Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Private Huntsman & General Eisenhower, A D-Day Reflection on Work

Private Ken Huntsman upon graduation from basic  training. 

68 years ago my father-in-law, Ken Huntsman, landed on a hostile beach in Normandy along with 150,000 other members of the Allied Forces. Their mission was to establish multiple beach heads on the French coast from which the eventual march to Germany and the ultimate freedom of Europe would be secured. Planners of the assault expected deaths, casualties and captures amongst the landing force to exceed 50%, but the potential outcome was deemed to be workworthy. 

General Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Forces transmitted a message to all members of the force just prior to the invasion, “You are about to embark upon the great crusade, toward which we have striven these many months.” What no one knew then was that General “Ike” carried another note in his pocket, to be used if the outcome were disastrous and it read, “Our landings have failed and I have withdrawn the troops. My decision to attack at this time and place was based on the best information available. The troops, the air and the Navy, did all that bravery could do.  If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt, it is mine alone.”

It is impossible to know who showed greater valor on D-Day; the men who went ashore under heavy machine gun fire and bombardment, scrambling around obstacles and barb wire or General Eisenhower who sent the soldiers ashore knowing that many of those men were going to a certain personal  apocalypse. Privates and Generals all did their parts to secure a single success at great hazard to themselves.

And while the freedom of Europe does not hang on the outcome of the work you do today, the same lessons are true; work is ensouling and creates dignity when:
  • Our contribution is critical.
  • Our contribution is appreciated.
  • We must muster our bravery to storm our "work beach head."
  • You believe you are fighting for the benefit of the person on your right and on your left.
  • You understand how your contribution fits into the very big, epic picture.
  • No person is deemed to be unimportant, based on their rank. Every person counts.
Ken marched from Normandy to Germany. When he returned to the US, to his young bride Lucille and toddler son Ron in Missouri, he bore scars on his soul from his sacrificial service. They were not physical, but they were substantial and they were lifelong.

My wife Kathi likes to share this favorite childhood memory: One afternoon she walked through the bedroom where her father was taking a nap.  He was obviously fast asleep when he spoke these words loudly and clearly, “Hi, I’m Ken Huntsman, Man of the Year!” 

Indeed he was. Oh that we could all awake proclaiming the same of ourselves!