In blood and bravery: The secret message from Gen. Eisenhower

randy forbesBy Randy Forbes

Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower spoke those words in a charge to Allied soldiers on the eve of the invasion of Normandy. The plans for the invasion had been a year in the making, held close and secret, and Gen. Eisenhower wrote this speech to inspire troops as they finally faced the critical operation square on.

But Gen. Eisenhower wrote another letter that night. A letter he would have ready in case the invasion failed.

“Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops.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

What weight Gen. Eisenhower must have felt as he pressed pen to paper and came face-to-face with the reality that this invasion – this war for which our nation and the world had so much at stake – may not end well.

Eisenhower tucked the letter in his wallet. He never had to use it.

On June 6, Allied troops stormed the beaches of Normandy. Over 156,000 troops took the 50-mile stretch of sand in Normandy to liberate France from Nazi control.  More than 5,000 ships and 13,000 aircraft supported the Allied invasion that helped bring World War II to an end.

Most of us remember D-Day through the lens of success. We have 71 years of perspective knowing the invasion would be victorious. But on the eve of the invasion, Gen. Eisenhower didn’t know. Americans didn’t know. The world didn’t know. No one knew that the D-Day invasion would be the push that led to Hitler’s defeat and heralded a turning point in World War II.

And yet in the face of the unknown, our brave Allied soldiers charged into battle, facing bloodshed and acting in bravery. Gen. Eisenhower moved forward knowing that while his plan held great danger, it also held enormous potential.

They looked the possibility of failure in the face and instead believed in themselves. They did the bold thing. They stood up for what our nation believed in: human dignity, freedom, and peace. Peace that will let all men live in freedom, reaping the just rewards of their honest toil, as President Roosevelt prayed on D-Day.

Today, many World War II veterans have passed on, and those still with us are mostly in their 90s, yet the courage they imparted that day still stands with them. You can see it when you look in the faces of members of the Greatest Generation and sense their loyal, patriotic, and hardworking spirit. They remember seeing D-Day through the lens of uncertainty and hope.

Our strength as a nation is not found in monuments, mountains, documents, or other tangible things—it is found in the unwavering belief of men and women in their country.  This year, as we honor the 71st anniversary of D-Day, I encourage you to remember it through the lens of the Americans who lived it. Remember the poignant decisions. Remember how close we came. Remember the bravery.

Randy Forbes represents Virginia’s Fourth District in Congress.

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