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General Eisenhower, Supreme Allied Commander, prepared two messages in preparation for D-Day, 6 June 1944. One was issued as his Order of the Day for June 6, 1944, to be read to all the troops. The other was jotted in pencil on a single page. Both messages teach us what military leadership under our constitutional republic should look and sound like.
ALLIED EXPEDITIONARY FORCE
Soldiers, Sailors, and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force!
You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hope and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you. In company with our brave Allies and brothers-in-arms on other Fronts, you will bring about the destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world.
Your task will not be an easy one. Your enemy is will-trained, well-equipped and battle-hardened. He will fight savagely.
But this is the year 1944! Much has happened since the Nazi triumphs of 1940-41. The United Nations have inflicted upon the Germans great defeats, in open battle, man-to-man. Our air offensive has seriously reduced their strength in the air and their capacity to wage war on the ground. Our Home Fronts have given us an overwhelming superiority in weapons and munitions of war, and placed at our disposal great reserves of trained fighting men. The tide has turned! The free men of the world are marching together to Victory!
I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty and skill in battle. We will accept nothing less than full Victory!
Good luck! And let us beseech the blessing of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking.
General Eisenhower walked among the paratroopers preparing to load up and jump into the night to initiate Operation Overlord. He looked men in the eye who he knew would soon be dead, following his orders. He reportedly made small talk about fishing, as was his habit under stress. His order of the day and his actions in the assembly areas expressed confidence in the plan and the forces’ preparation, while not sugar-coating what they were jumping, gliding, or wading into. Eisenhower even invokes the “Home Fronts” as a massive force multiplier behind the men on the tip of the spear.
In the same hours, he jotted down another D-Day message, to be transmitted to both the troops and the home fronts, in case the landings failed. If the Germans stopped the invasion on the beach and threw them back into the sea, he would take full responsibility for the plan and its failure.
Our landings in the
Cherbourg – Havre area
have failed to gain a
satisfactory foot hold and
^I have withdrawn the troops
withdrawn. This particular
operationMy decision to
attack at this time and place
was based upon the best
The troops, the air and the
Navy did all that [crossed out]
Bravery and devotion to duty
could do. If any blame
or fault attaches to the attempt
it is mine alone.
— July 5
Note the revision. Ike’s first draft went passive voice with “the troops have been withdrawn. This particular operation.” He stopped himself, lined through the blame-defusing words, and inserted “I have withdrawn the troops.” He doubled down: “My decision to attack . . .If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt, it is mine alone.” He praised the troops (“Bravery and devotion to duty”) and the planners (“best information available”). He even added emphasis here by separating the planning phrase from the execution phrase, dropping in a period and crossing out “and.” Everyone had done everything in their power to bring victory. Then he took responsibility, rather than allowing an opening for criticism of the American and British commanders in chief, President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill. In the face of a major military set-back, the democracies did not need political generals joining politicians in attacks on the war governments.
Would that we had generals and admirals with the same moral courage and clarity today. Would that we were not facing another massive “dereliction of duty” by our senior uniformed and civilian military service leaders. In the face of critical corrosion of the American military, we need leaders aspiring to be like Ike.*
* A play on “Be like Mike:”Published in