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FDR's Powerful D-Day Prayer 80 Years Ago Recalls How Christian Faith Steeled the US During WWII

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Eighty years ago on the evening of June 6, 1944, President Franklin D. Roosevelt led the nation in what has been described as the largest mass prayer in human history.

It came following the Allied D-Day landings on the coast of Normandy, France, which was the beginning of liberation of Western Europe from Nazi Germany.

Roosevelt’s prayer is just one example of the importance Christian faith played during World War II for the American people and those beyond our shores.

It was actually British Prime Minister Winston Churchill who said in his “Finest Hour” speech shortly after becoming his country’s war leader in 1940, “Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilization.”

“If we can stand up to [German Führer Adolf Hitler], all Europe may be free and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands,” Churchill said. “But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science.”

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Roosevelt shared this sentiment in a radio address to Americans in May 1941 announcing a state of national emergency, given events happening around the world that were soon to hit the country’s shores.

“Today the whole world is divided between human slavery and human freedom — between pagan brutality and the Christian ideal. We choose human freedom — which is the Christian ideal. No one of us can waver for a moment in his courage or his faith. We will not accept a Hitler-dominated world.”

“We reassert our abiding faith in the vitality of our constitutional republic as a perpetual home of freedom, of tolerance, and of devotion to the word of God,” FDR said.

He concluded, “I repeat the words of the signers of the Declaration of Independence — that little band of patriots, fighting long ago against overwhelming odds, but certain, as we are now, of ultimate victory: ‘With a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.'”

After America’s entry into the war following the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor in December 1941, Roosevelt again addressed the nation as part of a radio broadcast titled “We Hold These Truths.”

“The rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, which seemed to the Founders of the republic and which seem to us inalienable, were, to Hitler and his fellows, empty words which they proposed to cancel forever,” Roosevelt said.

He explained that in Nazi Germany, a citizen’s only duty “is the duty of obedience, not to his God, not to his conscience, but to Adolf Hitler; and that his only value is his value, not as a man, but as a unit of the Nazi state.”

“To Hitler, the church, as we conceive it, is a monstrosity to be destroyed by every means at his command. The Nazi church is to be the ‘National Church,’ a pagan church, absolutely and exclusively in the service of but one doctrine, one race, one nation,” FDR said.

Following the Allied D-Day invasion of France on June 6, 1944, by American, British, and Canadian forces — 175,000 strong — Roosevelt addressed the people of the United States by radio broadcast that night asking them to join him in prayer.

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“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,” the president began, as an estimated 100 million people tuned in.

“They 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,” Roosevelt continued.

“Some will never return. Embrace these, Father, and receive them, Thy heroic servants, into Thy kingdom,” FDR said.

The president urged people to continue to pray when they rose each morning and before they went to bed at night for God’s help in the Allied war effort.

“With Thy blessing, we shall prevail over the unholy forces of our enemy,” so that peace and freedom can be restored, Roosevelt said.

He closed invoking the words of Jesus Christ from the Lord’s prayer, “Thy will be done, Almighty God.”

Roosevelt and Churchill weren’t the only leaders appealing to the Christian faith.

Supreme Allied Commander Gen. Dwight Eisenhower in his Order of the Day to all military personnel participating in Operation Overlord on D-Day said, “Soldiers, Sailors, and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force! You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you. ”

“The tide has turned! The free men of the world are marching together to Victory! I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty and skill in battle,” the general said. “We will accept nothing less than full victory.”

“Good luck! And let us all beseech the blessings of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking,” Eisenhower concluded.

Famous Hollywood director Frank Capra — a World War I veteran, who rejoined the Army after the U.S. entered World War II — like FDR, saw the fight against the Axis powers as one to preserve Christian civilization.

Words and images of faith often appeared in his “Why We Fight” documentary film series, which he produced for the Army.

The movies were shown to all recruits as part of their basic training, but Roosevelt liked the first in the series of seven films so much, “Prelude to War,” that he directed it to be screened in movie theaters across the country for all Americans to see.

It won the Academy Award for best documentary film in 1942.

In “Prelude,” the narrator recounted that the Nazi government did not recognize God-given inalienable rights, but rather imprisoned or killed those opposed to its absolute, statist rule.

But the church proved the last obstacle to its totalitarian regime, so the Nazis targeted it and the teachings of Jesus Christ who said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

“The word of God and the word of fuhrers cannot be reconciled, then God must go,” the narrator said, as a stained glass window of a church is smashed with rocks to reveal a picture of Hitler behind it.

A reenactment of Nazi soldiers destroying a copy of the Ten Commandments engraved on the courthouse in Bremen, Germany came next.

The film recreated a scene from a German classroom in which children sang, “Adolf Hitler is our savior, our hero. He is the noblest being in the whole wide world. For Hitler we live, for Hitler we die. Our Hitler is our Lord, who rules a brave new world.”

“Yes, take children from the faith of their fathers and teach them the state is the only church and the head of the state is the voice of God,” the narrator said.

The Nazis Strike,” the second in the film series, ended with stirring words of Churchill infused with biblical words and imagery.

“Lift up your hearts, all will come right. Out of depths of sorrow and sacrifice will be born again the glory of mankind,” he said, as a picture of Christ on the cross appeared on screen.

Then row-upon-row of American soldiers marched in formation to the hymn, “Onward Christian soldiers marching as to war with the cross of Jesus going on before.”

In December 1944, when the Nazis launched the Battle of the Bulge, their last major offensive of the war, Gen. George S. Patton, called on his entire Third Army to pray.

Just days before the outbreak of the battle, the general summoned Third Army chaplain Col. James O’Neill, telling him he needed a prayer for better weather.

Europe’s unusually wet fall bogged down the Third Army and the rest of the Allied forces, as they waited for the dirt roads of the era to dry.

O’Neill drafted a prayer and hand-delivered it to Patton, who read it and ordered the Catholic priest to, “Have 250,000 copies printed and see to it that every man in the Third Army gets one.”

The prayer card read: “Almighty and most merciful Father, we humbly beseech Thee, of Thy great goodness, to restrain these immoderate rains with which we have to contend. Grant us fair weather for battle.

“Graciously hearken to us as soldiers who call upon Thee that, armed with Thy power, we may advance from victory to victory, and crush the oppression and wickedness of our enemies and establish Thy justice among men and nations. Amen.”

On the back of the card was a Christmas greeting from the general.

Patton also directed O’Neill to put out a training letter on the importance of prayer to every chaplain and to every commander down to the regimental level, 3,200 copies in all.

The prayer cards and letters went out into the Third Army’s ranks starting on Dec. 12, 1944.

Events on the battlefield took a dramatic turn on December 16, when the Germans launched their offensive with 200,000 troops through Belgium’s Ardennes Forest, which created a 50-by-30-mile-wide bulge in the Allied lines.

The Nazis completely encircled the 11,000 troops of the U.S. 101 Airborne Division defending Bastogne.

Patton directed three of his divisions to head 85 miles to the north in a push to break through and relieve the 101st, but the muddy roads had become covered with snow and ice.

Finally on Dec. 23, the morning broke clear and crisp, and Allied planes began pounding the German armored columns and troops.

Then on Dec. 26, the day after Christmas, a Sherman tank bearing the American star appeared on the outskirts of Bastogne. The advanced elements of Patton’s Third Army had arrived.

Patton, amazed by how quickly the weather changed, decided to award O’Neill the Bronze Star.

“Chaplain, you’re the most popular man in this headquarters,” he told the priest. “You sure stand in good with the Lord and with the troops.”

The Third Army continued attacking the enemy throughout the sector. With the help of Allied units to the north, by the end of January it had completely pushed back the Bulge and continued into Germany.

Patton saw O’Neill during this time frame and said to him, “Well, Padre, our prayers worked. I knew they would.”

He then cracked O’Neill on the side of his steel helmet with his riding crop, which the chaplain knew was his way of saying, “Well done.”

Germany surrendered in May 1945.

Japan followed in September of that year.

Supreme Allied Commander Gen. Douglas MacArthur oversaw the formal surrender on Sunday, Sept. 2, on board the USS Missouri in overcast Tokyo Bay.

After both the Allied representatives and the Japanese signed the surrender documents, the five-star general stepped up to the microphone and pronounced, “Let us pray that peace be now restored to the world and that God will preserve it always. These proceedings are closed.”

It was 9:25 a.m. At that moment, the sun broke through the clouds, and 400 B-29 bombers and 1,500 American fighter planes flew in formation overhead. The timing could not have been better.

Portions of this article first appeared in the book “We Hold These Truths” by Randall DeSoto, addressing how leaders have appealed to belief in God and in God-given rights throughout U.S. history.

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Randy DeSoto has written more than 3,000 articles for The Western Journal since he joined the company in 2015. He is a graduate of West Point and Regent University School of Law. He is the author of the book "We Hold These Truths" and screenwriter of the political documentary "I Want Your Money."
Randy DeSoto is the senior staff writer for The Western Journal. He wrote and was the assistant producer of the documentary film "I Want Your Money" about the perils of Big Government, comparing the presidencies of Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama. Randy is the author of the book "We Hold These Truths," which addresses how leaders have appealed to beliefs found in the Declaration of Independence at defining moments in our nation's history. He has been published in several political sites and newspapers.

Randy graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point with a BS in political science and Regent University School of Law with a juris doctorate.
Birthplace
Harrisburg, Pennsylvania
Nationality
American
Honors/Awards
Graduated dean's list from West Point
Education
United States Military Academy at West Point, Regent University School of Law
Books Written
We Hold These Truths
Professional Memberships
Virginia and Pennsylvania state bars
Location
Phoenix, Arizona
Languages Spoken
English
Topics of Expertise
Politics, Entertainment, Faith




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