FDR’s D-Day prayer is now a part of the National World War II Memorial
Special to Stars and Stripes June 6, 2023
WASHINGTON — On June 6, 1944, as allied troops fought their way into Normandy after the D-Day landings, President Franklin D. Roosevelt addressed the nation.
“Last night,” he said, “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.”
The words of that prayer are now on a large plaque at the National World War II Memorial. Tuesday morning, on the 79th anniversary of D-Day, Roosevelt’s great-grandson was the keynote speaker at a dedication ceremony at the memorial’s Circle of Remembrance.
“Every time I read it, I’m really moved,” Elliott “Toby” Roosevelt III said of the prayer after the ceremony. “He captured, I think, in a few words, the essence of our fight, why we were in World War II, and the sacrifices of the boys. I am more moved every time I read it. It resonates more and more with me.
“What’s incredible to me is, having read about the history of that (prayer), he wrote that in a weekend with his daughter and son-in-law when he had to do it in a couple days. He was just a master of words.”
Three World War II veterans were among the honored guests at the ceremony. One of them, Lincoln Harner, was a technician 5th grade radio operator with B Battery of the 987th, assigned to the British 50th Division. After Normandy, he fought in the Battle of the Bulge, helped in the liberation of Paris, and was involved in the race to liberate Pilsen, Czechoslovakia.
Asked what message he would like to send along to the many students on class trips who were at the ceremony, Harner said, “Bring the country together as much as you can. It’s just torn apart right now. If you can get some of the spirit we had, not only in the services but in civilian life, in World War II — how the country came together. We need that again. We need it badly.”
The other veterans in attendance were WWII-Korea-Vietnam veteran retired Army Col. Frank Cohn, who also fought in the Battle of the Bulge, and Navy veteran Dixon Hemphill, a turret officer on the USS Little Rock in the Atlantic.
Two of the prime movers behind bipartisan legislation that led to the addition of the plaque were also on hand Tuesday. They are former Sen. Rob Portman and Rep. Bill Johnson, both Republicans from Ohio. Portman singled out Holly Rotondi, executive director of the Friends of the National World War II Memorial, as one of the people who played a great part in getting the project completed. The legislation was signed into law by President Barack Obama in 2014, and a $2 million grant from Lilly Endowment Inc. provided the necessary funding for the plaque and the restoration of the Circle of Remembrance, located just north of the main memorial.
Elliott Roosevelt — a board member of the Friends of the National World War II Memorial and a former fighter pilot in the Air Force and Air Force Reserve during the 1980s — and his wife Emily brought their three young children to the ceremony. It gave the kids a chance to learn a bit more about their great-great grandfather.
“His presence is very significant in our family, as are Theodore Roosevelt’s and Eleanor’s,” Elliott Roosevelt said. “He’s just sort of a great segue for our family into history and service, and what this country’s all about.”
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 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.
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 good will 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.
“Lead them straight and true; give strength to their arms, stoutness to their hearts, steadfastness in their faith.”
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 hearts 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.