“The free men of the world are marching together to Victory!” Remembering D-Day

It has been 80 years since the Allies invaded the beaches of Normandy on June 6, 1944, and to commemorate the anniversary we are featuring Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Order of the Day speech. In this rallying cry, Eisenhower encouraged his soldiers as they embarked on this monumental invasion. As you read Eisenhower’s speech, we encourage you to reflect on how D-Day continues to resonate 80 years later.

This document can be found in our landmark reference set, Milestone Documents in American History: Exploring the Primary Sources that Shaped America, 2nd edition. This set covers major themes in American history and is designed to help students engage with and analyze primary sources through a consistent, structured approach.

Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Order of the Day

Dwight D. Eisenhower
Encouraged the soldiers who were to take part in the D-day invasion during World War II


On June 6, 1944, U.S. General Dwight D. Eisenhower oversaw the launching of the world’s largest armada as part of the D-day invasion and issued his Order of the Day, a remarkably succinct call to arms and rallying cry for battle. On this day, an extraordinary flotilla of 176,000 men, 20,000 vehicles, and thousands of tons of stores and munitions left the shores of England and headed toward Normandy in France. Eisenhower’s description of this colossal human enterprise in his Order of the Day drew from a spiritual, not secular, vocabulary. This Texas-born Presbyterian saw the invasion quite simply as “the Great Crusade.” He also sought “the blessing of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking.” Essentially, Eisenhower’s appeal to the assembled forces—“Soldiers, Sailors, and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force”—is built around no more than two full paragraphs; five exclamation points; less than three hundred words; and a terse, staccato, intensive series of short sentences. The tone of the Order of the Day, while calm and collected, is quintessential Eisenhower. His message is that the country was facing a monumental challenge and a daunting task but that the outcome could not be in doubt.


In September 1941 Eisenhower was promoted to brigadier general. Although he would eventually become the conductor of Operation Overlord (the code name for the Allied assault on German-held France), by late 1941 he had never enjoyed command of an active wing of the military. Eisenhower was seen as an able and collegial organizer, not a brilliant strategist who stood out from his peers.

In 1943, however, Eisenhower gained his fourth star and played a key role in overseeing the Allied victory in North Africa. His skill in coexisting with the feisty commander of the British Eighth Army, General Bernard Law Montgomery, proved that Eisenhower was a good soldier who possessed considerable diplomatic skill. In late 1943 he oversaw the assault on Sicily in the Mediterranean Sea and the successful entry into mainland Italy.

In the spring of 1944 Eisenhower was based in southern England, which had been turned into the world’s biggest military base as a vast Allied force was being brought together. Eventually some three million people would be involved in Operation Overlord. While German forces stuck to the notion that the invasion would take place at Calais, the Allied thrust was at Normandy with frontal assault forces targeting five beaches: Utah Beach, Omaha Beach, Gold Beach, Juno Beach, and Sword Beach. Additionally, paratrooper landings were carried out behind enemy lines.

With such a massive undertaking, timing was of critical importance. Despite the relative narrowness of the English Channel, the size and scale of the operation meant that adequate weather was a top priority. On June 4, Eisenhower had to make an agonizing decision to postpone the invasion because of rough seas and storm clouds. Twenty-four hours later conditions had worsened. Eisenhower was confronted with a colossal dilemma: hold off yet again and face the possibility of a delay of weeks, or press on in conditions that were far from ideal. The decision was of monumental importance.

About the Author

Dwight David “Ike” Eisenhower was born in Texas on October 14, 1890, but he was raised in Abilene, Kansas. The Eisenhower family settled in Kansas when Eisenhower was only two. His father was an engineer, and his mother, Idak Eisenhower, was a member of a religious group called the River Brethren, now known as the Jehovah’s Witnesses. It is intriguing to think of the young Eisenhower worshipping in his own home, which served as a meeting hall, with people whose vows and beliefs were antimilitary and who did not think it right to salute the flag.

Although Eisenhower graduated from Abilene High School in Kansas in 1909, his goal was to help financially a brother, Edgar, who was attending college. In 1911, however, with the support of the Kansas senator Joseph L. Bristow, Eisenhower was awarded a place at West Point Military Academy, from which he graduated in 1915.

