–by Joanna Hallac
Sixty-eight years ago today, the Allied forces in Europe undertook one of the most significant military operations in modern history when they stormed the beaches of Normandy, France in the hopes of dealing Nazi Germany a significant blow, which they most certainly did. By June 11, 1944, the beachheads were secured and the Allied troops made their way through the French countryside, finally liberating Paris in late August, a precursor to the defeat and surrender of Germany on May 8, 1945.
While the events of that day ended up being in our favor, it was far from clear that that is how things would work out or if we would even be able to launch the attack that day. The weather conditions were so problematic that it was uncertain up until the last minute that the invasion would go forward on June 6th (the invasion was in fact originally supposed to take place on June 5th, but weather conditions along the English Channel delayed it a day). General Eisenhower had a letter of resignation ready in case things went terribly wrong and the invasion was a disaster, as it very well could have been.
President Franklin Roosevelt was also far from confident about the events that were set to unfold that day. In fact, FDR went on the radio after “Operation Overlord”—the actual name of the D-Day invasion—was underway and appealed to the American people to pray for the soldiers with him, at one point remarking,
“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.”
FDR’s prayer that day was answered, though not for all; of the over 150,000 troops from the United States, Great Britain, Canada, and Free France that had entered France by air and sea that day, over 5,000 would become casualties. The overall success of the D-Day invasion, however, did pave the way for the eventual Allied victory in World War II.
Although it was seen as a great moment for the American people to come together to collectively hope and pray for the safety of the many brave men who would take part in the invasion, now, sixty-eight years later, FDR’s prayer has come back into the news. A bill, H.R. 2070, was introduced House of Representatives last June 1st by Rep. Bill Johnson of Ohio calling upon the Secretary of the Interior to either put a plaque or inscription of FDR’s D-Day prayer on the World War II memorial here in DC. The bill passed in the House on January 24, 2012 and has since been read in the Senate and sent to committee, where it has remained.
It is unclear whether or not the memorial will be altered to include the prayer (it has become a bit of a feud between the Obama administration and some Republicans and religious groups, but you can go look that up for yourselves!); regardless, the events of June 6, 1944, including FDR’s appeal to Americans to pray for the troops carrying it out, continues to be one of the most pivotal moments of WWII and the entire 20th century.
FDR Presidential Library website
The National World War II Museum website
The Library of Congress – THOMAS bill search