When Admiral Leahy visited Cornell College
Smithsonian magazine chronicled Admiral William Leahy’s visit to the Cornell campus on the eve of D-Day in an article about his role in World War II.
As Allied troops were preparing the greatest invasion of all time, the article states, media attention was turned to “Mt. Vernon, Iowa, a speck of a town more than 4,000 miles from Hitler’s Fortress Europe. There, at a small liberal arts college, Admiral William D. Leahy, the highest-ranking member of the American military, was set to give a commencement speech before an assemblage of reporters.”
Twenty-four hours later, on June 6, 1944, some 2,500 Americans would be killed in France.
“Leahy was the only man in the auditorium who knew this cataclysm was coming. Indeed, it was the very reason he was in Iowa in the first place,” the article states. When news of the invasion broke, Leahy was participating in a photo op in an Iowa cornfield, distracting attention from the invasion.
Following his visit, Arolla Bush Cole ’21, wife of President Russell Cole ’22, maintained a correspondence with Leahy for the rest of his life.
1,037 Cornellians served in World War II. By D-Day, Cornell’s male enrollment was down to just 46, from over 300 in the two years preceding entry to the war.