Prominent Kansans played key roles making the D-Day invasion possible

Bill Grady
June 06, 2019 - 7:26 am

Keystone - Hulton Archive


Kansas City, MO - Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Allied Commander during World War II and planner of the greatest amphibious invasion in world history, grew up on a farm in Abilene, Kansas. 

Eisenhower, "Ike" to his friends and admirers, oversaw preparations of "Operation Overlord," the allied invasion at Normandy that would eventually lead to victory over fascism in Europe. The invasion had to be delayed one day because of bad weather.

Historians say that gave Eisenhower an extra day to contemplate the grim undertaking he was to lead. 

"There was going to be a great human cost, and not just to the allied soldiers, but to French civilians and other people who were soon to be liberated in Europe, and yet, he also realized that the invasion was necessary," said Tom Rives, director of the Eisenhower Presidential Museum and Library.

Eisenhower, met with troops from the 101st Airborne before they left England for Normandy. The solders were lighthearted, one saying "don't worry about it General, we'll take care of this for you."

Eisenhower kept his emotions in check, until he started walking away, when tears rolled down his cheeks. He made no apology.

"I would think if a man didn't show a bit of emotion, it would show that he probably was a little bit inhuman, and goodness knows, those fellows meant a lot to me," Eisenhower said years later.


More than 4,400 allied troops were killed on D-Day. More than 9,000 were wounded or went missing.

The man from Abilene had his doubts about D-Day. One day before, he wrote a letter accepting full responsibility for its failure.

Eisenhower died in 1969, eight years after the end of his second term as President of the United States.


Another Kansas man who helped prepare for victory in Europe was Harry Darby, owner of the Darby Steel Corporation in in the KCK section of the West Bottoms.  

During the war, Darby was a close friend of Eisenhower and a future U.S. Senator.

His company built large landing craft called LCT's and LCM's that could make their way onto the beaches and offload tanks and other military vehicles. At its peak, Darby Steel produced one landing craft per day.



"As I recall, a number of years ago, they refurbished one of the landing craft, and took it down the Missouri River, and the Mississippi, down to New Orleans, one put back in service, at least one that had been restored for a short time," Rives said.

Today, sections of Interstate 635 in Kansas and Missouri are named for Darby. Some military historians say the invasion would not have been possible without the vessels his company built.

Harry Darby died in 1987. His company closed in 1989.

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