Speeches That Made History: Franklin D. Roosevelt’s D-Day Prayer
by Derrick G. Jeter
Franklin D. Roosevelt perfected the art of speaking directly to the American people. Unlike any president before him, the invention and availability of the radio allowed Americans from New York to California to hear his voice—all at the same time. The radio would transform America in the 1930’s and ’40’s. It would also transform presidential politics.
Now, able to communicate directly, the president could inform, cajole, and persuade unimaginable numbers of Americas with one speech. The radio was an invaluable tool for FDR during the darkly difficult days of the Great Depression and World War II. In his famous fireside chats, FDR would tell the people what was happening in the country and in the world, and what the United States government was doing about it. In his first two administrations these “conversations with America” were somewhat frequent, but became less so in his third and forth terms as president.
On December 8, 1941, many Americans heard the then familiar voice of President Roosevelt ask the Congress for a declaration of war. Three years later, on June 6, 1944, on what would become one of the greatest days in American history—D-Day—the invasion to liberate Europe from Nazi Germany, they would listen to President Roosevelt again deliver another impassioned speech.
Not a speech, a prayer. Roosevelt didn’t ask the country to honor a moment of silence. He didn’t ask the nation to pray before turning in for the night. He, the President of the United States of America, did what would be unthinkable today—he asked the American people to “join” him in prayer. As he led the nation in a solemn petition for the lives of thousands of American and Allied men—boys, really—who were crossing the English Channel and landing on the bloody beaches of Normandy, France, he asked for God’s will to be done in the great endeavor that was D-Day.
My Fellow Americans:
Last night, when I spoke with you about the fall of Rome, I knew at that moment that troops of the United States and our allies were crossing the Channel in another and greater operation. It has come to pass with success thus far.
And so, in this poignant hour, I ask you to join with me in prayer.
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.
Lead them straight and true; give strength to their arms, stoutness to their hearts, steadfastness in their faith.
They will need Thy blessings. Their road will be long and hard. For the enemy is strong. He may hurl back our forces. Success may not come with rushing speed, but we shall return again and again; and we know that by Thy grace, and by the righteousness of our cause, our sons will triumph.
They will be sore tired, 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.
Some will never return. Embrace these, Father, and receive them, Thy heroic servants, into Thy kingdom.
And for us at home—fathers, mothers, children, wives, sisters, and brothers of brave men overseas, whose thoughts and prayers are ever with them—help us, Almighty God, to rededicate ourselves in renewed faith in Thee in this hour of great sacrifice.
Many people have urged that I call the nation into a single day of special prayer. But because the road is long and the desire is great, I ask that our people devote themselves in a continuance of prayer. As we rise to each new day, and again when each day is spent, let words of prayer be on our lips, invoking Thy help to our efforts.
Give us strength, too—strength in our daily tasks, to redouble the contributions we make in the physical and the material support of our armed forces.
And let our hears be stout, to wait out the long travail, to bear sorrows that may come, to impart our courage unto our sons wheresoever they may be.
And, O Lord, give us faith. Give us faith in Thee; faith in our sons; faith in each other; faith in our united crusade. Let not the keenness of our spirit ever be dulled. Let not the impacts of temporary events, of temporal matters of but fleeting moment—let not these deter us in our unconquerable purpose.
With Thy blessing, we shall prevail over the unholy forces of our enemy. Help us to conquer the apostles of greed and racial arrogancies. 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 of men live in freedom, reaping the just rewards of their honest toil.
Thy will be done, Almighty God.