On this day seventy three years ago, the supreme commander of Allied forces in Europe issued the order to launch the largest amphibious military operation in history. 6000 landing craft, ships, and other vessels were carrying 176,000 troops and heading for the beaches of Normandy. 822 aircraft, some carrying paratroopers and some towing gliders, were scheduled to arrive before the landings. 13,000 bombers, fighters, and observation aircraft were mobilized to cover the invasion.
It didn’t happen. Not that day, June 5, 1944. General Eisenhower had to postpone the original D-Day because of bad weather. Consulting with his staff, he realized there was a small window that would signal a break in the weather and allow the invasion to occur … on June 6th. If he had waited until July, any element of surprise as well as the readiness of his forces would be affected. He wrote two letters to his troops on that occasion.
The first was a letter to stir his forces to accept nothing but total victory. The second was quite different. This note was written hurriedly, with words crossed out, to respond to another outcome. “Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed …”
He closed the message with these words: “If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt it is mine alone.”
Failure is a part of life. Few of our failures would be measured with the magnitude the Allied forces would have endured in their mighty attempt to break through Fortress Europe. But we fail, in mostly small but sometimes large ways.
It’s what we do after we fail that matters. When we fall, do we get back up or wallow in our shame and grief? Do we learn the lessons painfully gained or do we look for someone to blame? Sometimes we bask in the glory of success to our detriment. Sometimes the agony of failure reveals character traits that will do us well in the challenges ahead.
Eisenhower didn’t have to send that second letter. At great cost, the invasion succeeded. It was indeed the beginning of the end of Hitler’s third Reich. To his credit, the commander was willing to take responsibility, regardless. How refreshing in our day of fault-finding and excuse-making!
I like these words from Denis Waitley: “Failure should be our teacher, not our undertaker. Failure is delay, not defeat. It is a temporary detour, not a dead end. Failure is something we can avoid only by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing.”