We lived in Belgium in the late 1960s while my father was doing research for his thesis. I was too young to remember, but my mother told me that on a trip to France we were greeted with a standing ovation in a restaurant because we were Americans and American troops had liberated their city from Nazi control a few decades earlier.
This standing ovation happened about half a century ago. This week marks the 78th anniversary of D-Day, the Allied invasion of Normandy, France. The year before the invasion, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin had repeatedly asked British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to open a second front on the Atlantic coast of Europe to relieve his army at ballast.
General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Supreme Allied Commander Europe, planned and executed the liberation of Western Europe and the invasion of Germany, dubbed Operation Overlord. This large-scale invasion required the mustering and training of hundreds of thousands of troops for the amphibious landing.
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Before the invasion began, Eisenhower sent a message of encouragement and support to the troops. He compared the invasion to a “crusade” and noted that their goal was nothing less than “security for ourselves in a free world”. He expressed “confidence in your courage and devotion to duty and skill in battle”, while noting: “We will accept nothing less than full victory”.
He ended with a request for assistance from “Almighty God for this great and noble enterprise”.
The invasion began on June 6, 1944. It included nearly 3 million soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines, some 11,000 aircraft, and nearly 7,000 ships carrying nearly 200,000 tanks and other vehicles.
That night, Roosevelt broadcast his prayer. Biographer Jon Meacham noted, “The White House had distributed the text in advance so that the public—about 100 million Americans—could recite the words with Roosevelt.”
“My fellow Americans: Last night when I spoke to you about the fall of Rome, I knew at that moment that the troops of the United States and our allies were crossing the English Channel in another larger operation. has been successfully completed so far, and so at this poignant hour, I ask you to join me in prayer.
Imagine 100 million Americans reciting this prayer with their president:
“Almighty God: Our sons, the pride of our Nation, embarked today on a great enterprise, a struggle to preserve our republic, our religion and our civilization, and to liberate a suffering humanity.
“Lead them straight and true; give strength to their arms, firmness to their heart, constancy in their faith…
“They will be sorely tried, night and day, without rest – until victory is won. The darkness will be rent with sound and flames. The souls of men will be shaken by the violences of war.
“For these men are lately drawn from the ways of peace. They do not fight for the thirst for conquest. They fight to end the conquest. They fight to free themselves. They are fighting for justice, tolerance and goodwill among all your people. They yearn only for the end of the battle, for their return to the haven of home.
“Some will never come back. Embrace them, Father, and receive them, your heroic servants, into your kingdom…
“Many people have insisted that I call the Nation to a single day of special prayer. But because the road is long and the desire is great, I ask our people to dedicate themselves in a continuity of prayer. So may we rise to each new day, and again when each day has passed, may words of prayer be on our lips, invoking your aid in our endeavours…
“With your blessing, we will defeat the unholy forces of our enemy. Help us defeat the apostles of greed and racial arrogance. Lead us to the salvation of our country, and with our sister Nations into a worldwide unity which will spell a sure peace, a peace invulnerable to the intrigues of unworthy men…
“Thy will be done, Almighty God. Amen.”
There were over 10,000 casualties among American, British and Canadian troops, but the invasion succeeded in changing the direction of the war. Less than a year later, on May 7, 1945, the Germans surrendered unconditionally to the Allies.
Compare those actions with where we are today. Small prayer, too few citizens healthy and strong enough to defend our freedom, and words of derision for our country rather than gratitude for our position in the world. We have fallen so far.
Take the time today to say a prayer of thanks and gratitude for those who fought for our country and to liberate other countries and won, and pray that our nation will return to prayer, strength and to gratitude.