65 years ago, he presided at a small meeting of senior commanders, weighing what was probably the single biggest decision of his, or perhaps anyones' life in modern history, then or since.
Advice was plentiful and contradictory. Tensions were almost unbearable. The stakes, as high as at any time in the history of Mankind.
Years of planning, preparation, sweat, treasure, tears....and blood....had gone into it. After almost three years of combat in secondary theatres, and a bloody, wrenching fight in the skies over France and Germany to wrest air superiority from the Germans -- at a cost that today, would be judged altogether impossibly prohibitive and politically unfathomable -- had now come down to one decision.
That decision: to commit 175,000 of America's and her Allies' finest to the fray, on a few miles of a windswept, defended stretch of beach front -- a potential toehold on Fortress Europa to begin the liberation of a continent from National Socialist darkness and terror, or a bloodbath of unprecedented proportions and an ignoble defeat of unimaginable consequences -- had come.
The decision fell on the shoulders of one man. The decision rested on him, and him alone.
A man who on the morning of December 7, 1941, was completely anonymous to the American public, the American media, American politicians and even perhaps amongst military men. A man who himself never saw such a momentous decision as one that would soon loom on his challenging, stormy horizon.
He was told the weather was manageable but precarious; he was told the window of opportunity was little more than a day and a half between weather fronts. He was told to expect up to 70% casualties among his sea-and-airborne assault troops. He was told that if he didn't go now, he'd have to wait for the right conditions until the middle of July. He was told that the Germans might have sniffed out the movements, and would be poised with veteran panzer divisions, ready to annihilate the beachheads before they were established. He was told that the decision had to be made, otherwise the thousands of ships, now standing out into the English Channel, would have to be recalled. Some of his best and brightest advisers wanted to go; others wanted to wait. He gave them all a say.
But the responsibility for the decision remained his.
He knew that his plans had been refined and refined and refined again, that the men were conditioned, trained and ready. It was also he who had often said that the best-laid plans, once the battle began, didn't mean anything: once the battle was joined, it was a soldier's fight. He knew that up to this moment, the eyes of the world were on him; yet what weighed on him more than the eyes of the world, was the humbling knowledge that once the decision was made, it was a captain piloting a bomber, or a lieutenant in the Airborne, or a sergeant in the infantry, or a corporal in the tank corps, or a private in the artillery, or a sailor on a LSI, LST or close-support destroyer, that would be the focal point of success or failure of "The Great Crusade". And he knew that he would be asking a lot of those men, perhaps asking for their all.
On the eve of the decision, he met with men of the 101st Airborne, the spearhead of the attack, or the sacrificial lambs being sent to the slaughter. He was candid as to what he was asking of them; they appreciated and respected his candor. Their cocky bravado and confidence assured him; his confidence assured them.
But still, the decision to commit those young men -- an untold number of whom would surely die, both he and they knew -- came down to him.
He had prepared two statements to release to the press; one, accepted the whole responsibility himself for the decision, if the invasion proved a disaster. In today's politically correct world, an almost unheard-of testament of courage and personal commitment to the principles of leadership.
When he ordered them to go, this man became a man of the Ages.
That man's decision initiated D-Day, June 6, 1944. That man was General Dwight D. Eisenhower. The rest is indisputable history.
Will we ever see their kind again? Of the infantrymen who hit those beaches on D-Day, the airborne troopers who fought inland, the airmen who fought, froze and died in the skies over France and Germany, of the sailors who risked all to bring the men in, and fought hard to support them...we have seen them again. We see them today, heroes who hold the far frontier against terror and repression. Our Constitutional representative republic has produced the finest men and women the world has ever seen, generation after generation.
But will we ever see HIS kind again?
I can only hope so; Dwight Eisenhower was the right man for the right moments in history, both on D-Day, and through the tumultuous '50s. Few who have aspired to positions of leadership in this nation, then or since, have been as principled, solid, well-grounded, humble, ready to answer the call, and stand equally ready to take the blame of failure, and share the success with those who earned it in the hardest arena the world has ever known: the arena of combat.
It's been 40 years since God received him into the Kingdom of Heaven. May we see your kind again, Ike.
Labels: D-Day, Dwight Eisenhower, history, politics