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  • Robert M. Edsel

An Exemplary Wartime Leader

On this day, we honor the 76th anniversary of the “D-Day” landings in France. We remember the bravery of the soldiers of the Western Allied armies who participated in the epic battle that marked the beginning of the end of the Nazi stranglehold on western Europe. Oftentimes, the success of the invasion overshadows the risks of the operation and the awesome responsibility that befell the man who had to make the decision to go, Supreme Allied Commander Dwight D. Eisenhower. For it is there, in that moment when the boots of his paratroopers made contact with enemy-controlled soil, and the greatest armada in history approached the Normandy Coast, that we find a remarkable example of exemplary leadership.

On the morning of June 6, 1944 – “D-Day”, General Eisenhower could do nothing more than hope while awaiting news. Inside his wallet was a note that he had scribbled the day before, which he mistakenly dated “July 5” rather than “June 5,” that he had prepared in the event his forces were turned back and the invasion failed.  

Photo courtesy of Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum

"Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops,” Eisenhower began. “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." Ike initially wrote "This particular operation," but he lined that out and replaced it with "My decision to attack," another indication of his determination to accept full responsibility for the decision – HIS decision – to launch the attack. There was to be no blaming of others; no complaining about the weather; in all respects, no excuses.

Of course, the landings were a huge success, but Eisenhower was prepared in case they weren’t in a way that demonstrated courage, depth of character, responsibility, and sublimation of ego, traits that define exemplary leadership of the highest order. Elected leaders today would do well to embrace Eisenhower’s example.

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