Skip to comments.Eisenhower Wrote "In Case of Failure" Message Before D-Day
Posted on 05/26/2004 7:22:42 PM PDT by Incorrigible
BY DELIA M. RIOS
On the afternoon of July 11, 1944, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower came across a forgotten note tucked inside his wallet. He called in his naval aide, Capt. Harry C. Butcher, who, taking the paper, read:
"Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops.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 upon 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."
It was dated, in Ike's hand, July 5. Butcher knew it had to have been -- and was -- written June 5, when "Bravery and devotion" might yet fail the Allies on Normandy's beaches.
That July afternoon was D plus 35. On June 6, D-Day, the largest armada in history had crossed the English Channel, landing nine divisions of sea and airborne troops in a sweeping assault upon Nazi-occupied France that put the Allies on the road to victory.
Eisenhower penned such notes on the eves of other amphibious operations, secretly tearing each one up afterward. "I told him I wanted it," Butcher would later recall. Ike gave in, reluctantly.
The sheet of beige paper -- at 41/2 by 7 inches, it looks as if it came from a notepad -- is brittle and fragile, like many of the once strapping young men who advanced through surf and bullets, each carrying 75 pounds of equipment. The paper doesn't carry the letterhead of the Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force, which Eisenhower was. It's cheaply made. The four sentences on it are written in pencil, and were composed on a portable table.
Archivists at the Dwight D. Eisenhower Library & Museum in Abilene, Kan., call it the "In Case of Failure" message. It's safeguarded in an acid-free folder in the security vault there, a veteran, too, of dark days when freedom hung in the balance.
This June 5 -- now 60 years after Ike faced down the specter of defeat -- fireworks from Arromanches to Ste.-Mere-Eglise will herald the return to Normandy of the aged men who, as the National D-Day Museum puts it, once electrified the world. The next day, June 6, President Bush marks the sacrifice of Americans at the Colleville-sur-Mer cemetery, where 9,386 troops from D-Day and subsequent operations are buried on a cliff overlooking Omaha Beach. Total Allied casualties on D-Day were approximately 10,000 -- some 6,603 of them Americans.
They were part of an initial invasion force of some 156,000, launched from Great Britain on Eisenhower's word for a 50-mile stretch of French coastline. A history compiled by the D-Day museum in New Orleans maps out the assault, code-named by beach: The U.S. 4th Division was to take Utah Beach; the U.S. 29th and 1st Divisions, Omaha Beach; the British 50th Division, Gold Beach; the Canadian 3rd Division, Juno Beach; and the British 3rd Division, Sword Beach.
"This operation is planned as a victory, and that's the way it's going to be," Eisenhower had declared. "We're going down there, and we're throwing everything we have into it."
He meant everything: 11,000 aircraft, 6,000 naval vessels, and a total of 2 million men, including reinforcements for the first wave. He issued an Order of the Day -- only one of 10 in his name from 1944 and 1945 -- to be distributed to every soldier, sailor and airman in "Operation Overlord." The language is epic and undaunted:
"You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade," he began.
"The eyes of the world are upon you. The hope and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you. ... The tide has turned! The free men of the world are marching together to Victory!
" ... Good luck! And let us beseech the blessing of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking."
An invasion was inevitable after France fell in 1940.
"The outcome of the war rested upon its success," D-Day museum curators write. It was Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin, as a National Archives account details, who pressed President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill in late 1943 to name a supreme commander for Overlord.
"Who carries the moral and technical responsibility for this operation?" Stalin demanded. The job fell to Ike.
"General Ike," as Butcher called him, named June 5 D-Day. But a dire omen descended in the form of gale-force winds and sheets of horizontal rain. Eisenhower set a new date: June 6. "The mighty host," he said of the troops, "was tense as a coiled spring."
At noon June 5, he sat at the portable desk and assumed, in writing, any failure upon his shoulders alone.
He edited the note in four places with a heavy pencil. He began the second sentence with, "This particular operation," crossed that out and began again with, "My decision to attack." Under the words "mine alone" is a single, long dash -- perhaps meant to emphasize those words, or just to signal the statement's end. In the bottom right corner is the date, which has required explanation ever since.
Ike's was this: "The July 5 date must have been a careless error," he concluded in 1966 after reviewing the note, according to the editors of "The Papers of Dwight David Eisenhower: The War Years III." He doesn't allude, at least here, to the drama of the moment.
The note's brevity was classic Ike, explains Dennis Medina, museum curator at the Eisenhower Library. A year later, when he wrote Army Chief of Staff George Marshall of Germany's unconditional surrender, he had only this to say about the end of the war in Europe: "This mission was accomplished on May 7, 1945."
At 6:30 p.m. June 5, Ike left his headquarters to join the tide of men preparing to embark. "The stars on the running board of his automobile had been covered, but the troops recognized `Ike,' and word quickly spread of his presence," according to the National Archives. He met with the British 50th Infantry Division, then the U.S. 101st Airborne. His grandson, David, recounted the scene in "Eisenhower at War: 1943-1945":
"He asked their names and homes. `Texas, sir!' one replied. ... `Where are you from, soldier?' `Missouri, sir.'"
Ike stood by as the paratroopers began to take off, knowing a great many wouldn't be coming home.
The next morning, an hour and a half after the first landing craft hit the beaches but before he had any news of the invasion, Ike sent a message to Washington telling of the men he'd met and how "the light of battle was in their eyes."
Wally Strobel was among them. He turned 22 on June 5. As a photographer clicked away, he and Ike talked about fishing in Strobel's native Michigan. In his gear he carried Ike's Order of the Day, with all its valiant imagery and confidence. In Ike's wallet was that other message, the one that was forced to imagine an unimaginable defeat.
Strobel survived D-Day and the war. In 1994, on the 50th anniversary, he donated his dog tags, uniform and Order of the Day message to the Eisenhower Library. He died in 1999, living long enough to enjoy his grandchildren.
In the end, as Ike could only hope as he said his farewells to the troops, freedom did prevail.
May 26, 2004
Not for commercial use. For educational and discussion purposes only.
My uncle Neil and uncle Charlie stormed Normandy that day. Both came back and lived until the 90's.
I was trying to look up a quote that perhaps doesn't really exist.
Is it true that Charles de Gaul asked President Eisenhower to remove all US troops from France, to which Ike asked, "Does that include those buried at Normandy"? Maybe it was President Truman?
Kind of hard to imagine what would have happened if Al Gore or John Kerry had been President in the 1941-1945 period.
Join us at the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford, Va. to memorialize the men who went ashore that day to uphold the faith of General Eisenhower in his troops and the Honor Of the USA. I know what they did, I was there
That's true. As I understood, it was around the time France withdrew from NATO, ~1967.
LBJ's reply was transmitted through an aide, and was, approximately, "We will, of course, require extended time to exhume the Americans in Normandy."
Of course, at that point, the entire thing was dropped.
A GREAT MAN!! Who led GREAT MEN!!! We need men of this kind of courage and conviction to lead America again. Where are they???
There's a D-Day Memorial in Virginia? I did not know that. Thanks.
We would all be speaking German.
John Kerry probably already speaks German.
He's also at least one-eighth Jewish, so he'd be cooked. So, basically he would have the same attitude toward Hitler that he has with OBL, et al.
They have passed like rain on the mountains, like wind in the meadow. The days have gone down in the West, behind the hills, into shadow.
I wish that I could be able to say I've done half the things my father did when he was my age.
The bombing of the targets on the beach head largely missed the German defense positions on Omaha Beach due to bad weather causing hundreds if not thousands of american G.I.'s to be shot dead as they were exiting the Higgins boats at Omaha.
We eventually won and we will win this one too despite the media! I pray!!
My mother's Uncle was one of the first on the beaches that day as well. He told her many years later that there was a point in time that he said to himself, "If I get out of this alive, I will never take any sh*t from anyone ever again".
Evidently, he saw it all that day. My mother was personally so disturbed by the stories he later told her that when the Private Ryan movie came out, she refused to see it.
Just a Kansas/Historian Plug
If you ever get the chance, be sure and drop by the Eisenhower Museum and Archives in Abilene, Kansas.
I spent many a day there on research for grad school and it is a wonderful town. The folks who operate the archives are fine, friendly, and extremely knowledgeable about the Eisenhower Administration, WWII, the 50's and the era in general.
Most of the folks there have their own "special interests" . Cold War, Covert Ops, Psychological Operations, 50's Popular culture...it's all there. (No, there's nothing on Roswell, Aliens, etc. Don't bother asking...they get enough of that...hehe)
It is a wonderful experience to be holding a document , realizing Pres. Eisenhower held the same paper, and even doodled on it. The more I studied this man, the more I grew to admire him. He was never given his due as president until long after he passed.
It is interesting to see his view on events as they happened and I would love to hear his take on our current situation.
As far as the Library, Museum and archives, they are beautifully maintained, but sadly I think they are under-utilized, as the era fades in our collective memory.
For those just passing through, it will give you a glimpse into the life and times of an exceptional individual.
"Kind of hard to imagine what would have happened if Al Gore or John Kerry had been President in the 1941-1945 period."
Achtung! Heist! Verbotten!
What's hard about it? Hopefully we wouldn't have had to learn Japanese.
And I say this as a proud American of partially German descent.
They'd do it again, if given a chance. I don't know a stinking word of Arabic, and I don't intend to learn any. I am just hoping the majority of Americans are paying attention and will vote for Bush.
Then you were not only a witness, but a participant in the great turn of history. Many thanks.
At least he did not have Ted Kennedy rooting for the other side!
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