June 6, 2019 at 5:00 am ET
Today, we pause to commemorate and reflect upon D-Day, the day the Western Allies invaded northern France — the largest amphibious invasion in history — to begin the central drive to liberate Europe and gain the unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany in World War II.
On June 6, 1944, my father was seven years old. And, it is likely that if he had not yet gone to bed, on a ranch southwest of Ft. Worth, Texas, he listened to his grandfather pray before the country that evening.
Among its many legacies, the Normandy landings represent the delivery of humankind to a better world – where a people reaffirmed, at great cost, the central ideas of human dignity, liberty and the rule of law – the ideas upon which this country was founded.
At a time when the outcome of the great contest to sustain those values hung in the balance, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt chose, not to make a speech, but, with the people of this nation, to make a solemn request of the Almighty – a decision reflecting a worldview defined by humble acknowledgement of the limits of man, and of man’s ultimate dependence upon a just, all powerful, loving God.
For those, like me, who have always lived within the light of that war’s transcendent outcome, it is all too common to never have grasped or to never have been taught, the central character of World War II: The United States and its allies faced a real existential threat; if we lost, we would live under the jackboot of Nazism; it was a fear that those born later have never known.
As such, FDR’s D-Day prayer reminds us that the ideas which undergird our lives and which we take as givens are not givens at all, and that despite this country’s great strengths, as an embodiment of those ideas, the United States remains a delicate experiment.
One of the many wonderful aspects of our democratic, capitalistic system is that, no matter what each of us does, simply by working and competing hard, each of us contributes to this country’s vibrancy and strength.
However, when compared to the sacrifices of the men who hit the beaches of France on that day, and others like them at different places during that war and in other wars, few of us have given much to merit the freedoms and protections we have enjoyed our entire lives: Freedoms and protections we love; freedoms and protections that we take for granted; freedoms and protections which the vast majority throughout history, have never known. When we were born, these were simply handed to us.
At 3:32 a.m. Eastern on June 6, the invasion of Normandy was officially announced. As word spread in early morning, factory whistles blew, church bells rang, spontaneous gatherings took place — and throughout the day, churches and synagogues swelled as citizens took to knee in prayer.
That evening, the president went on the air. The White House had earlier distributed his prayer in order that the audience could pray alongside their commander in chief.
An estimated 100 million Americans did so. That morning, though no one knew it yet, a new, much brighter day broke for generations, born and unborn — including, a seven-year-old grandson growing up in Texas.
As Rick Atkinson described, as the invasion fleet steamed east through the darkness for the waiting dawn, for this moment, Mother Nature set aside her famous indifference: “Hallelujah, sang the sea. Hallelujah. Hallelujah.”
On this 75th anniversary of D-Day, we honor our Creator’s blessing in that uncertain yet all-defining hour and we venerate those Americans whose sacrifice has sustained this great nation and the ideas of which it was born.
Elliott Roosevelt III is the great-grandson of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and a board member of the Friends of the National World War II Memorial.
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