06 June 2012

D-Day, 6 June 1944 – A Lesson in Accountability

The Allied invasion of Europe over the beaches of Normandy occurred 68 years ago today.

This epic military undertaking, vast in its scope and extraordinary in its impact on World War II’s European campaign, has many lessons for us today. But no lesson is more salient, or perhaps more important, than the lesson the leader of the Allied forces, GEN Dwight D. Eisenhower USA, gave us the day before he launched the D-Day invasion.

Better than anyone, GEN Eisenhower knew the many things that could, and probably would, go wrong on D-Day. While the Allied preparations were extremely thorough and over two years in the making, he knew that in war there was no such thing as a sure thing and that the risks inherent in every aspect of this operation were immense.

And General Eisenhower also knew that he was accountable for the outcome of the invasion. He had approved the plan, overseen the preparations and given the order to execute (“OK…we’ll go!”). In the dark of night, while he waited alone after giving the historic order that set the air and naval armadas irrevocably in motion on their mission, GEN Eisenhower penned the following note:

“Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops.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.”

To read this note, so long after the events that prompted Eisenhower to write it, is to receive a powerful lesson in what remains the absolute bedrock of the Naval profession – the concept of accountability in command and the willing and unquestioning acceptance of that accountability by those in command.

This concept of accountability can prove to be a burden too great for some to bear, but, far more often than not, the assumption of accountability, accompanied by the true understanding of what that accountability means, proves to be not a burden, but the sure foundation for success in command. For from that accountability flows the authority and responsibility required to command.

GEN Eisenhower showed us he understood accountability when he wrote his note on 5 June 1944. Every day, those of us who are so privileged to command in our Navy, at every level, have the opportunity to demonstrate that same understanding. Accountability in command is our greatest strength – the sure foundation for all we do. All the best, JCHjr

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