My husband and I sleep with all-news radio playing (which I'm sure is a very bad idea, but we do), and I woke this morning to the reminder that today is the 70th anniversary of D-Day, when the Allied trips landed on the beaches of Normandy.
I read a lot about D-Day when I was writing Forty Ways to Look at Winston Churchill, my biography of Churchill. What a subject! How I loved writing that book.
And one of my favorite moments in my research was when I read about what General Eisenhower did to prepare for the invasion.
In case the invasion failed, Eisenhower had prepared a statement, known as "In Case of Failure":
Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops.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.
This is a momentous example of one of the best pieces of advice that I've ever received, from my father. He said, "If you take the blame, when you deserve it, people will give you responsibility." I've found that to be very true.
And this memory reminded me of another story that I love about Eisenhower. It illustrates one of my Secrets of Adulthood: Sometimes, words only diminish what we want to convey.
I love this story so much that I get choked up whenever I think about it. (If you want to see me tell the story, you can watch the video here.)
At the end of the war, in May 1945, the German military commanders had unconditionally surrendered, and the time came when they signed the surrender documents. Obviously this was a momentous, awe-inspiring event.
Afterwards, General Eisenhower needed to send a message to the combined Chiefs of Staff, to tell them that this had been done, and Eisenhower's colleagues proposed various drafts of grand language for the victory message.
Eisenhower rejected all suggestions, and wrote:
“The mission of this Allied Force was fulfilled at 0241, local time, May 7th, 1945.”
So simple, so beautiful. Sometimes words can only diminish what we want to convey.
One of the most pure, satisfying sources of happiness is the feeling of transcendence. It can be difficult, in the crush of everyday life, to find moments of transcendence. Memories prompted by this D-Day anniversary brought me that feeling of awe.
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