“Of all FDR’s radio broadcasts I believe it was the most powerful,” D-Day historian Alex Kershaw said in an email. “It united every American in their will to win, to support the war effort, to sacrifice [and] it beautifully encapsulated the Allied and U.S. mission in WWII.”
Remembering D-Day 1944
79 years ago today, the greatest amphibious assault in the history of warfare took place in order to liberate Europe and to save the world from Nazi evil.
A 2019 article in the New York Times, D-Day in Photos: Heroes of a More Certain Time, has a terrific collection of haunting photographs of the landings that I invite you to view. As I mention below, to get something of a sense of the sacrifice that day demanded of the soldiers, I’d suggest watching Saving Private Ryan, perhaps the greatest artistic depiction of combat of all time. (Here’s the trailer.)
Although we rarely repost, today I’m again publishing the essay from last year as it addresses an aspect of the event that is often over-looked: the prayer of America’s commander-in chief. Decide for yourself, but I would suggest it has some messages that resonate even today.
Thinking about President Roosevelt’s prayer on D-Day
June 6, 1944
Today we commemorate one of the most important events of World War II: D-Day. 78 years ago thousands of U.S. and Allied troops stormed the beaches of Normandy to liberate Europe and to end Nazi tyranny.
“On June 6, 1944, more than 160,000 Allied troops landed along a 50-mile stretch of heavily-fortified French coastline, to fight Nazi Germany on the beaches of Normandy, France. Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower called the operation a crusade in which, “we will accept nothing less than full victory.”
More than 5,000 Ships and 13,000 aircraft supported the D-Day invasion, and by day’s end, the Allies gained a foot-hold in Continental Europe. The cost in lives on D-Day was high. More than 9,000 Allied Soldiers were killed or wounded, but their sacrifice allowed more than 100,000 Soldiers to begin the slow, hard slog across Europe, to defeat Adolf Hitler’s crack troops.”
The operation was so risky that Eisenhower drafted a message in case it failed:
“Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops.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 upon 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.”
Of course, he never had to send it, but D-Day was such a gigantic and phenomenally dangerous undertaking it’s hard to grasp today.
To get something of a sense of that terrible day, I’d suggest watching Saving Private Ryan, perhaps the greatest artistic depiction of combat of all time. (Here’s the trailer.)
I also highly recommend you take a look at Brazilian artist Marina Amaral’s colorization of the black and white photos taken in 1944; the effect is stunning, and some can be found here.
President Roosevelt’s prayer
Of course, Presidents need to be leaders in difficult times, and this need is especially acute during wartime. Few were better than Franklin D. Roosevelt, and what is more is that he was extraordinarily successful in communicating with the American people through his radio broadcasts known as ‘fireside chats’. Roosevelt spoke to the nation about D-Day, and here’s how the FDR Presidential Library and Museum describes this particular ‘chat’:
FDR’s address took the form of a prayer. He had composed it during the weekend before the invasion, with assistance from his daughter, Anna, and her husband, John Boettiger. The text was released in advance so Americans could recite it with him. Roosevelt’s “D-Day Prayer” struck a powerful chord with the nation. Printed copies were distributed and displayed widely throughout the remainder of the war.
The Washington Post reported in 2020 that:
“Families all across the nation listened to the broadcast,” he said. “In Bedford, Virginia, pop 3,000, families gathered around radios and really prayed as they listened because they knew their boys were in the invasion. They did not know that 19 were already dead on Omaha Beach.”
The “Friends of the National World War II Memorial” advise that in “2014, President Barack Obama signed into law the World War II Memorial Prayer Act (Public Law 113-123) directing that the prayer be added to the World War II Memorial. The legislation stipulated that no federal funds could be used to implement this directive.”
The full text of the prayer is below, and an audio of it is found here.
“My fellow Americans: Last night, when I spoke with you about the fall of Rome, I knew at that moment that troops of the United States and our allies were crossing the Channel in another and greater operation. It has come to pass with success thus far.
And so, in this poignant hour, I ask you to join with me in prayer:
Almighty God: Our sons, pride of our Nation, this day have set upon a mighty endeavor, a struggle to preserve our Republic, our religion, and our civilization, and to set free a suffering humanity.
Lead them straight and true; give strength to their arms, stoutness to their hearts, steadfastness in their faith.
They will need Thy blessings. Their road will be long and hard. For the enemy is strong. He may hurl back our forces. Success may not come with rushing speed, but we shall return again and again; and we know that by Thy grace, and by the righteousness of our cause, our sons will triumph.
They will be sore tried, by night and by day, without rest-until the victory is won. The darkness will be rent by noise and flame. Men’s souls will be shaken with the violences of war.
For these men are lately drawn from the ways of peace. They fight not for the lust of conquest. They fight to end conquest. They fight to liberate. They fight to let justice arise, and tolerance and good will among all Thy people. They yearn but for the end of battle, for their return to the haven of home.
Some will never return. Embrace these, Father, and receive them, Thy heroic servants, into Thy kingdom.
And for us at home – fathers, mothers, children, wives, sisters, and brothers of brave men overseas – whose thoughts and prayers are ever with them – help us, Almighty God, to rededicate ourselves in renewed faith in Thee in this hour of great sacrifice.
Many people have urged that I call the Nation into a single day of special prayer. But because the road is long and the desire is great, I ask that our people devote themselves in a continuance of prayer. As we rise to each new day, and again when each day is spent, let words of prayer be on our lips, invoking Thy help to our efforts.
Give us strength, too – strength in our daily tasks, to redouble the contributions we make in the physical and the material support of our armed forces.
And let our hearts be stout, to wait out the long travail, to bear sorrows that may come, to impart our courage unto our sons wheresoever they may be.
And, O Lord, give us Faith. Give us Faith in Thee; Faith in our sons; Faith in each other; Faith in our united crusade. Let not the keenness of our spirit ever be dulled. Let not the impacts of temporary events, of temporal matters of but fleeting moment let not these deter us in our unconquerable purpose.
With Thy blessing, we shall prevail over the unholy forces of our enemy. Help us to conquer the apostles of greed and racial arrogancies. Lead us to the saving of our country, and with our sister Nations into a world unity that will spell a sure peace a peace invulnerable to the schemings of unworthy men. And a peace that will let all of men live in freedom, reaping the just rewards of their honest toil.
Thy will be done, Almighty God.
Though we don’t face an event like D-Day today, don’t you find much of President Roosevelt’s broadcast still resonates? His prayer for steadfastness, strength, unity and more gives us much to ponder in our lives today as we remember the sacrifices that took place those many years ago.