On June 6th 1944, on what is considered by many to be the most important day of the twentieth century, the allied forces under the leadership of General Dwight D. Eisenhower stormed the French coast at Normandy and began the quest to free all of Europe from the evil tyranny of Adolf Hitler.
The invasion was hard won and over time Eisenhower’s allied armies would liberate all of the great capitals of Europe. By August, General Patton’s Third Army was on the outskirts of Paris. The vaunted General however, wanted to bypass the grand city as his objective was Berlin and the ultimate destruction of the Third Reich.
The Russians were simultaneously pushing back the Germans on the Russian front and Eisenhower wanted to arrive in Berlin ahead of his Soviet counterparts fearing the vengeance he knew would be unleashed upon the German people by the Red Army. He did not want the Russians to take the German capital unaccompanied by the Americans.
There were other reasons as well. The Parisians had been denied the very basics of sustenance for four long years and Eisenhower, who was a master of logistics knew that the large French city would require several thousand tons of supplies daily. Supplies that were sorely needed for the allied push eastward to Germany.
It would take manpower, building materials and intellectual resources to secure the Paris, all of which was needed elsewhere in pursuit of his objective. America was after all, embroiled in two wars. The quicker he could dispatch the Germans, the sooner he would free up America’s military might for use in the Pacific theater against Imperial Japan.
What’s more, Eisenhower knew that the political environment was a veritable cornucopia of chaos with each various and sundry partisan group vying for control of the future French Government. Each faction had been either part of the resistance or in league with the Germans. It was sometimes difficult to tell.
There were Communists, influenced heavily by the Soviets; the German loyal Vichy’s, the socialists and others, all of whom had vastly different ideas about how the rebuilding of the French government ought to transpire.
Eisenhower, whose special gift in leadership was the ability to ascertain such differences, knew full well that Paris would require a Herculean effort to manage.
And all this was on top of the entrenched German soldiers who, incidentally, wanted to kill anyone attempting to take the city. Hitler had left very specific instructions to Paris’ German military governor that he was to fight to keep it or destroy it if he couldn’t.
Eisenhower had decided to pursue the main German Army first and then liberate Paris later. His hand was forced, however when the intransigent Charles De Gaulle threatened to try to liberate the city himself if Eisenhower didn’t agree to help him.
Eisenhower relented and put a battle plan together which De Gaulle promptly ignored, moving on to Paris ahead of the American 4th Army.
The fighting was fierce in some places but the German military governor sensing the war was lost, disobeyed Hitler’s strident order to destroy the city and, knowing of American might firsthand, he surrendered it instead to the Allies.
Eisenhower would allow De Gaulle to take the city and would not enter it for sometime, giving De Gaulle time to establish himself as the leader of the new government.
Eisenhower would in due time enter the French capital, and would stand before the elaborate grave of fellow conquerer, the Emperor Napoleon. He would think to himself how ostentatious was his tomb.
Tellingly, Adolf Hitler, when standing in the same spot a few years earlier had marveled at its magnificence, remarking to Albert Speer as he walked away, “That was the greatest and finest moment of my life.”
Eisenhower, at that moment, quietly affirmed the decision that when he died, he wanted to be interred in the same $80 government-issued military casket that his brave citizen-soldiers who had died and would die on the beaches and fields of Europe. Twenty-five years hence, it would be so.
Not too long after his visit to Paris, Eisenhower would stand in the enemies’ captured country, victorious. Basking in the warm light of victory, his subordinates would set about to draft a communique to President Truman boasting of their conquest, each draft becoming more overwrought and florid than the one before.
Surely, they thought, such a grand moment must have as its champion an equally grand proclamation.
The war weary General Eisenhower listened to each draft intently and with his customary humility, politely set them aside and simply wrote the following single sentence…
“The mission of this Allied force was fulfilled at 02:41 local time, May 7, 1945”
Such humility is the reason Eisenhower died a free and happy man. A feeling Hitler and Napoleon never knew.
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