In Case of Failure

On December 7th, 1941 the Japanese bombed the U.S. Naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Five weeks later on January 17th, 1942, a 33 year old man in New York City – an Armenian immigrant to America – enlisted in the U.S. Army. On Ancestry.com his civil occupation is listed as “skilled motion picture projectionist”. He was “single, without dependents”, 5’6″ tall, completed four years of high school, and was a private in the Infantry. He was my great uncle Leon Krikorian, and I remember him well :-)

Leo was among the 73, 000 American troops (156,000 Allied troops altogether) who landed on the beaches of Normandy, France on D-Day, June 6, 1944, a mission known as “Operation Neptune”. Today the free world commemorates the 70th anniversary of that historic mission. My uncle was wounded on those beaches and was awarded a Purple Heart, something he always dismissed in conversation and never wanted to talk about. He’d talk about the war, yes, but not his medal. And he admitted with candor and honesty that he and his fellow infantrymen felt “fear” that morning under stormy ominous cloud cover, and endured hours of seasickness during the rough crossing of the English Channel.

In a letter written the day before the invasion (mistakenly dated July 5 instead of June 5) General Eisenhower penned a worst case scenario note in the event that the mission failed. It is known as the “In case of failure” letter, although that phrase does not appear in the text. Scrawled on a 4 x7 inch sheet of beige notepaper and written on a portable desk, the note is brittle and worn. Eisenhower had folded it and tucked it in his wallet. In it he wrote, “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.” That’s a five star General right there.

Uncle Leo achieved the rank of Staff Sergeant. He died in 1992 and is buried at Long Island National Cemetery. RIP.

Photos of D-Day, which speak for themselves:

D-Day_WWII-16

Dday

Into_the_Jaws_of_Death_23-0455M_edit

DDay2

Omaha_Beach_wounded_soldiers,_1944-06-06

18 thoughts on “In Case of Failure

  1. The Rider says:

    Respect to all D Day Vets! When I saw Saving Private Ryan I for the first time really understood how bad it must have been!

    • artmodel says:

      The Rider,

      Respect all the way. Amen to that. The first 30 minutes of Saving Private Ryan are absolutely riveting. Stunningly filmed. The rest of the movie I’m not crazy about.

      Thanks for posting a comment!

      Claudia

  2. Derek says:

    I can relate to your story relating to World War II
    My dad who left us in 1983 served in the war when Britain was attacked by the germans under the tyrranical leadership of Hitler I remember a picture of Churchill whelling with tears in his eyes when the House of Commons were detsroyed by Nazi germany it looked very much the 9/11 attacks. It took us five years to end his blood tyrranny of what he did to his people and our people including in Europe. I also served in the military mseself. when he were in the Falkland Islands in 1982 I am not a fan of war meself but I have great respects to your uncle and my dad and all those who have put their lives on the lines for us during troubled times defending our countries against the forces of evil.
    I now live quietly in Australia loving my artworks and I am planning to do a painting in honor my dad and I still think of him after 31 years after his passing and my children and grandchildren will be honiring him. God bless them all.

    • artmodel says:

      Derek,

      Thank you for this touching account of yours and your father’s service. You should absolutely do a painting in honor of him. I have seen those pictures of Churchill standing in the rubble of the House of Commons. The widespread devastation of World War II is so hard to comprehend. After the horrors of the first War, it’s agonizing that Europe endured it again for a second time only 20 years later.

      Again, thanks for your comments.

      Claudia

  3. drawing aficionado says:

    Much has been said about the D-Day and its impacts as a founding event in modern History. I appreciate your article lighting up this day from a “human level” perspective.
    For the old Greeks heroes were half men, half Gods, facing their fates by taking the risk of transgressing a taboo, always failing and having to bear an everlasting culpability for such a deed.
    Modern heroes are people-next-door. They do not dream about medals and glory. They do what they do because they think it’s their duty or their job. Even if they know they may lose their life.
    Your uncle was a hero as well as all the guys and girls that landed in Normandy that day. As a Frenchman and an European I do know what I owe them.
    Next time you meet your uncle in Long Island National Cemetery, say him respectfully hello on my behalf.

