A Note on D-Day

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

WE DON'T always take notice of this day on the editorial pages, and every time we fail to do so we hear about it from people who have the date -- June 6, 1944 -- burned into their memories and who believe that what Americans and their allies did on D-Day must never be forgotten. They're right, of course, and in these times it seems particularly appropriate to recall one act that would serve today's leaders in every branch of government as lesson and example.

On the day before the invasion of France, the supreme allied commander, Dwight D. Eisenhower, wrote a note to be read in the event of the mission's failure and put it in his wallet. It said simply, "Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops.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."

That note is, of course, familiar to those of the generation that best remembers D-Day and World War II. But it is about more than warfare; it speaks to the responsibility of all who would order the affairs of others, then and now.

Eisenhower wasn't the ultimate source of authority on D-Day; he served two presidents during the war, the latter of whom, Harry S. Truman, had that sign on his desk that read, "The Buck Stops Here." But Eisenhower knew what a burden the five stars on his shoulders were -- that it was he who was in charge of planning the operation, he who was entrusted with it and he who was sending thousands of men to fight and die. He knew that it was to them that he was ultimately accountable and to them and their families that his loyalty -- today a word casually and often carelessly used -- was owed.

We were pleased to see, from the Internet, that Eisenhower's brief note of June 1944 is now part of lesson plans offered for many students. It would be a good lesson for their elders as well, some of whom might even want to put it in their wallets.

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