Episcopalians for Traditional Faith has a wonderful email today about the 1928 Episcopal Book of Common Prayer’s influence on President Franklin Roosevelt’s famous June 6, 1944 D-Day prayer, which he delivered on national radio today 69 years ago.
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.
And he prayed:
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.
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. Amen.
Here’s the full prayer.
The Episcopal email notes that FDR the weekend before D-Day was in the Blue Ridge Mountains, where, according to William Manchester’s Churchill biography, FDR read his Book of Common Prayer “to find the proper words for a blessing to be read on the night of the invasion.”
Roosevelt was a lifelong, church-going Episcopalian and often drew solace from its faith and rituals. His final Easter on earth a few days before death he worshipped at the Episcopal service at the rehabilitation center he founded in Warm Springs, Georgia, frail, but singing the hymns, at times fumbling with the hymnal.
About 2500 Americans were killed on D-Day and many more wounded. A terrible toll, but only a tiny fraction of the approximately 50 million who perished in World War II. Over 425,000 Allied and German personnel were killed or wounded during the Battle of Normandy over the weeks following D-Day. Over 9000 Americans are buried in Normandy.
World War II is often recalled as the “good war,” but there was little good about it. It was the most morally necessary of all wars, given the alternative of Nazi and Japanese militarist domination, entailing not only the murder of all European Jewry but the eventual extermination of other targeted people groups, including the Slavs, amid the enslavement of many whom Nazis and Japanese militarists saw as sub-human. As Churchill recalled in his memoir, it was tragically also the most avoidable of wars. A modest exertion of force by the West against Nazi Germany earlier in the 1930’s likely could have deterred a larger conflict and possibly toppled Hitler. But the West preferred “peace.”
The U.S. Methodist Commission on World Peace quietly encouraged avoidance of military service and opposed World War II throughout. Officially the Methodist Church in the U.S. was pacifist until the 1944 General Conference narrowly endorsed participation in the war, in which 1 million U.S. Methodists served.
Among other horrors, 15,000 to 20,000 French civilians were killed in the Battle of Normandy, mostly by Allied bombers attempting to liberate France from German occupation. There were no carefully targeted cruise missiles or drones. There was mostly just carpet bombing, where friends almost died as often as foes.
Today many church thinkers and activists are pacifists or neo-pacifists whose strained interpretation of Just War teaching is too strict to allow force in almost any situation. Some now criticize the sometimes imprecision of U.S. drone strikes on terrorists, demanding an impossible human and technical perfection, and not considering the alternatives. Thank God that drones do offer a precision so much greater than the haphazard bombing of World War II.
Here’s an excerpt from the 1928 Book of Common Prayer that likely inspired FDR before D-Day:
ALMIGHTY God, our heavenly Father, in whose hands are the living and the dead; We give thee thanks for all those thy servants who have laid down their lives in the service of our country. Grant to them thy mercy and the light of thy presence, that the good work which thou hast begun in them may be perfected; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord. Amen.
– page 42, The 1928 Book of Common Prayer