On June 6, 1944, American, British, and Canadian troops with their Allies assaulted Nazi strongholds on Normandy's beaches. Those French sands and cliffs are quiet as a cathedral now, and constitute sacred ground.
The last time I visited was July 4, 2013. Our group included one of our granddaughters who had just finished a five-year stint as a U.S. Marine, rising to Sergeant (E5).
Just as we emerged into the vast cemetery at Omaha Beach with its 9,000-plus graves, a visiting choir broke out with "Amazing Grace," followed by the "Star Spangled Banner." I remembered my first visit in 1995 and my initial impression when I suddenly confronted that burial ground: How great is the price of liberty.
In 2013 my granddaughter and I hiked down the slope at Omaha, and stood where so many had died. Clusters of young and old planted little American flags in the sand. Here and there others had taken rocks from the stony bottom of the slope and spelled out tender and holy words.
This was no Spring Break crowd desecrating God's beautiful beaches, but people in serious contemplation about the nature of the human being, what it takes to sustain liberty, and honoring the blood that long ago soaked into the sand.
On a 1997 Normandy journey I took some old soldiers whose units had landed not long after the invasion. I lost track of one of them — Jack — as I walked among the crosses and stars of David that mark the graves. I found him at a monument at the end of the cemetery that listed the names of hundreds who had perished when an American ship was blown to bits just in front of him. Now Jack stood with his hands on the wall of names, and caressed them as he wept and, knowing him, prayed.
The President of the United States himself was inspired to pray on June 6, 1944. Millions listened as FDR spoke on radio a prayer that in our age would evoke outrage, condemnation, scorn, and lawsuits:
"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."
Franklin Delano Roosevelt was moved to prayer because, as Warren Kozak said in a 2012 Wall Street Journal column, Roosevelt "was an American president unafraid to embrace God and to define an enemy that clearly rejected the norms of humanity."
Had women been in combat back then, and my granddaughter in that invasion force, I would have wanted her to be under a commander-in-chief like Roosevelt. I am not a fan of the progressivism for which he and his wife are now icons, and he was not a religious man, but Roosevelt knew that he was not the lord of the universe or master of history.
And he recognized evil when he saw it and said so.
In 2012 Kozak wrote that "it seems strangely difficult for our leaders to clearly define our values, our way of life, our causes for going to war to defend our ideals. It is unfathomable today that a president would embrace God the way Roosevelt did on that night."
In the current presidential campaign we have a socialist who, if true to the dialectical materialism of his philosophical heroes, may be a closet atheist, another who has seen no need for God's forgiveness in his life, and yet another who is said to be a Christian, but whose stance on some issues would be anything but biblical.
God help us.
"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," prayed President Roosevelt in 1944.
And so must we now.