June 6, 1944: A Day That Great Men Changed The Future

It was the time of the Final Solution. It was the time of Hitler, Stalin, Tojo and Mussolini. It was the time when tyranny and totalitarianism, and a form of government determined to dominate every aspect of the human spirit threatened the world.

And all who stood against the conquest of the human spirit were the fighting men of the Allied Forces.

June 6, 1944 was a day that great men changed the future. It was the day that American, British, and Canadian fighting men began to pry the claws of Adolf Hitler off of Europe, one finger at a time.

Imagine for a moment what the world would have been like had the Nazis and the Imperial Japanese won. Imagine the gas chambers and the ovens coming to your neighborhood. Imagine the Rape of Nanking coming to your neighborhood.

No one can ever know what would have happened to the world had Hitler’s “Thousand Year Reich” prevailed. And the reason that no one can ever know is that good men rose up and put his tyranny and madness to an end.

Most of the men who rose up and stopped Hitler and Tojo did not think of themselves as “great men.” They were ordinary men who came from ordinary cities and towns. And up until the day that they were called to stand up as one to fight the greatest evil the world had ever known, their lives were as ordinary as the lives of men from any other generation.

The history of D-Day should be written not just in history books, but in the hearts and minds of every single American.

As the historic D-Day invasion of the Normandy beachheads were underway, FDR addressed the nation. He said:

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.

On that day, men and women and children – in homes, in schools, in factories, in offices, wherever they were, all across the nation – got down on their knees and prayed to their God for the safety and the victory of the men who stormed those dreaded beaches. Landmines, machine gun fire, and artillery rained down on men who had nothing but their rifles, and nowhere to hide across an open stretch of the most deadly beach in human history. There was no “separation of church and state” on that day.

A title of a book by Bernard Fall that described another conflict later to come in Indochina at Dien Bien Phu applied equally well to Normandy: it was Hell in a Very Small Place. But an inch at a time, a foot at a time, a yard at a time, our fighting men ultimately prevailed. And following that day they had to prevail again and again as the war dragged on for another year.

I often think it was ultimately faith – very much like the faith of the great saints of the church – that kept driving them forward.

We should remember D-Day and all the events surrounding that day. We should remember that there is such a thing as genuine moral evil, and that there come a time when one either fight it and defeat it, or join it. We should remember that war is a terrible thing, and that once we make the decision to fight, we should never undermine our cause by questioning and criticizing. We should remember that there is a time for suffering and sacrifice, and that while every generation should pray that they are not called to make such sacrifices, every generation should be ready to answer the call if and when the need arises. We should remember that if we fight, we should fight to win. And we should remember that war is not limited to the men fighting on the front lines, but that it should involve every American – in their work, in their giving, in their saving, and most of all in their prayers.

For ultimately it was not merely the men on the beaches that were great on D-Day. It was the country that equipped them and supported them.

If we as a country have the same attitude, the same courage, and the same faith that got our men over the cliffs and across the beaches at Normandy, we can truly prevail over anything.

Please say a prayer for the men of D-Day, for the men of World War II, for the men of Korea and Vietnam, and for the men of all of our wars right up to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that our warriors are fighting even now.

And pray for yourself, that you might have the spirit to share in some way with the sacrifice of our men and women who are fighting on the front lines.  For every single one of us who loves freedom has, in his or her own individual life, the duty to help perpetuate democracy and liberty.

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6 Responses to “June 6, 1944: A Day That Great Men Changed The Future”

  1. Nolan Nelson Says:

    D-Day: Eisenhower and the Paratroopers

    The thesis Eisenhower was more than just a political general is certainly not new. However, I had not thought carefully about the subject until retirement. Now I get to pick a subject, like on WW II in Western Europe, and read all the books I have accumulated on that subject from estate and garage sales, and used book and thrift stores.

    Eisenhower arrived in London with less than five months until D-day. That is one month less than I had as Finance Director to lead our college management team in preparing the annual operating and capital budgets. His experience occurred in another world I cannot adequately imagine.

    A popular historical portrayal describes General Dwight Eisenhower managing a political/military alliance, but reminds us he never lead troops in combat. However, his leadership sustained many unprecedented initiatives for successful Normandy landings. The air assault examples the frightful uncertainties of many critical hazards run on this “Day of Days”.

    The night before D-Day, 20,400 American and British paratroopers dropped behind the Normandy beaches from 1,250 C-47 aircraft plus gliders. This massive assault was attempted just 17 years after Charles Lindberg flew the Atlantic solo for the first time.

    To the last moment Ike’s air commander, British Air Chief Marshall Leigh-Mallory, saw tragic forebodings reinforced by memories of American problems in North Africa and Sicily, and the German catastrophe on Crete. He anticipated hundreds of planes and gliders destroyed with surviving paratroopers fighting isolated until killed or captured.

