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wrong: “Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and the troops have been withdrawn (crossed out) I have withdrawn the troops.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.
December 21, 1959. The Western Big Four Leaders stand together for a picture on the steps of the Palais de l’Elysee following the final meeting of the Western summit conference. Left to right are British Prime Minister Harold MacMillan, American President Dwight Eisenhower, French President Charles de Gaulle, and West German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer.
Two women walked hesitantly into the office of the President of the United States. One woman guided the other. As President Eisenhower spoke to the women, the guide wrote with her fingers on the palm of her life-long companion, Helen Keller.
The life stories of Helen Keller and Eisenhower need not be retold, but President Eisenhower was deeply touched by Ms Keller’s help efforts with war-blinded soldiers to invite her to the White House. Charles Corte, United Press photographer was there to capture this moment. The press pool entered and took pictures during Ike’s short tribute, but Corte waited for the gesture. Helen Keller had expressed the desire to ‘see’ Ike’s famed smile, and for a fleeting moment, she touched his face. Corte took the picture.
Much to Corte’s disappointment, his bureau chief, George Gaylin cropped out the guide (Ms. Polly Thomason) out of the picture, only leaving her hands touching Helen’s.
The picture was taken on the Old Town Square of Warsaw. General Dwight Eisenhower visited Warsaw, the capital of Poland, after the end of the war. There he enjoyed tremendous public recognition because of his role as Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe. The city was totally destroyed by the Nazis after the Warsaw Uprising (1944). Eisenhower was so moved by the destruction that he commented, “I have seen many towns destroyed, but nowhere have I been faced with such destruction.” Later the historic centre was reconstructed (it finished in 1962), but the establishment of the Warsaw Pact (under the Eisenhower Presidency) rifted the West and the Eastern Europe. The Warsaw Old Town was finally included on UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 1980 despite UNESCO’s reluctance to have the reconstructed sites in that list.
During Robert Moses’ program of urban renewal in the early 1960s, a consortium of New Yorker led by John D. Rockefeller III started ”Lincoln Square Renewal Project” to transform the place into New York’s new cultural centre. Thus, Lincoln Center was born. On May 14, 1959, with Mayor Robert F. Wagner Jr. watching on, President Dwight D. Eisenhower thrust a shovel into the ground on the Upper West Side of Manhattan to signal the start of construction. The occasion was lavishly commemorated. Leonard Bernstein was the master of ceremonies; the New York Philharmonic (which Rockefeller lured away from its old venues at the Carnegie Hall) and Juilliard Chorus performed the national anthem. The baritone Leonard Warren sang the prologue to Leoncavallo’s “Pagliacci.” The mezzo-soprano Risë Stevens sang the “Habanera” from Bizet’s “Carmen.”