    • artmodel says:

      drawing aficionado,

      “Modern heroes are people-next-door” – How true that statement is. We New Yorkers can especially relate to that statement with regard to 9-11, and all the regular people who went above and beyond that day. Cops, EMT, and firemen but also many many civilians.

      You mentioned “duty” in your comments, and that connects strongly to my Uncle Leo’s story. He didn’t wait around to be drafted. He enlisted and wasted no time doing so. Also, that he was an immigrant putting on the uniform for his adopted country makes it all the more affecting in my opinion.

      Thank you so much for your wonderful comments. And will certainly pay Leo your respects.

      Claudia

  4. Bill says:

    In some generations, a person can spend his/her entire lifetime without discovering what they’re really made of. That wasn’t the case for your uncle and his colleagues — their sense of loss must have been at least slightly alleviated by the sense that they took and passed the test with flying colors. For the rest of their lives, they knew who they were.

    • artmodel says:

      Bill,

      I was following the coverage of the Normandy anniversary ceremonies, reading news reports, etc. I was struck by how much ALL the D-Day veterans absolutely wanted to be there in spite of health and infirmities.You may have heard about the 89 year old Royal Navy vet who snuck out of his nursing home to attend the ceremonies. And who can blame the guy? He won’t likely live to see another such commemoration. I love this story. http://abcnews.go.com/International/british-day-vet-sneaks-nursing-home-attend-normandy/story?id=24035617

      Like you said, they know who they are and what they accomplished.

      Thanks for your comments.

      Claudia

      • Bill says:

        You’re right — that is a great story. And, in the midst of it all, some good did come from all this. My dad didn’t wait to be drafted either — he enlisted in the Navy and, for some reason, was shipped to a base in interior Maine for training. One night he went to a USO dance with his buddies — and he met my mother. Even in the middle of war, people could still fall in love.

        • artmodel says:

          Bill,

          That’s a wonderful story. Thanks for sharing! War is often the backdrop for love stories, in literature, films, and of course, real life.

          Claudia

  5. Grier Horner says:

    Like other wars, WWII also burdened some with nightmares, feelings of guilt and other carryovers of battle. A friend of mine who died a few years ago, still had dreams about the night deep in German territory his lieutenant died next to him in their foxhole – the victim of a single shot as he raised his head to assess their situation.

    • artmodel says:

      Grier,

      Oh my god. I would have nightmares forever if I had witnessed what your friend witnessed. That is a brutal story. Horrors of war.

      Thank you for sharing.

      Claudia

  6. Grier Horner says:

    Moving post, Museworthy

  7. Dave says:

    Claudia,

    What a beautiful tribute to your Uncle Leo (and, through him, all of his brothers in arms on that momentous day). Thank you for telling us about him.

    Dave

  8. Lynn Kauppi says:

    Hi Claudia

    I have several older relatives who served in WW II. I respect them all. My Mom’s brother was a crewman on an LTC, an extremely large landing craft, and saw his best friend’s head blown off. Apparently he skirted with alcholism for some time, but eventually was able to move on with his life. I can’t imagine that. My Mom also had a cousin who served in the infantry in Europe. He was a great guy but never mentioned his service except for one humorous anecdote. My father-in-law served on a Navy troop transport but fortunately never saw action. My Dad trained to be a bomber pilot but was late in the war was grounded because they no longer needed the pilots. He commanded the honor guard for multiple funerals of GIs killed in training and possibly saw some horrific plane wrecks.
    I’m impressed by the men who served, respect and honor them, but war casts a horrible shadow on human history. I pray that it will cease.
    My deepest respect to your uncle.

    Grace and peace

    Lynn

    • artmodel says:

      Lynn,

      Your family certainly has extensive military service and saw many experiences, many of them traumatic. Respect to all of them. My Uncle Leo’s younger brother, Astor, also served in the war. He was not at Normandy, and unlike Leo he was drafted, not voluntarily enlisted. One night while on guard duty he had a mental breakdown. He was discharged, sent home and was in and out of psychiatric institutions for the rest of his life. It’s a terribly sad episode in my family’s history.

      I don’t think the acronym PTSD existed in those days, but we can surely conclude that the same disorder afflicted many WWII vets.

      Thank you so much for sharing your stories.

      Claudia

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