Donald Ceboll of Parma has been back to Normandy twice since that day in 1944 when he and the men of the 741st Tank Battalion boarded an amphibious landing craft off of Omaha beach. He didn’t go back to relive the experience or to see where he had landed. He went back to visit the grave sites of his fellow soldiers who did not make it home, to see the final resting place of 9,387 soldiers, sailors, and airmen who gave their lives to free a continent.
On D-Day, June 6, 1944, Sergeant Ceboll joined tens of thousands of Americans and our allies in an effort to break through Hitler’s Atlantic Wall. They came by amphibious landing craft, by gliders laden with men and materiel, by parachutes deployed deep behind enemy lines. And at beaches in Normandy called Omaha and Utah and at the cliffs of Pointe du Hoc, they struck a mortal blow to the Nazi regime. Many would give their lives for that cause. Like many Americans, I have seen the American cemetery there: the rows of white crosses and stars of David are a stark reminder of the price those brave heroes paid for all of us.
They did not go into battle alone. As General Eisenhower said to the Allied Expeditionary Force on the eve of the battle, “The hopes and prayers of liberty loving people everywhere march with you.” Eisenhower was not exaggerating. As word of the invasion spread through the pre-dawn hours of Tuesday morning, people gathered in churches, in synagogues, in meeting houses, in public places large and small to seek God’s blessing on the men who were even then in harm’s way.
From the White House, President Roosevelt addressed the nation as the invasion was still ongoing. While, he said, it had “come to pass so far,” the final outcome of the battle remained in doubt. “And so,” President Roosevelt said, “in this poignant hour, I ask you to join with me in prayer.”
President Roosevelt understood the challenges men like Sergeant Ceboll were facing at that moment, saying “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.”
He prayed that they would have strength, that they would have success. “They fight not for the lust of conquest,” he said of those who landed on the beaches that day. “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.”
But President Roosevelt also knew that not everyone who went into battle that day would come home. “Some will never return,” he prayed. “Embrace these, Father, and receive them, Thy heroic servants, into Thy kingdom.”
The prayerful words of President Roosevelt echo down to us over the years. They represent, perhaps better than anything written since, the magnitude of what those who hit the beaches of Normandy that day faced and the righteousness of the cause for which they fought.
Together with Senator Landrieu from Louisiana, I have introduced a bipartisan bill, the World War II Memorial Prayer Act, that I crafted with former-Senator Joe Lieberman directing the Secretary of the Interior to install in the area of the World War II Memorial a plaque or inscription with the prayer that President Roosevelt shared with the nation on D-Day. I am pleased to report that on Thursday, this legislation was unanimously approved by the United States Senate. Companion legislation is now moving through the House of Representatives and I look forward to getting it to the President’s desk.
President Roosevelt’s words brought our country together in a time of great difficulty and left an indelible mark on American history. It is past time that we honored his prayer and, in so doing, the heroes for whom the nation prayed.
We know, of course, that President Roosevelt’s prayer was answered. Sergeant Ceboll and those who landed with him took the beaches of Normandy and then began the long road to freeing Europe from Nazi domination. Today (Friday, June 6), on the 70th Anniversary of D-Day, we honor Donald Ceboll and the thousands of other men and women who fought, not for land or conquest, but for freedom. They are the embodiment of everything our country stands for, and everything that makes us great.
Rob Portman is a U.S. Senator from Ohio.