem unwilling to take real responsibility for the consequences of their actions many of us have heard a standard political apology “if anyone was offended by what I said, I’m sorry you were offended.” There is a world of difference between that apology and simply saying I was wrong”. As in so many aspects of his life soldier and as a president, Eisenhower sets the example for all of us of moral leadership.

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