The current controversy over a prayer given on the radio June 6, 1944 and its place on the World War II Memorial shows how the American culture has evolved in almost seven decades. During World War II most Americans embraced their rich heritage won by the precious blood of patriots.
Patriotism and faith were integrally linked in previous generations of Americans. Saying the pledge of allegiance each morning in the classrooms of America was instilling a sense of pride and recognizing the unique place that “God” had given America in the world. Having grace at the family supper table and going to church on Sunday were givens for many.
World War II was a bloody time in world history. Many died, and many suffered both physical and mental wounds during the War.
Pitching in for the war effort on both sides of the Atlantic was a sacrifice which many made without a word of complaint. Times were hard, especially for the brave, resourceful and dedicated women who filled the labor force as the men fought in the Europe and the Pacific Theaters.
In churches and synagogues prayers of petitions were offered each weekend for the courageous men fighting against powerful and determined enemies. Prayer was the last line of hope as the war dragged on, and the causalities mounted.
It has always been fitting for the President of the United States to lead and ask the nation to pray. Franklin Delano Roosevelt was not a perfect man. He made mistakes both personally and professionally; some of them very tragic, especially as they related to the Japanese-Americans.
Roosevelt was an Episcopalian. In many ways he was not a model Christian, but the fact remained that he did believe in America, especially the American dream, for all Americans, no matter how flawed, and in the God of his progenitors.
Here’s a radio address that he gave:
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 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.
America in 2013 is very different than on the night of June 6, 1944 when a President said “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.”
Is America today better than that generation which lived through the Great Depression and the War? Faith or belief in a deity can define a society.
Perhaps, it was much easier to believe back then. However, has all of our technological progress since 1944 made the human being better? Are wars, injustice and violence a thing of human history?
Do we live in a world where “all of men live in freedom, reaping the just rewards of their honest toil?” Are men, women and children on this planet traversing the cosmos given their inalienable rights to be whom and whatever they choose?
Ponderings on this August day….
G. D. Williams © 2013
FDR’s D-Day Prayer
“Franklin Roosevelt remains intimately connected to the National Park Service. During a speech in 1936, President Roosevelt noted the special quality of national parks by stating that “there is nothing so American.” He captured the essential truth of the agency by declaring, “the fundamental idea behind the parks…is that the country belongs to the people, that it is in process of making for the enrichment of the lives of all of us.”
The World War II Memorial
“The Second World War brought the United States out of the Great Depression and the nation emerged as a world power. The World War II Memorial is a reminder of the sacrifice, unity and service of a unique generation of Americans. They arose to eventual victory and the country transformed itself into a new age.”
The Book of Common Prayer
“The Episcopal Church is the representative of the Anglican Communion in the United States, and also in several other countries. It has had its own Book of Common Prayer since the American Revolution; prior to that, of course, it was part of the Church of England. There have been four editions of the Episcopal Church’s Book of Common Prayer…”