In my opinion, one of the most important single day events in American History in the Twentieth Century is D-Day. Most historians would also go so far to say that D-Day has a virtue far beyond its significance as the greatest amphibious military operation in history. It was by-no-means the largest battle of the war, and there were many battles throughout history, including the American Civil War, which were equally or more decisive and which took many more casualties. But D-Day has a meaning that integrates both the virtue of hope and the concept of political liberty, ideas which reinforce each other.
In teaching World War II to high school students I often began with the following sentence: Pearl Harbor meant The Beginning of U.S. involvement in WWII, and D-Day meant The Beginning of the End. D-Day was a true turning point in history, as was Gettysburg in the Civil War and Midway in the Pacific. Yet, unlike these others, everybody knew D-Day was coming, it was not an accidental happening. Thus, the worldwide spotlight on Normandy that morning served to highlight the purpose and meaning of D-Day unlike any other event in historical memory. The note announcing failure which General Eisenhower carried in his pocket, just in case, would have doomed both hope and liberty for the continent of Europe for an unforeseeable future, perhaps for a time too long to bear.
The symbolism of political liberty for the continent, which the bright hope of D-Day resurrected, stands today as one of the truly liberating moments in human history. None compares, even after over seven decades. The memory of the thousands of open-arm welcomes offered to the Pathfinders, Beachmasters, Paratroopers and ordinary soldiers and sailors by French villagers after D-Day, offers a lasting tribute to liberty as shared across the ocean, and across the sands of time.
The giants who stormed the beach that day, and the people they set free, reflect a lasting tribute to the unity of the new and the old worlds, far beyond the petty differences which politicians and pundits seem to have imposed today. D-Day rises above it all.
The invasion of France on June 6, 1944 was a triumph of intelligence, coordination, secrecy, and planning. The bold attack was also a tremendous risk. Ultimately it succeeded because of individual soldiers' bravery in combat.
As most of you already know, the first men to see action on D-Day were the men of Easy Company, 2nd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, in the U.S. Army's 101st Airborne Division as they dropped behind the landing beaches in the hours before dawn.
The overall mission of Easy Company and the other airborne divisions was to disrupt and confuse the Germans to prevent a concentrated counterattack against the seaborne troops coming in at dawn, and to protect the flanks of the invasion force at Sword and Utah beaches.
Crashing into farm fields in fragile gliders, or descending in parachutes amid a sky filled with antiaircraft fire, the airborne troops suffered heavy casualties. In the darkness and confusion of the pre-dawn hours, many units became scattered and disorganized. Some men who landed in flooded areas drowned. Despite these difficulties, groups of soldiers managed to form up and attack the enemy.
On this eve before the 71st Anniversary of D-Day I would like to share the prayer originally entitled "Let Our Hearts Be Stout" written by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. As Allied troops were invading German-occupied Europe, this prayer was read to the Nation on radio on the evening of D-Day, June 6, 1944.
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 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 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 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 arrogances. 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.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt - June 6, 1944
Please take a moment today to remember all those who have served our country with honor and pride.