This year marks anniversaries for many generations, some still with us, but more often gone, now only remembered in our history books for the contributions they made to the nation we are. But also memorialized on mantelpieces and in family photo albums, an empty space now filled with fond memories or painful recollections.
It is the 40th anniversaries of a walk on the moon, a giant gathering for music in upper state New York, the death of a general turned president and the 65th anniversary of an invasion of liberation. It is the latter two which will be recalled, since the first two will most certainly receive more than a fair share of publicity and historical recall.
President Dwight D Eisenhower, formerly the Supreme Commander for the Allied Expeditionary Force in Europe during World War II, passed away 40 years ago on March 28th, 1969. He was a member of the generation which fought in the First World War and eased us through the early years of the Cold War.
A West Point Military Academy graduate of 1915, Eisenhower was made commander of a heavy tank brigade in Pennsylvania, but never saw action in Europe during our involvement in that 1914-1918 conflict. Born to a small time farmer in Denison, Texas, Oct. 14th, 1890, Eisenhower would eventually become the warrior who warned us that "in the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist."
The title "warrior" is probably one Eisenhower would find distasteful, since his position was one of commanding, not actually doing the ugly work of fighting and perhaps losing limb or life in the process. He was never one to skirt the responsibility of making difficult decisions, even if it meant the loss of many to guarantee the success of the overall operation. But they were orders that weighed heavily on the man, contributing to a four-pack-a-day smoking habit.
Had Operation Overlord, the invasion of Europe, faltered, Gen. Eisenhower was prepared to accept total responsibility for its failure. When it succeeded, he was not willing to take the limelight, but insisted that the millions of men and women who prepared and took part in the operation were the ones who carried the burden of victory. But it was Eisenhower who made the final decisions when it came to instituting the greatest armada ever set in motion and the largest amphibian landing ever known to man.
Originally set for the middle of May 1944, Eisenhower was greatly pressured, particularly by British Gen. Bernard Montgomery, to begin the invasion of Europe. The allies had gone to great lengths to build a factious army around Gen. George Patton to convince the Nazis that an invasion across the English Channel would begin in Calais, and not Normandy as was planned. With Nazi spies everywhere and German over flights of Dover and southeastern England, the fear was eventually the ruse would be discovered and the German heavy armor divisions tied up in the area near the French port moved towards the true destination of the invasion. By holding off Operation Overlord, discovery was becoming an ever-increasing possibility.
The weather in May and early June in 1944 was not anywhere near as complimentary to the allies as it had been to Germany four years earlier, when Adolf Hitler set in motion the invasion of Western Europe and the eventual capitulation of France. In the spring of 1944, one nasty storm front after another kept plowing through the British Isles and the French coast, causing fear that the allied invasion would not come to fruition until July. By then the Germans would be well aware of Normandy as the jump-off point, thus fortifying it. Eisenhower made the decision that Overlord must begin by June 5th, being delayed to the 6th by one of those cold, miserable spring fronts. The general well knew that the losses could be catastrophic due to the inclement weather. But to carry on the waiting game might actually have meant a greater loss of troops and the real possibility of failure.
Now 65 years later, Beach names of Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword should have meaning not only to those who were there, but also to the generations that have followed. The children, grandchildren and great grandchildren of those 157,000 who took part in what has become known as D-Day, the 6th of June, and the millions more who became a part of that liberation force, should never forget what it costs to be a free people in countries with a republic form of government.
It was 25 years ago, during the 40th anniversary of Operation Overlord, when President Ronald Reagan spoke these words on the cliffs above Omaha Beach at a place called Ponte de Hoc, "It was the deep knowledge — and pray God we have not lost it — that there is a profound, moral difference between the use of force for liberation and the use of force for conquest. You were here to liberate, not to conquer, and so you and those others did not doubt your cause. And you were right not to doubt."