“Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force! You are about to embark upon a great crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you.”
General Dwight Eisenhower offered those now famous words in his to British, American and Canadian troops in the hours leading up to the June 6, 1944 D-Day invasion.
But as the Supreme Allied Commander spoke, no one realized that he carried in his pocket yet another address — one he hoped that he’d never have to give. That secret speech, which Ike hastily jotted down earlier that day, was only to be read if the defenders of Hitler’s so-called Atlantic Wall succeeded in annihilating the Allied troops as they hit the beaches and drop zones.
“Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops,” the 66-word, hand-written speech began. “My decision to attack at this time and place was based on 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 attached to the attempt it is mine alone.”
In hindsight, the success of the Normandy invasion was a virtually certainty. After all, by mid-1944, Germany’s war machine was stretched perilously thin as the Nazis found themselves on the defensive everywhere. American and British bombers were pummeling the Reich from the skies round the clock and Soviet tanks were pressing in from the East. The western powers, long since having driven Hitler from North Africa, were at that moment advancing through Italy. Even Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill had been meeting face-to-face and were already beginning to map out the shape of the post-war world.
Yet despite the seeming inevitability of an Allied triumph, the success of the cross-channel invasion seemed like anything but a foregone conclusion.
Would the break in the weather hold? Had the months of deception about to the time and location of the landings succeeded in confusing the Germans? Would the five infantry and three airborne divisions slated for the first wave of the attack be enough to force the Allies’ way into France? No one, least of all Eisenhower, could be certain.
Ultimately the landings on Omaha, Utah, Juno, Sword and Gold beaches were successful and by D-Day Plus 1, the Allies had carved out solid footholds through which materiel and men would soon be pouring.
According to an article on the 60th anniversary of the invasion, Eisenhower forgot the about the note, which he folded up and tucked into his wallet shortly right after composing it.
More than a month after D-Day, the general discovered the 4 x 7 inch slip of paper it and showed it to an aide before tossing it into a waste basket.
The adjutant, a navy captain by the name of Butcher, asked if he could keep it. Ike obliged.
Eventually, the note, which became known as the “In the Event of Failure Letter”, was added to the Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library in Abilene, Kansas where it is still on display.
Oddly enough, the original draft was dated “July 5” rather than “June 5”, an error that suggests the general’s preoccupation at the moment he penned the note.
Ike to America: That’s All, Folks!
The famous D-Day failure letter wasn’t the only bad news that Eisenhower hoped not to have to deliver in his career as a public servant. During his presidency (1953 to 1961), the former Allied commander, recorded a series of public service announcements that were to be broadcast from the massive fallout complex at Mount Weather, Virginia in the event of a massive Soviet nuclear attack on the United States. The messages assured Americans that their government was intact and functioning, while also providing a series of post-apocalyptic survival tips for listeners. The top secret tapes featured President Eisenhower, in addition to trusted television personalities of the day like Arthur Godfrey and even newsman Edward R. Murrow. The recordings have never been released to the public, but at least one organization is calling upon the government to declassify these fascinating Cold War relics.