Our country just commemorated the 75th anniversary of D-Day, a momentous date in history when more than 160,000 Allied soldiers — mostly Americans — invaded Normandy to liberate Europe from Hitler.
That morning, our fathers and grandfathers and great-grandfathers set forth from Britain on thousands of planes and boats, many of them no older than 18. It was the largest amphibious invasion in history, and the outcome was far from certain. The Nazis had spent two years fortifying the coast to prepare for this moment. The beautiful coastline of Northern France was covered in barbed wire, landmines and bunkers.
The stakes couldn’t have been higher. Erwin Rommel, who was leading the Nazi defense, said at the time, “the fate of Germany depends on…the first 24 hours of the invasion.” Historian Douglas Brinkley says that D-Day was “the single most important day of the 20th Century.” When our men landed on Omaha and Utah beaches, the sand littered with barricades, they were met with a deluge of bullets from the Nazis overlooking the sea. Many fell on the beach that day, but still more pushed on, up the cliffs and eventually through France, Belgium and Germany.
That includes many Ohioans, like Eugene Lyons of University Heights. Eugene was a medic. His ship hit a mine in the English Channel and sank off the coast. As Eugene came ashore on the beaches of France, a German plane shot at him, missing him by a matter of inches.
That includes Edward Bartkiewicz of Parma. He was an Army Ranger who was one of the legendary “Boys of Pointe du Hoc.” These Rangers grappled and climbed up rocky cliffs 80 to 100 feet high to take out the deadly German artillery that was shooting down on the beaches.
That includes Jim “Pee Wee” Martin of Dayton. He parachuted behind German lines before dawn making him one of the first Americans to land that day. He was wounded and received both a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star for his service.
Sadly, more than 10,000 Allied troops did not make it through that brutal day. Today, many of them rest in orderly rows of crosses and Stars of David in American military cemeteries in France, forever guarding the lands and values they gave their lives defending.
Meanwhile, back home in Ohio, people were united in praying for these brave young men.
President Franklin Delano Roosevelt took to the airwaves, as you’d expect a president to do in such a dangerous and crucial mission. Rather than give one of his trademark “fireside chats,” however, he chose to do something different: he led the nation in a prayer that he wrote himself.
One passage in particular from the prayer that has always resonated with me was when Roosevelt said, “…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.”
And that has been our tradition as a country. America is a nation of liberators, not a nation of conquerors.
The memorable words from the D-Day prayer brought our country together. It strengthened our resolve, and it comforted us at a difficult time. In just a few hundred words, President Roosevelt asked for a blessing upon our troops, and spoke of our purpose in the war, as well as our purpose as a country, and his words made an indelible mark on our history.
It is an important part of our past to hold up for future generations. That’s why I authored legislation to place a permanent plaque inscribed with the words of FDR’s Prayer near the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C.
Five years ago, shortly after the 70th anniversary of D-Day, then-President Obama signed this legislation into law. Although it has taken a while, we have made progress on the plaque – the National Park Service and the two commissions that must approve additions to the National Mall have finally approved the WWII Memorial’s Circle of Remembrance as the site, and the design concepts have been approved.
While we continue to wait for the permanent plaque to be placed, on D-Day this year, I was proud to lead an event at the Circle of Remembrance where we read FDR’s prayer and previewed what the plaque would look like. I am looking forward to seeing the final plaque installed soon.
Rob Portman represents the state of Ohio in the United States Senate.