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The 80th Anniversary of D-Day and Roosevelt’s Historical Prayer

In our age of moral confusion where seemingly every value is disputed, WWII and the epic struggle of D-Day is one of the last events with near unanimity that it was a clear-cut struggle between good and evil.

D-Day is the historical name given for Operation Overlord that took place on June 6, 1944, when Allied forces from twelve nations, led by the US, Britain, and Canada, crossed the English Channel to land on the French beaches of Normandy to begin the liberation of Europe from evil Nazi German rule.

That despotism, which had begun in 1933 when Hitler took over Germany, resulted in the deaths of millions, both on the battlefield, in cities, and in the Holocaust. Only the combined might of Allied military forces closing in like a vise…the Russians from the East and the Americans, Brits and Canadians from the West…forced Hitler to commit suicide and Germany to surrender in late spring of 1945.

This year marks the 80th anniversary of those landings at Normandy, and the few surviving veterans from that day are now around 100 years old – or older.

(Central Virginia has a special connection to the June 6 landings, because the National D-Day Memorial is in Bedford. This is because Bedford had the highest per capita death toll of any U.S. community on that day.)

One little-known fact about D-Day is how President Franklin Roosevelt, a Democrat from New York, broke the news of the successful landings to the American public. On the night of June 5, the night before D-Day, he had given a radio address with the jubilant news that Allied troops had liberated Rome, Italy from the Nazis. Due to the time zone difference and the fact that the initial steps of D-Day began in the middle of the night, the operation was already underway during his “Fall of Rome” speech. However, since D-Day was in its first stages and still top secret, Roosevelt did not mention the landings, even though as Commander in Chief he was aware of them.

By the evening of June 6, with the positive news that Allied forces had established toeholds on French beaches, Roosevelt decided it was safe to announce the operation to the public. War planners had earlier predicted, if Allied soldiers could secure the beaches by the first evening, eventual victory over Hitler was almost guaranteed.

Notably, Roosevelt phrased his announcement in the form of a prayer to God.

Several points stand out. 1.) There is much debate and confusion today about “Separation of Church and State.” Contrary to popular belief, this phrase occurs nowhere in the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution. Rather, Thomas Jefferson coined the phrase in an 1802 letter to Baptist preachers in Connecticut. Roosevelt’s address to the nation that night of June 6 was a deeply religious message, in the form of a prayer.

2.) in what FDR dubbed “a mighty endeavor,” he claimed D-Day was part of “a struggle to preserve our Republic, our religion, and our civilization (…)”

3.) Roosevelt claimed many had asked him to use his position as president to declare “a single day of special prayer.” That would be somewhat like the National Day of Prayer that Pres. Harry Truman later designated in 1952. However, Roosevelt claimed the need was so huge, Americans should instead engage in extended, daily 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.”

The Text of Roosevelt’s Radio Address on June 6, 1944: 

“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.

Amen.”

Go Deeper:

Listen to Roosevelt’s D-Day Prayer in his own voice, as broadcast over the radio.

Read more about FDR and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and their perspectives on June 6, 1944, in this page from the FDR Presidential Library and Museum.

Roanoker Hayden Furrow landed on the beaches of Normandy, a few weeks after the initial June 6 liberation and was later wounded in the Battle of the Bulge. Hear his  May 10, 2012 talk to the students at Parkway Christian Academy in Roanoke, VA, about his WWII experiences. Furrow has since gone on to his reward.

Read this fascinating, interactive piece by the Daily Mail on how D-Day unfolded hour by hour

Read an overview of D-Day, especially how it fits into the larger picture of WWII.

–Scott Dreyer

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