D-Day has been an experience in courage. Traveling with UNC alums for the 70th Anniversary of perhaps the 20th Century’s most critical battle, I have been touched, challenged and inspired by the courage of so many who fought to liberate France and then Europe.
We traveled to both sides of the operation, to the headquarters of Dwight Eisenhower at Southwick House along England’s southern coastwhere he led the planning for the Allied Supreme Command. It wasn’t an easy plan; It involved thousands of men, tanks, and planes. All had to be coordinated with an understnding of tides and weather. Seeing the war room, and understanding the complexity of the command, the dynamics of egos and the cultural differences between American and British armies, I experienced the courage of a leader who had to make the final decision.
It must have been very lonely to make the call two nights before the Dday operation began. General Dwight D. Eisenhower knew thousands of young men would be sent to their death in a push to end Hitler’s prance across Europe .
This trip was not simply a visit to war zones, it was a university focused trip to understand one of the free world’s most important historic moments. And to bring a perspective, the university tour invited an historian with a personal perspective, David Dwight Eisenhower, the grandson of the general. David Eisenhower is a professor at the University of Pennsylvania. His wife, Julie Nixon Eisenhower ,who has had a front row seat in history as well, joined the trip.
The young Eisenhower wrote a history of D-Day that was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. He is a student of the military moves and the political challenges of this June 1944 mission. He has examined all the records, seen his grandfather’s journal and examined the record. His narrative on the mission and its impact on the free world was detailed and passionate.
It caught me off guard when the grandson would talk about his grandfather as Eisenhower. But the historian had viewed the general—and the man who became president—through the lens of an historian David admired the courage it took to mount the campaign and needed as an historian to document and interrupt it as a professional, not as a relative. But the unique insight came for me when he talked about personal memories. The fact his grandfather wouldn’t talk about the war or D-Day – that the memory was too painful. Clearly, that was part of the reason David Eisenhower was drawn to understanding what courage meant at D-Day
I felt it took a certain personal courage to wade into this history. The grandson of a president has a place in the public eye and often cannot compete with such a giant of history.