Seventy-five years ago today, men raced for their lives, leaving what little safety could be found on their amphibious vehicles (some making it to the beach, some grounded on sandbars—forcing men to wade through water neck deep.) They struggled to shore and rushed across the open expanse of beach while being targeted by a barrage of machine gun fire from the cliffs above them.
D-day. Omaha Beach. It was only one of several landing sites, but the one that proved the most horrific.
Nothing seemed to go right. Bad weather delayed the start of the Allied Invasion, codenamed Operation Neptune, and bad weather continued to inhibit their progress. The beach was to have been cleared by airborne assault, but the low clouds and poor visibility kept that from happening. Not only were the guns atop the cliffs untouched, but spikes and mines on the shore remained intact, adding danger from underfoot as well as from above.
Parachuters were to have cleared key points inland, but once again the poor visibility caused most to land far from their intended destination. Of these, many were killed or captured, others tried to find their way to their target, alone, or, if they were lucky, with other allied soldiers they encountered along their path.
The movie Finding Private Ryan brings the horror of this scene to life. The hopelessness, the massacre, the absolute terror. The loss of so many lives.
Leaving their boats, they ran. Ran through the barrage of gunfire. Ran past and over the bodies of their dead companions. Ran, dragging with them the injured they hoped to save. Ran toward the enemy. Ran toward their objective. Ran to free the oppressed.
They ran because they were the last hope for many.
Because of their sacrifice, the enemy was pushed back– not defeated–but weakened. The battle was won, but the war wasn’t over
This great battle made possible the success of battles to come, and eventually the war itself.
Last night, listening to the news, I heard the prayer given by the then U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt calling on our nation to pray for our soldiers, to pray for our people and our nation. Reflecting on the words said, I was struck by how different that time was to ours. If you haven’t heard this prayer, here is a transcript.
“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.
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.
To all those brave men, we remember. We continue to fight. With God’s blessing, we will prevail over the unholy forces of the enemy, at home and abroad. May God lead us and save our country.