D Day is something we read about in our history books. I am not sure (until “Saving Private Ryan” was released) that any civilian understood how difficult and awful that invasion was. As we remember those events today, we need to understand that victory on D Day was not a given. We owe our freedom in America to those who stormed the beaches that day. There was a letter written by General Eisenhower in case it failed. This is what the free republic website says about that letter:
“Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops.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.
The gift of freedom is not free. If you see a member of the military today, say thank you.