National Commander Seehafer unveils newest Statue of Liberation
American Legion National Commander Daniel Seehafer joined the Eisenhower family, military and elected officials and visitors from around the world to unveil the statue of World War II Supreme Allied Commander Europe Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower in Ste. Mere-Eglise, Normandy, France.

National Commander Seehafer unveils newest Statue of Liberation

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American Legion National Commander Daniel J. Seehafer helped the free world commemorate the 80th anniversary of D-Day this week by unveiling the second of two Statues of Liberation in Ste. Mere-Eglise, first French town liberated from Nazi occupation by the Allies on June 6, 1944. The new installation portrays for future generations the Supreme Allied Commander Europe who wrote on the night before the pivotal World War II invasion that if it should fail, all the responsibility belonged to him alone.

"Today, we honor – and must always remember – the courage, decisiveness and accountability, of Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, who continues to inspire us," Seehafer told a crowd that included members of the Eisenhower family, military authorities (including current Supreme Allied Commander Europe Gen. Christopher Cavoli), elected officials, Normandy citizens and visitors from around the world.

"He put the cause ahead of himself – and epitomized what we, in The American Legion, mean when we talk about servant leadership. Long after we all are gone from this earth, future generations must know what it takes to make tough decisions, take responsibility and serve causes greater than oneself. They can learn that from Dwight D. Eisenhower."

The June 3 unveiling came two years after then-National Commander Paul Dillard unveiled the first Statue of Liberation, of American Legion founding leader Brig. Gen. Theodore Roosevelt Jr. – cast in bronze and infused with metals collected from the World War II battlefields of Normandy. The American Legion is primary sponsor of both statues, sculpted by Pablo Eduardo of Gloucester, Mass., in alliance with Amis des Veterans Americains of Normandy, Operation Democracy of Locust Valley, N.Y., the Airborne Museum in Ste. Mere-Eglise and the City of Ste. Mere-Eglise.

Roosevelt Jr., the oldest officer to storm the beaches of Normandy on D-Day, earned the Medal of Honor for his actions on Utah Beach, helping young soldiers cross the sand through enemy fire, armed only with a pistol and a cane. He died of a heart attack five weeks after entering the fighting in Normandy and was initially buried in one of three temporary cemeteries in Ste. Mere-Eglise.

Eisenhower's statue includes a tableau that pays tribute to his leadership before issuing orders to launch history's largest amphibious assault. His famous quote – "The eyes of the world are upon you" – is engraved at the top of the panel.

"In The American Legion, we believe in a certain way of thinking, leading and accomplishing goals," Seehafer told hundreds gathered at the Eisenhower ceremony. "We call it servant leadership. You hear that term increasingly. But what does it really mean? First, here is what it is not: servant leadership is not about the advancement of oneself. It's about the suspension of oneself for the pursuit of a greater cause. Eighty years ago, the greater cause was freedom of this very peninsula, of the continent beyond and around the world."

Military historian and longtime visitor of Normandy during the D-Day anniversary commemorations Keith Nightingale discussed attributes that made Eisenhower a historically powerful leader.

"Depictions and discussions of Gen. Eisenhower are most often focused on Ike as a general or as a president, but the quality that made him so successful in both roles was his humanity," Nightingale said. "Ike understood that thousands would die on his order, but he always understood that each person he commanded was a singular being who deserved everything he could provide, in the way of spirit and belief.

"He was everyone's father, brother and confidant. He was their leader, more than their commander."

Nightingale explained that Eisenhower spoke personally with the troops he was sending into battle as D-Day neared "as much to encourage himself as to encourage them. There would be a price to be paid for the enterprise, and it was a price that he would deeply bear."

The general and U.S. president-to-be wrote a note the night before Operation Overlord "to be used in case of failure," explained his granddaughter, author and international relations consultant Susan Eisenhower. "In it, he asserted that if there was any failure attached to the invasion, the blame was his and his alone. These are stories of individual courage and bravery, and what Eisenhower called devotion to duty. They will be remembered."

Caroline de Carvalho, a great granddaughter of Eisenhower, told the crowd on the town square that the ideals of the great World War II leader continue to influence new generations, including her own four children.

"In the months of preparation for the D-Day invasion, Eisenhower managed to bridge a cultural and human divide, in order to unify military and political leaders from different allied countries around a single strategic purpose – the Normandy invasion," she told the crowd. "He truly understood the risks involved and was prepared to personally suffer the consequences if the invasion were to fail."

And in the years that followed, as he led the United States into an era of peace, prosperity and friendship among nations, "He never forgot the lessons of war and loss of human life necessary for Allied victory."

"When I was a young girl, my parents told me that my grandfather Dwight Eisenhower would appear on a television special to mark the 20th anniversary of D-Day," explained Susan Eisenhower, who served on The American Legion's 100th Anniversary Honorary Committee. "He visited the beaches of Normandy with Walter Cronkite to tell him the story of the epic events that occurred here. This program was the first time I saw the village of Ste. Mere-Eglise. It never occurred to me that 60 years later, I would be in this village, thanking the citizens and the American sponsors, The American Legion and Operation Democracy, for the statue of Dwight Eisenhower that will stand in this place for generations to come."

The national commander thanked the alliance of organizations in France and the United States for bringing the Statues of Liberation project to life. "I also want to thank our friends at DHL Express for the care and expedience they deployed in shipping this work of art from a foundry in the state of Maine, in the United States of America, to this beautiful location in Normandy," he added. "They were truly respectful and, above all – honored to be a part of this, as we are."

On Tuesday, June 4, the national commander and former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Mark Milley (retired) delivered remarks at the Roosevelt statue, drawing out similarities between the two leaders.

"Today, we reflect on this rare and remarkable leader – a true servant leader – as was Gen. Dwight Eisenhower," Seehafer said at the Tuesday ceremony. "Roosevelt Jr.'s commitment to service, camaraderie and strength not only laid a foundation of values for The American Legion in 1919, his spirit continues to guide this great organization, which I now have the honor of leading, more than 105 years later.

"May generations yet to be born understand, through his immortal gaze, cast in bronze and bullet casings, the kind of leadership it took – and will always take – to save a world and build lasting friendships."