    The planes would arrive in three streams each 300 miles long, allowing the Germans up to two hours to reposition night fighters and anti-aircraft artillery for maximum slaughter of unarmed transports. Most pilots were flying their first combat mission. Leigh-Mallory had specific intelligence the German 91st Air Landing Division, specialists in fighting paratroopers, and the 6th Parachute Regiment had inexplicably moved into the area around St. Mere-Eglise, where American divisions were to land. Could these movements mean the deception plan directing attention to Pas de Calais was breaking down?

    Ike remained strategically committed to airborne assault, but compassionately devoted to the men. The evening before D-Day, Eisenhower left SHAEF headquarters at 6 PM, traveling to Newbury where the 101st Airborne was boarding for its initial combat mission. Ike arrived at 8 PM and did not leave until the last C-47 was airborne over three hours later.

    In My Three Years with Eisenhower Captain Harry C. Butcher says, “We saw hundreds of paratroopers with blackened and grotesque faces, packing up for the big hop and jump. Ike wandered through them, stepping over, packs, guns, and a variety of equipment such as only paratroop people can devise, chinning with this and that one. All were put at ease. He was promised a job after the war by a Texan who said he roped, not dallied, his cows, and at least there was enough to eat in the work. Ike has developed or disclosed an informality and friendliness with troopers that almost amazed me”.

    In Crusade in Europe General Dwight Eisenhower says, “I found the men in fine fettle, many of them joshingly admonishing me that I had no cause for worry, since the 101st was on the job, and everything would be taken care of in fine shape. I stayed with them until the last of them were in the air, somewhere about midnight. After a two hour trip back to my own camp, I had only a short time to wait until the first news should come in”.

    One of the first D-Day reports was from Leigh-Mallory with news only 29 of 1,250 C-47′s were missing and only four gliders were unaccounted for. That morning Leigh-Mallory sent Ike a message frankly saying it is sometimes difficult to admit that one is wrong, but he had never had a greater pleasure than in doing so on this occasion. He congratulated Ike on the wisdom and courage of his command decision.

    The above represents only one of many crushing anxieties Eisenhower persevered through. President Roosevelt understood the enormous risks, and asked the nation to pray for the coming invasion. Resting today in the luxury of historical certainty prevents us from perceiving the dark specters hovering about nearly all invasion planning aspects.

  2. Michael Eden Says:

    Nolan,

    Even the question of the weather was a monumental decision. If the Allies tried to land in rough water, it was a known fact that many more Allied troops would die, given the rougher surf and the fact that they would have to land the troops farther out. Eisenhower made a terribly difficult judgment call based on woefully inadequate information. One can only imagine what that would have been like!

    An interesting thing comes up with the discussion of the airborne troops and the drop. From an initial tactical view, the drop was an utter disaster. But what ended up happening was that the troops – who were spread out all over the place – made such a nuisance of themselves and so confused the German commanders as to numbers and disposition that many historians believe it was even better than had the drop/landing gone “well.”

    Your thoughts on Eisenhower remind me of a quote from a Civil War general:
    “To be a good soldier, you must love the army. To be a good commander, you must be willing to order the death of the thing you love.”

    It is a monumentally difficult task to be a great commander. And few men have ever succeeded to that end. Eisenhower was certainly among the greatest of them.

  3. hl Says:

    Dear Michael,
    Thank you for this great, powerful and compelling post.

    “If we as a country have the same attitude, the same courage, and the same faith that got our men over the cliffs and across the beaches at Normandy, we can truly prevail over anything.

    Please say a prayer for the men of D-Day, for the men of World War II, for the men of Korea and Vietnam, and for the men of all of our wars right up to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that our warriors are fighting even now.

    And pray for yourself, that you might have the spirit to share in some way with the sacrifice of our men and women who are fighting on the front lines. For every single one of us who loves freedom has, in his or her own individual life, the duty to help perpetuate democracy and liberty.”

    Yes and amen! Your mom has been on my mind and in my prayers and I’m wondering how she and your family are doing?

  4. Michael Eden Says:

    Your welcome. and thank you for asking about my mother.

    The doctor thinks she discovered a new “lump” that she hadn’t detected before (mom thinks it’s been there). So mom is going to have more tests done to determine what is going on. Please pray that she be completely free of cancer.

    Mind you, I already asked you to do a whole bunch of prayin’ in that quote you cited, didn’t I?

    Thank you for your prayers on her behalf. You’d love her if you knew her!

  5. hl Says:

    Thanks for the update, Michael and I will keep praying on this end. I bet I would love her if I knew her. I know this she is blessed by the honor and love you show her.

  6. Michael Eden Says:

    AND, I must submit on behalf of my brother, her OTHER son. Both of us would jump in front of a speeding bus for our mom.

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