From 1915 to 1918 Eisenhower’s duties were with the infantry; although he saw neither overseas deployment nor armed action, he found tank warfare to be of great interest. Throughout his career, Eisenhower’s trademark was his capacity to soak up the expertise of, and be an apt pupil to, a wide range of military leaders. To review Eisenhower’s years up to his February 1944 appointment as supreme Allied commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force is to look on a career shaped and molded by a succession of inspirational mentors. In the early 1920s General Fox Conner in the Panama Canal Zone directed Eisenhower to immerse himself in military history and theory. In the 1930s and in the Philippines, General Douglas MacArthur allowed Eisenhower a rare opportunity to be a military adviser in a land and culture focused primarily on peacetime diplomacy. By 1941 Eisenhower was chief of staff to the commander of the Third Army, General Walter Krueger.

The move that catapulted Eisenhower into a senior leadership role was his appointment as assistant chief of staff of the Operations Division. His immediate superior was Chief of Staff General George C. Marshall. Marshall’s championing of Eisenhower quickly saw him move from commanding general of the European theater of operations to supreme commander of the Allied (Expeditionary) Force of the North African theater of operations in November 1942. By early 1943 it was Eisenhower who was the senior Allied leader overseeing the defeat of the Axis forces in North Africa.

In December 1943 Eisenhower was appointed supreme Allied commander in Europe. Winston Churchill, however, spells out a conversation from that period in which he and Roosevelt discuss the issue of exactly who should be the leader of Operation Overlord. Churchill thinks it is to be Marshall; Roosevelt says that Marshall cannot be spared. Marshall’s “great influence at the head of military affairs and of the war directions under the President, was invaluable, and indispensable to the successful conduct of the war”—and thus he nominates Eisenhower. Churchill replies, “We had also the warmest regard for General Eisenhower, and would trust our fortunes to his direction with hearty goodwill” (Churchill, p. 208).

On December 20, 1944, Eisenhower was made General of the Army. After the war, he became president of Columbia University and then took on a different presidency—two terms in the White House (1954–1962). Congress saw to it that in his retirement years the D-day commander, very fittingly, was reappointed General Eisenhower. He died on March 28, 1969, at age seventy-eight.

Explanation and Analysis of the Document

In his introduction to Order of the Day, Eisenhower addresses his multinational task force as “Soldiers, Sailors, and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force.” He then goes on to describe the mission of the force as “the Great Crusade.” He may understate the size and scale of the world’s greatest invasion. The enormousness of the undertaking is evident in that it took nearly two years to plan and prepare and eventually deployed some 133,000 personnel along with 5,000 Channel vessels, 14,000 land vehicles, 7,000 support aircraft, and 14,500 tons of supplies and munitions to be landed on the Normandy bridgehead on the very first day of the assault (June 6). Prior to the landings, 76,000 tons of bombs were dropped on the German defenses, and 23,000 paratroopers were dropped behind enemy lines.

David Eisenhower, Dwight’s grandson and author of Eisenhower at War 1943–1945, analyzes in his book the assembly of the armada in the hours leading up to the final go-ahead for the attack. He writes of five lanes of ships in attack formation and describes those five lanes dividing into ten channels of vessels as the flotilla neared the Normandy beaches. In Eisenhower’s words, it was a “Piccadilly Circus”—a reference to a road junction in London frequently packed with people and vehicles (Eisenhower, p. 256).

David Eisenhower also gives us a detailed background history on the origins and the eventual writing of Order of the Day. As early as February 1944, General Raymond Barker had indicated the need for a proclamation on D-day. His thesis was that Eisenhower had a bounden duty to remind the invading forces of the nature of their enemy, to ask each soldier to be committed and resolute, and to state unequivocally that victory would be theirs:

The several drafts, and Eisenhower’s handwritten corrections, survive. Eisenhower’s deletions and militantly phrased substitutions hardened the graceful, complex message aimed at the world to convey the spirit of the great crusade launched on Hitler’s Europe. Eisenhower deleted a recital of past victories, for clearly “Overlord” was a beginning. In defining the purpose of the invasion, he struck out “overthrow” and inserted “the elimination of Nazi tyranny” (Eisenhower, p. 256).

