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Respectfully Quoted: A Dictionary of Quotations. 1989.

NUMBER: 1183
AUTHOR: Author unknown
QUOTATION: With willing hearts and skillful hands, the difficult we do at once; the impossible takes a bit longer.
ATTRIBUTION: Author unknown. Inscription on the memorial to the Seabees (U.S. Naval Construction Batallions), between Memorial Bridge and Arlington Cemetery.

“The difficult we do immediately. The impossible takes a little longer.”—Motto of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers during World War II, according to The Home Book of American Quotations, ed. Bruce Bohle, p. 35 (1967), which says that other branches of the service also used this slogan. Newsweek, March 8, 1943, p. 34, attributes this “cocky slogan” to the Army Air Forces.

A higher comparative, “The impossible we do at once; the miraculous takes a little longer,” was said to be the motto of the Army Service Forces.—The New York Times, November 4, 1945, pp. 2E, 6E. This echoes a remark attributed to Charles-Alexandre de Calonne, Louis XVI’s minister of finance. Marie Antoinette asked him something in a tone that brooked no refusal, adding that perhaps it would be difficult. He replied, “If it is only difficult, it is done; if it is impossible, we shall see.”—J. F. Michaud, Biographie Universelle, vol. 6, p. 427.
SUBJECTS: Military affairs