How FDR Showed Grace on D-Day

Few — with perhaps the exceptions of George Washington upon the nation’s founding and Abraham Lincoln upon the nation’s possible dissolution — have tackled the office of the Presidency in such a crisis as Franklin Delano Roosevelt. And he did so with boundless enthusiasm and energy.

What animated Roosevelt throughout his presidency was restoring America to its principles in ways that enable the able bodied to work and the less fortunate to find relief. Called a traitor to his class he reveled in upsetting the order of the day in his quest to do it all. As FDR once said, “The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.”

Never did that voice resonate more clearly than on the evening of D-Day, June 6, 1944 when President Franklin Roosevelt addressed the nation. Rather than give a report on the invasion, Roosevelt invoked his adaptation of a prayertaken from the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, a favorite of his.

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.

Roosevelt mentions the word “grace” once in the address and it is in passing but his remarks focus on the spirit of what the word implies.

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.

Even with grace comes suffering and sacrifice.

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.

Roosevelt emphasizes the nature of those who fight and honor their cause.

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.

Roosevelt contrasts the righteous cause of the Allies with the evil forces of the Nazis.

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.

For Roosevelt a better tomorrow was always the intention.

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.

While acknowledging the power of the Almighty, Roosevelt, ever cognizant that he was president not pastor, was careful to focus his words on the purpose of the cause — uprooting a tyrannical power.

For Roosevelt the cause was sacred, but it would not be waged with words. It was fought with the blood and treasure of the nation and its Allies. Peace could only be possible through the hard effort of sacrifice touched with the power of grace.

NOTE: The complete text of FDR’s “Mighty Endeavor” prayer is found on the website of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum.

Adapted from my book GRACE: A Leader’s Guide to a Better Us Indigo River Publishing 2019