Some 70 World War II soldiers and eight Rosie the Riveters were the guests of the Eisenhower Presidential Library as they and others commemorated the 75th anniversary of D-Day Thursday.
It was June 6, 1944 when, under the command of Gen. Dwight Eisenhower, Allied forces launched the largest-ever amphibious military invasion which faced rough weather and fierce German gunfire on Normandy’s coast.
Ret. Gen. Richard Myers, former chairman of the joint chief of staff and president of Kansas State University, addressed the soldiers and crowd estimated at 500 in the shadow of Gen. Eisenhower’s statue in the center of the Library campus.
He called the former general and president his “role model.”
He said Eisenhower had many great traits.
“Among them, a real sense of humility, of selfless service, and his acceptance of responsibility,” he said.
“The story that tells it all to me is in the pre-war days while he’s at the Pentagon working for Gen. Marshall on the war plans his colleagues, his peers, his friends were all going to Europe and England to command. And if you are a military person, you want to be where the war is. That is what you are trained to do. That is what you do.”
He really wanted to be with them.
“But he was told by Gen. Marshall, no, we need you here because you are a great planner,” Myers said. “And he didn’t quibble at that.”
He said Eisenhower said if this is where I am needed, this is where I will serve.
It wasn’t much later President Franklin Roosevelt appointed him the Supreme Allied Commander over all operations in Europe.
“And we saw on D-Day what he was really made of, dealing with more unknowns than knowns and preparing to take the blame if it all went wrong,” Myers said.
“I don’t pretend that my time as joint chief of staff can at all be compared to his service as the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe,” he said.
Myers said seven days after he was sworn in as chief of staff, the United States was at war in Afghanistan.
“I got a glimpse about the loneliness of the position that he served when you are sending men and women into battle, hoping the war plan that you worked on so hard worked but not knowing for sure that it will. And the special bond that you have with those that are executing that plan,” he said.
“I know we have a lot of veterans here in the audience today. It is clear to me today that those that have served in uniform for our country had enabled this great experiment in democracy to success. They enabled our country to be, according to many, one of the best places in the world to live.”
He said 43 million men and women have served in the armed forces. Over 650,000 have died.
“That’s our national legacy, our military legacy not to forget the Rosie the Riveters and all those civilians that lent a hand to build the weapons of war,” he said.
What is called the Greatest Generation did more than fight and win a war, he said.
Myers said his wife grew up on a home on Buckeye Avenue in Abilene as Mary Jo Rupp.
“We are really happy to be with so many patriots, particularly the 70 World War II veterans that we have with us today. We thank you for your service,” he said. “And a special thank you to our Allies. World War II was fought with Allies.”
Co. Tom Bolens represented the United States, Col. Peter Little the United Kingdom, Col. Olivier-Pierre Marchand France and LTC Stephen Gallagher Canada.
Those four assisted Myers and Col. Tom Murtha in laying a wreath.
Dawn Hammatt, director of the Eisenhower Presidential Museum and Library, said she invited Queen Elizabeth who sent a response.
“She sends her warm best wishes to the veterans and dignitaries who will gather the 6th of June in the act of remembrances,” Hammatt said, quoting the queen. “Just think about that, the queen has sent her regards.”
Murtha, a Big Red One soldier, said First Infantry Division lost 316 soldiers on Omaha Beach.
“The immense joint Allied operation on land, at sea and in the air represented the culmination of years of planning and preparations. Plagued by poor weather in the channel, the risk to Operation Overlord and the time of the massive movement of men and equipment from England to France was truly remarkable,” Murtha said. “This tremendous burden of command for this operation rested solely on the shoulders of Gen. Eisenhower.
“There was no school, there was no doctrine to prepare him for that level of command. It was Gen. Eisenhower’s genius of command, his talent for organization, his infectious motivation that set the tone for the operation.”
Mary Jean Eisenhower said her grandfather carried the burden of the D-Day.
“I do know between that and the discovery of the Holocaust, it haunted him for the rest of his life,” he said. “He spent his post-presidency years as a champion of peace.”
Contact Tim Horan at firstname.lastname@example.org.