Last week, world leaders gathered in France to honor bravery and sacrifice on the 75th anniversary of the D-Day invasion of World War II.
Every survivor story is moving. Many American soldiers were teenagers when they landed on the beaches of Normandy. Everything depended on the success of their mission to break through enemy lines and free France and the rest of Europe.
Seventy-five years ago, thousands of miles from the action, Americans gathered around radios to follow news of the invasion. They knew few details about D-Day but began to pray. Stores closed. Handmade signs in shop windows read, “Closed. Come in and pray for Allied victory: Intercessions on the hour.”
New York City Mayor Fiorello La Guardia urged New Yorkers to “send forth their prayers to Almighty God ... to bring total victory ... in this great and valiant struggle.”
President Franklin Roosevelt urged Americans to pray: “With Thy blessings, we shall prevail over the unholy forces of our enemy.”
War correspondent Ernie Pyle called victory on D-Day a miracle.
The Allies achieved victory “with every advantage on the enemy’s side and every disadvantage on ours,” Pyle wrote. Despite this, the total Allied casualties “were remarkably low—only a fraction, in fact, of what our commanders had been prepared to accept. Now that it’s all over, it seems to me a pure miracle that we ever took the beach at all.”
How much did prayer have to do with that victory?
We’ll never know.
But we do know that the war was a clear battle between good and evil. Hitler was a ruthless dictator and mass murderer. Any setback in any detail could have changed the course of history. There were a lot of “what ifs.” What if the weather had been worse? What if the supply line failed? What if Hitler learned about the plan? What if German soldiers prevailed?
As Allied soldiers took the beaches that day and began to move inland, it was a turning point in the war. Within a year, Hitler was dead and Germany surrendered.
It wasn’t the first time leaders called the nation to pray.
Throughout World War II, King George VI, Sir Winston Churchill and Parliament supported “The Silent Minute.”
It began in 1940 as citizens were encouraged to stop and pray for one minute when Big Ben struck 9 each evening. A captured Nazi intelligence officer stated, “With the striking of Big Ben each evening, you used a secret weapon which we did not understand. It was very powerful, and we could find no counter-measure.”
Reports from German bomber pilots described seeing hundreds of British planes coming against them when, in fact, there were only two.
The war kept people on their knees.
Fear gripped Britain in May 1940 when the future of freedom seemed bleak. The Nazis quickly advanced through France, and more than 300,000 British and French troops were trapped in a small coastal enclave at Dunkirk.
The Nazis were so sure of victory that the German high command reported, “The British army is encircled, and our troops are proceeding to its annihilation.”
Knowing evacuation could fail, King George VI asked everyone to pray Sunday, May 26.
“Let us with one heart and soul, humbly but confidently, commit our cause to God and seek His aid, that we may valiantly defend the right as it is given to us to see it,” he said.
British newspapers reported long lines of people to get into churches. Lines outside Westminster Cathedral in London stretched for blocks.
But in a decision that defies reason, German tanks were just 10 miles from closing in on Dunkirk when Hitler halted the offensive. Tanks remained grounded for nearly three days, allowing the British to form a perimeter.
May 28, 1940, Nazi aircraft were grounded by horrible storms, but normally choppy waters over the English Channel were still and calm. That enabled a vast armada of little boats, big ships, warships and privately-owned cruisers to begin rescuing more than 200,000 soldiers from Dunkirk.
The nation rejoiced Sunday, June 9, 1940, on a Day of National Thanksgiving. Many sang the words of Psalm 124: “If the Lord himself had not been on our side, now may Israel say: If the Lord himself had not been our side … They would have swallowed us up quick.”
On Victory in Europe Day, May 8, 1945, Churchill addressed the House of Commons and ended with, “This House do now attend at the Church of St. Margaret’s, Westminster, to give humble and reverential thanks to Almighty God for our deliverance from the threat of German domination.”
Ruth Schenk is a contributing writer for The Southeast Outlook and has been a member of Southeast Christian Church since 1992.