• U.S.

THE PRESIDENCY: D-Plus-3652

4 minute read
TIME

At 3:30 a.m. on June 5, General Dwight Eisenhower later wrote, “our little camp [at Portsmouth, England] was shaking and shuddering under a wind of almost hurricane proportions.” The worst June storm in 20 years raged over the Channel; already the invasion had been postponed a day, and now there seemed no choice but to delay for another fortnight, at least, until the tides were right again. Heavyhearted, Ike splashed through the rain to a fateful 4 a.m. meeting with his meteorologists and top commanders. An agonizing choice was posed by the latest forecast: a brief break in the storm, perhaps 24 hours or so.

Tensely, the assembled Allied command looked to Ike for decision. In such weather, airborne and amphibious landings could be disastrous; the storm, resuming, might isolate the leading elements cross-Channel. On the other hand, a fortnight of delay would demoralize 2,000,000 pent-up troops, tangle intricate plans, and perhaps tip off the Germans. The conference lapsed into silence while Ike briefly pondered the dangers. Then he looked up, his face brightening. “Well,” he said, “we’ll go.”

The Unanswerable Question. Last weekend, exactly ten years after his great decision. President Eisenhower loafed with Mamie at Camp David, his hideout in Maryland’s Catoctin Mountain. He visited his nearby farm at Gettysburg. Pa., waded through waist-high wheat, then returned to Camp David for a session with bridge-playing friends. To the D-day anniversary ceremonies in Normandy he sent a copper torch and message, recalling Allied wartime unity (item: “My pleasant association with the outstanding soldier, Marshal Zhukov”).

In the White House, beforehand, he chatted with a group of war correspondents emplaning on a return trip to the beaches. He joshed the Chicago Tribune’s spade-bearded Jack Thompson, whose whiskers are greying now: “There was a lot more brown in that beard.” Like any old soldier, he talked of the war and reiterated the old unanswerable question: What did these sacrifices mean? Leaning against his desk, he said earnestly: “The people who know war, those that experienced it . . . I believe we are the most earnest advocates of peace in the world. I believe those people that talk about peace academically but who never had to dive into a ditch when a 109 came over—they really don’t know what it is.”

“You mean an 88?” asked a correspondent, thinking of German artillery.

“No, a Messerschmitt 109,” said Ike firmly, thinking of strafing airplanes.

The Last Word. Earlier in the week President Eisenhower, as the only living ex-president of Columbia University, showed up at the bicentennial banquet in New York and spoke in denunciation of “demagogues thirsty for personal power and public notice”—a remark which was instantly interpreted as a reference to Senator Joe McCarthy.

At his news conference the President reported on Administration action against subversives: 68 Communist leaders indicted or convicted; 352 alien subversives ordered deported and 127 barred from entry. It is an impressive list of accomplishments, he said, and all of it done in absolute accordance with the due processes of law.

He had said his last word for the time being on the subject (of McCarthyism), President Eisenhower declared flatly. He answered questions on Indo-China (no decision on intervention) and on his proposed peacetime atomic pool (no hope of Soviet acceptance). Asked about a charge that Democrats were riding on his coattails, the President laughed: You don’t know, just trying to ride someone else’s coattail, where you are going.

The Lift of Courage. Asked for a comment on his first 16 months in office, one-third of his term, the President scratched his left ear and replied reflectively: He didn’t enter this kind of task with any idea it was going to be a picnic. There are many frustrations. But you get inspirations that you hadn’t expected.

For instance, the President related, a little girl (Sandra Miskelly, 18, of Keene, N.H.) took very great pleasure recently in coming to his office. Two years ago, when she had a date to see the White House, she was stricken with polio. In her determination to walk again, to fulfill that date, she had both legs broken. In that long two-year struggle she had had operations on her hands and her feet and her legs, but she finally got to the White House.

When you see courage like that, the President said, you don’t feel sorry for yourself any more. That lifts you, possibly, above yourself.

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com