At home, here in the United States, the nation knew it was coming. There had been public references to the impending assault on Hitler’s Fortress Europe for weeks.
Even the Germans knew an invasion was imminent. But when it would occur, how it would be launched, and just what route the allies would take was one of the most closely, and most successfully guarded, military secrets in history.
|… Some will never return. Embrace these, Father, and receive them, Thy heroic servants, into Thy kingdom.|
In Britain, the staging point for the invasion, several hundred thousand men began a steady and carefully planned move to the south coast of England to board the ships that would take them across the channel.
Tens of thousands of planes; gliders, bombers, transports and fighters, all painted in special invasion colors, readied for their missions.
The sense of anticipation was overwhelming. It would be the largest seaborne invasion in history and it could happen at any moment.
It was also a time when Americans, and our British allies, publicly and freely, and without any hesitation, did something that might not be as readily understood today. They prayed.
Members of the first groups of assault troops to take part in the Allied invasion of northern France receive benediction from an Army chaplain before leaving England for the European continent on D-Day. Their assault craft are in the background. (AP Photo)
The first few lines are telling:
“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.”
However, a bit further on, he confronts the deepest fear of many of his listeners, “… some will never return. Embrace these, Father, and receive them, Thy heroic servants, into Thy kingdom.”
In the hours and days following the invasion, churches in Washington, and indeed throughout the United States, were open day and night.
People went to pray by themselves or to attend impromptu services. There were also Invasion Day rallies.
These were quiet, thoughtful gatherings, organized by community leaders and the Civil Defense to show support for the invasion forces.
Second Lt. Ray A. Karcy of Atlantic City, N.J., conducts a Catholic service aboard a landing craft in an English port before the Americans set off for the invasion of northern France. Karcy, a one-time Good Humor ice cream salesman assigned to an infantry unit that landed on the Normandy beaches, was wounded eight days after D-Day, died two days later and was initially buried in France, according to an obituary in his hometown newspaper. Three years after the war ended, his remains were returned to the U.S., and he is buried in Pennsylvania. (AP Photo)
Prayer, and asking God to protect our soldiers, featured highly in the programs.
In England and Scotland, where many of the American soldiers had become a part of the communities where they trained, the reaction was immediate and spontaneous.
When the BBC announced that this was “Invasion Day,” businesses closed and the churches opened. As one person told me not too long ago, it didn't matter where they prayed, “…any church would do.”
They were praying for their soldiers, sailors and airmen, who had been at war since 1939, as well as the young Americans they had come to know so well during the past two years.
On the ships, waiting in the darkness, as one British soldier said, “even those blokes who had openly declared that they didn’t believe in God had started to pray.”
They knew what they were about to face and wanted to find some peace and strength through a chat with the Almighty.
In 1941, the Episcopal Church had issued a serviceman's prayer book, and one short excerpt proved particularly popular.
It was, simply, “Lighten our darkness, we beseech thee, O Lord; and by thy great mercy defend us from all perils and dangers of this night.”
Many prayers, of course, will never be recorded or shared. Chaplains, when they had the chance led prayers, individual soldiers prayed on their own, and at home, sometimes thousands of miles away, families and loved ones all over the country, and as far away as Australia, New Zealand and South Africa prayed for their sons. These words will always be private.
Today, in the 21st century, prayer in the face of a national challenge isn’t as common. It is hard to imagine a president, in this day and age, leading a nation in prayer. Let alone a prayer that he wrote himself.
But on June 6, 1944, it seemed that an entire nation, its Army, Navy and Air Force overseas, and its long-suffering allies, were looking to God for their safety and protection. It was a trust well placed.
The following is the complete text of FDR's D-Day prayer, as published online by the American Presidency Project:
David S. Kerr of Alexandria, Va., is a former political columnist for the Washington Examiner newspaper. This essay originally appeared in the Fredericksburg (Va.) Free Lance Star.
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.