Eisenhower speaks to the troops

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It was one of the most iconic moments during the Second World War. At around 8:30 p.m. on June 5, 1944, a day before the Allied invasion of Europe, Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe General Dwight Eisenhower speaks to US Co. E, 502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment (Strike). ‘Full victory-nothing else’, he gave the order of the day to these paratroopers fully realizing that he was sending these boys to a near-suicidal mission; within 24 hours, most of them will be dead.

Despite the extent of the troops, the Allied leaders themselves were uncertain of the outcome. Ike’s air commander, British Air Chief Marshall Leigh-Mallory worried that hundreds of planes and gliders would be destroyed with surviving paratroopers fighting isolated until killed or captured. Ike himself prepared this note (below) in case that the invasion went wrong: “Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and the troops have been withdrawn (crossed out) I have withdrawn the troops.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.”

When the first D-Day reports arrived to Leigh-Mallory with news that only 29 of 1,250 C-47’s were missing and only four gliders were unaccounted for, Leigh-Mallory sent Ike a congratulatory message. He noted that it is sometimes difficult to admit that one is wrong, but he had never had a greater pleasure than in doing so on this occasion.

There is one possibly apocryphal anecdote about the picture.  At the time, many Hollywood stars and singers were touring the camps, and the paratroopers heard Betty Grable was there. Everyone went running to “greet” the star but instead, they ran into Ike, and had to stand around politely talking with their commander.

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Covering the D-Day

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It was not the biggest seaborne invasion in history. Nor was it the biggest maritime invasion of World War II. (That honor goes to the 1943 invasion of Sicily). However, it was the Last Hurrah of the conventional warfare, or as Time Magazine called it, the last Great Crusade. In the future, with the invention of the atomic weapons, no single invasion fleet or military force would be so concentrated.

The most famous images of that momentous day were made by Robert Capa. When a LCVP (Landing Craft, Vehicle, Personnel) from the U.S. Coast Guard-manned USS Samuel Chase disembarked troops of the 16th Regiment of the 1st Infantry Division on the morning of June 6, 1944 (D-Day) at Omaha Beach, Capa, in the employ of LIFE magazine, was among them. He took four rolls of photos that day, but all but eleven of Capa’s negatives were spoiled by an overly eager darkroom worker in the London office of Time Inc. who turned up the heat in the drying cabinet too high in his rush to meet the deadline for the next issue of Life magazine.

When LIFE published the photographs, a caption disingenously explained that the ‘immense excitement of moment made photographer Capa move his camera and blur picture’. Thus it was with this irony that man must bear the movie Saving Private Ryan, where the director Steven Spielberg went to great lengths to reproduce the look of Capa blur in his D-Day landing sequence, even stripping the coating from his camera lenses to echo Capa’s notorious shots.

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