The leading paragraph of Order of the Day goes on to underscore the fact that the Allied Expeditionary Force is multinational and made up of representatives from all over the world. On June 6, according to Stephen Ambrose, 57,500 American and 75,215 British and Canadian troops came ashore at Normandy. The paragraph concludes with Eisenhower taking the moral high ground and describing the coming battle as being about the forces of good triumphing over the specter of evil. Eisenhower sees the contest as leading to the destruction of the German war machine and “the elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Europe.” When one considers the Jewish Holocaust, the Nazi treatment of Romani (sometimes known as Gypsies) and the handicapped and homosexual populations, and the horrific actions taken by German forces against, for example, Russian civilians on the Eastern Front, Eisenhower’s trumpet blast about tyranny is neither propaganda nor sermonizing. It is a rational outpouring of his conviction that good must prevail.

Eisenhower was a pragmatist and a realist. He knew well that the Normandy beaches and the French hinterland would be a daunting battleground. The clipped cadences and spare prose of his call to arms remain to this day a stirring account of the challenges that faced the Allied Expeditionary Force. Three short sentences spell out challenge, confrontation, and the recognition of extreme peril. “Your task will not be an easy one. Your enemy is well trained, well equipped and battle-hardened. He will fight savagely.”

In hindsight a case can be made that Eisenhower overstates the quality and quantity of the German defenses. The Luftwaffe was in disarray, and of fifty-eight German combat divisions in Western Europe, more than half were not at a high level of fighting efficiency. Many of Germany’s premier troops were engaged on the Eastern Front in the Soviet Union. Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt was theoretically in control of the German forces, but in terms of overall command Adolf Hitler had assumed the role of supreme commander of all German armed forces in 1943. Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, the ablest of the German commanders, arrived at Normandy in the late hours of June 6, after the landings had taken place. Because of the inclement weather, German military leaders were unconvinced that an invasion was imminent.

German resistance to the invasion was committed and sustained, but the result was never in doubt. Ambrose writes of a “striking victory” (1983–1984, vol. 1, p. 310). Several of Eisenhower’s advisers were convinced that the airborne sorties might result in operational losses and casualties of up to 70 percent of the force. That did not occur. Nevertheless, the airborne troops did suffer considerable losses and face stiff resistance in establishing the bridgehead at Omaha Beach. In Eisenhower’s prescient words, “Your task will not be an easy one. … He [the enemy] will fight savagely.” Carlos D’Este graphically recounts the horror and heroism at Omaha Beach. At one point, General Omar Bradley thought of evacuating; according to D’Este, “American leadership and exceptional acts of gallantry by terrified men of all ranks saved the day” (p. 534). American D-day casualties alone were more than ten thousand killed, wounded, or missing.

In his second and final full paragraph Eisenhower forcefully spells out that the “Nazi triumphs of 1940–41” are over. He notes that “our air offensive has seriously reduced their strength in the air.” Geoffrey Perret writes of the general in England, just a few days after D-day, enjoying a visit from his son John. John Eisenhower was confounded by the presence of so much military traffic. He raised with his father the question of the Luftwaffe and air safety. Eisenhower tersely replied, “If I didn’t have air supremacy, I wouldn’t even be here!” (Perret, p. 291). In light of the ten thousand ground force casualties at D-day, it is enlightening to explore Eisenhower’s proactive plan to ensure safe skies over Normandy. Robert F. Burk notes that in the two months leading up to D-day twelve thousand Allied airmen lost their lives.

Eisenhower goes on to address the issue of Allied might. “Our Home Fronts have given us an overwhelming superiority in weapons and munitions of war, and placed at our disposal great reserves of trained fighting men.” While Omaha Beach serves as a reminder about setback, trial, and loss, the fact remains that as early as June 11 the five separate Normandy beach landings had merged into one unified front line and by June 17 the bridgehead was consolidated with six hundred thousand men and one hundred thousand vehicles. By July 2 fully one million Allied troops were firmly established on French soil, and a major hole had been driven through Germany’s European defenses. The sheer scope of Allied resources needs to be stressed in light of Eisenhower’s focus on “overwhelming superiority.” According to Eisenhower’s narrative, on June 5 and 6, for example, the Allied air forces flew no fewer than 14,674 sorties. It is hardly surprising that D-day was such an unqualified success.

In Eisenhower’s second-to-last sentence, the tenor of the piece would be appropriate for a coach eager to do battle and seek success. “I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty and skill. . . . We will accept nothing less than full Victory!” The Order of the Day concludes with these words: “And let us beseech the blessing of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking.” Spiritual faith and Christian beliefs were Eisenhower’s bedrocks.


General Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Order of the Day went out to the vast numbers of soldiers, sailors, and airmen who made up the D-day landing force. Eisenhower did not mince words in his call to arms. While his narrative was robust and tough, the spirit and tone of the prose was a careful blend of a rallying call to be brave and a buoy of optimistic pragmatism. It would be imprudent to claim that the D-day force going into battle on June 5 found Eisenhower’s words inspirational. Eisenhower was not a “blood and guts” general who stormed into battle like an avenging angel. Nevertheless, a rereading of his Order of the Day sheds light on the mind of a leader who fully realized the dangers of battle and the steadfast nature of the enemy and yet was buoyed by the certainty that Allied preparations were so thorough and complete that the only possible outcome was triumph.

Eisenhower’s Order of the Day was broadcast by the Columbia Broadcasting System so that his words would reach the world. When Eisenhower speaks the words “The eyes of the world are upon you” he is fully cognizant that his “Great Crusade” makes it seem not only possible but indeed probable that Germany would be defeated and that the tide had indeed turned. The Order of the Day was actually a subset of a larger address in which Eisenhower appeals to all sorts of people, including patriots, resistance groups, citizens of France, and the huge audience that was the population of Western Europe.


In the hours leading up to the invasion, all 175,000 members of the Allied Expeditionary Force were given a small piece of paper containing the order. These papers were small enough to fit into a billfold. Thus Eisenhower’s Order of the Day became part of the fighting men’s equipment as they moved toward the French coast.

In his opening paragraph Eisenhower notes that “the eyes of the world are upon” the fighting forces. While such a statement seems all too obvious—Overlord was unquestionably the most important single military operation of World War II—one should not forget that Eisenhower was always concerned about his fellow soldiers and ever mindful that he was sending vast numbers of men to fight on a foreign battlefield. On the evening of June 5, he visited the 101st Airborne, which was preparing to fly parachute sorties to Normandy. Stephen E. Ambrose describes the scene: “Eisenhower wandered around among the men, whose blackened faces gave them a grotesque look, stepping over packs, guns, and other equipment. A group recognized him and gathered around. He chatted with them easily. He told them not to worry, that they had the best equipment and leaders” (1983–1984, vol. 1, p. 309). These American soldiers, many of whom were very young men, would have read Eisenhower’s Order of the Day, and Eisenhower wanted them to know that what they were about to do was of great importance. His psychological tactic was to reach out to his warriors and make them comprehend the significance of who they were and what they were about to undertake. They were not supporting characters performing in some distant drama. They were key protagonists, and the stage was theirs.

As has been noted, the Allied Expeditionary Force deployment of June 6, 1944, otherwise called the D-day landings and Operation Overlord, was perhaps the biggest invasion that the world has ever seen. Five attack columns struck hard at five Normandy beach sites. The armada was made up of 1,000 assorted ships with 195,000 supporting personnel. No fewer than eight countries supplied naval units. In terms of the combat forces engaged in the actual landings, 133,000 troops were offloaded on June 6, 1944. Landing causalities were on the order of 10,300. By the end of June 1944, nearly a million men and half a million tons of supplies were deposited on French soil. Nonetheless, despite an enormous squeeze being placed on German forces by Allied forces from the West and Russian troops in the East, Germany did not surrender until May 7, 1945.

16th Infantry Regiment, US 1st Infantry Division landing on Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944 (National Archives and Records Administration)

Document Text



Soldiers, Sailors, and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force!

You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hope and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you. In company with our brave Allies and brothers-in-arms on other Fronts, you will bring about the destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world.

Your task will not be an easy one. Your enemy is will trained, well equipped and battle-hardened. He will fight savagely.

But this is the year 1944! Much has happened since the Nazi triumphs of 1940-41. The United Nations have inflicted upon the Germans great defeats, in open battle, man-to-man. Our air offensive has seriously reduced their strength in the air and their capacity to wage war on the ground. Our Home Fronts have given us an overwhelming superiority in weapons and munitions of war, and placed at our disposal great reserves of trained fighting men. The tide has turned! The free men of the world are marching together to Victory!

I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty and skill in battle. We will accept nothing less than full Victory!

Good luck! And let us beseech the blessing of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking.