In four days, on Saturday, June 6, 2020, our country and the world will celebrate the 76th anniversary of D-Day, an amphibious invasion of the Normandy, France beaches by American, British and Canadian forces that loosened, if not broke Adolph Hitler’s iron grip on Europe. Combat losses were heavy, particularly on Omaha Beach where the 29th Infantry Division, comprising a large number of Marylanders, fought and succeeded against overwhelming odds.
In some ways, commemoration of D-Day is my Memorial Day.
In 1994, on the 50th anniversary, I served as the escort officer for Gov. William Donald Schaefer, himself a World War II veteran stationed as a hospital administrator in England. I got to know and respect 29th Division veterans. They were tough, hardy men who never bragged about their combat exploits.
As the invasion was happening, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt addressed the nation with a prayer. He understood the need to offer comfort and encouragement. He sought help from a higher power for a mission that dwarfed all others in military history.
“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,” Roosevelt prayed.
He continued,” Lead them straight and true; give them strength to their arms, stoutness in their hearts, steadfastness in their faith.”
No president wants to send men and women into combat and possible death. This calculation may be the worst part of the job. It brings only sorrow despite the outcome.
Your heart is burdened with immense responsibility for deciding that the cause of freedom calls for wrenching decisions.
“They (soldiers) 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 goodwill among all Thy people. They yearn but for the end of battle, for their return to the haven of home,” Roosevelt said.
These words bespeak overriding concern for the troops engaged in deadly combat, empathy for the families whose sons were fighting on foreign beaches topped by bluffs advantageous to the enemy and a sense of unity shared with citizens who despised the evil represented by Hitler and his ruinous vision.
Roosevelt unabashedly prayed for the Lord’s intervention in a critical wartime mission. He didn’t claim any outright entitlement to God’s attention and blessing, understanding that might seem presumptuous.
However, guided by faith and sincerity, he hoped for an extra measure of divine support.
The prayer ends: “With Thy blessing, we shall prevail over the unholy forces of our enemy. Help us conquer the apostles of greed and racial arrogances. 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 men live in freedom, reaping the just rewards of their honest toil.”
Roosevelt became an ardent cheerleader at the end of the prayer. He was making his case to an overburdened God, who too must have felt repulsed by the ungodly acts prosecuted by Hitler and his cadre of human wreckers.
Having overseen the restoration of the American economy after a lengthy Depression, Roosevelt had two major objectives in what turned out to be an abbreviated fourth term: win the war against a dangerous despot and establish a path to world peace.
So, in four days I will remember President Roosevelt’s prayer and passion as I pause to pay homage to the soldiers on the Normandy beaches.
Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland. Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer. In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia.