In October 2010, Shirley and I celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary by taking a long overdue trip to Europe. After visiting London and Paris for a few days, we boarded a train for Normandy, France, where a massive military invasion had occurred on June 6, 1944. Visiting that hallowed place was one of the most emotional experiences of our lives. This month, June 6, 2019, marks the 75th anniversary of the life and death struggle known as D-Day. My letter this month is dedicated to the memories of the men who fought and died there in the defense of liberty.
The bloody battle to liberate Europe by defeating Nazi Germany took place on five beaches along a 50 mile stretch of the Normandy coast. The designated sites were code-named Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno, and Sword. Combined, 156,000 troops were deployed, utilizing 6,900 ships and landing craft, 36,000 vehicles, and 11,600 planes.1 Freedom and tyranny hung in the balance for millions of people on that day, and the outcome was anything but certain. An Allied defeat could have prolonged World War II indefinitely, and might even have changed the eventual outcome.
On this reverent broadcast, Dr. Dobson sits down with retired Lt. General Jerry Boykin, whose father Cecil was part of the D-Day invasion.
Supreme Allied Commander, U.S. Army General Dwight David Eisenhower, knew that enormous loss of life was likely. He spoke briefly to some of his troops as they prepared to board ships and planes headed for France. I've seen a film that captured the General's final words. This is a portion of what he said on that stormy morning:
"You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade toward which we have striven these many months... The eyes of the world are upon you. The hope and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you... And, let us all beseech the blessing of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking."2
Eisenhower then drafted a message for later release to the press, if the Allied forces had been pinned down on the beach and then driven back into the sea. The General must have been heavy of heart as he considered the unthinkable. He wrote:
"Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold, and I have withdrawn the troops. My decision to attack at this time and place was based on the best information available. The troops, the air, and the Navy did all that bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt, it is mine alone."3
Once victory was assured, Eisenhower crumpled the draft statement and threw it in the trash. His assistant later found that crumpled note and preserved it for posterity. Thank God the news proclaiming victory was the only message required.
President Franklin Roosevelt was monitoring the progress of the battle from the White House in Washington, D.C. God-fearing people across the nation held their breath as news of the invasion was made public. Roosevelt was reported to be a praying man, and Americans heard him speak to God on a nationwide radio broadcast. Here are excerpts of the prayer spoken on that fateful day:
" ...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...
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...
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.
The historic clash between two armies began about 6:00 a.m. The Germans looked out of their bunkers on a foggy morning and were shocked to see an enormous armada steaming toward them. It must have been a terrifying sight. Some of the combatants were mere boys.
Soon, landing craft known as Higgins Boats began unloading many thousands of Allied troops who were jumping into the surging English Channel. Each man carried up to 100 pounds of gear and many drowned when they hit the water. Most of the amphibious tanks that were designed to float quickly sank and carried their crews to watery graves. Fighting was the most intense and casualties the highest at Omaha and Juno beaches. Omaha was six miles wide and the largest of the landing areas. The Americans had been assigned to attack there. The men who managed to reach the sandy shore of Normandy faced withering fire from above. More than 2,400 of them died or were wounded. They were cut down in their prime.
More than 60 years later, Shirley and I, and our daughter, Danae, stood on the cliffs overlooking the landing site and tried to imagine what it must have been like to run exposed across that beach in the face of murderous machine gun fire and mortars. Every step could have been on a landmine hidden in the sand. Fellow soldiers with whom they had trained were falling on every side.
Shirley, Danae, and I then moved to the Normandy American Cemetery where the bodies of several thousand heroes lie buried beneath white crosses. It was an unforgettable moment for us.
We walked among the graves and read the inscriptions on some of the markers. Every man buried there had a story to tell, known only to God. Some of the names were of 17-year-old boys, and we wondered how their parents heard the news of their terrible losses. I found one cross bearing the name of a man who died on May 8, 1945. That was the last day of the war with Germany. I assumed he had been seriously wounded at Omaha but never recovered.
The experience was so overwhelming that I entered the little chapel at one end of the cemetery and covered my face with both hands. Shirley searched and found me on my knees.
Danae and I were then given an unexpected honor. We were allowed to take down the American flag at the cemetery as the sun was setting. Then the superintendent helped us fold the flag.
D-Day was a turning point in the outcome of the second World War. Young soldiers, aviators, and seamen were willing to risk their lives to preserve liberty. They fought tenaciously to save their loved ones and future generations from tyranny. We are all in their debt.
I want to close my letter with the words of President Ronald Reagan, whom I loved like a father. I worked for him off and on during the last five years of his two terms in office. At one point, the President flew to France and spoke at the 40th anniversary of D-Day, 1984. It was one of the most powerful speeches of his career. The tribute he read was written by one of my favorite writers, Peggy Noonan.
President Reagan spoke that day from Point du Hoc, overlooking the cliffs where American Rangers had climbed up ropes in the face of German soldiers who were firing down on them. Some soldiers who survived the bitter battle were sitting near the President as he addressed them personally. This is what he said:
"We're here to mark that day in history when the Allied armies joined in battle to reclaim this continent to liberty. For four long years, much of Europe had been under a terrible shadow. Free nations had fallen, Jews cried out in the camps, millions cried out for liberation. Europe was enslaved, and the world prayed for its rescue. Here in Normandy the rescue began. Here the Allies stood and fought against tyranny in a giant undertaking unparalleled in human history.
We stand on a lonely, windswept point on the northern shore of France. The air is soft, but 40 years ago at this moment, the air was dense with smoke and the cries of men, and the air was filled with the crack of rifle fire and the roar of cannon. At dawn, on the morning of the 6th of June, 1944, 225 Rangers jumped off the British landing craft and ran to the bottom of these cliffs. Their mission was one of the most difficult and daring of the invasion: to climb these sheer and desolate cliffs and take out the enemy guns. The Allies had been told that some of the mightiest of these guns were here and they would be trained on the beaches to stop the Allied advance.
The Rangers looked up and saw the enemy soldiers—the edge of the cliffs shooting down at them with machine guns and throwing grenades. And the American Rangers began to climb. They shot rope ladders over the face of these cliffs and began to pull themselves up. When one Ranger fell, another would take his place. When one rope was cut, a Ranger would grab another and begin his climb again. They climbed, shot back, and held their footing. Soon, one by one, the Rangers pulled themselves over the top, and in seizing the firm land at the top of these cliffs, they began to seize back the continent of Europe. Two hundred and twenty-five came here. After two days of fighting, only 90 could still bear arms.
Behind me is a memorial that symbolizes the Ranger daggers that were thrust into the top of these cliffs. And before me are the men who put them there. These are the boys of Pointe du Hoc. These are the men who took the cliffs. These are the champions who helped free a continent. These are the heroes who helped end a war...
Forty summers have passed since the battle that you fought here. You were young the day you took these cliffs; some of you were hardly more than boys, with the deepest joys of life before you. Yet, you risked everything here. Why? Why did you do it? What impelled you to put aside the instinct for self-preservation and risk your lives to take these cliffs? What inspired all the men of the armies that met here? We look at you, and somehow we know the answer. It was faith and belief; it was loyalty and love.
The men of Normandy had faith that what they were doing was right, faith that they fought for all humanity, faith that a just God would grant them mercy on this beachhead or on the next. It was the deep knowledge—and [I] pray God we have not lost it—that there is a profound, moral difference between the use of force for liberation and the use of force for conquest. You were here to liberate, not to conquer, and so you and those others did not doubt your cause. And you were right not to doubt.
You all knew that some things are worth dying for. One's country is worth dying for, and democracy is worth dying for, because it's the most deeply honorable form of government ever devised by man. All of you loved liberty. All of you were willing to fight tyranny, and you knew the people of your countries were behind you...
Something else helped the men of D-Day: their rock-hard belief that Providence would have a great hand in the events that would unfold here; that God was an ally in this great cause. And so, the night before the invasion, when Colonel Wolverton asked his parachute troops to kneel with him in prayer, he told them: 'Do not bow your heads, but look up so you can see God and ask His blessing in what we're about to do.' Also that night, General Matthew Ridgway on his cot, listening in the darkness for the promise God made to Joshua: 'I will not fail thee nor forsake thee. (Deuteronomy 31:6)' These are the things that impelled them; these are the things that shaped the unity of the Allies...
Strengthened by their courage, heartened by their valor, and borne by their memory, let us continue to stand for the ideals for which they lived and died.
Thank you very much, and God bless you all."5
(President Ronald Reagan)
I hope my recounting of this battle will help you capture the significance and the passion of this historic event. It is very dear to my heart. I was a little boy when it happened, and I grew up hearing about this moment in time. If I had been 10 years older, I could have been on one of those landings.
Let me leave you with this suggestion. Read this letter to your children, or ask them to read it for themselves. I'm afraid today's school curricula doesn't teach much about American history or its heroes. We must not forget the sacrifices they made on our behalf.
God bless America, land of the free and home of the brave!
P.S. If you would like to know more about this historic event, I suggest you read two of my favorite books written by historian, Stephen Ambrose. They are titled D-Day and Citizen Soldiers. If you like to read about American history, these are two books you'll never forget.
4. FDR Library
This letter may be reproduced without change and in its entirety for non-commercial and non-political purposes without prior permission from Family Talk. Copyright, 2019 Family Talk. All Rights Reserved. International Copyright Secured. Printed in the U.S. Dr. James Dobson’s Family Talk is not affiliated with Focus on the Family.