By Franklin Fisher, BenningJune 7, 2019
FORT BENNING, Ga. -- The U.S. Army at Fort Benning held a ceremony here June 6 to mark the 75th anniversary of D-Day, the epic first day of the pivotal 1944 Allied invasion of France that led to the liberation of Western Europe from occupation by Nazi Germany during World War II.
The ceremony, commemorating the largest amphibious assault in history, was held at the National Infantry Museum just outside Fort Benning. It began under overcast skies at 8:30 a.m. on the Museum's Inouye Field, with the weather giving way to a light drizzle that fell through much of the morning.
The ceremony featured remarks highlighting the importance of D-Day, and the recitation of the prayer that President Franklin D. Roosevelt broadcast to the nation by radio just hours after Allied forces began landing on the coast of Normandy in the face of ferocious German resistance.
In addition, a regularly scheduled graduation ceremony of Soldiers newly trained as Infantrymen by Fort Benning's 198th Infantry Brigade, was also made part of the program, and an audience of several hundred, many of them family members of the graduating Soldiers, filled the bleachers to capacity.
On June 6, 1944, more than 160,000 Allied troops -- largely American, British and Canadian -- landed along a 50-mile stretch of French coast line, heavily fortified by the Germans in the event of an eventual Allied invasion attempt. Under the overall command of Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, the invasion armada included more than 5,000 ships and 11,000 aircraft.
The ceremony's main speaker, Brig. Gen. David A. Lesperance, recounted some of those facts early in his remarks. Lesperance is Commandant of the Armor School, part of Fort Benning's U.S. Army Maneuver Center of Excellence.
"So, on this day, 6 June 1944," Lesperance said, 57,000 American Soldiers attacked the beaches of Normandy, and another 13,000 were air-dropped in gliders or parachutes. D-Day was the largest amphibious military assault in history...Over 70,000 American Soldiers faced an entrenched and combat-hardened enemy, and we remember and honor the more than 7,000 casualties the Army suffered on that day."
Addressing himself to the graduating Infantry Soldiers formed up on the parade field, Lesperance said, "Today, you graduates are joining an Army with a rich history and a legacy to uphold."
Lesperance's remarks were followed by a speaker reading President Roosevelt's D-Day prayer.
"My fellow Americans," Roosevelt's address began, "last night, when I spoke with you about the fall of Rome, I knew at that moment that troops of the United States and our allies were crossing the Channel in another and greater operation. It has come to pass with success thus far.
"And so, 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, 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.
"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.
"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..."
A recording of the actual broadcast of Roosevelt's prayer can be heard online: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a2IRcc-5RgA or by selecting the link in the "Related Links" section on this page.
Pvt. Salvator Arzani, 21, of Truro, Iowa, one of the Soldiers who had stood in formation on Inouye Field during the ceremony, has been fascinated by D-Day since childhood, and even made it the subject of a sixth-grade history class project.
Members of his family have served in the military, including two grandfathers who served in World War II, and Arzani had long wanted to join the Army.
"Just being a part of this legacy and being able to carry on the tradition, hopefully live up to the 'Greatest Generation' this nation ever had, it means a lot to me," Arzani said.
And as a new Infantryman, Arzani felt a keen admiration for the Soldiers who battled their way ashore at Normandy, he said.
"So, the Infantry, we 'take the last hundred yards,' and as soon as we take that hundred yards, immediately gotta take the next hundred yards, and I feel like that was a lot of what they had to do, and even though they were getting killed and it wasn't looking our way, the Infantry kept moving on, they kept pushing forward and they didn't give up. They always worked towards the next objective. They never quit, they never gave up. And that's what I want to be part of, and that's what I want to be known for doing."
Spc. Dylan Robinson was also one of the day's Alpha Company Infantry graduates and was stirred by the commemoration of D-Day.
"The men who fought on that day sacrificed more than most of us probably ever will," said Robinson. "And it's an honor to be able to follow in their footsteps.
As he listened, said Robinson, he was filled with "Just a lot of pride. Hopefully I can do for our country what they were able to do for us. Hopefully we don't have to. But, if needed, we're ready."