The Character of a Leader

Published: June 6, 2019

By Jim Lichtman
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Photo: Library of Congress

June 5, 1944, Allied Supreme Commander General Dwight D. Eisenhower had under his command the largest invasion task-force in history: 175,000 British, American and Canadian assault troops; 5,000 vessels; 20,000 vehicles; and 11,000 aircraft.

His directive

“You will enter the continent of Europe and, in conjunction with the other United Nations, undertake operations aimed at the heart of Germany and the destruction of her armed forces. The date for entering the Continent is the month of May, 1944. After adequate channel ports have been secured, exploitation will be directed towards securing an area that will facilitate both ground and air operations against the enemy.”

The Allied invasion of Europe took place 75 years ago this day under thick clouds and rough seas.

Despite years of planning, Eisenhower – the 53-year old general everyone called Ike – told a paratrooper, “I’ve done all I can. Now it’s up to you.”

He told his driver, Kay Summersby, “I hope to God I’m right.”

History records that, despite terrible losses on the beaches at Normandy, the Allies did succeed.

However, history records another little-known story of a pencil-scribbled speech Eisenhower had prepared on June 4 in the event the invasion failed, as Scott Simon relates in a story on NPR (June 8, 2013).

The Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library said that the president mistakenly dated the message July 5 instead of June 5.

“Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops,” Eisenhower wrote. “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.”

Eisenhower’s succinct and humble words, reveal the character of a leader. Note that he says, “My decision,” and “If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt it is mine alone.” He takes full responsibility for any possible failure.

“Eisenhower,” Simon writes, “put the note in his wallet” and moved on with the task in front of him, “…Germany and the destruction of her armed forces.” It didn’t end until the liberation of France on August 25, 1944.


  1. We need more leaders like Ike. Thanks for the great article, Jim.

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