A D-Day Prayer: Renewing FDR’s Plea in Dark Times
Then, as now, “the road is long, and the desire is great.” Let us meet it as those heroes did.
Thirty-eight years ago today, President Ronald Reagan stood above the rocky crags of Normandy, France and gave a soaring speech about the most significant military operation of the 20th century. To the brave men who survived D-Day, he said, “You were young the day you took these cliffs; some of you were hardly more than boys, with the deepest joys of life before you. Yet, you risked everything here. Why? … What impelled you to put aside the instinct for self-preservation and risk your lives to take these cliffs? What inspired all the men of the armies that met here? We look at you, and somehow we know the answer. It was faith and belief; it was loyalty and love. … You all knew that some things are worth dying for.”
Almost four decades removed from those heroic moments, our nation faces new enemies: violence, division, weariness, and lack. But unlike the days of that epic campaign, our government turns everywhere but to God. In an age when faith is grounds for military discharge, it seems almost unfathomable that our commander-in-chief would call the nation to prayer like Franklin Roosevelt did before thousands of men stormed those bloody beaches. In modern times, Wallace Henley laments, FDR’s heartfelt prayer “would probably evoke outrage, condemnation, scorn, and lawsuits.”
And yet, Roosevelt was so passionate about the Source of America’s strength that months before the start of World War II, he wrote the prologue to the Gideon Bibles given to the Armed Forces, a copy of which I have on my shelf. FDR encouraged them to draw courage from the pages of the inspired text. “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.”
When the moment came to send young husbands, fathers, and sons into the belly of Hitler’s army, it’s no surprise that Roosevelt turned his attention where it so often remained: heaven-ward. In a prayer that still echoes as one of history’s greatest, he called an anxious nation to its knees. As frightened boats of men moved across the Channel, the president’s voice rang out from radios across America:
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…
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.
Generations later, the tensions of the world are different. The battle for freedom isn’t playing out on beaches or in French towns, but in courtrooms, government chambers, and diplomatic meetings. While brave men and women are still driven to fight for a calling greater than themselves, America’s real war is against the forces trying to destroy our true foundations: God, freedom, and country.
The answer now is the same as it was then — faith in God. In those dark days, when men’s lives hung in the balance, one prayer united a nation. Today, our country is in the balance, facing odds as steep as those Normandy cliffs. It’s time to return to Roosevelt’s legacy, the spiritual dependence that comforted, humbled, and buoyed the nation. Then, as now, “the road is long, and the desire is great.” Let us meet it as those heroes did, with words of prayer on our lips, calling God’s help home.
This is a publication of the Family Research Council. Mr. Perkins is president of FRC and executive editor of The Washington Stand.
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