A World Prayed For The Ending Of World War II.
“Some will never return. Embrace these, Father, and receive them. Thy heroic servants, into thy kingdom.”
When U.S. President FDR spoke to his citizens about the Allied invasion of France, he did not give a traditional political speech. He offered a prayer. The prayer was for the safety of the troops, the ending of violence, and the beginning of peace for a world shattered by years of death and destruction.
The 74th anniversary of D-Day is today, June 6. While not a time of celebration, it is a time of remembrance of those who sacrificed their lives trying to end World War II. The Allied invasion was the most significant amphibious invasion in history, 4,000 ships and 11,000 planes were used. There were between four to nine thousand casualties in the three day beach invasion, with another 6,000 German soldiers killed.
One significant aspect to remember is the importance of religion in the assault. King George VI held a prayer for soldiers before the attack. In the United States, there were special ceremonies at Churches and Synagogues all day, with many of them reporting overcrowding. The commander leading the assault, General Eisenhower, was a devout Christian who visited many soldiers before the battle, joining in prayers and telling his men “the only unforgivable sin in war is not doing your duty.” Impromptu masses were being held in the gliders to take paratroopers to defend vital strategic locations the night before the landing and in the ships sending soldiers onto bloody beaches where hundreds would die in the first hours.
During the fighting, chaplains gave last rites to the dying and spiritual encouragement to the living. Many chaplains who participated in D-Day were so horrified by the violence that they would become leading figures in the promotion of human rights in the Civil Rights Movement and Vatican II.
Some religious figures have argued the invasion was only possible through miracles by divine intervention. The German commanders made several critical errors. The architect of the defenses, the military genius Erwin Rommel, had decided to visit his wife during that week. The worst wind in 20 years limited the ability of the German army to mount a complete defense. Others have said that winning a battle is always a series of miracles, but that the belief that Allied soldiers were on the side of justice and God gave them morality and courage to succeed.
It was not only Christians and Jews who fought on D-Day. There were Muslims, Sikhs, Buddhists, and atheists hwo were part of the invasion forces. This is part of the reason some have complained that the placement of FDR’s speech on public grounds ignores contributions by those who did not follow a Judeo-Christian faith.
Prayer is not exclusively religious. While most who pray do so as a ritual to affirm their faith, others use it as a moment of reflection. During D-Day, the Liberty Bell was struck for the first time in over one hundred years. The Stock Exchange went silent for two minutes. Not everyone hoping for victory prayed to God on that fateful day, but nearly everyone prayed.