Let me finish tonight with this letter written by General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the supreme Allied commander, for possible use following the Normandy invasion 70 years ago today:
“Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops.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.”
The mark of a leader is the readiness to take responsibility when things go wrong. To do so ahead of time is a sign of a great leader who knows the perils of war and the need for a strong chain of command led from the top.One of the great scenes of D-Day was of General Eisenhower meeting with the troops the night before. “Good luck, soldier,” he said to them. He was Henry V the night before the Battle of Agincourt, giving the men who would face the uncertain, “a touch of Harry in the night,” a chance to see the true leader right there with them on the eve of battle.
I remember Ike sitting on those bluffs of Normandy telling Walter Cronkite how it was the mid-level officers who did the job of getting their men up onto those cliffs, that all the generals could do was get them to the beaches. He told of how it was those in the mid-ranks who designed the hedge-cutters to allow the invading troops to break out onto the continent of Europe.
What a leader we had, what a victory, what an army.