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Pastor Glenn McDonald: D-Day Prayer

“If there was ever a moment for prayer, no matter what you might believe, this was it.”


That’s historian John Meacham’s assessment of what was at stake on June 6, 1944, as the Allies began Operation Overlord.


It was D-Day. The combined military forces of the nations that opposed Hitler’s Third Reich crossed the English Channel into France.


Supreme Allied Commander Dwight Eisenhower and his staff were prepared to lose as many as 20,000 lives during the first 24 hours.


Failure would be potentially catastrophic. 


Politically, it might spell the end of Winston Churchill’s government in London. The crash of public morale might also mean Franklin D. Roosevelt would lose his presidential re-election bid the following November.


More ominously, failure on the Normandy beaches would give the Nazis enough time to finish their genocidal work in the death camps, and might even give German scientists sufficient opportunity to create their own atomic weapons and unleash them upon Europe.


Even though he wasn’t a religious man, Roosevelt decided to write a presidential prayer. 


In his book American Gospel, Meacham calls it “an eloquent six-minute prayer to a superintending Providence.”


The White House released the text of the prayer to the afternoon papers, along with a special request.


Americans should listen to their radios on the evening of June 6 (hours after the invasion had already begun) and read the words aloud with the president. 


With a radio audience estimated at 100 million, historians believe it is still the largest single mass prayer in human history. Here’s what Roosevelt prayed:


Almighty God, our sons, pride of our nation, this day have set upon a mighty endeavor: the struggle to preserve our republic, our religion, and our civilization, 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. The road will be long and hard. 


For the enemy is strong. He may hurl back our forces. Success will 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 tried, by night and by day, without rest, until the victory is won. 


Darkness will be rent by noise and flame, men’s souls will be shaken by 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. Receive them, Thy heroic servants into Thy kingdom. With Thy blessing we shall prevail over the unholy forces of our enemy. Help us to conquer the apostles of greed and racial arrogances. 


Lead us to the saving of our country, and with our sister nations into a world unity that will ensure peace, invulnerable to the schemings of unworthy men, and a peace that will let all men live in freedom, reaping the just rewards of their honest toil. Thy will be done, Almighty God.  Amen.


It was a powerful prayer, exhibiting what Meacham calls “a peculiar combination of hope and humility.” 


The president urged Americans not to th

ump their chests but to entrust their best efforts to a Power beyond themselves.


Abraham Lincoln, who steered America through the Civil War, was once asked if he thought God was on the side of the North. He answered, wisely, that he hoped every day he could be on God’s side.


September 1, 1939, Germany’s invasion of Poland, which ignited World War II, triggered a widespread response of fear. The sudden violence of two other dates – December 7, 1941, and September 11, 2011 – generated national shock and rage. 


It’s worth noting that 80 years ago today our nation was moved by a different common impulse.


That response was prayer.

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