Early in the first presidential debate, Sen. John McCain veered into military history during a discussion of the financial crisis.
To make a point about accountability, he relayed an anecdote about Dwight D. Eisenhower. Only McCain got the story wrong in a way that undermined his point.
After moderator Jim Lehrer pressed McCain on whether he would support the financial bailout package Congress is crafting, McCain said, "I hope so, sure."
Then he said: "But there's also the issue of responsibility. You've mentioned President Dwight David Eisenhower. President Eisenhower, on the night before the Normandy invasion, went into his room and he wrote out two letters. One of them was a letter congratulating the great members of the military and Allies that had conducted and succeeded in the greatest invasion in history, still to this day, and forever. And he wrote out another letter, and that was a letter of resignation to the United States Army for the failure of the landings at Normandy. Somehow, we've lost that accountability."
McCain went on to link Eisenhower and his letter to McCain's repeated calls in recent days that Securities and Exchange Commission chairman Christopher Cox resign for his role in the financial crisis.
McCain was almost certainly referring to this note , which Eisenhower, then the U.S. Army general commanding the Normandy assault, prepared and stuck in his wallet on June 5, 1944, the day before the invasion in case the mission failed.
It says: "Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops.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 on 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."
A noble sentiment — but not a letter of resignation.
"That must be what McCain is referencing," said David Fitzpatrick, a military historian at the University of Michigan. "I never heard that Eisenhower had prepared a letter of resignation. That would be incorrect."
The invasion was a success and Eisenhower did not have to use the note.
McCain ought not use it either — at least not as an example of prewritten resignation letter. Though Eisenhower did intend to take responsibility for the failure, that's quite different from preparing to resign his generalship. We find this anecdote to be False.