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Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops.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

So wrote Supreme Allied Commander Dwight D. Eisenhower on June 5, 1944, preparing for the possible failure of the D-Day invasion the next day. He had ample reason for apprehension: inclement weather, seemingly impregnable German defenses, the sheer complexity and unprecedented scale of the planned attack. Under his direction, the Allies had assembled 7,000 ships and landing craft, manned by 195,000 naval personnel and supported by 13,000 aircraft, to transport 133,000 troops to the beaches of Normandy. There, under unrelenting fire, if they could fight their way through the surf, across the beaches, and up the cliffs, they would begin to dislodge the German army from its strongholds, first in France, then beyond, liberating Europe from the tyranny of National Socialism (Nationalsozialismus, better known as Nazism).

It was the largest invasion in human history. Thankfully, it succeeded. Ike never had to release the statement he’d drafted accepting responsibility for defeat.

But the threat of that defeat, its proximity and probability, must have weighed on his mind a mere five years later, when he presided over the first awards presentation here at Freedoms Foundation at Valley Forge. On November 21, 1949, standing just down the hill from where I write, and speaking from personal experience, General Eisenhower said:

Here Washington waged and won the greatest fight of a fighting career. For, in war, it is not the clash and danger of the battle that demands the utmost from the soul of the soldier, or of his leader. . . .

For the Commander, the sternest test is the holding together of a suffering army . . . .

Here Washington triumphantly met this test. The long winter of the Valley Forge encampment brought to his army the last ounce of endurable suffering, while Washington was called upon to bear the additional burden of . . . seeming collapse in his rear, desertion in his ranks, hostility in his associates. . . . The freedom of the American people here experienced its greatest danger of extinction, here met its sternest challenge!

Eisenhower was one of the few men in history who could appreciate Washington’s ordeal and triumph as a near peer. But why was Eisenhower—five-star General of the Army, president of Columbia University, future president of the United States—speaking here?

Because he is our founding father. In the Articles of Incorporation of Freedoms Foundation at Valley Forge, the first incorporator listed is Dwight D. Eisenhower. In 1948-1949, he helped write our charter. From 1952 to 1962, he led the Foundation as honorary national chairman. From 1962 to 1966, he was the actual, working chair of our board of trustees.

In all these capacities, he didn’t merely lend his name and reputation to the Foundation; he immersed himself in our work, attending more than fifty Foundation events here in Valley Forge and across the country, including in New York, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, Palm Springs, and Gettysburg. He even attended the annual meeting of our board in December 1952, just a month before taking office as president of the United States.

Why was the leader of the free world so devoted to this small, relatively obscure, nonprofit, civic-education organization? He answered in that speech he gave here on November 21, 1949. Speaking to the inaugural recipients of our awards for exemplary citizenship, he said:

For you, and others to come to this same spot, will always live a priceless realization: the truth that the American dream, with worthy disciples, can and will survive every threat, every challenge!

That’s our purpose and the result of our work: creating those worthy disciples. We’re honored that President Eisenhower considered that work uniquely worthy of his support.

I’m pleased to report that our association with the Eisenhower family continues. For many years Eisenhower’s son John served as our executive vice president. Now his grandson David is an especially valued member of our program faculty, giving teachers who attend our summer seminars unparalleled insights into the planning and execution of Operation Overlord—his grandfather’s magnum opus.

As we celebrate President Eisenhower’s birthday today (he was born October 14, 1890), we acknowledge with admiration his incalculable contributions to the cause of freedom—including his persistent and steadfast support of Freedoms Foundation at Valley Forge.

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