By Brad Morris
As Americans were greeted by the news of the fall of Rome to Allied forces as they put their sons and daughters to bed on the evening of June 5, 1944, it was already the early hours of June 6 over the skies of France, where over 13,000 of their countrymen were being parachuted into the Normandy countryside.
The objectives of the 82nd and 101st Airbourne Divisions, which were bolstered by the landing of approximately 4,000 infantrymen on gliders, were to block approaches to the landings at Utah Beach, to capture causeway exits off the beaches and to establish crossing over the Douve River to merge two American beachheads.
As the paratroopers and infantrymen were working to try and accomplish their missions, the largest armada in the history of mankind was crossing the English Channel to begin the liberation of the oldest ally of the United States of America, France.
More than 160,000 soldiers of the Allied nations, primarily from the U.S., Great Britain, Canada but also Free French returning to liberate their homeland and others, landed on five code-named beaches. Operation Overlord was supported by more than 5,000 ships and 13,000 aircraft.
The endeavor was so risky that Allied Supreme Commander Dwight Eisenhower drafted a message in case the Nazis were able to repel the invasion back into the sea.
“Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops,” his never delivered message said. “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.”
President Franklin Roosevelt monitored reports during June 6 from the White House, as Allied forces valiantly established footholds on all five beaches, but by evening they had only connected two of the five targeted beaches.
Over 2,500 Americans gave the ultimate sacrifice on D-Day out of a total of 4,414 Allied deaths.
Roosevelt could be termed as the first modern president due to his understanding of mass communication and how it could be used to rally the American people to support his policies. He had done this repeatedly in his first three terms when Americans turned on their radios from coast-to-coast to listen to his famous Fireside Chats.
With the issue still in doubt despite initial progress on D-Day, the president took to the airwaves to address the American people and asked them to join him in prayer.
“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.
It is estimated that nearly 100 million Americans were tuned into the president’s address in what has been called the “largest mass prayer in human history.”
The president’s address was the culmination of a day of prayer that would extend into the following days and beyond for Americans, who packed into churches and synagogues across the country to pray for the success of D-Day and for the Good Lord to protect their loved ones.
The day opened with school children across the commonwealth of Massachusetts reciting the Lord’s Prayer before class, as the bells tolled in Boston’s Old North Church.
The Mayor of New York City, Fiorello LaGuardia, led an impromptu prayer service in Madison Square Park that was attended by 50,000 people.
In Philadelphia, Major Bernard Samuel tapped the Liberty Bell and offered a prayer, as the bell rang for the first time in 109 years.
The Liberty Bell, coincidently, is inscribed with the verse from Leviticus 25:10, “Proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof.”
New Yorkers woke up on June 7 to the president’s 525-word prayer being published by the New York Times in its entirety on the front page under the headline, “Let Our Hearts Be Stout”.
A bronze plaque of President Roosevelt’s D-Day Prayer was unveiled at the National World War II Memorial in Washington last December.
Allied forces eventually consolidated all five beachheads on June 12 and by the end of the month nearly 875,000 soldiers had disembarked to join the fight. Caen, the last major objective, finally was captured by the Allies on July 21.
The soldiers then broke out of the Normandy countryside and liberated Paris when the German garrison surrendered on August 25.
As the soldiers walked across the French countryside, many of them carried a pocketsize Bible issued to them by order of their Commander-in-Chief.
Chaplains in the days leading up to the D-Day Invasion had presented troops with a new copy of the Bible in case they had misplaced the one originally issued to them.
Inside the front cover was a message from President Roosevelt.
“As Commander-in-Chief, I take pleasure in commending the reading of the Bible to all who serve in the armed forces of the United States. Throughout the centuries men of many faiths and diverse origins have found in the Sacred Book words of wisdom, counsel and inspiration. It is a fountain of strength and now, as always, an aid in attaining the highest aspirations of the human soul.”
Very sincerely yours,
Franklin D. Roosevelt
Coming to Circleville this September!