On this day in 1944, now known as D-Day, future President Dwight D. Eisenhower, then supreme commander of Allied Expeditionary Forces in World War II gives the go-ahead for a massive invasion of Europe called Operation Overlord. Back in America, President Franklin Roosevelt waited for word of the invasion’s success.
By the first week of June 1944, Nazi Germany controlled most of Western Europe. Allied forces, numbering 156,000, were poised to travel by ship or plane over the English Channel to attack the German army dug in at Normandy, France, on June 5. Eisenhower had a window of only four days of decent weather in which an invasion would be possible. When bad weather hit the channel on June 4, Eisenhower wrestled with the idea of postponing Operation Overlord. Weather conditions were predicted to worsen over the next two weeks and he had thousands of personnel and thousands of tons of supplies that were in his words, hanging on the end of a limb. After a promising but cautious report from his meteorologist at 9:45 p.m. on June 5, Eisenhower told his staff let’s go.
That night, from Allied headquarters in England, Ike, as he was later affectionately called, composed a solemn and inspirational statement that was delivered the next day as a letter into the hands of every soldier, sailor and airman set to embark on Operation Overlord. In a radio delivery of the message, Eisenhower displayed the confidence and leadership skills that in 1952 would clinch his election to the presidency. Reminding the men that the eyes of the world are upon you and that their opponents would fight savagely, Ike exhorted them to be brave, show their devotion to duty and accept nothing less than victory! In closing, he wished his troops good luck and sought the blessing of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking. At the time, no one knew that, along with that statement, Eisenhower had also scribbled a note in which he accepted all blame in case the mission failed. The note remained crumpled up in his pocket.
Meanwhile, back at the White House on the afternoon of June 5, President Roosevelt waited for word of Operation Overlord’s commencement. According the Doris Kearns Goodwin in No Ordinary Time, Roosevelt had hoped to be in England with Churchill and Eisenhower for the monumental event, but his declining health made travel impossible. Instead, Roosevelt sat in his office tinkering with the speech he planned to deliver once the invasion began. At his daughter and son’s suggestion, Roosevelt turned the speech into a prayer entitled Let Our Hearts be Stout. First lady Eleanor tried to go about her daily business, but felt suspended in space. At 3 a.m. Eastern time on June 6, Roosevelt received the call that the invasion had commenced. He notified the nation by radio that night, saying at this poignant hour I ask you to join with me in a prayer.
On June 8, 1944, after years of planning, preparation and placating egos among his military peers, Eisenhower was able to report that the Allies had made a harrowing and deadly, but ultimately successful, landing on the beaches of Normandy.